By Abha Iyengar

Big Daddy always sat on the big reclining chair with its long arms opened, his legs splayed across the arms, wide. He was a short man, but big and sturdy, and somehow his thick, muscular, hairy legs across those long arms seemed just right. At least to my thirteen-year-old eyes, for I had seen him reclined in this position, chewing his tobacco and scratching his chest, which, surprisingly, had no hair, ever since I was a child.

I noticed these things, because I have always been observant since my childhood, and this has stood me in good stead and in bad stead, depending on the situation. Like when I noticed how extra low my aunt would bend to light Big Daddy’s fire, exposing her breasts, which, compared to my mother’s non-existent ones, would attract anyone’s attention, and Big Daddy’s eyes were always drawn there. Aunt did little to hide them, and enjoyed his eyes on them. He would bend forward from his reclining position, chuck her under the chin, and smile, his fat lips widening across his protruding teeth, and his legs would twitch on the arms of the chair. Mother would be busy inside and I somehow knew I should not bring such things to her attention. But I saw all this. I did mention this to Sirish, my friend, who was a year younger than me, but much wiser. He knew about things. He had once sucked the blood out of my foot, when a snake had bitten it, and people said he had saved my life. So he was also my blood brother because, after all, as he said, some of that blood would have been sucked in, even if he had kept spitting it out because of the poison. Maybe some of the poison had also entered his blood, without harming him, but making him less innocent, more aware, at least that’s what I thought.

But I am scurrying forward, as I am known to do. Noticing the interaction between my aunt and Big Daddy was just one thing. There were some other things that I observed. I had also seen my aunt stealing from the kitchen, taking food to her home just across the road that weaved in and out of our huge plantation area. She was my mother’s sister, who had married a rich man, but he had squandered his money on drinks and drugs, and she had come home, asking for shelter from my mother. My mother, out of the largeness of her heart, as large as her beautiful big eyes which perhaps saw nothing, had requested Big Daddy to allow her to stay. Big Daddy had agreed, his eyes straying over my aunt’s face and body. As he said, she was after all, his wife’s sister, and so, she was welcome to stay. So how come I could see things my mother could not? I told you, I was born observant, and maybe I had more of my father, Big Daddy, in me, I always saw more than was visible up front.

So it was that I had begun to tighten the cloth over my breasts to stop them from growing, and ate little to stop myself from becoming a woman, for I knew the danger there. But I could not really do much, for however hard I tried, I had begun to see the way men glanced my way. So I began to stick closer and closer to Sirish, till one day mother told me that I was to be married to Venkaiyah, and would have to stay inside for the next month, in preparation for the wedding. I would have to say goodbye to Sirish, for now I was to be betrothed to another man. So perhaps my parents had also seen the danger of my growing body, or it could be my growing affection for Sirish. Sirish was an orphan child and a labourer; the lowest of the low. As far as my parents were concerned, he was nobody.

Venkaiyah was Big Daddy’s right-hand man. He was tall, dark and silent, with hair that curled down to his shoulders. He wore a full-sleeved tight terycot black shirt and tight black pants that emphasized his crotch, everyday, without fail. Everyone noticed, and everyone consciously ignored it.

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