Editor’s Note: The Dragon was originally written in Tamil by M. Navin. It was translated into English by Visvanathan.
Ilanggo was hungry. His stomach boiled repeatedly as though it was filled with acid and then calmed. The boiling made his limbs shudder. The ensuing calm made his headache. He rolled up and put aside the drawing of the dragon that he had painted red.
His mother had not returned yet.
Amma was sure to bring something to eat when she came back. It crossed his mind that he had to endure till then. The pangs of hunger always made him think of his mother. The thought of having scolded her would also arise. He felt as if something was building up heavily in his chest and then dissolving into liquid in his stomach giving him the pressure of more pain.
“Did you call me a whore…? Me a whore?” Saying so Amma had approached him wielding a wooden curd churner in her hand and had flopped down beside him. The curd that had splattered from the churner and now flowed down her cheeks looked like white blood. Unable to utter even a single word, she opened her mouth wide and sobbed loudly.
Having no strength to crawl to his cart, Ilanggo kept looking at his legs that lay to one side of his body. Very often, the two shriveled limbs seemed like tails to him.
Amma was unable to stop crying. Her efforts to let out her breath through her mouth choked her and came out as sobs.
Although a month had passed since this happened, Ilanggo would even now jolt up from his sleep during the nights hearing the wails of his mother. Amma would be in deep sleep. Ilanggo would continue hearing her weep until he came out of his stupor and his thoughts cleared. Then Amma’s sobs would die away and become heavy breathing.
Ilanggo would think that Amma had forgotten all and that everything would be alright the next day. However, words would fail him when he saw his mother moving around with a grim face. He would then think of his father. Memories of his father helped him feel that he had not spoken anything untoward.
Ilanggo untied the rope that was knotted to the door and pulled it. His cart leaped towards him like a pup. His father had made it for him. Appa had created it by repairing a cart that lay broken in the smokehouse that had once been used for shifting heavy things. The four stone wheels of the cart had been sound. To create the cart, Appa had attached planks on all four sides and nailed a smooth plank for a seat. Ilanggo was then about twelve years old. Even though he had refused and thrown a tantrum, Appa had lifted him and seated him in the cart. Amma, who had come to help him put his legs into the cart, had her hands pushed away violently by his father. When Appa tied a rope to the cart and pulled it noisily along the red gravel road a thousand doors opened to his world.
“God, it’s like a chariot!” Ilanggo had said in excitement.
“You are my God,” his father had answered breathing heavily and had begun pulling the cart faster as he ran. Ilanggo held on to the planks at the sides tightly. It was quite difficult to pull in his legs that moved away on their own as the cart wobbled. The people from the housing lines waved to him. Ilanggo was afraid to release his grip and wave back to them.
In the few weeks that followed his father fixed a plank for Ilanggo to slide down from the front doorstep across the veranda to the street below. He brought a pair of thick cotton gloves from the smokehouse, glued pieces cut from rubber tubes to the palm side, and made them strong like the soles of shoes. When Ilanggo wore the gloves, Appa was very much satisfied. “That is it, my son,” he said excitedly.
When Ilanggo sat in his cart, bent his body forward, held his arms wide, and placed his gloved hands on the soil his hips ached. The bones of his buttocks that lacked flesh refused to adapt to the plank seat. In just a few moments his shoulder blades began to ache. When he gave a push with his hands, the cart creaked forward a little bit and returned to its original position. Ilanggo could not at all move his cart.
In the first few days, Ilanggo’s body ached all over. It was his father who applied ointment and massaged his body. The irritation caused by the ointment kept away the pain until Ilanggo fell asleep. In the following days, when his father called him he said ”I cannot Appa”. He pushed away the cart when it was brought near him. When he was lifted to be seated in it he ventured to bite his father’s hands.
Appa would say, “My son, the soil is like our mother. She will give us support. You are pushing the cart with your hands without putting your trust in your mother. Just place your hands on her and push gently. She will do the rest.”
Ilanggo tried doing what his father said many times. The cart refused to budge. Only the red earth around him rose up as dust. He wept every day saying that his hands lacked strength.
“The cart will not overturn, my son. Even if it were to overturn you will not get hurt. Be brave.” His father sat in the cart and showed him what to do. “There. Just give a small nudge like that. That is enough.”
