| Reshma Thomas | April 2024 | Short Story |

If I had a giant straw, I’d throw it in the air to drink the Cool Blue from the Sky.

I’d also poke out a piece of the Warm Yellow sun, would it taste like an egg yolk?

A train of thoughts runs through my head as the train chuk-chuks, chuk-chuks, chuk-chuks ahead …..


Brown like the train that curls up like a worm when I press my face on the metal bars of its window.

Brown like the stains that I collect on my hand. They are stories of a long journey – the train likes to leave notes, so I don’t forget. 

Brown like the endless streams of tea and coffee that steam out of tall steel cans with taps, carried by dark brown hands of vendors who shout, ‘Chaaai! [1] Chaaai! Kaapi! [2] Kaapi!’ in their dark brown voices. 

They make multiple trips back and forth just in case people change their mind in thirty seconds. Mumma buys herself a cup of tea. “Shhh…don’t tell Ammachi [3] OK!”, she reminds me. I nod my head in understanding, feeling a lot more responsible with the weight of this secret on my shoulders.

[1] Chai: Tea

[2] Kaapi: Coffee

[3] Ammachi: Grandmother

I’d once heard a story about tea and coffee in trains being made from toilet tap water. I was still not allowed to drink either, but what if everyone was drinking hot toilet water and smiling in sick satisfaction?

Brown like the mud on the yellow boards that announce each station like a high school drama. Once in English. Once in Malayalam and once in Hindi.

CHANGANACHERRY, the Board read! Heaven my heart said! Run to me love! Ammachi’s arms said.


White like a cloud of love we fall into as Ammachi scoops us into her arms. One at a time, so we get enough squishing to ooze out all the love we saved up for each other.

White like her Chattayum mundum [4] that was spotless. A white that would never pick up a dot of brown, or yellow or green: which was odd because she worked around firewood, turmeric, fish, fish-blood, moss, coconut oil, chillies and vines.

[4] Mundum: a two part traditional attire worn by Syrian Christian women in Kerala. It consists of a white blouse covering the whole upper part of the body “Chatta” and a long white garment called ‘Mundu’ which is wrapped around the waist and reaches the ankles.

White like Ammachi’s teeth that wake up with her every day. She removes it only in the dark. It sleeps next to her in a glass bowl half filled with water every night.

White like the hair on Ammachi’s head, perfectly parted in the middle. Maybe Moses from the Bible parted it, when he was parting the red sea. 

White like the heavens where God and Moses live. Ammachi believes in a perfect God, maybe that’s why the njurukku [5] on her mundu [6] is so perfect. Starched pleats that open into half a Chinese fan, not a line out of place.

[5] Njurukku: Starched pleats

[6] Mundu: A long white cloth tied around the waist

Ammachi has brought Shankaran along to the station. He spends his days doing odd jobs around the ancestral house. His clothes were probably originally white, but they’d turned a strange shade of brown a few years ago, his teeth have a similar story. He smiles too, but his smile is not perfect like Ammachi’s. There is a big hole in his smile, made by missing teeth, but he doesn’t seem to care or want to hide it, he just keeps smiling.

He never speaks much around Ammachi, but he always knows exactly what to do. He picks up our bags: one large bag on each arm and a suitcase on his head.

What if we had more luggage, where would he put it?

Maybe he’d carry another suitcase on his head?

Our gifts for Ammachi are Shankaran’s burden to carry.

White like the Ambassador car waiting for us.

White like the towels that cover its seats.

White like the church on top of the hill that we pass on our way home. Ammachi and Mumma make invisible crosses on their heads, I make one too. I get two approving smiles. The church was obviously white because God obviously preferred white. And it makes sense since the clouds, angels, and everything else around him are white.

White like the breakfast waiting for us. Appams [7] and Mutton stew – usually a Christmas special in our [8] homes, but today is extra special because we are here for our summer holidays.

