Small Talk: The F Word


Jun 16, 2019


Illustration by Shreyaa Krritika Das

Niece – I tell you something so secret?

Me – Let me guess: you’re actually an elephant.

Niece – No.

Me – You’re actually a banana.

Niece – No!

Me – You’ve just bought 12 kilos of cocaine.

Niece – Hm?

Me – Nothing. You tell me.

Niece – I know a bad word.

Me – Wow.

Niece – Ya.

Me – Where did you learn this bad word?

Niece – The big kids said it.

Me – So, what are you going to do with this word?

Niece – Nothing.

Me – Ya? You’re just going to keep it in your head?

Niece – Ya. Because it’s a bad word.

Me – Okay, well, that sounds like a good plan.

Niece – You know any bad word?

Me – A few.

Niece – Say me.

Me – Why do you want to learn bad words?

Niece – Just say me. Please.

Me – Um … poosinikai?

Niece – That’s pumpkin in Tamil.

Me – How about tree … leafy.

Niece – What means tree-leafy.

Me – It’s like when there’s like… a tree? And… stuff.

Niece – What stuff?

Me – Just like… leafy stuff.

Niece – Why is it a bad word?

Me – Because tree-leafy is like… like, if someone said that to me, I’d be like, ‘No, I’m not a tree… leafy.’

Niece – It’s like moron.

Me – What the heck? Where did you learn ‘moron’ from?

Niece – From a movie. I tell you the new bad word I learned?

Me – I don’t know, I—

Niece – It starts with F.

Me – Well, tha— what?

Niece – Starts with F.

Me – The F word? You learned the F word?

Niece – Ya.

Me – Oh my God.

Niece – Ya.

Me – Oh my God.

Niece – I can say it if you want.

Me – Don’t don’t don’t shhh oh my god.

Niece – Because it’s so bad.

Me – Where did you hear this word?

Niece – The big kids. And one time you said it.

Me – No! You heard me say it?

Niece – Ya.

Me – Dude, oh no.

Niece – You said it on the phone. You said someone was a hecking f—

Me – Ah-ah-ah! Fish. I said hecking fish.

Niece – No. You said—

Me – Fudge. Formaldehyde. Oh my hecking heck, what have I done?

Niece – You said a bad word.

Me – Ya. I’m sorry, little dude. You shouldn’t know that word.

Niece – I say it?

Me – No. Don’t ever say it. Ever.

Niece – How come you get to say it?

Me – Because I’m a big person.

Niece – You said when I did potty by myself I was a big person.

Me – This goes far beyond potty.

Niece – When I get big, I can say bad words?

Me – No. Yes. I don’t know. I’m going home now, okay? Don’t say that word.

Niece – It’s f—

Me – Don’t! Oh my God!


Niece – Hi.

Me – Hello.

Niece – You remember that time when I said to you about some bad word something?

Me – No.

Niece – Some bad word or something I said to you.

Me – I know nothing about this. You never said anything to me.

Niece – Ya, I think so. I said.

Me – This never happened.

Niece – Why you don’t want me to say it.

Me – Because there’s so many nicer words out there. Like… adhesive.

Niece – Hm?

Me – Adhesive. Say it.

Niece – Is it a bad word?

Me – No, it’s a nice, harmless word. Or petrichor. Or borborygmi.

Niece – What means the fffff bad word.

Me – Oh, don’t do this to me.

Niece – Does it mean cockroach?

Me – Not exactly.

Niece – Does it mean like hitting someone?

Me – It could, I guess. In a way. It’s actually a bit complicated.

Niece – Like so much hitting?

Me – No, it’s like… I actually have no idea what to say to you right now.

Niece – Why?

Me – Because no one told me what to say when something like this happens.

Niece – When someone says bad word.

Me – When you say bad word.

Niece – It’s okay.

Me – Yeah? I feel like I should tell you something useful. Because you’re probably going to end up using this word when you’re older.

Niece – Even though it’s a bad word?

Me – Even though it’s a bad word.

Niece – Why?

Me – Because sometimes you might just feel something so much that you just say it.

Niece – So you have to say bad word?

Me – No, you don’t have to. Maybe you’ll learn some better words to use when you grow up.

Niece – I say the bad word anyway?

Me – Do you absolutely have to?

Niece – I just say to you, very quiet. I say it in your ear.

Niece whispers.

Me – Oh!

Niece – Ya.

Me – You said “fool!”

Niece – Shhh!

Me – I called someone a hecking fool on the phone?

Niece – You’re keeping on saying it!

Me – Oh, I’m sorry, little dude. You’re right — it’s not the best word. But it’s not that bad. I mean, you’re going to hear words that are a lot worse.

Niece – Should I tell Amma my bad fffff word?

Me – You absolutely should. Right now.

Niece – Okay.

Me – Make sure you tell her it’s the F word. And you never heard me say it, okay?

Niece – Okay. You said it on the phone but.

Me – No, I didn’t.

Niece – You did but.

Me – Go tell your Amma.

Niece – You did but.

Me – Okay, I’m going now.

Niece – You did.

Small Talk chronicles conversations between the author and her niece that could, in an alternate universe or in this one, be real.


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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