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The Flowering Chest

by Niranjan Kumar


I ask mother if she is well, she says she is fine. She is lying, but I say nothing more as I sit at my desk and pull open the paper in front of me. 


“Oh—Why do you have to read the news?” she says.


“In case.” I say, not looking up.


“In case what?” she says, beginning to lean up.


“You know.” I say. She sighs and falls back in disappointment. Tired, she has given up on any hope. 


She is right, there’s not much for hope in there; more riots, more deaths, more news about lack of cures, and its effects, projected and occurring. It is a ghastly state for most, but for others it is some kind of heavenly release. One man at an all-night sex rally is quoted as saying “I’m glad women are gone, I truly am, finally, I can be free with myself and my fellow man.” And then, later on he says “My girlfriend died…my mother and my sister too, I miss them, so much.” He was described by the paper as “teary eyed.”, and I could see it right through the words. At the start there was anger, hatred, begging, and now, finally, benign acceptance as they are dying now in the thousands, then hundred-thousands, and soon millions every day. It is a heartbreaking sight, reverse Madonna situations all over the streets shown in the paper. I look over at my mother as I wonder if I will end up there one day. 


A think piece or some such thing like that says “…we will have to think of a way to live without the women of our world. I’m an agnostic and I don’t believe in divine vengeance or any such superstitions, this is a practical situation and we need to think of a practical solution.” I laugh at that, practical situation my ass, more than half the hospitals around the world are understaffed, most biology labs have shut down, and there is rarely any ‘art’, anymore; this all feels like it has dragged on for so long, but it has only been three years at the least. And yet, some are already partaking of their own free will to be out of this world. We haven’t heard the sounds of children playing together in a while except for boys shouting and trying to kill each other. I put the paper away and lean back into my chair, sighing. As I look over at the clock to my right it says that it's way past noon and close to evening; I should get out and buy some food. I get up and take what little money there is left out from a pillow’s case from the couch, she looks at me from her cushioned chair in the act: I give her a smile and she too gives me one, she used to do this, I used to be the one lounging about at home. I go to the door and make ready to leave, and I turn to her, she says that she will be alright, and I depart in my reluctant search for food before the night. 



Scarcely have I gone and the crowds begin to form. Every day there is a party and every night there is an after party, a never ending celebration of the end of the world. It won’t happen until a century or for a couple of decades, at least, and yet, we’ve already surrendered and let the wildness take over. A homeless woman curled up in a street corner, sticks out a hand and begs me for some food or money. She calls me son and I say that I don’t have any and I walk on. 


Far ahead beyond the night lights I see the neon sign of a convenience store, jutting out from the inside of a rounded corner as if of a ship’s stern. I enter with a chime and the girl behind the counter smiles at me.


“Back again.” She says, a wet handkerchief hidden away in her hands.


“Yes.” I reply, and “How are you doing?”


“Aw that…” she says with a shrug and a feigned-looking smile “I’m holding up better than most.”


“So you don’t have the green cough yet?” I ask, walking down an aisle filled with instant noodles, checking for the ones we like.


“No, not yet.” She says, sounding distant.


“Oh!” I say, loudly. 


With a strange and strained tone, she continues, “I think I might even pull through.” 


“Really.” I say not caring that much anymore as I walk to the back towards the cold foods’ section. Her voice ringing faintly.


“The doctor says I’ve got a chance.” I made a sound, like a lazy but loud enough, huh, that could mean as little as such an inane exclaim could in any conversation, and doctors always say that, half of them are crazy by now, and you could see a few without their fingers and eyes, they cut themselves and their families up with the scalpels that they used to save lives. I pick out a block of cold pork, some frozen pack of peas and a bunch of baby carrots, and I head back round the instant noodle section and pick out a couple dozen packets of the pork-and-bean ones, and some extra packets of bean curry, hanging on the stand right by the check-out, lonely. I dump them all at once onto her counter.


“I see you’re having a feast today, as usual.”


“When haven’t I ever. It’s the end of the world,” I say, motioning beyond the door.


“Well, it will be if they keep acting like that.” she says coldly, scanning one item after the other. 


“I know.” I say and glumly, waiting for my checking-out to be done. 


Then right at the end as she was stacking up the goods into the plastic bag, she gives me a hurt and begging look, like that of a homeless woman who had begged as she called me son. I was not able to say anything, I stared, waiting. The packing is done. I move to take the bag, but she doesn’t hand it to me as she would usually do, and with that same look. And I wait, and wait for her.


Looking around a bit to see if anyone is there, she leans to me and whispers, to my face. 


“Listen, I will only say this once, and once only…” Tears began to stream from her eyes as she chokes “I’ve never had se—sex before, you want to do it with me.”


“I… But what about the…” I was aghast and pointing at the food.


“That’s my problem, I know what to do, and what you have to decide is if you are willing to come to the back with me into the storage room and—and, regularly if you can, you will get free food from then on to the day I die.” She had said the word, her eyes flinch, with terror, as she corrects herself with a humorous grin “because I don’t see myself getting out of this job here except dying.” I grin along with her and for a second or so I think, clutching at the thinning roll of money in my fists.