[7] Appam: A type of pancake originating from Kerala made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk

[8] Malayali Syrian Christian homes

I break the crispy edges of the Appam, soak it in my stew and let it linger in my mouth for a while. I’ve eaten Appam and stew in Bangalore, but it tastes different here. Everything tastes different here, even the water. 

Over the next few days there will be more white breakfasts:

Puttu[9], Idiyappam[10], Ada[11] and Kozhukatta[12]

[9] Puttu: Ground rice layered with coconut shavings steamed in a cylindrical vessel

[10] Idiyappam: Rice flour mixed with water that is pressed into noodles, garnished with coconut and then steamed

[11] Ada: A traditional delicacy made of coconut and brown sugar (jaggery), which is layered inside a rice paste and steamed in a banana leaf

[12] Kozhukatta: Dumpling made from rice flour, with a filling of grated coconut and jaggery

But before breakfast, we would need to have a bath.

To wash away the train smell: a mixture of iron, travellers, toilets, food, hawkers, burning diesel, more food and luggage.

To wash away all traces of city-life: concrete homes, tarred roads, traffic, painful school days, uniforms, and routines.

The water from Ammachi’s well feels like a warm embrace.

It doesn’t pierce your skin like the water in Bangalore, which is angry for having to travel so many kilometres in tiny plastic pipes just to reach you.

No need to heat it through a geyser. It’s perfectly warmed by the sun and infused with the magic of weeds that grow inside the well.


Yellow like the Changanacherry sun as if God opened a bottle of yellow paint and threw it all over the sky. It is sharp on the eyes, so you can never look directly at it, but you can always feel it. The paint trickles down and turns everything yellow in its path: bananas, mangoes, marigolds, and starfruit.

Yellow like my Mumma who is happiest in Changanacherry.

Yellow like Mumma’s hugs – a circle that stays around me, protecting me from everything, even when she isn’t hugging me.

Mumma is always wandering through the homes of her uncles and aunts and cousins and friends when she comes here. Every home is like her home.

Everyone knows Mumma.

Everyone loves Mumma.

Dark Yellow like the middle of soft-boiled eggs and steamed yethakkas [13] that magically appear as mid-morning snacks.

Yellow like the luscious mangoes that drop in the parambu [14]. Every morning is a treasure hunt; finding dew covered Moovandan [15] mangoes hiding between a patchwork of grass and drying leaves.  You don’t need to skin and slice them like the hard-hearted mangoes in Bangalore. You gently massage the skin and pop the stem with your mouth. Then, you allow the juice to gently trickle into your soul. A fresh mango is like a prayer, you always consume it with closed eyes. Some of the juice escapes down your arms and you lick it with the salt on your hands – then it tastes even better.

[13] Yethakkas: Large yellow Kerala bananas that have a distinct sweet-sour taste

[14] Parambu: A plot of land surrounding a building

[15] Moovandan: a unique variety of mango Kerala. Moovandan got its name from ‘Moonu’ meaning three and ‘aandu’ meaning year. It is sour, sweet and all kinds of delicious.

Yellow like the remnants of mangoes that dribble into a ceramic pot. It is too close to me, so I cover my nostrils with my favourite handkerchief. Everything in Ammachi’s house is beautiful, except for the toilet, it is a few metres away from the house. We are keeping the shit as far away from us as we can.

You have to squat over a pear-shaped ceramic pot with rectangular ceramic tiles telling you where to place your feet. All the weirdness from your stomach finds its way down a deep, dark hole at the end of the pot.

I need to make a few trips there on account of all the golden yellow deliciousness I’ve relished all day. I carry my handkerchief when I go there. My handkerchief is special, it goes everywhere with me. It wipes away sweat, dirt, water, bad smells and sometimes tears.


Pink like the hot kanji [16] that we scoop into our mouths with bits of spicy fried fish – always the catch of the day. The rice has red stripes that dissolve into the water as it boils in a large earthen pot over firewood. It’s always made in the morning and eaten religiously after the evening rosary.

[16] Kanji: Boiled red rice broth. A staple in Kerala homes.

Pink like the dots on yesterday’s appams that Ammachi is generously giving away to our house help, Shyamala. She is Shankaran’s wife. 

