The wall beside the bed is plastered with tiny stickers of Muruga. Whoever was here before me arranged them in a neat line and wrote ‘Om Muruga Thunai’ underneath, once in Tamil and once in English. I imagine a thin, brown girl with flaky skin and ovarian cysts, her fingers lightly touching the stickers as she thinks of how lucky she is to have found this pg accommodation at just threefive a month, breakfast, dinner, teacoffee, lunch provided Sundays only. I trace the outline of the stickers and decide to pick them off tomorrow morning. When the other girls come, I will say ‘Hi, excuse me. You know who stayed in this bed prior? See, they have openly put all these stickers like this. I find such behaviour really so annoying, don’t you agree?’
I sit on my bed and wait for them. Then I walk around the room to get my exercise. It is important for single women who are staying independently to get plenty of exercise. They should also eat fresh fruit whenever possible, and sit beside a window at least once a day. The window in this room is a tiny square of weak, milky light, but it will be nice to sit here with the other girls. I look over the room with the confidence of a single woman who stays independently. Quiet pools of coiled grey hair lie in the corners. One of the girls staying here must be a woman. She must be a spinster who throws knots of hair on the floor because she doesn’t care about others and is very bitter about her life. I will not talk to her. I will be polite but I will not talk to her.
The bathroom floor is dry. When I open the tap, it gives a raspy whistle that makes me feel thirsty. Wisps of grey hair have wrapped themselves around the pipes and there is a cement imprint of a tiny hand right at the top of the bathroom door. I sit on the washing stone and wait for the water to come. I know it will come because this place has 24hourswater. I used to stay in a hostel where the 24hourswater came for an hour every other day. One afternoon, a girl came out of a bathing stall with a bucket brimming with twists of washed clothes. Tangled lines of blood trickled down from her nose and disappeared between her thin lips.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“Hi,” she said. Then she disappeared into the folds and shadows of her room and I never saw her again.
The bathroom stall begins to dim and smudge as it grows dark. I decide that the water will come tomorrow and go back to my room. I decide to ask the girls about the water timings. I sit on my bed and wait for them. Then I fall asleep with my hand against the wall, my fingers lightly touching the Muruga stickers beside my head. I dream of the other girls. They enter the room in single-file, talking about how lucky we are to have a pg accommodation at just threefive a month, breakfast, dinner, teacoffee, lunch provided Sundays only. They sit on my bed and look at me with eyes that are soft, quiet coils of grey hair. Stray strands hang from the corners of their mouths, waving forlornly in the stale breeze of the fan.
“We’re so lucky to have found this place,’ I say.
I wait for the dream to end so I can wake up and tell the other girls all about it, when the other girls come.
Every month, Kuzhali Manickavel’s column will feature an original short story inspired by prompts submitted by readers. To submit a prompt (a word, phrase, quote or brief idea), mail Kuzhali at email@example.com or tweet it using the hashtag #kuzhalistories.
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