Them

She is sitting in the hall. There is a lot she has to write because she does not know when she will have to stop. She has told herself to forget about that day; that when the day comes, there will be no more time to feel. She can hear the crackers they’re bursting downstairs; she does not know why she stayed at home this year. She used to go down every Diwali, listening to fathers laugh at their young sons who did not like the sound, watching the women pass crackers on to their husbands. She always returned upstairs the earliest. It is loud outside, and she does not like that she cannot leave the door open at night. The carefully placed pillow in the small of her back does not seem right anymore; she is sitting on her feet, pressed into the stiff pillow below her. She cannot feel them.

Her copy of On Beauty sits next to her. It is open on the last page; Zadie Smith is unsmiling. She raises her hand to her head, running a finger across the cloth where her hair would have been. Zadie Smith smiles faintly, raising her finger to her own red cloth that covers her hair. She sets down her pen between the thick pages of her banana fibre notebook, and Zadie Smith stops smiling. Her lips are drawn across in a line; her eyes are small and staring.

Zadie Smith sat in a corner when she wrote—she liked the angle made by two walls that felt hard against her shoulders. She would sit on a large pillow, with a blue pillow cover that she did not like, but would not change. She would stretch her legs before her but only her heels would touch the cold floor. They would come to rest within a single square tile; her heels cooled her feet before the rest of her. She would not look up when she wrote. She would pause when she took a sip of her coffee, holding her cup between both hands, noticing each time that her finger tips did not reach each other. She wiped her sweaty palms on the loose cotton pants she wore, before running them through her hair. Realising that her feet were now cold, she pulled them back, pressing them into the pillow she sat on. Then she would write again, her fingers lightly touching keys she did not have to look at. Outside, there would be something happening.

She set down her feet as the bell rang. The pen between the pages of her book had fallen to the floor, one side of the letter she was writing touched the other. Zadie Smith looked up at her, pausing the story in her head that was ready, just like she wrote them. She had stopped mid-sentence. She stood up and went slowly to the door and let them in. Picking up On Beauty and her banana fibre notebook, she went to her room again. Zadie Smith continued.

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India Coffee House

They say we talk too loudly.

Empty trays held by their knees;

Slouching, they move towards full tables—

four seaters with the six of them.

In white they stand against

pale blue walls.

Coffee spills on stained saucers—

Do not bother,

Nothing remains white for long anyway.

In rectangular mirrors,

A man curses in a brown shirt, asking for

Coffee, hot

Scrambled eggs.

Cutlet.

Masala dosa.

Books from Blossoms lie next to her.

They do not talk.

Corner table, five of you talking

Around buzzing fans and rumbling conversations.

Again,

waiting for explosion, it comes quickly—

His counter bell rung insistently,

Like school bell on Monday morning.

Frowning,

Too loud.

Your bill is on your table,

Your egg half eaten, coffee still full.