by Mandira Pattnaik
My gorgeous middle daughter is a Crab-girl. I’m not her mother, she chose me to be. Crawling up our bamboo fencing, and around my herb garden to climb up the Laughing Buddha miniature I have on the fridge-top in the kitchen on a rainy morning like this, she let out a sigh before she called, Mummy, Mummy! It was almost a whisper. I knew right away I really wanted to be her mamma. That was also the morning, we learnt later, when a dhoni crashed twenty-five miles away, battered by giant waves in the storms overnight. Every year she goes away, on the day we think is her birthday, to the sea and brings back selfies with the dhoni in the background, its mast broken upon the sea bed and blinking jellyfish in her hair. At other times, our Crab-girl is feisty and the siblings fight a lot. My other kids say I love my crab-girl more, and am step-motherly to them. I’m angry and try to tell them I love everyone the same. But while we talk, I can see crab-girl slip away to her room. I know she’s hurt because they say things that aren’t true, she’s different from them. For days, my Crab-girl curls into her shell, and I didn’t know what to do. Of late, this has begun to happen often. Crab-girl’s shell is beginning to molt too. It went from peach to the color of a ripe fruit. She never leaves her shell nowadays. This morning it’s been raining incessantly. The horizon is blurred and the sea is a mish-mash of all the shades of grey and blue. Not finding her on the bed in her room, my husband and I rush to the seaside, and scour all along the beach. The sea is rough. The tides, high. We run from one end of the shore to the other, the spray on our faces, our footprints deleted in a hurry by the crashing waves. Just when we decide to call off the search, I find pieces of her porcelain shell, washed ashore, smelling of brine. I think she is in a little burrow-shaft near the dhoni’s rotting hull; think she’s telling me, Mummy, I’m molting. I’m waiting for a stronger shell to grow on me so I can emerge right back out.
Mandira Pattnaik’s writing appears in Best Small Fictions 2021, Bacopa Literary, Timber Journal, Citron Review, Watershed Review, Passages North, Trampset, DASH, Miracle Monocle, Amsterdam Quarterly and Press53 among other places. Her fiction was recently translated into Arabic. Mandira’s work received nominations for the 2021 Pushcart Prize, Best Microfictions 2021, Best of the Net 2020, and received Honorable Mention in CRAFT Flash Contest 2021.