Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings

BOOK: Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings
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copyright © 2008 Kuzhali Manickavel

eBook edition published by Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd. / Blaft Publications USA, 2011

Print edition first published in India by Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2008

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, psychic, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. If you would like your friends to read this ebook, please respect the work of the author by asking them to buy their own copy.

Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd.

4/192 Ellaiamman Koil St.


Chennai 600041 India

Blaft Publications USA LLC

P.O. Box 2323

Berkeley, CA 94702 USA

ISBN 978 93 80636 10 8

Acknowledgement is made to the following, in which some of the stories in this collection were originally published, some in slightly different form:
(, “Miraculous”;
(, “Welcome to Barium”;
, “The Dynamics of Windows”;
Salt Flats Annual 2
, “The Butterfly Assassin”;
, “The Unviolence of Strangers”;
Grasslimb Journal
, “You Have Us All Late and Follow”;
The Café Irreal
(, “Cats and Fish”,“Because We Are Precious and Brave”;
Per Contra
(, “The Dolphin King”;
Quick Fiction
, “Spare Monsters”;
The Canadian Writers Collective
, “Hoodoos”;
Smokelong Quarterly
(, “Little Bones”, “Mrs. Krishnan”;
, “The Sugargun Fairy”;
, “Flying and Falling”;
, “Paavai”, “Murali”;
Opium Magazine
(, “These Things That Can Happen”;
(, “The Perimeter”;
Edifice Wrecked
(, “The Queen of Yesterday”.

The drawings in figures 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are taken from
A General Textbook of Entomology
by Dr. A.D. Imms, 1925. The photograph in figure 7 is from, used with the kind permission of Them Insects, Inc.






The minute Malathi takes charge, the universe begins to sing her name like it is something holy. She cracks her knuckles and creates a new day that consists of Sunday morning, Saturday afternoon and Thursday night. There will be no more Mondays. The universe applauds her decision.


Malathi’s bedsheet thickens around her like a callus and she feels omnipotence race inside her teeth, rustling beneath her scalp. She is infinity in the making, a small, good thing.

A goodlet. A good Godlet.

The light shifts and she glows like a white stone inside her cocoon.


Malathi wonders if her superpowers will be lightning bolts or tornadoes, if they will come out of her eyes or her mouth. Her fingers slip between her legs but there is nothing there. She hopes her superpowers are not in her armpits.


Footsteps bang against her door. She wills them to be quiet and go away. Bony fingers rip the bed sheet away, revealing a bright, harsh face that bobs above her like an angry balloon.

“What do you think you’re doing?” says the balloon. “What the hell?”

Malathi opens her mouth and waits for lightning bolts or tornadoes but nothing happens. She feels her body being rearranged and lifted.

“You can’t,” says Malathi. “I’m the fucking Godlet.”

The floor sways and rolls beneath her softened heels. The universe is not listening to her anymore.






At six in the morning, the bus to Neelankarai is brimming with sweaty elbows and old Tamil movie songs. The sun begins to rise over a broken bridge and I curl my fingers away from the window. You can catch anything from a bus window: lice, viral fever, depression, pregnancy. Veena is sitting beside me, leafing through her collection of Unphrases.

Drissling Days, Do Not Worry, Walk and Dance, Jump into Jackets
,” she says. “I got that from a bar in Bangalore. It’s perfect, don’t you think?”

“Perfect for what?”

“For today. Today is such a drissling day.”

Neelankarai begins to appear in sporadic patches of bleached buildings and shabby beaches. Everything smells like fish and moist diseases.

“I think Neelankarai means blue sand,” I say. “Or blue shores.”

Veena rolls her eyes and snaps her notebook shut.

“That is so fuck-all,” she says. “Sand is not blue.”

“Maybe the water is.”

“Water is not blue, it’s see-through. Oh my god, that rhymes.”

“You should write that down.”

When the bus finally stops, beggar children mill around the door, hands outstretched to show the fragile creases of sand that line their palms. It is a common misconception that beggar children want your money. What they really want are your kidneys.

“Akka,” says a wiry girl with green eyes. “If you could spare some change...”

“For what?” asks Veena.

“For something to eat.”

“And what am I supposed to eat?”

The girl spits and moves on to another bus.

“That was definitely a kidney thief,” I say.

“Good thing I don’t have any kidneys,” says Veena.


Neelankarai is littered with crumpled pieces of paper and tiny piles of sand that are trying to escape the beach. We decide to have lunch at Puratchimani’s Mess, a weary-looking building that sags under the heat of the afternoon. Mr. Puratchimani sits at the cash register, reading a Communist newspaper.

When a Hungry Man Is Sleeping, Don’t Wake Him and Say No Food for You,”
says Veena, sifting through her notebook. “I read that in an autorickshaw. It’s so apt.”

“Apt for what?”

“Apt for me. It’s like my tagline.”

“You’re not a hungry sleeping man.”

“Metaphorically I am.”


“You don’t know what a metaphor is, do you?”


The food is lukewarm and watery, served on a banana leaf which is draped over a stainless steel plate.

“There’s a plate under the banana leaf,” I say.


Life Is Like One Lunch with Two Plates
. What do you think?”

“I think there’s mold on your leaf, right next to your pickle.”

I watch the rice and vegetables collapse into each other and decide that I’m not hungry. When we pay the bill, I notice a fierce sketch of a man painted on the wall outside.

“Who is that? He looks very familiar,” I say.

“He’s that North Indian freedom fighter,” says Veena. “The poet one. Aren’t I right, Anna?”

Mr. Puratchimani looks up from the money he is counting.

“That’s Che Guevara,” he says.

“Right, the poet guy. That Hindi fellow.”

