written by: Ipsita Banerjee
My mother used to love pepper, my father
Teased her about it, said it made her dark
Dark she was, freshly ground on our lives
Emitting flavour and spice. The bite that we bit into
And sometimes gagged. My sister
Saw the orangutan and announced
That it had become black eating pepper
“just like Ma”,
I don’t remember but the story
Lost nothing in the telling. I like to think
I remember; the zoo, the blue frock I wore.
Was it blue? How would I know?
In my mind sprinkles of black and white
Muddle with memories of tiny hands
Reaching out, asking to be picked up,
Is this then my first memory? I pick out
Whole pepper corns from my food
Even now, casting them aside
Like the seeds of a poisoned fruit.
Blackness sprinkled our lives like all others
Catechisms wailed beside the door
Asking to be let in. I leapt unhindered
By whatever waited outside. The darkest
Day was when father died. The light
Was cruel, daylight burned and the nights
Were blacker still. The memories I spawned
And stole from others (I liked to say
I was the one who screamed outside the cage
How could I when I was the one inside?)
Became truths, one by one, in black and in white
While with tiny feet encased in red boots
I remember clearly those black ants I stomped upon
As though my life depended on it
I thought I could stomp my way out of the cage
But fell as unseen chains breached my soul
I didn’t ask for this, I asked for nothing.
I find myself returning to the cage where it all began,
Searching among abandoned shelves
For the pepper to salt my life.
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