Flash Fiction 2009 Featured Writer Anu Elisabeth Antony

I’LL Break Your Back

My bag could make its presence felt, especially when it wasn’t there. I’d carried it all around school, happy that it latched on to my shoulders like a rather stubborn child – ironic, considering that despite the weight of the dog-eared books and scraps of paper that would incessantly add up to make me groan and bend, I was the stubborn one. Now that I’d suddenly decided to walk without a slump, the memory of it clung to my spine, its tentacles pushing me lower and lower.

Remember, you have a college interview in a month’s time, Mummy would say, can you ever imagine Rani walking that way? I had shot back with the retort that I wasn’t my cousin and would never be, but had regretted it when I spotted her worry lines. She loved me, and her voice tugged uncomfortably at my brain even as the whisper in my vertebrae spelled out discouragement to every cell.

My bag was in my parents’ bedroom, locked up to fight off disturbances during their afternoon nap. There had been times when I could feel the nakedness of my back through layers of clothing, feel the cool air pierce where tough material and the warmth of heavy books had once touched. In a moment of weakness, I decided that walking straight would break my back more than bending ever did.

When I couldn’t summon up courage, I summoned hate. I knew that a straight back would win me an elocution contest, let me perform Bharatanatyam without a whisper of embarrassment, help me say whatever I wanted without looking like I didn’t believe it.

This bag leeched away my pride; the last vestiges of my dying ego. The pain would make up for every rejection loaded over my back, for every insult digested.

Was anyone worth the trouble, though? The deathly squeeze of tender muscle and intricately interconnected bones? The interview would be one moment in my life, after all. Not worth this back-breaking, heart-breaking experiment. My bag, always dead over my back, screamed life in every nucleus of every cell. Over the din of my parents’ expectations, an interviewer’s derisive laughter, friends’ jibes. It kicked, raged, rallied like a caged animal in my groaning, aching body.

I lay on my bed like a dead one, knowing it could hardly break my back.

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