The Statue Game
Anjali always pointed to her teeth when she tried to sell her appendix.
“Canadian teeth,” she would say, giving them a tap. “Romba strong. If the teeth are this good then imagine what my appendix must be like.”
Unfortunately, nobody wanted to buy her appendix and she couldn’t understand this because people in India were buying and selling body parts all the time.
“I don’t think there’s a market for appendixes,” I said. “Try selling your kidneys. Or your liver.”
“Why should I? Appendix is just as good as kidneys,” she said. “I think I’m being blacklisted because I’m Canadian. If I didn’t have this accent I would have sold my appendix a long time ago.”
“It’s not your accent, it’s because you’re kind of pink and muscly,” I said. “Most Indian women aren’t pink and muscly. It makes people suspicious.”
I wanted Anjali to go home. I couldn’t think of a better place for a Canadian than Canada, but she was very comfortable here. She stayed in a small room down the road from my grandmother’s house and spent her time sending postcards to the folks back home. She wrote about how this was a real-deal Indian town that didn’t have many cows but there were lots of black pigs and goats that never stopped farting. Water only came out of the taps twice a day and you couldn’t drink it because it was filled with malevolent strains of cholera, typhoid, malaria and small pox. She wrote about how she saw dead rats in the daytime, how people peed at the side of the road, how the electricity came and went as it pleased. Once a month her sister wired her fifty dollars, but Anjali wanted to expand her horizons and you couldn’t do that on fifty dollars. This is why she wanted to sell her appendix. One afternoon she came to my grandmother’s house and started tugging at the front door.
“What do you want?” I said from the window. I didn’t want to let her in because it would take a very long time to put her outside again.
“My sister’s coming,” she said. “Is the door locked? Why’s the door locked?”
“Will she take you back to Canada?”
“I think she’s just wants to make sure I’m all right and everything. You know.”
“Where are you going to keep her?”
“I was thinking since you’ve got extra rooms here—”
“Okay. Well I guess she could stay with me then. I could rent an air conditioner or something. Are you going to open the door?”
“How long is she staying?”
“I don’t know. Hey, maybe you could meet her.”
“Maybe she’ll take you back to Canada,” I said.
My grandmother died in her sleep in a white Ambassador car, somewhere between Tirunelveli and Nagercoil. When we finished burning her, I was asked to go to her house and settle the ‘little things’, though I wasn’t very clear about what these ‘little things’ were. Her house was sparse and mysterious, littered with chairs and straw mats. There was also a broken gramophone player, a cupboard of old silk saris, cooking pots, and a crumbly statue of Krishna that was the size of a small child. He was chipped all over, as if he had been pecked at by millions of tiny birds. Both his hands were missing and there was a large hole where his right knee should have been. His flute had been reduced to a rusted mess of wire that stuck to his cracked lips.
“Give it to me,” said Anjali.
“Because I’m totally into Krishna. And it would look really cool in my room.”
“A thousand rupees.”
“I’ll give you a hundred. Once I sell my appendix.”
A builder wasp darted in and out of the hole in Krishna’s knee. I wondered what had happened to his hands. It looked like they had been broken off.
“So can I have it?” asked Anjali.
“You can have him for a thousand rupees.”
The shopkeeper across the street was the custodian of my grandmother’s house and the official keeper of the house key. As far as I could tell, he didn’t like me for three reasons:
1. I didn’t know how to add up my change.
2. I still got ‘left’ and ‘right’ mixed up.
3. I only knew how to count to ten in Tamil.
“I have a question,” I said to him one morning. “What can I do with an old statue?”
“Throw it out,” said the shopkeeper.
“Isn’t it wrong to throw out statues of God?”
“Shouldn’t you have mentioned that? How am I to know it’s a statue of God?”
“It’s a statue of God.”
“You need to put it in a river.”
“Will you put it in a river for me?”
“My grandmother would have wanted you to.”
“Why are you lying like this?”
“I’m not lying.”
“Yes you are.”
I went home and sat on the back porch with the statue on my lap. It was the weariest statue of Krishna I had ever seen. The tiny gouges in his eyes made him look vampiric and blind at the same time. His smile seemed to be waiting for the right time to fall off and join the broken hands, wherever they were.
