Three Stories

Three Stories

When they asked me where the dirt was, I told them it was everywhere. But you know how these people are, nodding away in white coats and myopic eyes. Show us, they insisted. So I rolled up my sleeves and showed them dust queuing up on my wrist, fingernails and armpits. Particles of gunk standing in resilient attention to parade music. They looked closely, whispered and took notes. I rubbed my toes and asked them to run their fingers down my spine. I apologized beforehand.  It’s worst where the body creases, there’s nothing you can do I said when they seemed to take a special interest in my elbows and knees. They were worried I would freeze to death, startled with the number of baths I took. Hot ones where I let the immersion rod stay too long and watched the skin bubble up in blisters forming small prisons of dirt. Cold ones that got colder as days went by. The ice that I smuggled in from the fish sellers were still stained with blood when I poured them in with me, trying to feel number than before. Pumice stones hammered till they were rugged with edges as bare as the day they were found. They told me my skin was scaling off and all they could see were mottled spots of pink and black where the veins were exposed. They told me I wasn’t going to survive the seasons, the wind, the sun, the pollen, the bees, my fingernails, a touch, a handshake, a kiss, a hug, clothes, quilts, nakedness, exposure. I told them they hadn’t looked inside my mouth yet, that they hadn’t noticed how I spoke like a serpent through my teeth and I knew it. A mad woman doesn’t know what she is doing or thinking, I know, so don’t bracket me, I hissed. I don’t open my mouth because it has the garbage of the world that the oceans have left behind, the kind that can choke blue whales and leave them on the shores like impossible spectacles. Whatddyathink happened to my perfect cushions my newly painted walls my cat that jumps with an odd jig. We will help you find your PhD thesis they say. It’s somewhere under there under three years of pizza crusts grease cobwebs pillboxes postcards moisturisers toasters hair hairballs cat litter do you hoodlums never bathe aren’t your thighs shaking with shame.




“Did you bleed?” he asked. His eyes were laced with lewd and his mouth was just catching up. I turned my face from the game his eyes and mouth were playing. I said, “No, I am not bleeding from you.” I said this uncertainly, for I didn’t know whose blood it was. I didn’t know whether it was my virginity bleeding or my uterus. “I think I just had my periods,” I said shamefacedly. “Hey, what do you need?” His eyes were earnest, his lips were drooping (at last).

“I need sanitary pads. Big ones.” He searched the internet and showed me photos. “Which ones?” I scanned through packaging showing women jumping in white pants as if periods were the best thing to happen to them. “This.” I pointed out. “Wow,” he said, whistling at XXXL.



Five years later, I would still remember me sitting on the white sheets laid out like a virginal altar on the floor, and the hot feeling in my stomach. I was bleeding out like a full bucket with a hole. His friend came in and started pasting brown paper on the white windows. “Just for a little privacy for you two.” He winked.

A month later, they were thrown out of the flat. “For me?” I asked, my eyes brimming with water. “For us,” he assured me. His friend who had assured us privacy had just paid someone to keep the curtains closed on the train compartment so that he could have “sex in motion.”

As if love always makes you homeless.



Three days I did not come out. I did not eat anything but glucose biscuits. Once, weak from hunger and ennui, I had called the dingy restaurant down the street and asked for their special “sukha mutton.” I lost my religion that day eating cow meat that I didn’t know was cow meat. My father wouldn’t have approved, I thought three years later, when I traveled to see him dying behind closed glass doors.



When my father asked me on the phone to sit down and relax, I was lying down on the white sheets. When he told me my grandmother had died of a heart attack, I was panting from a near orgasm. When it was over, I would slap him right across his face and hug him to cover my nakedness. “What have you done?” I managed to whisper over his shoulder. “What have I done?” I thought to myself.



About a month from then, I would be squatting on the railway platform. The lady guard would smile at us and tell him to take care of me. I sat on someone’s spit and he was on dog poop. We had brought nothing to spread out underneath us, nothing that I could bleed into.

A 13-hour journey would deliver us to the sea paradise. There we would be chugging beer and commenting on how nice it was that we could watch the sea, salt and ladies in bikini together. That afternoon I would emulate the hippies and troop to the bathroom in nothing but a towel.

I would hold myself over him and dig deep inside to see if the sand had entered him too, as it had done me.

If cheap beer, nightclubs and the sea was the conviction he was searching for. If they were what I was searching for. If it was enough.



It began with a dull red dot on the blue school skirt.

Rani said Shelly must have sat on some ink or whatever.

Rani spoke with a face that had gone from smiling to smug, and eyes that had gone from kind to cruel in the matter of a high-school year.

Shelly gulped hard while grazing her hands across her buttocks—it was wet, and she could feel a dull throb in her lower abdomen.

Shelly should open her cardigan and tie it around her waist, Aditi offered swiftly, afraid of being seen talking to the class freak. Shelly should go home and talk to her mother, she’ll tell her what to do.

Ma told her it’s okay, it happens. That was the only advice Shelly was ever going get out of Ma. When the man with the mustache had tried to slide his hands down her pants on the bus. When someone’s “thing” constantly brushed against her back in the crowded trains. When the computer teacher had taken some special classes to boost her grades.

It’s okay, it happens.

The throbbing red dot was fast and serious. If you didn’t see it, it just decided to make itself obvious. The next day, Shelly woke up with her white bedsheets dotted with red. They reminded her of the red welts she’d seen on Jyotsna’s belly, on the bit of dark skin that was spilling out under her blouse. The red spot glowed as Jyotsna squatted to mop the floors. She winced when Shelly carefully touched it. It’s okay, it happens – she told her, smiling from somewhere under a skin that shone purple like freshly plucked blackberries in summer.

Jyotsna must have looked beautiful – for nobody could take their eyes off her. Ma was so bewitched that she coaxed her to take a leave from work. It’s okay, she said, touching Jyotsna on the shoulder, It happens.

Shelly crept up to the breakfast table wrapped in rugs. The red dots had started spreading to her legs after causing murderous havoc in the No-No region. Doesn’t she have school, Baba asked, peeking up from the newspaper. She has a fever, Shelly responded, as dull red spots began popping up like large zits across her face. Baba said Shelly’s colour looked a little off, but it was important to go to the fancy school he paid for. Because It’s okay, it happens.

By the time Shelly was putting on her uniform, she looked like the cardboard man at the end of the gun range. Standing before the mirror, she allowed her mind to lift her from the cramped apartment into the war field, where she was lying quietly as the war smoke settled around her. Every inch of her body was a red dot. Someone held her gently against the dying sound of a bomb. Shelly asked him where all the blood was. The fellow soldier just looked at her and smiled. His face was unblemished, glowing, like the shadow of the Milky Way. It’s okay, It happens, he said.

When Baba broke the bathroom door open, he saw Shelly lying on the floor looking like a bright polka-dotted picnic rug.

Ma told him that Shelly must have been upset with the sudden arrival of her first period. Baba lifted Shelly from the floor as some of the dots leaked and scattered like beads.

He smiled at the neighbours and assured them – It’s okay, it happens.


About the Author

Sreemanti Sengupta writes poetry, short prose and is an occasional collagist.  She was nominated for Best Small Fictions (2021) and longlisted for the embarcce press poetry prize 2021. She has a book of poems Losing Friends to her name. Her haikus have been translated into French and some works read at the City Lights Bookstore NY. She edits The Odd Magazine. Read her at She tweets at @sreemantisen.


Photo by Ricardo Soria on Unsplash