Mr. Puratchimani slams his hand down on the table.

“It’s Che Guevara! You don’t know who Che Guevara is? Aren’t you educated?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” says Veena.

“He was a Cuban revolutionary!”

“Why would we know anything about Cuban revolutionaries?”

Mr. Puratchimani tosses her his Communist newspaper.

“You can read about him in this. You can also read about our fishermen that keep disappearing in foreign waters. You can read about the kidney rackets that have grown out of control after the tsunami. This country is being raped by its own people!”

“Not me,” I say. “I never rape anyone.”

“You’re both educated citizens of India, aren’t you?” says Mr. Puratchimani. “What do you have to say about the raping of your country? What are you going to do about the kidney rackets?”

“Why are they called rackets?” asks Veena. “It makes me think of tennis rackets made out of kidney beans.”

Mr. Mani tells us to keep his Communist newspaper and encourages us to get a subscription. As we walk home, the picture of Che Guevara seems to shimmer in the heat.

“Che Guevara,” says Veena.

“Are you going to write that down?” I ask.

“No, I just like saying it. CheGuevaraCheGuevara.”


Our rented room has light green walls, two mattresses and two plastic chairs. The afternoon settles in the corners like bundles of thick wool.

A Man Lost His Leg and Many Animals Died,
” says Veena. “That was from a newspaper my lunch was wrapped in once.”

“How come I don’t
any of these?” I say. “What am I not

“Remember Adhi? He loved this book. Whenever we went out I would read something from it and he would clap his hands and go ‘Ha!’ It was kind of irritating.”

In the evening we walk to the beach because someone told Veena they sold fried fish there. The beach turns out to be hot and empty and nobody is frying anything. The ground is littered with broken sea shells and pieces of glass. There’s hardly any sand.

“We are going to get sunstroke and die here,” I say.

“Let’s sit for five minutes,” says Veena. “Maybe they’re still fishing or something.”

I scan the horizon, looking for a sunset but I can’t find one. A thin, ragged figure is walking along the beach towards us.

“Kidney thief,” I whisper and clamp my arms securely against my sides. “I heard they bite. Imagine losing your kidneys and getting rabies at the same time.”

“Did I ever tell you about the time I was on the bus and this baby leaned over and bit my arm?” says Veena. “I whacked it,
right on the nose. That’s a golden rule—whenever something bites you, whack it on the nose.”

The kidney thief is spitting as she walks. I try to keep track of where she spits so I won’t step in it afterwards.

“You there, do you know where they sell the fried fish?” asks Veena.

The kidney thief stops and spits in the sand.

“No fried fish here,” she says.

“Someone told me there was.”

“Nope,” she says and spits again.

“Stop spitting like that, for God’s sake!” I say. The kidney thief yawns and stretches out her hand in a half-hearted way.

“Haven’t had anything to eat, Akka,” she says.

“What a coincidence,” says Veena. “Neither have we. So you’re actually begging from two hungry people. How do you think that will work out for you?”

The kidney thief makes a rude gesture and disappears down the beach.

“Do you remember where she spat?” says Veena. “I don’t want to step in it when I get up.”

We can’t remember so we turn around and get up because we are pretty sure she didn’t spit behind us.


At night the ocean sucks all the oxygen out of Neelankarai. We sit in our doorway and have curd and mango pickle for dinner because it is too hot to eat anything else. Veena leafs through her book, underlining and highlighting.

“Do you ever cross anything out?” I ask.

“Of course not,” she says. “What would be the point of that?”

“You should have written down what I said at lunch.”

“What did you say?”

“I can’t remember. Something about lunch on two plates.”

That night I dream I am standing in front of Puratchimani’s Mess, which is slowly sinking into the sand. The kidney thief is standing on the roof.

“Thank you all for coming,” she says.

“I have a question,” I say. “Why do you keep spitting all the time?”

“On this very special occasion, we want to thank you for giving us all of your kidneys.”

“I didn’t give you my kidneys!”

“Yes you did. You said you didn’t know what to do with them and they didn’t fit you anyway.”

The kidney thief holds out a banana leaf filled with broken seashells and pieces of glass.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Your kidneys.”

“Aren’t they supposed to look like beans?”

“As a token of our appreciation, we would like to present you with a special something.”

The kidney thief unfurls a newspaper and clears her throat.

You Have Always Been Late
,” she reads.


“It works better if you write it down. Write it on your hand or something.”

“I don’t have a pen.”

“I’ll repeat it if you like.
You Follow and Make Us Late All the Time

“That’s not what you said the first time.”

“Write it down, why aren’t you writing this down?”

Puratchimani’s Mess sinks deeper into the sand, burying the kidney thief up to the neck.

You Follow
what?” I ask. “What did you say?

The sand shudders and heaves, swallowing the kidney thief along with Puratchimani’s Mess.


When I wake up it is past noon. Veena is eating the last of the curd, which has gone so unbelievably sour I can smell it from across the room.

“I got something for your book,” I say.

Veena fishes out a piece of mango pickle from the bottle and pops it in her mouth.

“Well?” she says.

You Have Us All Late And Follow

Veena’s jaw flicks from side to side, as if she is rolling the words around her tongue.

“Well?” I ask.

“Say it again.”

I close my eyes and try to remember the exact words. I suddenly wonder if I was supposed to save the kidney thief. I wonder if my kidneys brought her bad luck.

I Will Follow You Always, Even When You Are Late
,” I say.

“That’s not what you said.”

“Something something following and being late,” I say. “I can’t really remember.”

I have a feeling today will be marked by large and extraordinary things. I decide that if I see the kidney thief, I will let her have my kidneys.

BOOK: Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings
2.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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