January 2, 2019

“Blue-Eyed, Brown Aunt” by Babitha Marina Justin

My aunt, Meenakshi Cheriyamma, had an unusual pair of blue-green eyes. Growing up with those eyes must have been traumatic for her. A girl from Kerala, she had blue eyes which contrasted with her deep chocolate brown skin. This was almost unheard of. Everyone thought she was a witch. When she died, they buried her ashes under the Astoria tree and worshipped her like a goddess; a less important one that too, as she was worshipped on a single day in a year.

Cheriyamma shared her room with me. I inherited her looks, but I missed out on her blue-green eyes. I craved for them even in my sleep, as I knew that her eyes made her look as ravishing as the sea. Incidentally, I was the only one who found her beautiful, as I was the first one to find her dead in our room. One day, I came back from my school and started telling her about my day. There was nothing unusual in her posture lying on her bed with her bluish-green eyes open; but when she didn’t answer a series of questions, I shook her cold body and cried out for my mother. Cheriyamma was thirty-two.

No one knew how she died, there was no struggle on her face, but a calm peace written all over. Looking at her, we could not believe that she had stopped breathing. My father, who doubled-up as a village doctor, checked her pulse, and her heart beat with a German stethoscope, shook his head and pursed his lips. Then, he tried to close her eyelids, but they refused to close. They cremated her with a pair of eyeshades which originally belonged to my grandfather. The entire family used those unusually dark eyeshades whenever one of the family members contracted conjunctivitis. My father wanted the shades to be cremated along with Cheriyamma, and my weeping grandmother wondered aloud what we will do during the next conjunctivitis season.

Unlike my family, I was quite pained at Cheriyamma’s passing. Everyone was kind of relieved because the entire village thought there was something evil in her. No man ever dared to approach her with a marriage proposal. Ammumma, my grandmother, believed that her stars were all in the wrong place. Incidentally, there were nights when even I thought there was something mysterious and evil in her behavior. On raven dark nights, I often heard her open the creaky door and walk into woods behind the house. I trembled with fear and waited for her to return.

Once, when she came back, I mustered the courage and asked her where she went with her hair fragrant and open at night. Her eyes gleamed like fireflies and she said, she went to the nearby tree where a Gandharva appeared on new moon days. I was terrified. After that night, I was particularly vigilant whenever she got dressed on new moon nights and I lie waiting for her to come back safe after meeting the Gandharva. At times I even heard the Gandharva’s voice whispering to her, and I imagined him gliding down from the tree to drop her back safe.

My grandmother who was a repository of stories sensed nothing wrong when I asked her about Gandharvas.

Ammumme, how do Gandharvas look?”

“Incredibly handsome! They have sculpted bodies and beautiful voices. Human beings don’t look half as good as them.”

“Have you seen them Ammumme?”

“God forbid! If I had met one of them, I would have been seduced and taken along with him. The women they leave behind become insane, fantasizing them and missing them all the time.”

I was gripped by fear.

“Meenakshi Cheriyamma meets a Gandharva very often.”

Ammumma frowned. When I told her that Meenakshi Cheriyamma meets him every new moon day, she shut me up.

“He doesn’t go behind blue-eyed witches. Don’t keep imagining things, you go and study!” She shooed me away.

Cheriyamma’s Gandharva started visiting her on other nights as well. I heard him talk to Cheriyamma for a long time before they disappeared into the snake shrine. Cheriyamma was deliriously happy after meeting him and I thought that the Gandharva should be unimaginably beautiful.

Cheriyamme, will you ask the Gandharva to sing a song for me?”

“How do you know he sings?”

Ammumma told me that he can sing in a heavenly voice.”

My aunt looked preoccupied for a while.

Then she asked me with emerald shafts dancing in her blue eyes, “Would you like to meet him?”

“Yes, of course!” I clapped my hands with joy.

“Don’t tell anyone you met him, ok?”

I nodded feverishly, and my locks too danced along, like springs set on music.

That moonless night, Cheriyamma took me out to meet the Gandharva. I saw his silhouette from a distance and my heart started beating fast.

I was quite disappointed meeting him because I could not see his superhuman beauty in the dark.

His form looked too human and vulnerable.

“Gandharva, can you sing a song for me?” I asked.

“If I sing, the entire neighborhood will wake up, and then they will search for me. I appear only in front of special people.”

I thought the Gandharva sounded too human as well, his voice resembled Kannettan’s. Kannettan came to our house every morning to milk cows, and all of a sudden, I felt even the Gandharva resembled Kannettan.

Kannettan was not bad looking, he was tall, strong and well-built. Ammumma told me he is from a lower caste and I am not supposed to be friends with him. But whenever Kannettan was free, he let me touch the calves and once he even taught me to milk a cow.

Cheriyamma shut me up when I told her about the Gandharva’s uncanny resemblance to Kannettan. She once again strictly forbade me to tell about this meeting to anyone. The Gandharva will be furious, she said.

After meeting the Gandharva, I started sleeping peacefully knowing that Cheriyamma is in safe hands. One night, I woke up to a ruckus. My parents surprised Cheriamma and her Gandharva, and they tied them up and beat them. Cheriyamma was locked her up in the loft afterwards.

I took her food up to the loft. Her blue eyes were glued to a distant vacuum and once she asked me if Kannettan still came to milk the cows.

“Kannettan disappeared all of a sudden,” I told her. “There’s a new man to milk the cows.” What I didn’t tell her was the rumour that Kannettan had gone missing from the village.

“I want you to bring me something kept under my bed.”

I ferreted out a packet from under her bed. Cheriyamma opened it and took out a golden filigreed saree.

“This is my bridal wear, I want to wear this when my Gandharva comes to take me away. Will you please unbolt the loft door?” she asked.

The saree had the colour of her eyes.

I unbolted the door with a thumping heart. When I returned home, I was quite relieved to see her lying on the bed with open eyes.

She looked dark and beautiful in her bridal dress, and the calm on her face nestled on her unblinking blue-green eyes.

 ©Babitha Marina Justin


About the Author: Babitha Marina Justin is from Kerala, South India and a Pushcart prize nominee, 2018. Her poems have appeared in Eclectica, Esthetic Apostle, The Paragon Press, Fulcrum: an annual of art and aesthetics (forthcoming), The Scriblerus, Chaleur Magazine, Into the Void, Trampset, Inlandia, The Paragon Press, Adolphus Press, The Punch Magazine, Rise Up Review, Constellations, Cathexis NW Press, Silver Needle Press, About Place Journal, The Write Launch, Ogazine, The Four Quarters Magazine, Taj Mahal Review, Indian Ruminations, Kritya and Journal of Post-Colonial Literature. Her first collection of poetry, Of Fireflies, Guns and the Hills, was published by the Writers Workshop in 2015. She is also waiting to debut as a novelist with ‘Maria’s Swamp: The Bigness of Small Lies.’

Babitha Marina Justin Author Photo

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