Small Talk: The Girl


Sep 29, 2019


Illustration by Shreyaa Krritika Das

Niece – I tell you something?

Me – Give me money first.

Niece – You know when I went to that aunty’s house because Amma made me go and I didn’t want to go because Jiah’s kittens and it was raining and I couldn’t wear my rain boots because I put sand in them?

Me – I should ideally say no but, for some reason, I know what you’re talking about.

Niece – Ya. In that house, you know what I sawed?

Me – Wildebeests sweeping majestically across the ceiling. 

Niece – There was a girl.

Me – Okay. Well, that’s not very interesting, as you might have guessed.

Niece – She was in the kitchen.

Me – Still not super interesting.

Niece – She was washing the floor.

Me – Oh. 

Niece – Because maybe she spilled something. Right?

Me – Well–

Niece – Or maybe she likes washing.

Me – That’s probably not why. 

Niece – Why then?

Me – I think she works there. 

Niece – Like school.

Me – No, not like school. Like, she works. For money.

Niece – Because there are no big people.

Me – I … don’t think that’s why.

Niece – Because she likes it.

Me – No, little dude, she probably doesn’t.

Niece – Then why?

Me – Because … some kids have to work.

Niece – Why?

Me – I guess because their family needs money. 

Niece – What happened to the big people?

Me – I don’t know, maybe they work, too. Or maybe they don’t.

Niece – Is it bad?

Me – Kids working like that? Yeah, it’s bad.

Niece – When are we going to tell the police?

Me – Um …

Niece – Because it’s bad, right? So, we have to tell the police. Right?

Me – Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Niece – Why?

Me – As in– well, it’s complicated because– like, I don’t think– I don’t know if telling the police is the best idea.

Niece – Why but.

Me – Because … you know, a lot of people have kids working in their houses. A LOT.

Niece – So we tell the police about all of them.

Me – No, that’s not what we do.

Niece – What do we do then.

Me – Um … nothing, actually.

Niece – But it’s bad you said.

Me – It is, it’s just … it’s like a bad thing that happens even though people know it’s bad.

Niece – What about that girl.

Me – She’ll be okay. I think. I mean, I’m sure that aunty is nice to her. 

Niece – She makes her wash the floor but.

Me – Yeah, but that’s her job. I mean–

Niece – But she’s a girl.

Me – Yeah but– listen, you don’t have to worry about all that stuff, okay? It’s– hey, where are you going?

Niece – To my room.

Me – You want to talk about this some more?

Niece – No.

Me – You sure? We can– Okay, I guess you’re sure.


Me – Hey, little dude, you’re quiet today.

Niece – Ya.

Me – Ya. It’s a bad thing I know, kids working like that.

Niece – And nobody telling the police.

Me – That too.

Niece – But if no one tells the police how will they know it’s happening.

Me – I think they know. It’s just … it’s complicated.

Niece – It’s bad.

Me – Yeah, and it’s bad. 

Niece – We don’t do it but.

Me – Us? No, we don’t do it. At least not anymore.

Niece – We did before.

Me – Well … like when I was growing up, there was this little boy who worked in the house. And there was this girl who helped look after the kids. A lot of people did it, little dude. I mean, it was wrong, but … I don’t know, it just happened.

Niece – Why you did like that?

Me – I didn’t do it, the adults back then did it. But yeah, it was bad. They shouldn’t have done that.

Niece – And no one told the police.

Me – That’s true, no one did.

Niece – And now no one is telling the police.

Me – That’s true, but listen. There are organizations and NGOs and things now which help kids like that. They’ll make sure they are taken care of.

Niece – So we don’t have to do anything.

Me – No, I mean, like we know it’s wrong and we don’t do it anymore, and that’s good! And besides that there are organizations to take care of this kind of … stuff.

Niece – But it’s happening but.

Me – Yeah, but I mean there are organizations … and they’ll take care of everything. Oh! And we can give money to the organizations, to help them help those kids.

Niece – Do we give money?

Me – Sure! I mean, like, I donated a while back, I think. Or was that for the floods? Or … wait, that was for someone’s birthday. Anyway, doesn’t matter, the point is we can give money to help. As in, we can give money to other people so they will help.

Niece – And we don’t have to do anything.

Me – Well, giving money is something. No?

Niece – I get my money now?

Me – You have money?

Niece – Thaathaa gave me. I get now?

Me – Oh no, you don’t have to give your money, you keep that. Save it for something nice.

Niece – But what about helping?

Me – That– you don’t worry about that. The big people will do all that, okay? 

Niece – Really, you will?

Me – Sure! And listen, I’ll talk to Amma, you don’t have to go to that aunty’s house anymore, okay?

Niece – Why?

Me – Because seeing that girl makes you upset.

Niece – Because it’s bad.

Me – Yeah, but you don’t have to worry about that anymore.  And I’ll donate some money to CRY or something right now. Okay? Sound good?

Niece – I’m going down.

Me – You’re off to play then?

Niece – I just want to go.

Me – Okay. But don’t worry about all this stuff anymore, okay? It’s all good. I’ll donate some money, and it’ll all be fine. Okay? 

Niece – Bye.

Me – It’ll be fine, little dude. Trust me. Everything’s fine. 

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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