Three for Letter
Leena doled out her mother's teachings like treats. Wear blue for a happy Saturday. Accept money with the right hand or it will leave you soon. Don't say “I'm going” when bidding someone goodbye; without the “I'll see you soon,” we may never return. I gobbled up everything she said.
Until the day a black cat crossed the road on our way to school.
Leena stood still. “My mother told me that means bad luck.”
“So, what should we do?” I shifted my bag, heavy with textbooks, from side to side, staring at the road as if the cat had drawn a line across it.
“We must return home,” she declared. “We must cancel the bad luck.”
The bus came around the corner. Afraid of my parents and of being punished for missing school, I crossed the imaginary cat line, stepping high above it as if were a wall.
“Bad luck, bad luck,” Leena shouted behind me.
I received a hundred percent on my geography test that morning. Leena didn't talk to me for three weeks. After twenty one days, she forgot to be angry.
On the twenty first day, she came over. When she spotted three myna birds perched on the parapet, she burst into a song.
“One for sorrow, two for joy, three for letter, four for toy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for secrets never to be told.”
“Will that song come true?” I asked.
“Of course, silly! Three for letter, and you see three birds. Get it?”
As instructed, I shook three fingers, closed my eyes, and wished for a letter from my pen pal Yoko in Japan. Two months later, every student in my class had received a letter from their friends at the Japanese school. I didn't.
As Leena opened her envelope, I said, “I will never believe you.” She stuck her bottom lip out and didn't talk to me. Again. For five days.
We were on our way to dance class in a crowded bus when I saw an empty seat next to a man.
“Don't sit next to him,” she whispered in my ear, “or you will get P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T!”
I wobbled, hanging on to a steel bar while a lady in a green sari took the spot. We saw the man every time we went to dance class—in the same seat. And each time, the green-sari woman took the seat by him.
“They are friends,” I told Leena.
“You don't know anything,” Her eyes rolled.
Six months later, I saw the green-sari lady—now wearing a salwar kameez. Her stomach had grown as round as a basketball.
“See, I told you,” Leena said.
This evening, I collected the shavings from my pencil sharpener and placed them into a match box. After dropping half a teaspoon of milk into it, I placed the box under my bed.
Leena told me that's how an eraser is made.
I believe her.
About the Author
Sudha Balagopal's recent work has appeared in The Tishman Review, Superstition Review, Gravel, Gemini Magazine, Lowestoft Chronicle, and The Writing Disorder, among other journals. She is the author of two short story collections: There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories.