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The dragon is curled into the corner of an old cardboard box. His head is flat but lumpy with jagged edges. We have wrapped three layers of duct tape around his mouth because we are smart. The dragon looks at us with cloudy eyes and we feel sorry for him. “Everything is going to be alright," we say. We name him Saint Diesel, which is the perfect name for a dragon. We wait for him to sit up and stretch his wings so we can take pictures and post them on Facebook.

***

We buy chicken puffs, the nice ones, and wash our hands with Lifebuoy before we shred them. We pick out the onions—“No harm in being careful," says R. We place the shredded pieces around the dragon’s snout and carefully remove the duct tape but he doesn’t eat anything. We decide he isn’t hungry and tape his mouth shut again. We try giving him milk and water but he doesn’t drink anything either.

***

We take him to the balcony for an hour a day. R looks for a gentle spot of sunlight and I place the dragon in it with both hands. We watch dappled shadows slither across his body and wait for him to do something. His cloudy eyes stare at the sky while we point at his stomach and say he has definitely gained weight. R says, “Hey Diesel Diesel!" and whistles. Sometimes we think he recognizes us. Sometimes we decide he is just tired and take him back inside.

Prompt: Flat but lumpy with jagged edges

***

The dragon wails in the night. We lie awake, marvelling that he can wail so loud when his mouth is taped shut. We decide that he must be wailing through his nose, and that this must be something dragons can do which most people don’t know about. We keep the dragon in the kitchen cupboard behind the rice bin but we can still hear him. R starts having anxiety dreams and indigestion. He calls the dragon a little shit but later he says he’s sorry and he didn’t mean it.

***

We leave the dragon in the kitchen cabinet to teach him a lesson. We spend the day on the balcony, watching the gentle spots of sunlight move across the spider webs and drifts of dust. R talks about his band in college and how they did an Indian version of the song I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher, but with Indira Gandhi. He cradles the ragged bits of sunlight in his hands and explains that the song was creative but you wouldn’t get it if you weren’t into punk. That evening, we check on the dragon. We look at his faded claws and run our fingers across the duct tape on his mouth. We decide he hasn’t learned his lesson.

***

We realize we haven’t checked on the dragon in three days. Tiny red ants have swarmed over the old pieces of chicken and some of them have climbed on to the dragon’s arm. We decide they are too small to be harmful. The dragon’s wings have turned grey and the edges have begun to fray. R removes the duct tape and a smell like old milk curls into the air. The smell clings to everything and makes us nauseous. We decide to let the dragon go tomorrow so that he can be happy living under a tree or next to some flowering plants. We believe he will make friends, find natural sources of food and live for many years.

***

The day before we move, we find the empty cardboard box behind the rice bin. It smells like old milk. We decide that the dragon flew away on his own and is doing really well. We throw the box away but the smell sticks to our fingers and hair and doesn’t go away for a long time.

To submit a prompt (a word, phrase, quote or brief idea), mail Kuzhali at kuzhali.stories@gmail.com or tweet it using the hashtag #kuzhalistories.

Write to lounge@livemint.com.

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