She sees blood

She sees blood.

She trots along the corridor to the stark bathroom. Proclamations of love and hate alike are scrawled on the cubicle walls. She is in the middle of reading a detailed word war on the back of the door when she catches sight of something on her pants. Blood. Where is this blood from? Blood comes from veins, from cuts and wounds, yet she has no cuts or wounds. Her heartbeat quickens, breath deepens. She pulls up her pants, smooths down her skirt and paces back to class with attempted composure. Yet, as she walks in, panic envelopes her, a scream escapes and Sister stares as she bursts into tears. “I’M DYIIINNNNNGGG!!”

Her legs ache from the walk to the hut, a walk untrodden before today but a route she will travel from now onwards. Change seeps out of her body. “Chaupadi” was never enunciated in her home, always murmured, its definition known but indistinct. It is defined now by a shed, high above home. Lifting both arms, each hand touches the opposite clay walls of the tiny structure. She has been warned of the snakes that long for her blood, of the animals that lurk outside, of the cold that will creep in through the open door and the men who crave fresh young women. Most of all, she is warned of the dead cows, sullied chairs, broken business.

Lower lip trembling, the words are tugged out of her mouth and hang like chicken fat on a soup ladle. Instead of a mother’s comfort, a hand slices through the air and makes contact with her cheek. The humiliation rushes to skin and spills from dark wide eyes. Her mother’s own eyes soften slightly around the edges, shaded with regret. “You are a young woman now.” She gently places her hands around her daughter’s face. “Let the blood rush back.”

She concentrates on moving one foot in front of the other, the new life pulsing through her body with each pump of a muscular leg. Her hair, tamed just hours ago, is flying away from her scalp and whirling around her face. Her mother had sat quietly opposite her, running the grass comb through the knots with a strange tenderness, before tying it back. That marked the beginning. This was followed by the prayers, followed by the colourful woven dress, the adornment of turquoise and the moccasins that are now powdered with the dirt of her journey. Power with each step, she follows the line of the sun, before stopping. Sweat glows and she can feel her heart shuddering. She takes this moment to lift her arms and fill her lungs complete, chugging down air, before heading homeward to corn cake and dancing.

“Don’t touch the cows don’t touch the goats don’t touch the camels they will die don’t drink the cow’s milk don’t drink the goat’s milk don’t drink the camel’s milk when you have a husband he will go to his other wife, he will return on the fifth day, don’t go near the men don’t forget that you are cursed.”

As the heavy smell of the streets pass through the cavity on the wall and brush over her flat back, her arms stretches once more to scrub the floor. For today the boys, the girls, they would leave for school. But she would stay at home from now on. School is not an option. This is where supposed real life begins. A real woman now, her uterus can’t afford her an education.

Another torrent of water splashes across her face and pools at her feet, as the fifth bowl is poured over her head. Her clothes cling to her body in skeins, and she keeps both eyes tightly closed as the water washes over, to open them again to greet each new relative. They look genuinely pleased as they utter their blessings. Despite her damp state, it rubs off on her and she returns their words with a smile. She can’t help but think of how much she likes the bracelet on her left wrist, the blue one with the gold flecks. Is it really necessary to burn it? Does she really need to let it go? Maybe she will be able to slip it off unnoticed, hide it somewhere, before it is burnt.

The sled shifts underneath her body and she imagines the blood pouring onto the snow and painting it ruby. This is the first time she has ever been allowed to join the entourage, to participate and contribute to their collective future in the fields. It is science that her own fertility would disperse into the ground and give them glorious crops, but it feels like magic.

It was blue. A squeal of feminine delight escapes her lips. She has been preparing for this moment ever since she saw that first glorious angel glide across the television screen. Running to her drawer, she pulls out the floatiest dress she can find. She shimmies into it, and proceeds to twirl across the room. A vision in white, as delicate as a feather on a breeze, she is the advertorial-worthy depiction of the purity and cleanliness she craves.

Basket clutched between hands, red cloak over back, she watches for the wolf in the shadow of the woods.



Image: Johanne et Carole Brunet


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