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The flood didn’t come till later. By then, the rains had stopped and the puddles were already shrinking in the sun. The ground was no longer soggy, just soft under the feet. Crushed crabs littered the road and tiny clumps of mushrooms huddled tightly in the shadows. It wasn’t until the afternoon that the brown rivulets of water came racing down the road, connecting the puddles which suddenly opened up like large, glassy discs.

“Didn’t I tell you?" called out the professor next door. “Big flood is coming."

The professor and his two wives were always prepared for a flood. They lived in the upper storey of their house, well stocked with candles, biscuits, bottled water, and kerosene. The professor sat on his balcony while his wives lit lamps and mosquito coils.

“You have food? Drinking water?" he asked.

“Yes," I lied, watching his wives move around him. They barely made any noise and when they did, it was like the rustling of leaves. I sat on my balcony, letting my feet get covered by swarms of mosquitos. The professor turned on his radio and made one of his wives put a mosquito coil near his chair. The road had already disappeared under a sheet of water. The people across the street were trying to make their cow climb the stairs to their roof but she had stopped halfway, unwilling to go further up and unable to go back down. When the water was already in the house and it was too late to do anything, I went downstairs. Books and papers were floating in a foot of dark brown water. I could see centipedes slowly scaling the wall—one of them fell silently into the water. I got half a loaf of bread and two bottles of water from the kitchen and went back upstairs.

******

THE PLAINTIVE CRY OF A COW

“Why are you so scared of flooding?" I asked him once.

“We’re not scared," said his first wife.

That was the first time she had ever spoken to me. She never spoke to me again.

******

The next morning was filled with sunshine and the plaintive cries of the cow across the street, still stuck on the stairwell. Men with backpacks on their heads were wading through the chest-high water, selling packets of old milk for 30. The professor was listening to the radio while his wives cleaned the kerosene lamps.

“More water coming," the professor called out.

“What do you mean?"

“Two more days flooding."

Downstairs smelled like mould and stagnant water. A stray dry coconut had floated to the front door and was bumping against it, like it wanted to go outside. There were no more centipedes on the wall. I closed the windows and doors, turned off the water in the bathroom and shoved a half-empty bottle of water into my pocket. Then I went up to the balcony.

“I’m leaving," I called out to the professor. “I can’t stay if there’s more water coming."

“Oh I see," he said. His first wife stood behind his chair, the reflection of the sunlight turning her glasses into two shards of bright light.

“You want to come? We can go slowly. We can help each other."

“No no," said the professor, waving his hand. “You carry on."

I waded through the water, feeling the rocks bite into my bare feet. I felt things gently brush past me—a plastic bag, a small snake. I looked back and saw the three of them on their balcony, watching me. I waved. But nobody waved back.

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.

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