“You remind me of that guy,” I said, peering inside the hole in his knee. “The one who couldn’t die and they turned him into a grasshopper. Which I never really understood. Why would you turn something into a grasshopper?”
I spent my days walking around the house, looking for the little things, carrying the statue on my hip like a broken child. I found wooden boxes shoved under the beds, all of them locked. I wondered what was inside them but was too lazy to try and open them.
“I don’t think there are any little things in there,” I said. “People don’t lock up little things.”
I noticed that some rooms had windows that opened into other parts of the house. They were fitted with green and orange glass and the window panes had been painted white then green then brown. I imagined the disappointment of a house guest opening one of these windows, hoping to see the sun or the sky. Instead they would have seen another room, possibly with an old person breathing noisily in a corner. I put Krishna’s head next to a window pane.
“There’s something very dirty and suspicious about inside windows,” I whispered. “Don’t you think?”
His head began to rhythmically knock against the pane. It looked like he was trying to split his head open.
“I have a cousin who used to do that all the time when he was small,” I said. “I think he still does.”
It soon became clear that Anjali’s sister was not coming on a social visit. She was coming either to take Anjali home or to cut her off because whatever well of affection had spurred her to send fifty dollars a month had completely dried up.
“If I could just sell my appendix I wouldn’t give a fuck if she came or not,” said Anjali. “She’s such an asshole. She’s the biggest fucking asshole you ever saw.”
I ran my finger along the chips in Krishna’s face and hair. Some seemed to have flaked off but there were a number of tiny pits dotting his face like angry, black freckles.
“It’s like he was attacked by a bunch of tiny spoons,” I said, tapping the gouges in his cheek.
“Let me hold it,” said Anjali.
“For Christ’s sake, my sister is going to come here and ruin my fucking life and no one will buy my appendix and I just want to hold the fucking thing, let me hold it.”
She held the statue on her lap, then on her hip. She traced his eyebrows and the garland that was melded onto his chest.
“Give it to me,” she said. “I mean you don’t want it, I’ll take it, what’s your problem?”
“I have to put it in a river or something. It’s very complicated.”
“What’s so complicated?”
“It’s an Indian thing. You wouldn’t get it.”
“Well fuck that, you think I can’t just take it?”
“You know what you should do? Buy yourself a nice Krishna statue. With hands and kneecaps and stuff.”
“I think I should just take this one.”
“I think you should get your own statue. And then you should go back to Canada.”
I didn’t see Anjali the next day. I asked the shopkeeper if he had seen her and he said he had better things to do than keep track of all the people who came and went in the local vicinity.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” I said. “I don’t think anyone keeps track of things like that. Except maybe the police.”
“Was there anything else you wanted?” asked the shopkeeper.
“Do you want to know what else I found in the house?”
“I’m very busy.”
“There are all these windows that open into other rooms. I can’t understand why anyone would do that. Unless they wanted to spy on each other in a very obvious way.”
“If there’s nothing else you wanted,” he said, pulling out an account ledger. I went home and sat by the window, watching Anjali’s house. Then I decided to hide the statue in the old car shed.
“They should ban foreigners from coming here, India makes them crazy,” I said, placing him behind the shed door. “They get sunburned and sick and they just go crazy.”
I looked up and saw the bats hanging like tiny folded umbrellas from the rafters. I had seen them here before, when I was seven. A boy had rattled a huge bamboo shaft against the rafters, making the bats swish back and forth in the dusty sunlight. I had remained near the doorway, ready to run if they decided to charge us. And here I was, grown up and brave enough to walk in all the way.
“You know, I’m just going to keep you in the house,” I said, picking up the statue by the head. I spent the rest of the day sitting at the window. People walked past carrying wire baskets, looking at their watches, talking about how many things had disappointed them recently.
“Why do they do it?” I said. “When they can have barbecues and boyfriends and jobs, why do they come here and make themselves miserable? Although I have heard India is very big with junkies and pedophiles. And spiritualists.”
The statue stared blankly out the window, his cold, molded head leaning against my cheek. He did not seem apprehensive of any of these things, not even of Anjali and the prospect of her pink, muscly arms whisking him away. He wasn’t even looking at her house.
Anjali reappeared the next evening, reeking of artificial cherries, her eyes angry and slightly unfocused.
“You smell like candy,” I said.
