Fever Dreams by Manisha Anjali
Manisha Anjali is a folk story writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has also lived in Fiji and New Zealand. Manisha won the People’s Choice Award for her short story Goldie the Turtle in the NZ Writer’s College Short Story Competition in 2012. She was awarded a Hot Desk Fellowship by The Wheeler Centre in 2013. She is currently working on her debut novel, Peanuts.
Aji has put me in a small cupboard. I am to lie here in the darkness with the hots and colds until it all goes away. My eyes are sticky. They have glue coming out of them. It hurts to keep them open. But I am afraid to close them completely in case they glue themselves shut forever. Then Aji would have to cut my eyes open with a knife. I have big red spots from my chinny-chin-chin down to my ankles. They itch like a bastard but I am not allowed to touch. Aji will smack me if she sees me scratching. The hots and colds keep me awake and put me to sleep. I am somewhere in between real life and a scary dream. I can hear my brothers and sisters playing hide-and-seek outside among the trees; and my pussycat is scratching on the cupboard door because she is worried about me.
My oldest brother T-Rex had the spots first. He spent ten days in the cupboard. Then my sisters, Marigold and Uma, had the spots at the same time and they did their time in the cupboard together. Then it was Rita, then Dari, then our smallest brother who we named Rambo. I am the last to get it. Aji is our grandmother. She has had the spots three times. She has spent many times in cupboards and dark rooms. It is the only way to get rid of the hot spots, she says. No sun, no fun.
In the cupboard I meet Amitabh Bachan, a hero from Aji’s dreams. He wears a white suit and holds a shotgun. He has shiny hair and shiny teeth. But as he laughs, all his teeth fell out one by one, turning into little drops of blood as they hit the floor. In the shadows I hear the howls of my pussycat. She is trying to tell me something, but I cannot understand her. Amitabh’s laughter shakes my eardrums and my head throbs as more glue fills my eyes and my spots are aflame.
I have had enough. I cannot lie here anymore and let this famous man bleed all over me. So I try to get out of bed. I begin walking sideways like a sea crab. I walk up the walls and onto the ceiling. I look down at myself writhing like a shrub in my bed. I am sad. I miss the sun. What a small, smelly cupboard. What a bitch my Aji is.
Then I sink into the floor. The splinters in the wood hurt my body. I feel like I have broken through a sun mirror and the mirror has scarred my skin and bones. I can hear the bell on T-Rex’s new bicycle, Marigold and Uma laughing under the mango trees and the cries of my poor pussycat outside my cupboard door. When I awake I am not in a mirror anymore. I am wet all over and my hair is all over my face. I must look like the devil. I feel like I have just been to hell.
I feel cold on my face. It is Aji. She holds a wet sponge to my forehead.
‘One day when your children get the measles, you will hide them from the sun too,’ she says, then coughs into her shoulder. ‘You might hate me for this now boy, but one day you will understand.’ She hums an old tune and puts the sponge on my heart. Then she holds my eyelids open with her old fingers and squirts some cold medicine.
‘The sun has gone down,’ she says. ‘You must come join us for dinner.’ She picks me up and carries me into the living room. All my brothers and sisters are sitting cross-legged on the floor with plates of rice, dahl and butter. They eat with their fingers.
‘Your pussycat just gave birth to five little kittens. You want to see?’ Aji asks. I nod. I really do want to see. Aji points to the living room corner. My pussycat is lying on her side with her four new babies. The kittens are sticky and wet. They have glue coming out of their eyes too. Their teeth are soft and they fit perfectly in my pockets. My pussycat licks her sleeping babies. They smile.