Every day, I pray. On my knees I clasp my hands together, in front of an altar made of pieces of wood. On this altar we have put everything beautiful we have found; a piece of colorful cloth, flowers, beetle patterned wood. Beauty is scarce in the world we live in. I pray to gods who must not hear me, must not hear the silent prayers whispered, hanging in the air, suspended over the mismatched pile of shacks outside my door. Every morning, when I step outside to feel the dirt digging into my bare feet, I can see it. I can see the glorious domes and minarets far off, in the city, reaching out to the heavens above, a beacon straight from the gods. Sometimes I wish I could go to the building, feel the calling of the vast universe, and walk through the streets without people whispering or lashing out at me. I see this in my dreams, and I see it reflected onto everyone in my makeshift community, it bends our backs and makes us weary. We are tired and abused.
Precious few moments are wasted wistfully watching, there is no time for longing dreams or thoughts for that matter. In the morning, Neelambar and I walk a winding mile to the well. He is a good little brother, full of spirit. But already I can see his little back beginning to hunch, his eyes growing duller. His very own life has taken the life out of him. We must draw water from a green-tinted, murky well made of rough wood and stuck together messily with mud. The other, normal, people draw their water from a well with water made of crystal. We are far away from them. If they come into any kind of contact with people of our kind, they are defiled. They do not want to touch our filth. I still do not know why.
We worship the same higher power. We believe in what they do. I do not understand how their hatred can course through them, so powerful and strong. We hear it in their whispers; we see it in their disgusted, sometimes frightened glances, we feel it on the outside, but on the inside too, when they hurt us. They call us Untouchables. I have not yet ventured into the vast city with its winding avenues; I avoid the other people who are not like us. As Neelambar and I trudge back to the jumble of shacks, I suddenly feel faint. My chest starts to flutter; I want to lie down. I keep walking before he notices me start to topple over. I frown. Illness is common for our people, equally as common for it to be fatal. Still, I keep walking. The bucket of water splashes beside me as I wobble on towards the collection of ruined houses.
When we arrive, the men are gone. They have departed to the slaughter houses, sewers, and leather shops. Their work is considered unholy. Clearly it is fit for the people no one cares about. The jobs will damn us in the eyes of god, forbid us from reincarnating as something worthwhile. I guess then we have no chance to go somewhere better when we die. Even so, to this day it remains my only hope. To die and come back as something worth living for.
Again, I feel dizzy when we reach the house. I find myself on the ground, then on all fours, retching, convulsing, my stomach turned inside out. Almost nothing comes out; it’s been weeks since I’ve eaten a full meal. I feel faint, fevers starting to rage across my forehead. Neelambar is frantic, calling for Mother. She comes running through the door like a lion, fierce, fast, and ready to protect her cubs. I can feel her lift me up off the ground and carry me inside. I don’t know where she finds the strength to do so. I can vaguely hear Neelambar shouting, but he sounds far way. My senses fade in and out of focus and I wretch again, now with a drum pounding against my temple. We have but one bed in the household, usually meant for Mother and Father. Today it is my bed. Someone pours precious water over my face and I feel myself faint.
When I wake up, it is night time, but everybody is still awake. The men have returned. I can see the stars through the gaping holes on the roof, twinkling like diamonds in the vast, bottomless sky. A gnawing pain has formed on my left side. Father is at my side. It saddens me to see that he is praying for me; that he is almost crying as he kneels on the floor. Despite myself, I start to cry too, seeing him outlined by a candle in the dark night, praying for someone, me, who might not survive the week. My mind snaps out of the thick fog that wracks my brain, my body, my eyes.
It is possible that I might die. It would not be out of the ordinary if I did. As I realize this my breath begins to come out in ragged, shaky, gasps. I will never be able to see Neelambar play outside again. I will never be married. I will never pray, nor feel the warmth of my family again. On the other hand, I would never have to bleed again. I will never have to collapse to the ground, exhausted to the point of fainting after a long days work. I will never be ridiculed again. I will never be untouchable.
These thoughts stay with me as the minutes fade into hours, the hours dissolve into days. My whole life now is seen through a thick, slightly delusional fog. Time moves slower here. The aching pain that started on my left side now spreads throughout my entire body, and I can’t keep anything, neither food nor water, down. There is nothing to do but lay in bed, to let the terrible pain take over and burn my body to ashes. Every night, candlelit, my family prays for me. I want to pray to, but my frail body does not allow it. My family holds my hands, as if trying to pull me out if the crevice I must be falling into. Eventually they will have to let go.
I am tired now. I do not want to fight any more. I smile when I think of death, smile when I think of all my pain relieved. Maybe I can go somewhere better in the afterlife. I have faith that I will. The sun sets overhead, staining the sky with bright watercolor .The colors seep out into the corners of the world. I will soon join them. The candle that lit so many nights is down to a puddle of greasy white wax. I can feel myself fading, white spots haunt my vision and my heart slows down to beat quietly a rhythm of the dying. I know I am on my last stretch. I do not feel sadness for death; my only regret is my beautiful family. The last thing I can make out is the sun, watching over and singing the night black. I let myself go. Finally, I am free.
Death takes me on a trip. I am floating in a world of ivory silk, my hair shiny black and long again, my lips red, renewed. I am brought to a meadow dotted with pleasant blue and green flowers. I am walking down a dark tunnel where fruit drips from the high ceiling. Finally I am brought to a river bank, the mighty Ganges, its waters coursing with power, raging over rocks. My god’s voice tells me that I am here. My journey is complete. My years of hardship are gone. I step into the river, feel it change me from the inside out. I become the river; breathe an effortless sigh for all my hurt washing away.