by Anuja Varghese
Published on December 31, 2019 9:05 PM
DG Mag Issue 2
It was hot, the way the end of May can be sometimes, spring curdled into summer overnight. My thighs stuck together, that fat girl thigh sweat chafing as I walked home. My wrist still hurt. I shifted my backpack on my shoulders and got a whiff of that faintly sour smell that clung to the canvas fabric now, no matter how many times ma hosed it down.
“Saala kutiya,” ma had said, sucking her teeth, after the first time. Dirty bitches. She had pushed the nozzle of the hose right into the yawning mouth of my backpack, still dripping with the milk they had poured into it that day. “Those goris think they’re better than you? Well, fuck them, Manju.” She had paused, hand on the trigger, cigarette clenched between her teeth. “Fuck their goddamn gori faces right into the goddamn ground.” That’s what she had muttered, but I don’t think, when she said that, that she was still talking to me.
It didn’t happen every day, once or twice a week if I was lucky. This girl January was the leader. She had failed a grade, so she was still a sophomore, but she looked like a senior. I thought she was beautiful. Even when her friends blocked the bathroom door and she pinned me to the wall to pull my backpack off my body, all I could think about was the way she smelled like watermelon gum, the way her electric blue eyeliner swooped to perfect points at the corners of her glassy eyes. Like a Heather. Like a Regina George. Like something right out of an old teen movie, I thought, as she emptied an entire carton of white milk into my backpack and zipped it up, handing it back to me with a smile. I don’t know if she did it because I was fat, or because I was brown, or just because she could.
I knew she would do it again today, knew from the moment she ran her fingers through my hair in homeroom. “Hi, Man-Joo,” she drawled. She carried a purse instead of a backpack. Halfway through class, a folded note flew sideways and landed on my desk. I swiped it into my lap and opened it. January had terrible handwriting. MANJU LOVES COCK, it said. MANJU DRINKS CUM LIKE ITS MILK. I wrote in the missing apostrophe in “it’s” then refolded the note and put it in my backpack. Words like that, like cock and cum, made me burn up, made me feel prickly in weird places. I could have thrown the note out, but I didn’t. I carried it around with me until January found me later and shoved me into the bathroom. I didn’t carry much else in there anymore. I knew it would all get doused anyway.
Walking home though, I knew ma would be mad. “How many times is this going to happen, Manju?” she would demand. “When are you going to make them stop?” Not today, ma, I thought. Today, January had pinned me to the wall harder than usual. Her hot pink nails had dug into my wrist as she held up the note before pouring the milk in. “Why do you keep this shit?” she had hissed at me. She crumpled it in my face and I had thought, for a minute, she was going to make me eat it, watch me choke on this wad of bleached pulp and blue ink. She threw it on the floor and after the milking was done, she and her friends left and I poured what I could out into the sink.
The road to the house ma was renting snaked around a narrow creek. If you followed the creek into the woods, you’d find used condoms and needles, broken bottles and old porno magazines. I had never gone past the bridge that crossed the murky water, acting as a barrier to the woods beyond. But my friend Sarah had, on a dare, and she said it was disgusting. She said it smelled like the homeless guy who hung around the liquor store with piss-stained paints, greeting everyone with an outstretched palm and a toothless grin.
I wanted to go home. I wanted to throw my backpack off the back porch for ma to deal with when her shift at the buffet was over. I wanted to peel off my shorts and lie on the couch with the fan on high, eat ice cream from the tub, watch Riverdale on Netflix. I only stopped because I saw January’s purse in the creek. It had to be hers, nobody else had a purse like that. I stood on the bridge and watched it bob in the water, its strap caught on a rock, keeping it from floating away. I heard her scream. I still wanted to go home, just wanted to go so badly, to get out of the heat, but I went into the woods instead. I didn’t have to go far. She was between the trees, just off the path, face down, crying into the dirt. I didn’t know the man who stood behind her, his cock in his hand, his cum spurting onto her naked back, like a torrent of milk splashing against her spray-tanned skin.
January looked up, looked right at me. Her mascara ran in blue and black lines down her face. I turned and ran all the way home. I held the phone in my hand, ready to call the police, to call ma, to call Sarah, to call somebody. Somebody should know. I stared at the backpack I had dropped on the kitchen floor and slowly, I put the phone down. I turned the fan on and got the ice cream out and sank into the couch. I wondered if the next time January pinned me to the bathroom wall, we would both smell like sour milk.
Anuja Varghese is a Canadian QWOC writer whose work appears or is forthcoming in The Malahat Review, Corvid Queen: A Journal of Feminist Folklore & Fairy Tales, So To Speak Journal, Hamilton Review of Books, and others. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Pigeon Pages Fiction Contest and took third prize in the 2019 Alice Munro Festival Short Story Competition. Anuja is currently pursuing a Creative Writing Certificate from the University of Toronto while working on a collection of short stories. She can be found on Instagram (@anuja_v) and Twitter (@Anuja_V) or by visiting anujavarghese.com.