Kuzhali Manickavel

After we looked at the sea, Durai and I turned and looked at the highway. He said the sea would blind us if we stared at it too long. The highway would just make us sad or put us to sleep. We looked at the road kill and decided to take stock of ourselves. “Let’s retrace the journey, right from the beginning,” said Durai. “What did we do to get here?”

Durai went first. He said that when he was a boy he sang devotional songs and his eyes would close of their own accord when he sang the word “God”.

“Sing something now,” I said. “Anything.”


“Oh, come on. It doesn’t have to be about God. Something small. One line.”

He rubbed his face and looked over his shoulder at the sea. Then he sang softly in Tamil. “You’re just a doll, I’m just a doll, when you think about it, we’re all just dolls.”

I noticed strings of nits shining like beads in his hair.

“Well?” he said.

“You couldn’t think of anything else to sing?” I said.

I wanted to know why Durai didn’t sing anymore.

“Something must have happened,” I said. “Someone must have abused you musically.”

“OK, your turn. What did you do to get here?”


“Think. You must have done something.”

“Integral calculus.”

“That doesn’t count. Everyone does integral calculus.”

“Not everyone. Not poor people.”

“Even poor people. If they go to school, they do integral calculus.”

I thought of picking a louse from his hair when he wasn’t looking. I thought of how it would squirm in the center of my palm like a tiny misshapen star.

Durai said we were not getting anywhere so he suggested secrets.

“OK, go,” I said.

“I got thrown in jail when I was in college.”


“What so? It was jail. Like jail-jail, with bars and shit.”

“All guys get thrown in jail when they’re in college. They also become drug addicts and fall in love with prostitutes.”

“You forgot the motorcycles. We all had motorcycles.”

“When I was little I really wanted to be a boy. I wanted to have a name like Sathya and wear hats and sunglasses.”

Durai scratched the inside of his wrist in slow, straight lines, like he was trying to open a vein.

“Do you still wish you were a boy?” he asked.

“No. Once my breasts kicked in I changed my mind.”

“That’s good. I like your breasts.”

“I know you do.”

We were still facing the road but our heads had turned and we were looking at the sea again. We discovered that we had both stolen mercury from our school chemistry labs. Durai had slipped his into his pocket. I had hidden mine in my geometry box. We both had rolled it across our hands and face. I was sure we would get cancer because of this but Durai said it would just make us go crazy. I leaned back and thought about the lice sucking and fucking on his head.

“My neck hurts. Why can’t we just face the sea?” I said.

“It’s too soon.”

“What’s that song? About coming too soon or too early? Tickticktick something something?”

“No idea,” said Durai.

“Are you sure? I thought everyone knew that song.”

I yawned and watched a thick, black louse clamber up through his hair and wave desperately at the sky.

Kuzhali Manickavel's debut collection Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings is available from Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd. and can be found at Her work can also be found at Subtropics, Per Contra, Quick Fiction, Caketrain, The Café Irreal, FRiGG and Smokelong Quarterly. She lives in a small temple town on the coast of South India.

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