It was surprising to see the small cart moving smoothly with Appa sitting in it. Ilanggo began slowly to lose his fear of the cart, but he still found it difficult to keep his arms wide like a spider and push the cart. He could not help but think that he did not have long strong hands like his father.
But, seeing that Appa found happiness in seeing him moving in the cart, he tried, despite the pain in his hands, to make it crawl forward slowly. He learned the art of lying down in the cart to avoid his body weight giving pressure. When he had mastered that technique, he understood that his body weight was pressing on his hands that were trying to move the cart. The fear that arose in him whenever he got into the cart gradually left him. But he was still unable to move the cart as fast as he wanted to. He had to move his hands quickly. At night, his hands would ache incessantly.
Appa always knew what Ilanggo wanted. As Ilanggo grew up, it was Appa who made life on the ground comfortable for him. He moved all Ilanggo’s belongings to a reachable distance.
Instead of taking Ilanggo to the well to bathe him, Appa widened Ilanggo’s privacy by putting up at the back of the house a tin shed inside which he filled a pail with water from the well. It was when Ilanggo began to use the toilet in the estate on his own that he sensed himself an individual. The trip to the toilet was an adventure for him every single day.
There were five toilets numbered one to five situated in a row in the estate. Toilet number five stood on low ground at the edge of the road. Appa chose that toilet for Ilanggo’s use. If anyone used the toilet and left it uncleaned, he would yell, “The boy has to move using his hands. Don’t you have brains, idiots?”
Afraid of Appa’s outbursts many hesitated to use the toilet. Moreover, when there was a scarcity of water in the estate, the people, without the knowledge of the overseer, used to take water for their immediate use from the smokehouse. Appa was the man in charge at the smokehouse. The people were aware that antagonising him would not be a loss for him.
In a few days, toilet number five became Ilanggo’s own private toilet. In the beginning, Appa used to accompany him, stand guard outside smoking a cigar and ask “You can, can’t you?” every now and then. He found satisfaction when he saw Ilanggo’s excited smile as the toilet door opened. His love-filled words, “You can do everything, son,” made Ilanggo think that he could accomplish many more feats.
Ilanggo had never seen his father talking to his mother. She was needed in the house only to do the cooking. If she wanted anything she would hesitantly send the message through Ilanggo. During those moments her face would harden like a rock. It was the same with his father. But on the rare days that he got drunk, Appa would sit on the bench and start sobbing. Foul words would start flowing fluently. It was from Appa that Ilanggo learned them. Sitting at home he would try to draw the bad words. His father had given him a lot of paper brought from the store. Every bad word had a distinct shape and appropriate colour.
However drunk and angry he was, Appa had a loving look for Ilanggo. With tears in his eyes, he would kiss his son’s head and say “I live for you, Samy.” During those moments Amma would shut herself up in her room. The next day she would leave for the roll call early before everyone else.
When Ilanggo drank some water to curb his hunger he felt heartburn. A series of burps irritated his throat. He crawled to the kitchen and looked for something to eat. He had to have a bite of something. He thought it would be enough if he could chew the thing, crush it and push it down his throat, and think that his stomach was full. He believed that there could be something like that in that wee kitchen.
Rubber tree twigs that his mother had collected to be used as firewood lay spread out to dry. Pushing them aside he went towards the tins. He opened each tin and put his hand into each opening, his mind believing in the certainty that some surprise would be there, but when there was nothing like that, his hunger increased immensely. He felt like shouting aloud “Amma”. If he were to do that, his mother would appear out of nowhere with food in her hands. She would get something to cook if she laid her hands somewhere. She would quickly give him something to eat for the moment.
In the two years that his father has not been around, all the food items that his mother had prepared had been surprises for him. She would walk into the kitchen and like a sorceress return with sweet-smelling food. But this past month his mother had lessened her cooking. Now, she only brings and cooks things like papaya fruits, quail eggs, and mushrooms. Very rarely, when rice was being cooked somewhere, she would wait, collect the boiling hot rice water that was discarded and bring it to him. Somehow, she always managed to bring something and satiate his hunger. All her thoughts about Ilanggo were focused on his hunger. Her daily activities were aimed solely at looking for something for Ilanggo to eat.
On that day too, Ilanggo felt happy that his mother would come with food. His expectant breath lost its calm. That meant that the Chinese dragon had awakened. It would have, without moving its body, opened its reddened eyes and looked.
It was drizzling. There was movement in just a few houses. Many in the housing line that Ilanggo lived in, had been taken away by the Japanese.
