Published in the Raleigh Review, 2011-2012. Reprinted in Himal: South Asian, September 2011. Included in W. W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International.
by Shabnam Nadiya
Disha hadn’t walked out of the house in anger, she never did. She waited until some time had passed, wrapped her sari around herself neatly, pulled her hair into the accustomed knot, though tighter than usual, checked her purse and mumbled something about going to see her tailor. Her husband didn’t bother looking up from the television.
“It’s over,” Disha said aloud, “Shesh.” The juddering movement of the rickshaw made her voice shake on that last word, as if there was still some uncertainty left. Ten years of marriage; ten, a nice, rounded number, ten, without any children. Who knew why. Beyond gossip, complaints and allegations, the childlessness was unexplored.
As she descended from the rickshaw at a random street corner, she recalled this morning’s taunt. It was a new one. Disha knew all his usual jibes: her fleshy belly and sagging breasts, her barrenness, her dark skin, her unkempt domesticity, her lack of property. What was she good for?
And now this one: all he had to say was talaaq, three times, and Disha would be divorced, out of the house.
She kept silent about the newspaper article that said saying talaaq thrice wasn’t all it took, these days the law demanded more effort if a man wanted to rid himself of a wife. She kept silent about how the sordidness and uncertainty of marriage for women should be left unsaid in their kind of household, that this was something her maid might hear from her husband, but not someone like Disha in the air-conditioned splendor of her posh neighborhood.
As she walked, the strong aroma of roasting chicken invaded her nostrils. The smell spoke to her, as if the tendrils of smoke wisping in the air were messengers, entering her head through her nose, leaving indiscreet messages. She salivated as she looked at the glass-cased spit at the eatery. It was set right in front of the café, almost on the sidewalk. The chickens skewered into inert lines by thick steel rods turned relentlessly as she watched, fat dripping from them. A young boy stood next to it, beside him a small table with some bottles and chopping paraphernalia. Stacked in a corner near his feet were plastic boxes and bundles of fabric bags. All the things required to prepare a roasted chicken for a customer to take away without even having to go inside the café.
He caught her staring and began his litany immediately, “Shall I get you one, apa? They’re beautifully done by now, and I’ll spice them up the way you love. You’ve been here before, you’ve had our chicken. I remember you. Take one; I’ll throw in some extra salad.”
Disha sat on her bed, naked, her breasts hanging slackly brown, chocolate-nippled. She ripped open the dirty-white box of thin plastic that sat between her spread out legs and gazed at the spice-browned chicken as it lay on its back, legs splayed, dead yet inviting.
The dying afternoon sun directed spent rays here and there, and the golden hue surprised her as one landed on her fleshy thigh. The chicken felt heavenly in her mouth, her taste buds flaring at the saltiness and hotness and the sweet-sour tang of chili sauce. The fat hadn’t completely dripped away during the slow burning, and some dribbled down her chin now landing on her belly. Disha didn’t bother wiping it off as her jaw moved continuously.
There was no other food in the house today, Disha had cooked nothing. Her husband stood at the bedroom door, slack-jawed, transfixed at the vision of her. The meat was finished, and she stared at the small heap of bones in front of her. She remembered her mother eating chicken: how the woman had loved to crunch the bones! The best chewable bones, she would tell her daughter, were in the bits no one wanted. And so, Ma would eat neck, tail, feet, head. But not Disha: she had eaten flesh, now she would eat bone. She picked up one of the bigger bones and licked the knob on the end. She would eat it all. Today she would eat the world.