Mumma asks Ammachi whether it’s alright to eat when she already knows the answer. Somewhere in the confusion of her heart she is hoping Ammachi doesn’t realise she is giving away stale food.

“Ohh, ivarkokke idu padiva.

Veshanna vayyaru veshavum dehikyum,

Nammalolondu ivaru reshavittu pogunnu.

Chelappum pattani kedanu idangalokke raavile ezhunekkilla.[17]

[17] They are used to this. Hungry stomachs can even digest poison. They are alive because of us. Sometimes they sleep hungry and never wake up.

Ammachi reminds Mumma that this is our right and their privilege.

Shyamala’s grateful smile and semi-trembling hands affirm to Mumma that the white appams with pink dots are quite alright…. for them.

I look at Shyamala’s hands, there’s no gold, there are beautiful Karivalas [18], more beautiful than any bangles I’ve ever seen. There are marks on her ear lobes of a place that once held earrings. But the mark is fading away, like the memory of the earring that once lived there.

A black thread dangles around her wrinkled, tired neck. My favourite thing about her is a dimpled smile. A red circular bindi [19] rises between her eyebrows that arch like mountains. The bindi is like the sun – it lights up her face.

[18] Karivala: Black glass bangles

[19] Bindi: A mark or jewel worn between the eyes

Red, Blue, Yellow and Green…..

………like the colours of the shirt on the boy near the gate. He stands outside drawing circles in the ground.

I watch him, he watches me – this goes on for a while.

I wave my hand to call him inside the compound where I am playing.

He shakes his head to say No.

I wave my hand fiercely and he sticks his face between the grills of the gate. It looks like he is in jail. I run to the gate and open it.

In a tiny voice he asks, “Amme undo?…”[20]

‘Illa…’[21] I answer with a smile, silently excited about the prospect of a friend here.

Baa, Agathu Vaa[22], I invite him in. 

[20] Is my mother here?

[21] Illa: No

[22] Come! Come inside

Shyamala’s dimples gently appear on his face.

He suddenly stops, his dimples disappear,

Ammachi?…..’ he asks in a tinier voice.

It’s only a word, but I understand everything he doesn’t want to say.

His parents work for Ammachi all day, but they keep their lives outside the compound, inside it, they are only workers.

Jayabalan is the son of Shankaran and Shyamala.

Jayabalan doesn’t work for Ammachi, so he has no reason to be inside our compound.

But I find a way to break the rules, I convince him to come from behind the house. Only the front of the house has a compound wall, the back has a cow shed without cows and tall rubber trees that act like a natural fence. The trees go on and on until the next house, which had its own compound wall.

He runs to the back of the house from outside and I run to the back of the house from inside. We meet outside the cowshed. It feels like a place without rules, just trees with open skies between branches from where the golden yellow sun trickles through.

I ask him to hide while I count and then I search for him.

Then I hide and he finds me.

We find each other.

I ask Jayabalan where he lives; he points in the direction of a dense clump of tall trees, there is no house to be seen. Or maybe the house is too embarrassed to be seen, so it just hides under a blanket of trees. He convinces me that it is there, I’m just not looking hard enough. I ask him if he’ll take me to his house.

Aaa…Oru doosam pogaam[23], he says.

[23] Yes, We’ll go one day

Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green, like the colours of Jayabalan’s house in my imagination. It matches his shirt, his voice, and his dimples.


Grey like the home-brewed coconut oil that Ammachi fills in her cupped palms and gently massages into my pre-partitioned hair. As the oil seeps in through my scalp, she sings a song about how every little girl needs a grandmother to look after her hair. A girl’s hair is her grandmother’s pride.

She asks me to remember the song, so I can sing it to my granddaughter someday.

After Ammachi finishes her song, it’s Mumma’s turn to get her hair oiled.  Mumma doesn’t get any song, only some grunting sounds about Bangalore’s evil water that stole her gorgeous curls. Mumma smiles and replies,

‘Amme bangloorilu joli ondu,

Rose Anninu school ondu,

nammukoru veedondu.