Ilanggo was at home as usual on the morning that it happened. When the estate clerk went around from house to house with a paper in his hand and called out names, wailing echoed from each house. Ilanggo drew those wails as curls in dark blue.
Holding on tightly to her son Manickam, grandma Rathinam who lived next door cried “Going to Siam and going to the land of death are both the same”. It was only when the four or five Japanese soldiers who had come along unsheathed their swords and shouted “Kurrah” that she released her hold. She and other relatives like her went up to the T-junction where the truck had disappeared into the dust from the red gravel road and wept openly.
Japanese soldiers surrounded Appa who had been hiding in a nearby village with his friends when he, thinking that everything was over, came back home to have food during the night the next day. A Japanese soldier slapped Appa when he was pointing out Ilanggo’s legs to the estate clerk and explaining his plight. Amma who had been looking from the front door dashed forward screaming. She held the estate clerk’s hand and begged. She fell at the Japanese soldier’s feet.
“Get away, woman.” Appa’s angry outburst was a surprise to all.
Amma’s wails did not stop.
“Are you trying to act innocent after betraying me?”.
Appa’s shout made Amma sit on the ground sobbing bitterly. Ilanggo became afraid that he too would be betrayed by his mother. He picked up his lifeless legs and hugged them.
The Japanese man shouted with indifference. Appa, whose hands were still unwashed of food, was dragged away wearing his kaili. Amma beat her chest and threw mud at the departing soldiers. Appa, wrenching his neck from the soldier’s grip, turned and looked once or twice. His eyes were focused down. Ilanggo understood that his father was looking at him. It was later that he thought that Appa might have looked at his legs. It had been thoughts like these that had come to Ilanggo these past two years after his father had been taken away. He had nothing much to do but have the same thought over and over again and imagine it as something else.
Ilanggo looked at the houses outside hoping that he could ask someone for something to eat. His eyes lost focus. Earlier he had thought that it was sleep. It was later that he understood that it was faint. He had not fainted till now. But he had regained himself after almost fainting. The saliva in his mouth kept frothing.
The old lady Kali who lived in the opposite house came out to look at the rain. She rarely came out. She lived alone after her son and daughter-in-law had been taken away to Siam. Someone had entered her house while the old woman was asleep and taken away all her clothes. It was Ilanggo’s mother who taught her how to make holes for the neck and arms on an onion sack and use it as a dress.
There had been thefts like this in many houses. Stolen items had sometimes been found in another person’s house. No one made a complaint against anyone. Nobody got angry. Taking away things unknowingly like this began to occur like a game. Those who were not strong had to lose everything. Ilanggo believed that no one could enter his house as long as he was around.
Old woman Kali always called him fatty. He had tried a lot to avoid obesity. But his body kept growing fat. Whenever he had unbearable pain in his backbone, the estate doctor would advise him to lose weight. He had never been able to do so. He would try his best to move his arms in an effort to make his body sweat. Even now, when there was a scarcity of proper food, his body did not seem to get slim.
Even though Ilanggo was sure that the old woman would tease and call him fatty he smiled at her. She rose slowly without saying anything. The onion sack fluttered in the wind like a gown. She went inside and shut the door.
“Go, you rat eater,” shouted Ilanggo. There was talk in the estate that the old woman cooked and ate rat curry. He had heard Sivagamy telling his mother that she had seen the peeled skin of a rat at the back of the house. Nothing ever escaped Ilanggo’s eyes and ears. He attempted to draw everything that caught his attention. But his drawing of the dragon had been impromptu.
During Chinese New Year, it was to witness a lion dance that his father had taken him to the Chinese temple near the estate. It was afternoon. Lying on his father’s hands he came to the temple his eyes fixed on the sky. He remembers that day till today. In the sky, an eagle was gliding slowly and smoothly. Above the eagle, clouds were moving yet more slowly. The thought arose in him that if one were to go further up nothing would be moving.
The lion moved around the temple with a wide open mouth and childlike eyes. He had seen it every year. But he still felt excitement. However, he became afraid when, as a new item for that year, a thirty-foot dragon dance began. The dragon, with its fully scaled body, sharp teeth, and whiskers, seemed to glare at him. The dance, for which he had not come prepared, scared him. He hugged his father tightly. The next day he had a fever. In his dreams, the dragon came and frightened him. He woke up scared stiff in the middle of the night. A string tied around his wrist at the Muniandy temple appeased and cured him after a few days. The dragon which was forgotten by him for a few months materialised one day when he was extremely hungry. He sensed it squirming in his belly.