 “Sure.” I say. She moves around the counter to the front-door, locks it down, flips the sign to ‘Closed’ and takes my hand and lead me down an aisle; I look up at the cameras and saw that they were dead, nodded off in shame with their necks bent and not a light shone by their lenses. Past the cold foods and drinks’ sections, and in through a door that reads ‘Employees Only.’ And there she pulls off her skirt and panties, and her thick sweater and blouse. And sitting up on a waist level stack of juice boxes by the door she opens up her legs and gives a stern and waiting look. I pull up my longyi and move towards her, pulling out my dick and rubbing it against her vagina to try and make it hard and useful. We weren’t even looking each other in the eye, it was like an examination of our genitals by a urologist of our opposite sexes. My dick gets hard out of desperation and her vagina gets wet out of her own desperate need and I shove it in while she lets out a tiny scream as I fuck her back there for a while so my mother and I could survive, fucking a bony and dying girl in the back of a convenience store, in the storage room, just so that I could get us some free food. I thought to myself that I would never forget this day and that I would hate myself, and this day, for the rest of my life, I pull out and cum all over the juice boxes and she lets it all out in a saddened torrent on top of them too, we leaned into each other there for a while, tired and embarrassed. 


She slides off the juice box, pulls up her skirt and panties, and her blouse and sweater, she doesn’t look at me, not like she would, and I pull down my longyi. She walks out ahead of me and I follow, lagging a little. She unlocks the front-door, flips back the sign and strokes some keys on the computer and hands me my bag of goods.


“Have a nice day,” she says, as I walk out, with the door half opened. And my back to her.

 

“Sure.” I say, no turning. I walked back home with a lump in my throat.



We sat down to eat, my mother and I, with our palms pressed, we pray to our god. We begin to eat, I was silent as she talked. She talked mostly about futures that would never come, not because the world was ending per se, but because simply that they were impossible futures before the beginnings of all this, dreams in fact; but they were now the hauntings of nightmares, her words only reminding me of how far below we are, again. 

“Would you please stop? I’m trying to eat.” I say to her and she does. Silently, she begins to eat by herself. At our dinner’s end I guiltily take away the plates and wash them alone, and she smiles at this act of piety, a hurt smile. 


I go to sleep unable to wash away the words that I had said to my mother as I did the grease on the plates and utensils.


I can only try not to say them again and as I think of that I keep replaying the scene in my head, the scene I dare not tell my mother, and the words I said to her while she was trying to be kind and hopeful. 

I slept that night with the lump weighing more. 



I wake up from my little cot bed stowed in a corner. Mother is not awake, she is still sleeping in her cushioned chair. I move slowly towards the sink, trying not to wake her, I release the water from the tap lightly and apply it gently onto my face, trying not to make a splash or a sound, and I take a towel hanging from a strung up string suspended above the sink and rub my face dry, and I look over and see that mother had opened her eyes. And she groans weakly, more so than before, her face is pale as if the parlor of ash, she calls to me with a light movement of her hand and I rush towards her, bumping into our tiny coffee table, which for us had also been the table for our dinners and lunches, falling beside her in a pile I ask her what she wants and leaned my ear close to her dry and soft lips. 


“Can you please open the window son?” she asks, with a breath. And I pull aside the faint curtains of the window behind her, and pull up the pane, sliding up, the air coming in with a rush and mother breathes long. I return and wait beside her as she pushes away the worn and faded blanket upon her, caressing my face as I hold her slipping hand, her calm eyes, with a smile the fungi sprout out of her chest like plumed but dead flowers, fading outward as spores, her smile dissipating and her eyes closing as her life is abridged by the wind. Here, hollowed and dead, as I am beside her holding her limp and cold hand to my face, crying. 



At the dead of evening, I leave, having called the phone line for corpse disposal services, the line dead and overrun, it seems today was the last day for many. So I leave, not knowing what to do. In the breezy night the parties are gone and dead, the world has ended, it is just a matter of when. The old homeless woman by the street corner lies dead with a vacant chest, there is no love in the expression of her eyes, only terror, how painful it must’ve been and how well she had hidden it. 


I walk on further and the lone neon light of the convenience store still glows. I walk in, knowing what I would find there.


“How you doing, stud?” she says, trembling, sweating, and clutching tightly to her chest. 

“I didn’t know you could do that,” I say, moving behind to help her hold it in, leaning back at the shelved packets of cigarettes behind.


“I didn’t know either I just—” she groans with a deeper pain; I can feel them writhing within her.


“What now?” I ask.


“I don’t know,” she says, writhing.


“This won’t last.” I say to her.


“I know, but…” she replies, beginning to faint and fall. I try to hold her up “But I don’t want to die, actually, die in here.” Steadying her, I move her around the counter, and lean against the door and sidle out of the opening with her. I lie her down against the store and she looks up into the glowing night sky of fading lights as the reflective spores are floating off.

“You know,” she says, her grip on her chest loosening “those spores are carrying a part of us with them to another world.”


“To do what?” I say.


“We don’t know, but we know that they can survive outer-space and there’s this pet theory of mine that—that…AHH!” They dig into her, stretching her tendons and crackling ribs.


“What pet theory?” I say as I do my best to hold them in, my arms beginning to strain.


“That they are the carriers of the seeds of each new world.” She lets out one breath and she releases her grip and I let go with her, and she fades into the wind as spores carrying themselves off into other worlds. I sit and watch as they go, wondering what worlds they would see, who they would become, and if there was another one like me sitting and watching them, going up, like here, like now, and wondering…


 —


I soon give up on these thoughts and I watch the beauty of their rising.


Photo by the author's sister, Lakshmi.

About the author:


Niranjan Kumar (Niranjana Rai) is 22, and has been published at Wilderness House

Review, for a poetry competition at a University that he’s dropped out of, and for ‘Through the Light Holes’ by Aruna Global South and Myanma Photo Archives. He was born in Mandalay, Burma.

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