Mudiokke vechhondu ivide nikkyam, pakshe aaru pani tharum?’.[24]

[24] Mother, we have jobs in Bangalore, a home and Rose Ann’s school. We can save our hair if we live here, but what about our lives, our future?

I think Mumma is yellow because we live in Bangalore, if we lived in Kerala she’d be white like Ammachi.

Grey like the words that creep out of my pencil. My words are not good enough, that’s why I can only write with a pencil. When I grow up next year I can write with a pen, because then my words will be better.

Pencil thoughts are light-grey and can be erased easily.

Pen thoughts are dark-blue and permanent, even if you erase them, they leave blue stains.

I’m doing my holiday homework. What kind of person came up with the idea of holiday homework? Weren’t holidays made, so we could forget everything we learned in school? To empty our heads and fill it with all the good stuff?

Grey like the spider that entices me out of my homework. I pause to watch it bounce up and down, weaving a wondrous web.

Grey like the feeling when Jayabalan isn’t around.

Red, Blue, Yellow and Green…..

……like the colours of the ice candies in the ice cream cart, wheeled along a narrow strip of tar.

Jayabalan comes running with the ice cream truck every day.

He buys ice candies for both of us every day.

I steal a little something from the kitchen for him every day – Neiyyappams[25], Murukku[26] and boiled eggs with dark yellow middles. Nothing pink. I only steal a treat that is prepared fresh.

[25]  Neiyyappam: a sweet rice and banana fritter fried in clarified butter

[26] Murukku: A savoury crunchy snack made of rice flour and spices

I get dimpled smiles as thank-you’s.  

We sneak around to the back of the house to enjoy sweet, crushed ice melting in our warm mouths, cooling us from the heat of the Changanacherry sun.

I stick out my tongue to show Jayabalan the new colour my tongue has turned into today. I try new flavours all the time, there is so much to taste and so little time. Jayabalan always picks white, he says it’s his favourite.

We don’t talk much; my Malayalam is heavily accented and his English is invisible. But we spend hours together in the open land behind the house, hiding from Ammachi. He brings me magical manjadi kurus[27] that I plan to take back to Bangalore. He teaches me new skills, like how to suck nectar out of chethi[28] flowers and how to make pinwheels from coconut leaves.

One day we find a dragonfly; Jayabalan catches it while it rests on a leaf. He ties a string on its tail and moves it over the maralu[29]. The dragonfly, in a state of panic, picks a tiny stone.

[27] Manjadikuru: Tiny bright red seeds that look like gems

[28] Chethi: A large flower made by a cluster of smaller flowers.

[29] Maralu: Sand with a multitude of stones in varied shapes. Usually in shades of red and brown.

Jayabalan looks at me as if he’d just performed a magic trick, waiting for some kind of applause. I am queasy and confused. What is Jayabalan doing? What is the dragonfly doing? It feels so weird. I beg him to let the dragonfly go, he chuckles and gives in.

“Paavam thumbi”[30]’, I said, feeling terrible about what we’d done.

“Endhu Paavam? Manushyaru pani edukunnadalle, adum pani edukkatte!”[31]

[30] Poor dragonfly

[31] Humans work hard, why can’t dragonflies?

I try to understand why Jayabalan has different feelings about the dragonfly.

I could think about it in church, tomorrow was Sunday anyway.


Gold like the rosary glimmering around Ammachi’s neck.

Gold like the bangles on everyone’s wrist: Ammachi’s, Mumma’s and mine.

Gold like the earrings that dangle from our ears: Ammachi’s, Mumma’s and mine.

Gold like the borders on Ammachie’s kasavu kavani[32] and Mumma’s sari.

[32] Kasavu kavani: Hand woven shawl with a gold border, worn on special occasions over a chattayum mundum

Gold like the delicate and stern, spectacle frames that neatly rest on Ammachi’s wrinkled nose. Mumma’s frames are silver, they feel kinder.

