by Tara Isabel Zambrano
It was a humid day when the elephant came. I was twelve, Latika was thirteen. The mahout helped us settle on the top after my Grandma gave him ten rupees. Sitting on the red velvet howdah, we faced each other. Grandma walked back to the house, her right arm still up, waving. Latika was in denim overalls with a torn pocket. I was wearing a pink frock with matching hair pins. The elephant paced on a dirt road, we smiled and held each other’s sweaty palms. The kids in the oval park called our names and waved at us. In distance, the Aravalli hills stood like tall, dark men, their heads bowed in prayer.
When we passed the temple, I folded my hands. Smeared in vermilion and covered in marigold garlands, the idol of Ganesha appeared small from up high. Latika looked away, said her family believed in a different God. One day I’d confront Latika about the other God she believed in. Now, I just held her hand tighter. She looked beautiful, flustered because of the humidity. Her face looked the same a few weeks ago when she talked about Monu, her elder brother’s friend who touched her and she went all slippery inside. I whispered, “Monu,” in her ear and she giggled, the hollow from her missing front row tooth glistened. The dust rose behind us and the sky buzzed with electricity. A faded, Gujrat dusk descended: the color of my Grandma’s sari, I’d been living with her after Ma and Pa died in an accident six months ago. The mahout chanted in his coarse voice and the elephant walked, releasing light tremors in the air, his tail swinging side to side like a fan.
On our second and final round, raindrops fell on our laps. I felt dampness in my underwear. Was it that time already? To avoid ruining my dress, I shifted and picked the fabric under me, no one would notice a stain on the velvet. A cramp rose and I squeezed Latika’s hand. She was the one who told me about the bleeding, what it meant. I wondered where all that blood came from every month. Why couldn’t there be a monsoon of menses so the rest of the months would be carefree and dry?
When we reached closer to my home, the last rays of sun disappeared behind the gargling clouds. The elephant’s bell jingled like the house keys Grandma wore in a chain around her neck. His skin wrinkled like her’s. Huge and grey, he filled all the space in my eyes. Did my Grandma bleed too? Maybe not because she never complained about it like she did for everything else. It started raining and the pebbles sparkled. I turned around and saw the elephant’s footprints, small craters filled with water like my eyes with rain. “How far the dirt goes, I said. “All the way to the earth’s heart,” Latika answered.
Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House Online, The Cincinnati Review, Slice, The Minnesota Review and several other journals. She is an electrical engineer by profession and a prose reader for The Common.
This piece appears in our 25th Anniversary Issue