Friday 15 July 2011

Flash Fiction 2011 Second Prize, Asavari Singh

A Bargain

Everything is so bright, so clean, it hurts my eyes. I think it hurts her eyes too because she won’t stop crying. But she cried all of last night too, even when it was dark and dirty. I don’t like the mall. It makes me feel shabby and ugly. I’d rather have gone to the open-air market next to my home, but my husband insists I do my weekly shopping here. He says the department store in this mall has wonderful bargains on Wednesdays and that and that people of our status shouldn’t be seen haggling in the company of drivers and maids.

So every Wednesday, I come to the Great City Mall. I hurry, my head always down, across the marble expanse between the designer boutiques to get to the Big Bargain department store, but the sounds still remind me of what I have become. Click click click go the high heels around me. Thock slap thock go my rubber-soled flats. Once I did try to wear my nice shoes but I ended up falling because I couldn’t manage the pram and the bags and all the lumpy fat around my middle. “With birth comes girth,” jokes my poet-husband but I don’t even pretend to laugh.

Today we need to buy toilet cleaner, cornflakes, rice, dal, winter socks, juice, washing powder and Cerelac. A mountain of Cerelac. It’s amazing how much she can put away. It all comes out too, of course, and I have to clean up the reeking, milky mess. I’m just shit cleaner extraordinaire. The greedy little monster almost gave me a double mastectomy too, but I’ve stopped breastfeeding her. My mother says it’s too early, but I cannot bear that terrible intimacy anymore.

The aisles are packed today. Housewives trying to save a few miserable rupees because most other things in their lives are beyond saving. Every Wednesday, it’s Festival of the Frumps at Big Bargain. They do have some interesting offers today on cereals. I think about switching brands when I notice that she’s quiet. Too quiet. I turn back to look at the pram. She’s not in it.

I feel fear. My husband will never forgive me. I look around everywhere as I rush towards the checkout counter to ask them to make an announcement. Then I see her. She’s crying. A woman with long, curly hair is holding her and walking slowly out of the store. She hasn’t done any shopping. My heart isn’t beating so fast now. Two Scotch Brites for the price of one. I put them in the cart before running to the checkout counter. I’m crying. I hardly feel anything, but the tears won’t stop.

The policemen come half an hour later. “Did you see someone take her?” they ask. I tell them the truth. Yes. Yes, I did. They ask me for a description. “He was tall,” I say. “A tall, bald man with glasses.”

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