Gold seems like an important colour to grown women. Their eyes and lips become wider every time someone mentions it. I don’t understand what the fuss is all about. Maybe I’ll understand when I start writing with a pen.

Gold like the gigantic cross in the middle of the altar. I wonder if it is kept there so people would know what to look at just in case the gold around them was distracting.

Church is a place where you display your gold. You originally come to pray, but then the priest talks about a lot of important things in a loud, important voice, through a loud, important microphone, and then you stop listening.

I try to ask God questions about the dragonfly, but he can’t hear me. I must come at a quieter time. Right now, there is too much noise, from the priest, the choir and the people.

I start to notice what everyone is wearing. I hear a voice that goes off key in the choir, people pretend like nothing happened. I think it’s hilarious and I laugh loudly in my head. I also cover my mouth, so my laugh doesn’t escape. But, somehow, Mumma hears it. She rolls her eyes at me and then smiles. I smile back.

I wonder if Mumma has more power than God.

Red, Blue, Yellow and Green…..

……like the sound of the bell of the ice-cream cart.

Jayabalan is back, the ice candies are back, and the dragonfly game is back.

I despise the game, but for some reason it makes Jayabalan happy, so I just watch helplessly as the dragonfly is dangled from a thread and forced to pick up stones.

Jayabalan thinks this is funny.

Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green like the colours of disturbed words that I churn in my mouth. It’s exhausting to swallow these words, but I do because it’s better – for us. Everything else was perfect, this was just one thing I didn’t like about him. I would let it go, like how Mumma let go of the Appams with pink dots for Shyamala.

Did Jayabalan eat those appams? Did one unkindness flow from another?

As these thoughts erupt in my head, the dragonfly flaps its wings frantically and falls to the ground. We wait for it to wake up, but it isn’t moving. We prod it with our fingers and splash water on it.

It doesn’t move. The dragonfly is done playing, done living.

I am feeling a lot of things: anger, shame, loss, sadness. And these are only the ones that I can name. I want to give the dragonfly a proper funeral, I want to bury my sins and cover it with songs and flowers; anything to make all these feelings go away.  

I dig a hole in the ground and lay the dragonfly wrapped in my little handkerchief. Was that repentance enough? Giving away my favourite handkerchief? I cover the hole with mud and made a mound.

Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green like the colours of the flowers and leaves that I lay on the grave, one by one. I let my tears fall on the grave, one by one.

Jayabalan ties two sticks together to make a cross and we place it over the dragonfly’s grave. I sing the funeral song, Jayabalan doesn’t know it, so he quietly disappears. I learned the song at my grandfather’s funeral, this was also the time I learned to cry without being sad. But now I am truly sad, so I cry with real tears.

Jayabalan returns in a while, looking at me sheepishly. He is holding something behind his back. I’m still upset about the dragonfly. He flashes a board game in front of my eyes.

Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green like the colours on the board of the Snakes and Ladders game. I put on a half-smile, as if to say, it’s alright.

This place was making me uncomfortable and I wanted to go somewhere else, so I called Jayabalan into the house. I tell him that Ammachi had left home and would probably take a while to be back. I convince him that even if she comes, we will hear the car coming through the gate and that will give us enough time to make a quick escape.

Jayabalan doesn’t move, so I grab his hand and force him through the back door into the living room. We pick a spot on the floor; we don’t want to dirty the couch. Jayabalan is still looking unsure, but then I open the board game and he slowly sits down to play.

He keeps looking up, darting his eyes around, sometimes looking at the shiny things around him and sometimes at the window for a sign of the car. But that changes when we get sucked into the game. Jayabalan is very good with this game, he gets the six first, gets the bigger ladders and the smaller snakes. I’m not so good, I get more snakes than ladders. He tells me that if I want a certain number, I should close my eyes, believe it in my heart and throw it with joy.

I try this at my turn, and it works!! I am catching up with Jayabalan.

Jayabalan is at 97, now he needs any number beyond 3 and he will win the game. He rolls the dice, it rolls into 2, he’s at 99 now, almost a winner now.

