She had heard dogs barking in the dead of night. She had seen the sky shiver as it waited for the stars to fade one by one. She had felt the cold descend on her body in the bright rays of the sun. For thirty-five years she had wanted to tell of the cool misty advent of spring, of the golden land’s infinite variety, the sweet happiness of childhood, the trembling ecstasy of first love, the rickshaw rides with plastic sheets over the legs to keep dry in the incessant rain of the monsoons, but the odor! The damned odor! - the odor of the brown-red stain on the white flowers growing on the grass, of crushed marigold petals, of the ivory white blossoms of the mango tree, of the myriad delicate filaments protruding from the crown that the guava still carries as if it did not want to give up on its beginnings, of the damp moss covered walls, the glob of rice and lentil and the river and the fishy stink of rotting hyacinth, all indistinguishable from what was gentle and what was not – the odor always took over her soul and made her not want to remember.
How was she to put it? How was she to shake off the fever of storms and floods? How was she to stop the sweat drenched awakening from uneasy sleep, and calm the beating heart each night that she dreamt that she was back in the red brick house (were her dreams in color!); and the red brick house turned into the derelict red ruin on the banks of a river; the pale beams streaming from the moon in the mist of the night shedding light on the women huddled in the dark with men with flashlights stalking the corridors, and the red line streaking down virginal thighs to the cold stone floor and the stars weeping and the day waiting to dawn.
And it is in the field flooded with dew where it all began that fourth-day-of- February, and now her melancholic heart could take it no more. The cool misty morning had come, like the yellow marigold swathed February-of- the- martyrs, as usual in a season when the mauve and pink sweat peas curl around the bamboo strip lattices and fill the air with thoughts of love and longing, and the nip in the air enhances the heady aroma of the delicate white sheuli flowers with bright orange stems. In the mist of the spring mornings girls collect the blossoms of the sheuli, that bloom in the night, and fall off the shrub and lie on the dew drenched grass in a sheet of white foam with orange crests. If the girls squeeze a bunch in their fists their palms turn a pale version of the stain from the henna leaves, curiously the same as the color of the odor, if odors have color, that assailed her that February morning in this now the golden land.
In February it does not rain so much, nor do the strong cyclones whip up frenzied winds, as they had in the advent of winter the year before the coming on the map of the earth of this now the golden land which, had caused the floods and despair and isolation. But without winter there would be no spring, and no yellow saris with red borders for girls to wear at the memorial of the first martyrs to the mother tongue, and there would be no women sitting in the field of green grass and white flowers and the soft mist and the aching feet, and no boy wearing a grey sari with a thin black and silver border. The stupid boy should have worn a yellow sari with a red border for these are the colors of spring. Perhaps, the grey and black and silver had given him away. And the woman with the swollen belly who lay writhing and moaning by the winding pathway on the dew drenched grass was also not wearing yellow. That woman was wearing pink with small blue flowers and the mist had not covered the patch of red spreading near her crotch the day after the morning among the dew drenched white flowers on the green grass.
Two decades before the odor was seared in her memory of smells and the red flowers among the white forever becoming her record of boundaries redrawn and the lives of people changed, she had come into the world by slipping out from her mother’s womb, (was it possible to have slipped out of some other womb?) This she did in the dead of night in a remote, isolated town in the country whose birth pangs she was a part of, the afterbirth really, and she too had been born in a flood of blood as all babies do. The cleavage too had taken place in the flow of blood, and now this golden land was being born in its nine-month flow of blood after the march of the fire lit skies; and the girl, whose name meant beautiful had told her,
“I am cursed with the odor of congealed blood.”
“How did this come to be?”
“I lay under the bodies of dead women for one day and one night!”
“How could this have happened?”
While the leaders of the two wings were talking in your city of who should be prime minister, the women and children in the colony by the river in my city were rounded up and put in a room, and one day three men came in and the ear splitting rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns.