Edition 30: Who Blooms in Darkness by Anjali Patel
Whenever I ran in from playing outside, I knew something about me made them unhappy. Their disapproval grew in the quiet spaces—whispering eyes, heavy-lidded glances, a barely noticeable sucking of the teeth. Each day I felt myself shrinking, until one day, my aunties informed me of the cause of this silent shame: the sun was taking away my magic.
This explained why I had gone from being big enough to share a bed with my sister, to sleeping in a shoebox, and then a pickle jar, and finally, a thimble. As I poked my head out from my temporary bedroom, they explained the sun’s evils and the horrible audacity it possessed to rob a little girl of her powers. I nodded along, and when they told me not to worry, that they would assist me in restoring my magic, as was their maternal duty, my smile prompted them to lovingly call me beta and stroke the top of my head with the tip of their fingers.
The restoration started with a bath of turmeric and rose water. I soaked in it for hours, luxuriously scrubbing every inch of my skin with the clumps of yellow paste that formed in the water around me. I was alone, and since my sister was playing outside, I relished the opportunity to have the house to myself and test out my singing voice in the emptiness of our home. I was not raised with religion, but since I wanted to sing my respects to somebody, my voice lilted and wavered in praise of the warm bath, the trees, and the stars; it hummed and dipped as it cursed the sun.
The next day, my aunties quietly tutted as they examined my skin for signs of renewed magic. It must have been difficult to see if progress had been made, because they kept moving me to different areas of the house with varying amounts of light and using a magnifying glass to look me over. They spoke quickly to one another in a language I had lost long ago, and even though the words meaninglessly flitted around me, their tones dragged down the corners of my mouth as I silently failed before them.
They came to the consensus that I needed to try another bath, this time a rich brew of milk and honey. Before slipping into my rectangular tin, I tried to sneak a taste, prompting an auntie to smack aside my hand. Of course, as I was the size of her smallest finger, she hit not just my hand but also my entire body, sending me flying across the countertop. But she was immediately remorseful and apologized a thousand times over for potentially bruising my skin.
I climbed into the bath, and the warmth and smell of sweetness sent me to sleep almost immediately. Before dozing off, I lapped at the milk when they weren’t looking, and with a warm belly and body, I slept quite pleasantly in my tiny metal tin.
The next day, after my examination, I curled up in the bottom of my thimble once more and sang wishes into the crook of my arm for the sun to give me back my magic.
Over the course of the next few weeks, my aunties presented me with numerous potions to soak in. Crushed almonds in water, citruses mixed with channa flour that burned my skin. Yogurt and buttermilk and oils I had never heard of. The morning ritual of frowning and tutting continued until one day, kaki clapped her hands a single time in approval and announced that a little bit of my magic had returned. They kissed me on the cheek and had the cook make all of my favorite foods in celebration. That night, I was a little too big to sleep inside my thimble.
For each day I grew a little bigger, the walls around me grew closer. For each day the walls grew closer, the further all the trees and stars and grass and my favorite parts of the world moved away. The only times I experienced the freshness of morning were the little gusts of wind that kissed my face when my sister opened the door to play outside.
When I asked my aunties why my sister could leave and I couldn’t, patiently, lovingly, they wrapped me in their arms and explained how some people are unlucky enough to be born susceptible to the sun’s evils. I, unfortunately, was one of them. My sister on the other hand, with her rosy cheeks and golden eyes, always walked in the house glowing and smelling of pleasantly crisped skin and orchids, and she was all the more magical because of it.
In all fairness, this was not something my sister asked for, but I still felt as if I had been robbed. Perhaps we were supposed to have the same amount of magic, and she took more from me than she should have when I wasn’t looking. Maybe if she didn’t exist, I would have inherited all of her beauty. I hated myself for thinking something so horrible, and that night I slept inside my thimble once again.
After that, I continued to stay indoors. As I absorbed magic from the baths and salves I rubbed onto my body, my skin became milkier. My aunties filled me up with their praise until I was big enough to sleep in my sister’s bed again, but since I was grown enough to apply so many creams and oils, I asked for a room of my own. When I shut the door to my room, I reveled in the joy of having my very own world to rule over. I filled the empty spaces in my kingdom with pomades and cosmetics, and expanded my world even further by adding a mirror to each wall.
My room had a window, over which I kept a drawn curtain. I occasionally laughed at the sun’s pitiful attempts to ensnare me by sneaking through the cracks and gaps the curtain couldn’t cover. While at first I found its attempts to touch me negligible, its devotion to creeping across my face in the small hours of morning angered me until I snatched up a hammer and nailed the curtain to the wall so no light could ever sneak through. Satisfied, I lounged across my bed in the darkness, admiring my skin full of magic in the mirrors and pleased at my victory over the sun.
But though my aunties continued to assure me that my magic was growing, I felt energy leaving my body each day. Shadows lengthened under my eyes, and soon I wanted nothing more than to stare at the ceiling or sleep. Beta, how can you look so sad when you’re so beautiful, my aunties kept saying. They had food sent to my room as offerings, but I would always let my door go unanswered, and the steaming plates of food set outside uneaten.
One night as I slipped in and out of dreaming, my body woke me up abruptly as it rolled itself over and slammed into the wall. Upon waking, my lungs filled with an unexpected weight, and my breathing grew labored. The confines of my room had grown much too close: I was suffocating. I snatched at the curtain, ripping the fabric from the nails as I clawed my way to the window. My hands shook as I tried to raise the window from the sill, but it wouldn’t budge. Perhaps the sun sealed the window as a punishment for neglecting it; perhaps I was too weak. Most likely, it just wasn’t meant to happen this way. I quickly realized the futility of my attempts and ran to the front door of our house. I opened the entranceway and fresh air hit me like a wave, filling my lungs with delicious coolness and lovingly moving my hair with a touch that I had been craving for so, so long.
The horizon started to tint with orange. I knew I should go back inside to protect myself from the light. Instead, I stepped forward, shuffling my bare feet through the grass and relishing every dewdrop that broke and coated itself across my skin.
I closed my eyes and lifted my chin to the sky, feeling the dawn breeze tickle the skin on my neck. The sun pleaded that I join her, but I took that moment to enjoy fully the moving air, the damp grass, the anticipatory tingle of morning. After a time, yearning to set every cell in my body ablaze with fire, I raised my hand in response to her calls and drew the remnants of nighttime around my shoulders, shrouding myself in clear, glittering blackness. As starlight disappeared from the sky and crawled into my veins, darkness clung to my skin as I filled myself to the brim with a magic of my own. I admired my body as it grew to be ten, twenty times larger, and as I walked into the sun, I had never felt so luminous.
Anjali Patel is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. You can catch her yelling about her favorite fictional characters on Twitter at @anjapatel, and learn more about her at anjalikpatel.com.