Kisi Shayar Something Something

by Kuzhali Manickavel

Women’s hostels always smell like limestone. Everyone gets tetanus from the rusty metal beds but we are used to the tetanus. It’s the typhoidjaundicemalaria that brings us down. The bathrooms are overrun with sleek, black canals and boats slice through them like angry fish. Sailors stand on the decks and tell us to take our tops off. Some girls throw chunks of soap at them. Others faint and we have to fish them out of the water. Sometimes we let them drown.

My bed is at the end of the hall. The girl beside me is stacking notebooks on her writing table and singing an old Hindi song.

Dream Girl, kisi shayar...

She frowns. And then she fills in the missing words with something something.

Kisi shayar something something, Dream Girl

“Have you seen the bathrooms yet?” I ask.

“Why, are there cameras? Did you find the cameras?” says the girl. The bathrooms usually have hidden cameras. We can’t see them because they are the size of dimes and we don’t know what a dime looks like. We do know that the cameras are sprinkled all over the walls and doors. We know that the footage is sold to sheiks in Dubai. She shrugs and starts wrapping her books with brown paper.

“I’m not bothered,” she says. “I will bathe with a towel on.”

She is one of those pros who can wrap a book without using glue or rice to hold the paper down. Everything is sharp and straight and awesome. There is a sudden, muffled splash as another girl falls into a canal.

“There should be a fence,” I say. “Nobody would fall in if there was a fence.”

“They would just climb the fence and fall in anyway,” says the girl. “That’s the kind of hostel this is. You know what I mean?”

She opens her suitcase and pulls out a metal plate and a metal tumbler.

“Anyway,” she says, “I’m off for dinner.”

She locks her suitcase with a key that she wears on a string around her neck. A group of girls are waiting for her, each one carrying a metal plate and a metal tumbler, each one wearing her suitcase key on a string around her neck. They wade carefully through the flooded corridor while the hair of drowning girls clings to their ankles.

Kuzhali Manickavel's debut collection Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings is available from Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd. and can be found at Her work can also be found at Subtropics, Per Contra, anderbo, Quick Fiction, Caketrain, Smokelong Quarterly and FRiGG. Her stories, "Cats and Fish" and "Because We Are Precious And Brave," appeared in Issue 25 of The Cafe Irreal. She lives in a small temple town on the coast of South India.