On Tuesday, by Sudeepta Sanyal
Shanti rolls the loose end of the sari and ties it tightly around her waist. She sits down on the inverted tin and dusts the stone on which Raju will sit: settling his hair, always on the lookout for an early exit, faint whiskers lining his lip. Today Shanti will charge two fifty rupees for a fish. They are lined up on the table in front of them. Eyes and mouths open, dead as winter, with scales purple and pink, like the sunset that stains the sky. It is Tuesday.
It’s close to six, the usual customers come by. The construction workers, always haggling; the plumber, always grinning; the shy teacher from the village, always curious; the Catholic couple holding hands, rosary beads kissing her wrist. “Cook this with mustard and you will love it. Add some poppy seeds.” Shanti quips. Madam from the next village comes in her car and tut-tuts. “Not fresh Shanti, nothing is fresh,” at the same time eyes her cook who starts prying open the gill covers.
The cook selects three fishes which she hands over to Shanti. Shanti, in turn, weighs them and passes it to Raju who takes a brush embedded with nails and starts rubbing it against the body of the fish. The scales come off—beautiful circular pieces of blue, pink and aquamarine. He hands over the fish to his mother. She takes her large knife and cuts it in half, “small, medium, large?” she asks, as she hacks the meat deftly.
Hari came to buy fish on Tuesdays. Hari with his shiny forehead, his kind smile, his long fingers. He enquired about Raju’s school weekly, brought her sweets from the village, even helped pay her electricity bill this one time. They met at the fairground the last month where he handed Raju two tickets for the Ferris wheel. She saw him at the shop for the last two years. From what Shanti knew, he was a carpenter in the Industrial Estate. He wore clean clothes and harboured no vices like paan or cigarettes. He stayed in the company’s accommodation and shared his room with the plumber who came to buy fish more often and liked to chat.
“You think Hari will come today, ma?”
“How would I know?”
“He didn’t come last week, or the week before”
“He must be busy. The plumber must be picking his share for him. Last year he had gone home for the festival around this time. There can be so many reasons Raju.”
Shanti takes time to get ready on Tuesdays, she oils her hair and skin, so the smell of the ocean will not sink in too deep. Even though their interaction lasts for less than half an hour, she is at her sunniest and gives him the biggest fish of the pile. Something about him makes her feel alive.
When Raju’s father left Shanti for a songstress from a bar, she got into the fish business to support herself and Raju. “What man will want to be with you,” her mother lamented. She had a teenage son at home, and now with her business, she had no willingness for fools who would waste her time (and money).
A sliver of a lonely moon climbs to the middle of the sky. Shanti counts her fish and chides Raju for not getting the count right. She looks at the road from time to time, hoping to see those familiar brown sandals.
“Today I will take two instead of one, Shanti,” She knows that voice. The air becomes still, the flies disappear, the dogs are quieter. She looks up from her seat. Bright eyes, glistening skin stare back at her. Her smile stops short as she noticed that today there was someone beside him. Standing too close. Looking too scared, despite the bright red bangles that clutch her wrists in eager celebration.
“Shanti, this is Meera, my wife. You will be pleased to know that I got a promotion last month. My parents have been asking me for too long, so I went ahead and got married. We just returned from the village.”
“Oh, how nice,” Shanti mumbles. She feels a familiar bitterness coat the insides of her mouth. She hawks and spits to her right, narrowly escaping Meera’s shiny slippers. Raju looks at his mother. She takes the cleaned fish from him wordlessly, picks up the knife and splits the fish into two. “You must make a mustard curry with this,” she says as she dips her palm into the hollow of the fish yanks out its heart and throws it in the bamboo basket for the cats. It lies there, not beating anymore.
Sudeepta Sanyal is a writer based out of Goa, India. Her fiction has appeared in The Bombay Review, Lucky Jefferson, and Spark Magazine and was one of the winning entries in the Bengaluru Review Short Story Contest. She is a Dumpukht 2019 alumni.
Cass Graybeal Brown graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2017 with a BFA in Illustration and a minor in Scientific Illustration (SCAD). She has been working as a professional illustrator and patent draftsperson for 3 years. Inspired by her study of scientific illustration at the SCAD, Brown was turned her creative talents toward conservation initiatives. With this is mind much of her subject matter revolves around highlighting beauty in our natural world. Her specialties are traditional watercolor and digital technical illustration.