Excerpt from The Folded Earth

On March 2, 2011 by admin
Anuradha Roy


[This is an excerpt from Anuradha Roy’s second novel, The Folded Earth,  releasing this week in India. Roy is an editor with Permanent Black. Her first novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, was published in 2008 by Picador in India and in the UK by MacLehose Press. It was shortlisted for the Crossword Prize, longlisted for the Impac Award and went on to be translated into thirteen European and Scandinavian languages. This, her second novel, is being published by Hachette in India and MacLehose Press in the UK. Both books will be published in the USA by Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Image copyrighted by MacLehose Press]

My companion in the bus that morning reached her stop, still chattering of Would-be. She said smiling, “Tomorrow I’ll bring you a card; you must come for my wedding!” I got off two stops later, and walked towards Father Joseph’s office, feeling disembodied, weakened and sleepy, as if I would be compelled to sit on the pavement and then not know how to get up again. I found myself outside a hotel painted pink and yellow, and walked through its gates to a swimming pool at the back. There was a sheltered staircase next to the pool. I sat on one of its steps, before the shining blue emptiness of the water, the stretch of green tiles around it, the damp towel discarded on a chair. There was a line of plate-glass windows on the other side that produced mirror images of everything I saw. A bird passed overhead, low enough for its shadow to ripple across us. At the other end of the pool, a little girl was being urged by a swimming coach to plunge from the diving board. She shouted, as if in a movie: “Let me go! I want to live! I want to live!” My eyes blurred and I began to see human skeletons and bones at the edges of the pool, on the green tiles: skulls, clavicles, fibulas, tibia and femurs. Mandibles and ribs, foot and hand phalanges with ancient silver toe rings and gold finger rings on them still. Necklaces of gold beads intertwined with vertebrae. I saw skulls at the bottom of the pool, turning their blind gaze this way and that in the clear water, magnified by it. They bobbed to the surface. One of them splashed to the edge of the pool, next to my feet, and the face streaming away from it in dissolving ribbons was Michael’s.

The windows, the towels, that screaming child, the green tiles, the fire-blue sky with its shadow-birds, retreated. The step I was sitting on crumbled and I began to fall dizzily through a vast sky, as you do in dreams. It was only when a face rose from the water close to my feet and in a French accent said, “Are you alright?” that I realised my face was wet with tears, my nose was running, my hair was dishevelled, and I was late for Michael’s priest.

I ran up the stairs to Father Joseph’s room and burst in without knocking. I stopped and held the back of a chair to steady myself. A house with a trident-shaped peak framed in its window, Michael had said: a house that looked out at the Trishul, and at its base Roopkund, the phantom-lake. He had seen such a house once, he had told me where it was. He had dreamed we would live there and wake each morning looking at the Trishul emboss itself on the sky as the sun lit its three tips one by one.

“Father, find me work in Ranikhet. Please,” I said. “I can’t stay on here a single day longer.”

* * *

Four months after Michael died, I climbed into the train that had taken him away from me. It went from Hyderabad to Delhi, a northward journey that took a day and a night. One more night on a different train brought me further north, to Kathgodam, where the train lines stopped and the hills began. It was another three hours by bus over twisted, ever-steeper roads to Ranikhet, a little town deep in the Himalaya. In my bag was the address of the school in which Father Joseph had fixed me a job. I was going to be two thousand kilometres from anything I knew, but that was just numbers. In truth the distance was beyond measurement.


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