I roll the dice and it rolls out of the board, rolls over the ground, and stops near Ammachi’s feet.

We made so much noise while playing that we didn’t hear the car, the gate being opened, Ammachi walking into the house and Ammachi walking into the room.

Jayabalan and I look up at Ammachi. Everything is still for a moment. And that moment goes on for a very long time.

Ammachi doesn’t say anything, she stiffly picks up the board, opens the door and flings it out of the house.

The board goes flying, the pieces on the board go flying, rising above us, and then landing on the ground outside the house. 

I want to run and pick up the board.

Pick up all the coins, the dice, pick up my voice that I can’t seem to find.

I want to sling dirt on her white Chattayam Mundum. I want to destroy its whiteness. It’s fake sense of ‘goodness’

I want to hug Jayabalan.

I want to say sorry to Jayabalan.

I want to SCREAM……

What I want to do doesn’t matter, because I end up doing nothing, I say nothing. I just stand like someone cemented my feet into the ground. There is a loud burst of thunder, as if someone decided to speak up for Jayabalan.


Colourless, like rain that falls from the sky, the clouds are overwhelmed and overburdened. The rain slowly washes all the colours around me. I cannot see colours anymore.

Colourless like the clouds in my eyes that break into silent streams and run down my cheeks. The tears are scampering, like they are afraid of sticking around and never want to be found. There are many waiting in line to run out, escape forever.

Are tears colourless because they come from pain? Pain has too many colours.

I search for tears on Jayabalan’s face as he picks up pieces of his dignity that are strewn all over the parambu as pieces of a game.

Why didn’t he have tears? I had so many.

Shouldn’t it hurt him more than me?

I search and search, but I find no tears from Jayabalan.

Maybe tears only come from people living in white houses, praying in white churches, that they wipe away with white handkerchiefs.

Maybe tears cost money and Jayabalan cannot buy them, because he used all his money to buy ice candies for me.

I watch helplessly as Jayabalan walks away from me,

I never hear his voice again,

I never smell his smell again,

I never see his dimpled smile again.

I run to the door and watch as he drowns into the ocean of green where he pointed to before, showing me where his house was. I still don’t see it. Now I’ll never see it.

My tears don’t stop, I don’t wipe them, I also don’t have a handkerchief.

It’s buried with my guilt.

But this new guilt, I know, I’ll never be able to bury. It stays with me forever. I’ll feel fresh new guilt every time I see a beautiful shade of Red, Blue, Yellow, or Green.

I will never wear white.

What was white anyway, a boring colour without any real meaning!


Red like the jets of Pogala that spurned out of Ammachi’s mouth, through a ‘v’ she made with her fingers, over her lips.

Red like my blood that was boiling with helpless horror. It comes up as waves of ‘heat’ swishing around in frantic circles not knowing where to escape to. I was like a pressure cooker without a whistle. Just fire and rage building up with nowhere to go.

Red like the dead dragonfly that peacefully sleeps under the ground.

I thought about the dragonfly and how it lived to entertain us, how it picked up stones for us, how we controlled it with a string.

When we were done playing, the dragonfly was done living.

Was Jayabalan my dragonfly?

Red like the Chethi flowers on the dragonfly’s grave.

The dragonfly is dead, there’s a cross above his head.

Peace he only found when he finally rested under the ground.

Red like the Manjadi Kurus bottled up in a glass jar on my bookshelf, never to be opened again. 

Red like the endless string of triangular Communist flags tied to the poles outside Ammachi’s home. Change was coming, the flags promised.


Reshma Thomas was christened ‘dreamer’ from First Standard and she adopted the title without really understanding what it meant.She carried the tag with her, often being unable to distinguish between reality and her imagination.As she grew older she preferred to stay in her imaginary world and that allowed her to move from working as a Tax Lawyer with a Bank to being a partner at a Creative Agency called Purplemango.

She is always unsure about everything she writes, but has decided to keep telling her stories as long as someone is interested in listening.


Homepage image by Franco Grancis via Unsplash

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