The Delta

On the evening of the day when a family of kingfishers pecked out our eyes – we were the four of us at that time of our misfortune – the man-eating tigress called Mohini smelt the blood seeping out of our eye-sockets. She attacked Birju and opened his stomach, getting lost in his intestines. We know it was the intestines because we heard his shouts: “Sister Fuckers, she is eating my guts”, “Motherfuckers, help me” while we were running away from his gruesome death, blindly and hand in hand, a fragile chain of three.

We sensed the evening time when the sounds of the jungle began rising in volume. It was as if all the living jungle had grown excited at the prospect of the setting of the sun, and was coming closer and closer to commence its nocturnal games with us blind folks. We had no option but keep moving – if we paused, the jungle grew closer faster and scared us – and burrow our way through the mangroves. Struggling through the dense forest, our troika was still hoping that Mohini feed herself well on Birju. One of us (it could have been me) remarked that the night was going to be one of a full moon, and that the pock-marked moon of the forest would certainly shower the mangroves with a benign light, part of which would certainly filter through their small leaves and reach our emptied eyes. This made us sad because we could not see the moon. Another one of us (it could have been me again and I can't say for sure because blindness has mixed my memories and identity with those of the other two) exclaimed that he could still, even with absent eyes, make out the difference between the finality of black, which he saw when he looked downwards, and the melancholy of grey, which he claimed to see when he looked upwards. We decided mutually that it was wasteful to think of what that meant.

After a while, the sounds of the jungle peaked out and transformed into a sudden, insidious, almost scheming silence that frightened us even more, so much that we decided to sit down and contribute to it ourselves. It was night now. Soon, intermittent snores (they could have been mine) rose up the mangroves and fluttered with the damp wind that smelt of the torpor of the rivers and the vigor of the sea both. One of us (it wasn't me for sure) started talking nonsense in his sleep: about a hen that had struggled to let out an egg for three weeks, with half of it jutting out of her behind and the other half still inside, and could only be relieved by the slaughterer's knife; the egg then, incidentally, coming out easily. The dream made us sadder because we felt like the egg.

The whole night dreams leaked out of our purported silence. One of us (not me) dreamt of an elephant whose upper half was orange and the lower white, and who, when he walked through a green crop-field, looked like a large flag of India. I (most certainly I this time) said, or perhaps responded from a dream of my own, that the dream of the colorful elephant was the kind that a recently blinded man may be expected to conjure. At this, the elephant dreamer woke up and called me a "motherfucker" because as soon as I said what I said, his dream lost its colors and the elephant became all grey.

The next dream was about a long end of Birju's duodenum snaking up to us three and coiling around our necks, strangling us tighter and tighter till we started dying and shit came out of the two ends of it. This dream was a collective one, for the three of us woke up coughing violently at exactly the same moment. We decided, silently, not to talk of it and closed our eyes again, each one of us now trying to concoct a personal dream. We were convinced that seeing a common dream amplified its trauma, just as in love. A litany of dreams, of death and of colors, followed, but we managed not to create the same dream together.

We woke up when the evil night silence morphed into a benevolent, salubrious one. We guessed that it was the dawn, for the silence didn't stay too long and was soon annotated by the chirping of the birds. One of us smiled (I don't know how I sensed the smile, but I did; it could've been mine, though) and said that the morning chirping reminded him of something that he couldn't remember. He also suggested that we start marching and try to find a way out of the marsh, now that the day had begun, At this, another one of us (not me, for sure) said that it really made no difference whether it was day or night anymore. This made us the saddest, since we realized that it was terrible to lose the day, and the night, in one go. We didn't know what to do for a long time then, and looked aimlessly at the darkness, till the inertia became too much and we could begin the struggle again.

We formed a chain of three, the two outer hands holding sticks that we had fumbled up from the ground. Then we narrowed our chain and asked the person at the center to try and walk the straightest line that he could. The two free hands were to continuously move their sticks in a semi circular motion, so as to apprise the contraption of the exact narrowness of the passage between the next two mangroves that needed crossing. Thus we moved, each one of us convinced that this formation would seem scary to all wild animals, including Mohini (who was, needless to say, more aware of the tribulations and arrangements of man); we hoped they would not understand what we had become, and stay away.

(First published in Nether magazine)

Tanuj Solanki's first novel, Neon Noon, was shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award. In 2019, he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for his second book, Diwali in Muzaffarnagar. Tanuj's short fiction has been published in the Caravan, Hindu Business Line, DNA, Out of Print, and several other publications. He lives in Gurugram with his wife.