She is overcome with sepia. Tip-toeing down her brain membrane, the sensation is akin to peeling the white strings off a tart mandarin.
The palm trees lent the house on Chapel Street a certain exoticism. The curse of the country isn’t drought, but un-oceanness. Waiting for the school bus, she would bend at angles and swing from the Chapel Street sign, her heels her fulcrum.
The chapel domed bell loomed and cranked each wedding day. From her window, she — the young child she — watched uncooked rice spew down the bricked tower. It welts the skin like new snow. She can feel it catching and collecting in the spaces between her ribs, like moss, like a rib-sticking porridge.
Frisbee-ing the steaming bowl across the dining table, Mum said, that’ll put hairs on your chest, that will.
Now that she’s 15, she — the 15 year old she — has five black hairs on her nipples that mortify her.
She will never eat porridge again.
There’s a pleasant, earthly smell after rain. She carries it like a talisman. After plucking the hairs from her areolae with her mother’s tweezers, she walks with a fury towards Chapel Street. Her face is long and her eyes like globes. She holds out hope that this face of hers will transmute into beauty over time, alchemically, like turning lead into gold.
There’s no-one home. She peers through the back window and sees unfamiliar furniture. She doesn’t know what has become of her old room; what Taubmans sheen the new owners slapped on those secret-keeping walls. The separation has been cleansing.
The mango tree out back bore rock-hard fruit, and she remembered how she would trade them with her cousins to see who had the biggest one. They would line up the fruit against the fence like babushka dolls, and their aunts would curse them for wasting food.
There was an indent in the grass where the barbecue had pressed its claws into the sodden earth, and she stood there, filling the holes with her feet, remembering where he once stood. A standard figure at family affairs, the bubbly-veined uncle with silver tongs, so ubiquitous they seemed to be an extension of himself.
The first time he ogled her was high summer. She was of an inconsequential age and wore frilly yellow swimmers. The sprinklers were on, and when the water spritzed at a certain point, it became iridescent, making rainbows.
She notices now, with interest, that the trees are in need of heavy pruning. The deck is streaked with rainwater. She stands under the mango tree, chooses a fruit, and digs her nail into the hard skin. It oozes like a wound. It wasn’t ready to be handled. It wasn’t ready to be had.