Ilanggo had not sensed the presence of this beast when his father was around. When he woke up in the morning, bread and black coffee would be ready. At noon there would be rice with some vegetable curry. At night, with rice, there would be fish, fried or cooked as sambal or cooked some other way. Appa liked to fish. Ilanggo, learning from him, grew a liking for it. Once work was over, Appa used to go to the pond to fish. Most of the time his catch would be a murrel or a loach.
After the manager of the estate had absconded without a word to anyone, there was food in Ilanggo’s house for a few weeks.
“The Chettiyars in the town have run away from their shops leaving everything as it was. All the godowns are being ravaged. There is rice everywhere on the streets. Whatever is broken into and whatever is stolen there is no one to question you,” said Appa to Manickam Anna our immediate neighbour. From that day on Manickam Anna too, like Appa, began to bring back on his bicycle items for the kitchen like sugar, milk tins, and such else. Those who had the means would bring home sacks of rice on their bullock carts. There was a discussion of who had what and a joyful barter of goods took place.
In the beginning, father would say in a heroic manner, “There is no doubt the white men will chase away these shorties in a few days. Who will work under these men?”
When the rice brought home was no more, tapioca began to make Ilanggo’s belly bloat. Appa had no choice but to join the group that cut grass to feed the cattle that the Japanese reared for food. Leaving in the morning he would return in the evening with three dollars. Ilanggo loved to look at those notes. Saliva would gather in his mouth when he saw the banana bunch on the note. The bunches of banana plants at the back of the house had been cut and taken away by the Japanese long back. Nobody ever questioned them.
Amma was much troubled when there was talk that a Chinese man who refused to part with his bicycle was beheaded and his head propped up for display on a long pole at a T-junction in the estate. Goats and chicken reared by the estate dwellers were every now and then carted away on the trucks of the Japanese army.
When there was nothing left to make curry Amma began to cook sweet turnips and tapioca shoots in coconut milk. To go with it there usually was fried salted fish.
After Appa had been taken away, they had got a kati of rice each from Rowthar’s shop every month. Ilanggo had never liked the ration rice. It tended to become sticky when cooked. In the beginning, he would say, “looks like someone has already chewed it,” and push it away. When he tried to force himself to eat, the smell of chalk that remained in the rice even after much washing, made him want to vomit. When he came to understand that there was no other rice that could be got, he slowly learned to eat it.
Four katis of rice would last both of them for ten days. When there was no more rice, at first mother used her savings to buy some more. When the cash was no more, Amma sold a few bits of gold she had to a Chinese man and made some money. Ilanggo was irritated when that too finished and he was served shoots of plants, sweet potato, tapioca, and meena leaves. He refused to eat and threw a tantrum. For his sake, Amma got meat and fish from those in the village who went hunting in exchange for tapioca. When there was no more tapioca, she got the food she wanted saying that she would pay later. Later, knowing that asking for more without paying her debt was akin to begging she stopped going to the village. In a few days, the black coffee too stopped. She began to give tea with brown rock sugar. Ilanggo learned to accept that when he found that a sip after a bite of the sugar made the tea sweet.
In the evenings when Ilanggo went for a stroll in his cart, he used to see many who were famished with hunger. Thin children, who lacked flesh under the skin, with bloated heads and bellies would ask him, “Have you got anything to eat, brother?” He never had anything to give them. Putting his hands into his pockets he would take them out empty and show them. Though he knew that there was nothing in his pockets he felt happy putting his hands into them. For a moment he too would believe that there really would be something in his pockets.
Ilanggo found it strange that the whole housing line had totally changed. The empty houses of those who had been taken away to Siam as a family and those who had taken refuge in the village out of fear of the Japanese had been broken into and burgled. The houses of those who still had the strength to toil had healthy tapioca plants around them. The dogs that roamed the almost abandoned estate looked strange with their skinny hip bones. A few old people had died. A few single women had begun to live together in one house. Those who could not live together lived with other men. The daily sight of onion sack-clad people made Ilanggo think the estate had lost its colour. Even his brown and grey dreams were otherwise colourless.
