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Small Talk: Paruppu‑Keerai

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Sep 1, 2019

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Illustration by Shreyaa Krritika Das

Me – So. What’s been happening?

Niece – Nothing.

Me – You know how long you’ve been sitting here?

Niece – Just like 10 minutes, maybe. Four minutes.

Me – Two hours.

Niece – Okay.

Me -And you still won’t eat that paruppu-keerai on your plate.

Niece – No.

Me – Dude, it’s like four bites. Just shove it in your mouth and you’re done.

Niece – No.

Me – Why are you being so bananas about this?

Niece – Amma said I drove her up a wall today.

Me – That’s truly shocking.

Niece – Why she said like that but.

Me – I don’t know, let’s see. First you decided to cut your own hair.

Niece – Ya.

Me – And then you hid the aforementioned hair in the sofa.

Niece – Is it nice? My hairstyle?

Me – Do you know what nuclear holocaust means?

Niece – Does that mean it’s nice?

Me – No, dude. It does not.

Niece – Then I drank ink.

Me – Which is just gross.

Niece – I thought it would be sweet.

Me – And now here you are, not allowed to get up from the table until you eat your paruppu-keerai, which you refuse to do.

Niece – What if I go under the table.

Me – Go on. See what happens to you.

Niece – What will happens to me.

Me – I will step on you. Repeatedly.

Niece – I’ll tell Amma.

Me – After all you’ve done today, I don’t think she’ll care.

Niece – But I don’t like paruppu-keerai.

Me – I don’t like it either but I ate mine, and now, no one can question me.

Niece – You eat it then.

Me – You eat it.

Niece – Amma will eat it.

Me – Ask her to eat it, right now. Let’s see what happens.

Niece – I eat it tomorrow.

Me – Why are you doing this? Just eat it! Just put it in your mouth, and it’s over!

Niece – Okay.

Me – Good.

Niece – I do it tomorrow.

Me – You know what’s going to happen? You’re going to end up sitting here for the rest of your life. Your butt is going to grow into the chair, and your fingers are going to grow into the plate, and the paruppu-keerai is going to seep into your skin and have babies.

Niece – Then what will happen?

Me – This is not storytime!

Niece – Why?

Me – Ok, I’m going. Say goodbye to your butt.

Niece – Can I say butt also?

Me – No.

Niece – Can I say bum?

Me – Okay. Just once, though.

*

Me – Still here, I see.

Niece – Amma sat with me and had tea.

Me – Your plate is all dried up and gross.

Niece – Ya.

Me – You do realize that the longer you sit here the worse that’s going to taste.

Niece – When are you going to die?

Me – What?

Niece – What time you’re going to die.

Me – Why are you asking me that? Do you know something?

Niece – I’m never going to die.

Me – Oh yeah? How are you going to manage that?

Niece – I’m going to drink lots of water and pray to God all the time and give money to people.

Me – Just random people?

Niece – Ya.

Me – Can I have some money then?

Niece – No. And I will be polite. And sharpen all my pencils.

Me – That would be the real key to everlasting life, I’m guessing.

Niece – Ya.

Me – Well, the day is almost at an end. And you’ve basically just sat here, watching that paruppu- keerai harden into a cold, semi-solid mound of yuck.

Niece – And I cut my hair.

Me – And you drank ink. Let’s not forget that one.

Niece – And I drove Amma up a wall.

Me – A satisfying day on the whole, I guess.

Niece – You know what I’m going to do tomorrow?

Me – Incite violence among the upper classes? Eat an entire box of crayons?

Niece – I’m going to make a cake.

Me – I don’t think you’re allowed to use the oven.

Niece – Out of sand.

Me – Oh.

Niece – And birds.

Me – Here we go.

Niece – And then I put it in the oven.

Me – Okay, that’s it. Just eat the paruppu-keerai or I’m going to stuff it into your ears.

Niece – I already ate.

Me – You di– oh my God, where’d it go?

Niece – I ate it. Long back ago.

Me – Then why are you still sitting here?

Niece – You didn’t have anyone to talk to.

Me – Oh my God.

Niece – I go now but because it’s so boring.

Me – Did you really eat it or did you put it somewhere weird?

Niece – Bye.

Me – You ate it, right? Like a good little person? This might be a good time to go home I think.

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Written By Kuzhali Manickavel

Kuzhali Manickavel’s collections “Things We Found During the Autopsy,” “Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings,” and chapbooks “The Lucy Temerlin Institute for Broken Shapeshifters Guide to Starving Boys” and “Eating Sugar, Telling Lies” are available from Blaft Publications, Chennai. Her work has also appeared in Granta, Strange Horizons, Agni, Subtropics, Michigan Quarterly Review and DIAGRAM. She used to blog at http://thirdworldghettovampire.blogspot.com/.

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