Friday, July 06, 2007

Down, Girl

["A 10-year-old Nepalese girl was stripped of her title as a living goddess because she traveled overseas to promote a documentary about the centuries-old tradition, an official said Tuesday.

Sajani Shakya had her status revoked because she broke with tradition by leaving the country, said Jaiprasad Regmi, chief of the government trust that manages the affairs of the living goddesses."]

“Not like we wanted to call you in, Kriti: we had no choice.”

“So you say.”

“Now, listen—”

“No, you listen. I mean, come on, the Five and Dime? You couldn’t have aimed for discreet?”

“What has discreet got to do—”

“Discreet has everything to do with it. One minute the subcontinent is at my feet, next minute I’m being drummed out in the checkout line.”


“Don’t Kriti me, I didn’t even get to buy those whoppers, nary a junior mint. Halfway through the Britney scam, and then your goons—”

“Hardly goons, Kriti. They are grandmothers—”

“Sharp fingers up my armpit, that’s goons in my book, I don’t care what they look like. And Mrs. Partisan is hardly—”

“Alright, Kriti, I grant you Mrs. Partisan—”

“You’re darn rootin’ tootin’, Mrs. Partisan—”

“Okay, okay. I grant you: it’s a nasty fly all round. Drummed out, whopper-shorn, nary a junior mint, bindi—”

“Oh, the bindi too, is it?”

“I’m afraid so, Kriti.”

“Shake ya booty Shakira gets to smear her forehead, Gwen Stefani gets one straight from BKS, but no, Ms. Down and Out is gotta wipe her face. Where is the justice in that?”

Attempting a smile, “You forgot Furtado—”

“Screw Furtado.”

Brief truce for hostile breathing.

“Well now. Be that as it may, we’ve got your future to think about.” Sliding the papers across the rosewood desk. “There’s your handsome pension to think of. If you’ll just sign—”

“40 quid a month? You call that handsome? Brad Pitt is handsome. 40 quid is Karl Malden in my book.”

“Most ungoddess-like, Kriti—”

“Exactly. Exactly.”

“Fact is, I kind of had a thing—”

“You would. No, Amma, if it’s 40 quid, I’d just as soon take the candy. Resale, I should make 75, easy.”

“Now, is that any way to—”

“Is taking down the Kumari any way to—”

“Alright. Alright. Forget the money for a moment. National Confectioners Trade Association wants to send you to college.”

“Well, they should, as much tooth-rot as I consumed for them. Where would that be? Berkeley? Stanford? Eastern Washington?”

Amma’s moue did not bode well.

“A & M.”

“God, no.”

“I’m afraid so.”

Hoping to salvage something out of the wasteland: “Corpus Christi campus? I’d weather hurricanes, just please tell me—”

“I’m sorry, Kriti. It just ain’t happening.”

“College Station?”

Amma nodded.

“San Antonio, perhaps?”

“Not built yet, baby.”

“Hell, Amma, I’d take Kingsville over—”

Amma shook her head.

Double moue. Moue on moue.

“Dixie Chicken?”

“So I hear.”

“Blues on Thursday nights?”

“Aggies gotta get something right, n’est pas?"

“Frisbee in the quad?”

“As long as it ain’t Frisbee golf. Too confusing for the Ags.”

“I get to choose my major?”

“Depends on—”

“Double major. Geography and Comp Lit.”

“First one might be a stretch. You got drummed out for traveling, remember?”

“Girl studies Conrad likes to know where Poland is on the map.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Don’t count on—”

“Wouldn’t think of it.”

Five minutes of moue-softening. Time to watch the sun redden in the west.

Amma broke the silence: “Bartoli made the Wimbledon finals.”

“Tres bien.”

“Think she can take Venus?”

“Not a chance.”

They both caught the green flash at the horizon.

“Always meant to ask, Kriti—you ever feel like it was—”

“For real?”

“Yes. Did you ever?”

“I loved the attention, loved the candy, the red dresses, but no, never.”

“What a waste.” Amma was clearly disappointed. Kriti’s heart broke to see the sadness.

“Well, maybe—”


Kriti palmed a dollop of face cream, looked into the hand mirror, and gently wiped the bindi away. She leaned over the bowl of water and washed her face clean. Brushed her perfect teeth, set her perfect coffee-colored eyes upon Amma. Crossed her perfect hands in her lap.

“In Bholi, they brought me an old man, blind, crippled on two crutches, he’d lost one of his feet. Old toothless woman beside him whispers that he is 107 years old. Giggling like the 90 year old niece she’s been for ages. The old man shushes her and then very solemnly bows and kisses my feet. Sticker burr whiskers from his unshaven face rasp my toes. Then he sings me a song they later tell me is one thousand years old, and as he sings, he very carefully counts my toes. Counts them several times just to make sure. When he is absolutely positive, he opens his blind eyes, looks directly into mine, and winks. I can feel that song in my heart, to this day. So, yes, maybe once.”

Kriti stands to pull the red dress over her head. Pulls on a lavender shift, looks as beautiful as she did the day they placed the bindi of perfection upon her brow. She leans over, kisses Amma’s forehead and walks to the door.

Amma takes gentle hold of her dress. “I don’t understand. What did the old man see?”

Kriti smiled down. “Count my toes.”

Amma counted. She looked up. “Ten.”

“Count again.”

Again, she counted. “Ten. I count ten.”


Slowly, carefully now: “One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine. Oh. Oh my.”

“So, yes. On that day, yes. On that day, I felt like I’d earned my 40 quid.”

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