The book “The Blue Women: Stories” by Anukrti Upadhyay is a striking new collection of short fiction from the award-winning author of “Kintsugi”, “Daura” and “Bhaunri”. The stories in this book paint vivid portraits of people’s lives as they encounter the strange and the enigmatic – whether it is other people, creatures, nature, the inanimate, or themselves. Original and gripping, these are stories that will work their way deep into the hearts and minds of readers. Read an excerpt from the book here.
‘There’s a dragon in Roxy’s garden,’ Raghu declared. He thrust his bright blue spoon into the beige mush of milk-soaked Weetabix and stirred up a small, slow whirlpool. ‘He is small, so he cannot breathe fire. But when he is big, he will open his mouth wide and a big fire will come out and Roxy will be toast.’
Roxy was Raghu’s new best friend. He had acquired new vocabulary along with new friends in the past few months since we moved to Singapore. He had attended a cozy little kindergarten in Bombay with neighbourhood kids, and I had been worried when we moved. The school in Singapore was vast with over five hundred children and a three-acre compound. He had seemed so small, so quickly lost in the crowd of other light-blue-shirt-and-navy-blue-shorts-clad children, the first day I had dropped him off. I had felt anxiety unfurl in my stomach like the banners of dragon-dance. At work, I felt needle-pricks of tears every time I thought of Raghu walking towards the shadowed blue-grey building on the other side of the large quadrangle. Perhaps he was lonely among the strange children, missing the cheerful, sun-orange rooms of his old school, and Miss Menon, who let him eat a snack before break because he got hungry. But I needn’t have worried. Roxy took him in hand from the very first day.
I had taken half a day off at work and reached Raghu’s school well before pick-up time. Little boys and girls spilled out of the building and crossed the grassy quadrangle in a two-toned blue wave, but Raghu wasn’t among them. I suddenly felt breathless. There were swimming pools in the compound and unending corridors and innumerable staircases. That concrete building had sucked him in, and he wasn’t ever going to return to me. Panicked, I darted across the grassy quadrangle.
‘Mummy! Where are you going, Mummy?’ Raghu stood beside me. A golden star was painted on his left cheek and in his grubby fist he held the hand of a little girl with feathery, blonde hair and freckles on her wide cheeks. I bent down and hugged him. ‘I couldn’t see you, beta.’
‘I finished all my puzzles first and I did all the colour-ins. Miss gave me a star,’ he announced proudly.
‘I helped him to colour in the lines,’ the girl said, her light blue eyes fixed on Raghu, ‘and I gave him my sweetie and he doesn’t know how to wash his hands.’
I smiled. ‘What’s your name, sweetheart?’
‘She is Roxy. I will marry her when I am big. Can she go home with us, Ma?’
‘That’s nice.’ I laughed. ‘Will you invite me to the wedding?’ I took Raghu’s bag and opened the taxi app on my phone.
‘Yes, Ma. I like you too. I will marry you, too, after I marry Roxy.’
Roxy gave Raghu a stern look. ‘You can’t marry your mom. Jesus won’t let you.’
Raghu threw his head back and clung to my arm. ‘I will. She is my mom. She is not Jesus’s mom.’
Roxy’s fair brows gathered in a frown and her eyes clouded. I took Raghu’s hand. ‘You know there’s lots of time to decide all this. How about we go home? Yaya has made some chocolate milkshake.’
‘You come, too, Roxy.’ Raghu extended his free hand to her.
Roxy smiled happily. ‘I like chocolate milkshake with lots of chocolate.’
I looked around. Hadn’t anyone come for her? ‘We can’t just take her with us, Raghu. Is anyone coming to pick you up, Roxy?’
‘Ma’am, I am the one to bring Roxy home.’ A Filipina woman in denim shorts and a T-shirt proclaiming love for Coca-Cola and good life, came forward. ‘My Ma’am has said you go to your ballet class from here, Roxy.’ Roxy reluctantly let go of Raghu’s hand. The corners of her mouth turned down.
We walked out of the school porch. ‘They’ve become such good friends on the first day. Perhaps Roxy can come to our place one of these days, and she and Raghu could play together. There is a lovely play area with jungle-gym and slides in our building.’
‘I will ask Rosalie Ma’am,’ the Filipina answered, looking away. ‘Your boy can come to our house too. We have a big garden and two dogs.’
‘They are very naughty,’ Roxy offered. ‘They ate all the nice birthday cake Mom got for me and Eva had to go out and buy another one. You’ll come to see them, Raghu?’ Roxy shook off Eva’s hand and dipped hers into her pink satchel, encrusted with rhinestones, and took a fistful of colouring pencils out. ‘You take them,’ she said, handing them to Raghu, ‘but don’t chew them. That’s yucky. I will draw a picture for you and you draw one for me.’ Raghu took the colours.
Eva looked at me conspiratorially. ‘Don’t think that the dogs are bad, Ma’am. They are good dogs. My Ma’am forgets to buy a cake and make a story!’ She rolled her eyes.
The sun was high and bright in the cloudless sky and orderly rows of rain trees threw sparse patterns of shade on the ground. Roxy stepped into a waiting car. She waved to Raghu as the chauffeur turned the car. Raghu didn’t see her. He was busy opening the packet of caramelized nuts I had bought for him.