Whilst Ilanggo had felt the scales of the dragon grinding in his stomach before, he now felt as though it was its teeth that were grinding. Fear accompanied the feeling. Thinking that pressing on his belly would stop its movement he did so. When the drizzle stopped, he went down to the street. If he could move the cart by pushing with extra pressure while on the grass, then continuing the journey on the gravel road would be no trouble.
It was difficult to maneuver the cart to avoid the water. As the wheels would not turn sideways Ilanggo had to bend his whole body forward and push the cart from one side with his hands. As the smell of the red gravel was not to his liking, he covered his nose with his shirt when the dust rose. Today, due to the rain, the soil had set. He heard women speaking in the distance. Together with it came a ‘toktok’ sound. He had neared the nut shed. He decided not to look in that direction. He pushed the cart fast. It moved at its usual speed.
His mother had worked there till last month. The Japanese called the place Kuthirothai. No one who tried to could pronounce the word. The main overseer Chellaiah who was given the task of managing it began to be called nut man in just a few months. As long as his mother worked there Ilanggo was able to eat rice again. Amma got her lunch at her workplace.
Ilanggo had gone in and looked around the place where a ‘toktok’ sound could always be heard. In every corner, there were large heaps of screws, bolts, and nuts of various sizes. Together with them there were pieces of iron of different shapes and sizes.
Large iron boxes one put into another stood there arranged to the height of a man. The heaped screws, bolts and nuts had to be separated and arranged according to their different types and put into different boxes. The sound that rose as a collective ‘toktok’ when the workers who were on all four sides threw the screws, bolts, and nuts into the iron boxes, could be constantly heard outside.
Ilanggo had never seen screws, bolts and nuts neither that large nor that small. When he was told that they were spare parts for war weapons he had the urge to pick them up and look at them. Asking his mother’s permission, he too picked up a few screws, bolts, and nuts and threw them into the iron boxes. The grease on them adhered to his hands with a stain and gave a foul smell. After he had washed his hands many times, it was still there and he felt like retching. His palms became coarse like sand. In a few days, when he began to think that his mother had the same smell on her, he avoided sleeping beside her. Later, the smell filled the whole house.
Once the job of picking screws, bolts, and nuts entered the village there was no scarcity of rice. An army truck would enter the estate once a week. After dumping pieces of iron and screws, bolts, and nuts like rubbish, they would also unload sacks of rice. By nightfall, the screws, bolts and nuts, and the iron pieces will be quickly heaped in the shed. The boxes would be taken away when the truck arrived the next week. All the work was done by women. They were made to work with much shouting by the main overseer and four Japanese soldiers.
Whether it was the job of picking screws, bolts, and nuts or the job of carrying the iron boxes the payment was two dollars per day. With that money, Amma would buy the necessary items for cooking in the nearby town. Later, the workers were given lunch and weekly two katis of rice. Sometimes, the screws, bolts, and nuts that arrived were small in quantity. During those times the number of workers would be lessened. When work on picking the screws, bolts, and nuts was finished, there would be no work for five to six days. During those days the workers would go to work at the pig farms of the Chinese in the jungle. Amma was smart. However small the quantity of the screws, bolts, and nuts was she always found the opportunity to work.
That was a hungry evening like today. When his mother who had left at noon had not returned from work even though it was evening, Ilanggo left the house in his cart to look for her. At that time, it was only the dragon’s tail that was rubbing his stomach.
From afar he could see that the nut shed was closed. When he was thinking of leaving he saw the movement of shadows beneath the door. Only those who moved close to the earth could see the movement. When he went closer, he heard his mother’s voice. Whispers, and then a laugh. Ilanggo began to sweat. He turned his cart. His hands shivering, he found it so difficult to do it. The cart did not move. However much he pressed on the earth and turned it, it did not rise from the earth. He wanted to leave his cart there and run away. When the stone tires of the cart made a screeching sound there was silence from within. The nut man slowly opened the door and then closed it immediately. Ilanggo could hear the words “there is no one.” If mother had opened the door, she would have seen him. She knew that there were people who lived close to the earth.
That night Amma came home with a small bag filled with rice. Wasting no time, she began her cooking. Ilanggo had decided not to eat anything his mother cooked. He went to bed early with the excuse of a stomach ache but the sound of his mother preparing rice disturbed him. The beast in his stomach rubbed its skin against his stomach wall and then began gnawing with its incisors. Not wanting to look at the rice, Ilanggo curled himself up in bed gripping his belly. Amma felt sad looking at him.