“Benadryl. Z-Coff. Somethingsomething,” she said. She sat cross-legged on the floor and leaned against the wall. I sat across from her on a plastic chair, holding the statue on my lap.
“I’m going home,” she said.
“My sister’s coming. And we’re putting everything in the car. And then we’re going home. Do you know what I’ll do when I get home?”
“Eat bagels for breakfast. Take your dog to the vet.”
“You’ll watch hockey games in bars and drink beer.”
“That’s so fucking stupid. Is that what you think we do all day?”
“That’s so fucking stupid,” she said, shaking her head. She stood up, steadying herself against the wall. Then she walked over and placed a finger on the side of Krishna’s head.
“What a scummy statue,” she said, gently rocking it back and forth.
“Chippy. Not scummy,” I said.
“It’s fucking scummy. Believe me.”
“Well why do you want it if it’s so fucking scummy?”
She shrugged and pushed at his head like she was pressing a button. The statue swayed, then slid down and hit the floor with a dull, weary crack. We looked at the pile of broken arms, legs and face.
“Sorry,” said Anjali. “I didn’t mean to.”
She began sweeping up the stray pieces with her foot, pushing a piece of his shoulder with her toe.
“No big deal,” she said. “I can buy myself a new one.”
Anjali left with Krishna’s rusted flute sticking out of her back pocket. I collected the remaining pieces, put them in a pista-green plastic bag and walked around the house with the bag hooked over my shoulder. I prodded the locked boxes with my foot and tried to open some of the inside windows, but they were nailed shut. All the nails had been hammered in sloppily and their rusted heads were curled against the window panes like they were sleeping.
“You know what this means, right?” I said. “Someone took a stand against the inside windows. Someone said enough is enough.”
I could feel the pieces rolling and shifting against my back. There had been a length of rusted wire in there somewhere and I wondered if it would scratch me and give me tetanus.
The next morning I locked the house and went to the shop across the street.
“Here,” I said, sliding the house key across to the shopkeeper.
“You’re leaving?” he said. “You’ve settled everything?”
“Yes,” I lied, placing the plastic bag on the counter. “This is the statue I was telling you about,” I said.
“I don’t want it.”
“I’m not giving it to you.”
“You can’t keep it here.”
“I’m not going to. I just want you to know that crazy foreigner girl broke it yesterday. She came in my house and just broke it with her finger. For no reason.”
“And what do you want me to do about that?”
“Well I’m just warning you. She might come into your store and break everything. She might just come in and start knocking things down with her finger and then what will you do? Because that’s what she did to me,” I said.
Half an hour later I was on a bus, sitting beside a woman who repeatedly asked me what time it was, even though I repeatedly told her I had no watch.
“Don’t you have a cell phone?” she asked.
“Why not? My daughter has a cell phone.” When her stop came, she brushed past me, leaving behind a heavy space filled with the scent of dead jasmines and vetila. I placed the bag on the seat where she had been sitting, even though I knew it must be hot and damp and disgusting. Two people came and asked me to move the bag so they could sit down. I said I couldn’t and they moved away, muttering bad things about me and my upbringing.
When I was in the auto on the way home, I realized I had left the bag on the bus. For some reason I looked behind me as if I expected to find it there.
“Forgot something?” said the auto driver.
“Your purse? Was there money in it? Cell phone?”
“I don’t have a cell phone,” I said.
I knew someone would find the bag and open it, possibly with two fingers while they crinkled their nose. Then they would see the clay pieces and say chee, mannu and be relieved and disappointed. Or they would see the broken arms and face and say ada? Later, when they got to wherever they were going, they would remember this and tell whoever was next to them, ada, you know what happened on the bus? You know what I found? They would start a rumor that anti-Hindu factions were leaving broken statues of gods on state buses.
But before all that happened, they would toss the bag out the window, with enough push so that it fell at the side of the road. They would look back to make sure it was really out there and hadn’t redoubled inside through the back window or stuck somewhere between their fingers and the atmosphere.
And then they would see it, receding in the dust like it had been there all along with the malnourished water buffalos and clumps of hair.
Kuzhali Manickavel’s collection Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings is available from Blaft Publications and can be found at Powell's Books and Amazon.com. Her work can also be found in The Best American Fantasy 3, Subtropics, anderbo, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. She lives in a small temple town on the coast of South India. (5/2010)