by Hema Nataraju
It was the right time to leave. I would miss the savoury taste of Amira’s screams on my tongue and the comforting way they filled my belly. I didn’t want to leave my home under her bed, even with those pesky dust bunnies and that forgotten doll, but things weren’t the same lately.
Some sunsets back, I transformed into a spider-snake, her latest fear. I slithered out from under her bed in a coil of mist. Positioning myself so the night-light would cast a bigger, more ominous shadow on the wall, I bared my fangs with a hiss. She was asleep, curled up in her yellow chicken pajamas, mouth slightly open when an ambulance screamed past the house. A lot of them did nowadays. Before I could make scratching sounds on the headboard, Amira took me by surprise. She bolted off the bed, and lay flat on her belly, hands wrapped around her head.
Ma rushed into her room. ‘It’s just an ambulance, sweetheart, just an ambulance,’ she said, rocking Amira’s trembling body in her arms.
‘So we don’t have to run out?’ Amira asked. Her eyes were drooping back to sleep.
‘No, baby. Sleep now.’
She fell into a deep sleep. I went hungry that night.
“Amira looked straight at me. Something bigger had replaced me in those sunken, leaf-green eyes.”
She had stopped going to school. Instead, her mother gave her lessons in the hall. They practiced running out of the house; called them ‘drills’. A shrill, whistle-like sound rained from the sky at times. And then they would run out, Ma following Dad with Amira in her arms.
The neighbor’s kid came by to play sometimes. They played ‘soldiers’, took turns shooting one another with a tree branch and pretending to die with their tongues stuck out. Sometimes they traded sharp metal pieces they’d found on the road, like they were gems. The whistling sound came more often, at random times.
Yesterday, the sky roared. ‘Take cover!’ Dad yelled. Metal pellets rained down as they ran into an underground room outside the house. I followed them and squeezed in after Amira. A dim kerosene lamp cast morose shadows on the walls. A few tins of food stood in the corner, like tired soldiers. Spiders and milky-white maggots crawled on them and the mattresses.
The earth shook with loud, reverberating booms. They huddled into a tight human ball; their gaunt, hollow cheeks touching. Amira looked straight at me. Something bigger had replaced me in those sunken, leaf-green eyes.
She couldn’t feed me anymore.
It was the right time to leave.
Hema Nataraju | @m_ixedbag | http://www.hemas-mixedbag.com/
Hema is an Indian-American writer living in Singapore with her husband and their two kids. Her work has appeared in The Sunlight Press, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Aerogram, The Brown Orient, National Flash Fiction Day, and in a couple of print anthologies. She blogs at www.hemas-mixedbag.com and tweets as @m_ixedbag.