Published: Short Story, ‘The Black River’ in the anthology ‘Behind The Shadows’

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‘Behind The Shadows’ is a collection of short stories from writers in Asia and Africa, edited by Rohini Chowdhury and Zukiswa Wanner. The theme of the collection is ‘outcasts’ and every story in the anthology touches on this theme and digs into the insider-outsider dichotomy that exists in the world and I’d say, in each one of us if we look deep enough. The anthology is now available for sale on Amazon. So click here to buy Behind The Shadows.

My story is called The Black River and is about Devika, an orphaned teenage girl who lives in a slum with an old woman and her granddaughter- Raveena. When the old woman dies, Devika suddenly finds herself thrust into an adult world where her sexual awakening collides with her maternal love for Raveena and where she turns to prostitution as much out of a desire to experience love as to make a living.

I wrote and workshopped at http://www.zoetrope.com sometime in 2011 or 2010. It’s one of those stories that began with the last line and I worked my way backwards trying to understand why this happened, to whom, when and how. In retrospect, the process is a lot like what Stephen King describes in his book On Writing. He says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that writing is kind of like unearthing a fossil. That this story is already there and we’re just excavating it slowly bone by bone as it becomes visible to us and finally we have the whole thing: this skeleton, this a-ha! moment where we SEE how everything is connected!

While I was developing it, I realised also that I didn’t want to write this stereotypical story of a whore who is coerced into prostitution. Not that that doesn’t happen; but it just wasn’t the strand I wanted to explore. So what came out is this piece about sex, love, loss and longing. Oh yeah, it’s a pretty sad story.

Obviously, there is some sexual description and strong mature themes in the story. You have been warned.

Below is an excerpt:

 

” “Ehh, what do we need money for? We need food. We need clothes. We need … lots of things. Whatever we want, we just tell him and he’ll bring it for us. Listen,” Mala says. She leans towards me, winks and then drops her voice to a whisper. 
“You want a little Old Monk, he’ll get it for you. You want some ganja, he’ll take care of it. He knows where to get everything, yaar, at the best price. So why worry about the money?” she adds.

It’s starting to rain outside but it’s dry inside here while my tent in the slum will be dripping. In my tent, I’ll have to curl up into a ball in a corner to avoid getting wet but here I can spread out and sleep. In my tent we might get flooded again but here…

“I have a daughter,” I tell Mala. “Can I bring her here?”

Mala’s eyes go round and she lifts my shirt up to look at my belly.
“What lies! Where are your stretch marks?”

“Her name is Raveena. She’s eight years old.”

“Kusum, look at this. She gave birth and she has no scars.”

Kusum barely glances at my stomach before she says, “Yeah right and my name is really Kusum.” 
Everyone breaks into laughter and then Kusum comes over to show me her stretch marks. They’re long and white as if the baby clawed its way out of her belly. Her skin is wrinkled and it sags and jiggles when she moves.

“Where’s your baby?” I ask her and she shrugs.

“I gave her to Tony,” she says and quickly looks away.

A silence falls over the room and then Kusum says, “Leave it, Mala. She doesn’t want to stay. She wants to play mommy to some beggar child. Let her and that child starve.”  ”

 

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