Saying “You shouldn’t go to bed without eating,” she went out, brought back some curd from somewhere, and began churning it. Someone had told her that curds will cure a stomach ailment. As time passed the anger within Ilanggo kept growing. The dragon in his belly squirmed and squirmed and got intertwined with his intestine. It pushed against the belly walls to tear it and leap out.
“When will Appa come back?” he began.
Amma kept silent for a long while. Then she said, “Who knows if he’ll come or not?”
“Why do say that?” he said.
“Only a few of those who went have survived. That’s what people say.”
Ilanggo felt as though he wanted to run to his mother, hold her hair in a grip and drag her forward.
“Appa will return,” he said through his clenched teeth.
“The war has begun. People are being killed everywhere with the bombing.” Amma spoke as she churned the curd.
Ilanggo’s thoughts were concentrated on his stomach ache.
“Who said so? Was it the nut man?” he asked.
Amma looked at him calmly.
“You can sleep with that man if Appa does not return, can’t you?” Ilanggo taunted.
Amma had never imagined that Ilanggo would talk like that. Not knowing what to say in immediate response, she asked “What did you say?”
Ilanggo does not remember what he said after that. He poured forth everything that was cluttering his mind. His body trembled. Only when Amma began to cry did the trembling subside slowly. He crawled forward to the pot of rice and spat into it vehemently. After that, conversations between him and his mother stopped completely. From then on, Amma stopped going to the screw-picking work. Ilanggo realised it from the absence of the smell of grease in the house.
Ilanggo’s cart passed the housing lines and went towards the plantation plots. A few boys passed him carrying pails filled with fish. The enthusiasm that showed on their faces made him happy. He had seen them before with bone-thin bodies. Since it was the month of Maargazhi the rubber trees that had shed their leaves stood bare. There had been days when, to avoid the mishap of a fire, the work of gathering and heaping the shed leaves would be happening. quickly gathered and heaped. Now, the yellowed leaves that had kept falling continuously lay like a quilt on the ground. Ilanggo looked long at the dark blue sky through the barren branches of the trees. The long road and the upright trees of the plantation plots ended at the horizon. A bird that flew in slowly from a distance moved hurriedly just as it passed over his head.
Ilanggo turned his cart with tears in his eyes. The land behind him began to rise slowly like a mat. He put his palm softly on the ground as though touching a water-filled balloon. The cart moved. Then it began to slide forward with increased speed. There was no fear in him. The wind slapping on his face excited him. The hair that hung over his face rose up to the sky in waves. The rows of trees whirred past him. The land knew where to halt the cart. He looked around him. The dust had settled. The cart was not moving. Amma’s slippers were on the doorstep.
Amma was cutting something in the kitchen. Ilanggo got down from his cart and crawled in. Electric supply having been cut off completely, Amma’s movements could be seen as a grand shadow in the candlelight.
Ilanggo had watched his mother making the candles every day. She would scrap up the melted wax from the used candles, melt it again and pour it into a hollow papaya stem and give it new life. Thinking of his mother awed him. She could do everything. She could pass each day with confidence. Amma had become half her original size. She had lost quite a lot of weight in the past month.
“Amma…” There was an urge within Ilanggo to call his mother. He opened his mouth. But the word stuck in his throat.
Amma brought a plate and put it near him. Her cheeks were sunken. Her pouting mouth made her look like someone else. When she stood the candle on a milo tin and put it near him, he saw that the plate had coconut in it. She had sliced the flesh into tiny pieces. This is what she has managed to get today he thought. He put a handful into his mouth. The beast within him crawled up to his mouth and swallowed it.
He wondered for the first time whether his mother had eaten. Since Amma was the person who somehow created food, till that moment it had always registered in his mind that her stomach was always full.
Amma sat in the darkness. The grey shadow of twilight had reached the doorway. In a few moments, when that too was no more, it would be total darkness. Ilanggo could not put food into his mouth. In the darkness, his mother looked like an old woman.
“Amma,” he said.
In the silence, his voice sounded as though it was coming from the sky. A moment passed before Amma moved.
“Have you eaten?” he asked.
Amma kept her silence.
“You too will be hungry. Amma, go back to the nut shed to work,” he said.
When his mother beat her head and wept loudly, he sensed the dragon curl up slowly, calming his body.