Neeru Nagarajan

New Shoes


I don't like my name. It's not much, it's just Ambujam. My great-grandmother's name was Ambujam. She lived and died with it because her great-grandmother had that name.

You can call me Jamie.

My mom never let me wear anything that made me tower over men. It was important that I stayed short so I didn't look taller than my husband. But it doesn’t matter anymore.

I like my new red shoes. The ground feels farther away from me than it used to be.

As I walk through the rain, angling the umbrella so the raindrops don't fall on my shoes, I remember how much he hated rain. Good. He can be alone in his hate.

I step into the train that would take me to work, toward my boss who likes to make jokes about dead babies. No one laughs, but he still likes to make them. He could make any joke he wants. He's the boss.

Sometimes his humor reminds me of my father, my uncles, my ex-husband, his father, and his uncles.

My wedding was extravagant. I don’t think anyone remembered the colors of my seven silk saris, though it mattered to me a lot at the time. The most expensive one was the most exquisite dark violet. It reminded me of twilight when I bought it. But now it reminds me of a bruise.

No one really cared that my husband and I were standing a whole awkward foot apart. We didn't know each other very well. A few weeks ago, I realized that was still true.

I don't remember much about my wedding. Most people still talk about the food, especially the taste of the coconutty avial, its pale green color, and the julienned vegetables. My father had flown caterers from Kerala just to get the taste of my wedding sadya right. I still remember the plastic banana leaves, a cheap imitation of tradition, possibly in the realms of mockery. The oily gloss on each leaf was artificial and gaudy.

In a way, I miss my father. I wish I had someone to tell me what to do. "I'll take care of it," he would've said. And I would've let him.

The train rushes past the large Michelin Man balloon anchored outside a Pep Boys. The wind sways the tire man about. Maybe one day someone would cut off the ties that bind him to the ground. He deserves to float free.

His billowing body reminds me of rising dough. The distinct smell of yeast. So many loaves. How the gaps between my fingers burned hours after I kneaded the dough for habanero bread for my husband. Ex. He liked heat in his food and his words.

This morning, my mother said, “Wash your delicates by hand, like you used to at your home.” I said, “But this is my home.” Then I cried. She apologized. I know she meant no harm; her words weren’t why I was crying.

It's a fairly long ride to work. I always carry a book with me I never read. The three hundred pages are a weight I carry with me every day in my bag and in the back of my mind. I wish I could finish that book. It belongs to a friend. His friend. I'm fairly sure she doesn't want to ask for it right now. That would seem very petty.

I regret making friends with people he knew. It feels almost like campaigning before an election, talking to our friends. We need people to vote for one of us. Take sides. Fight for us. Probably because it's hard to fight with someone who baked habanero bread for you. I don't know, really.

I don't want anyone to know, but I still need to tell everyone. If only to stop them from asking me how he's doing.

I find it hard to tear my eyes away from the redness of these shoes. This might be the case for everyone around me. Maybe when my boss is staring at my shoes, I’ll tell him his jokes about a dead baby trying to climb back into its mother’s womb are not funny.

Last week, I caught my husband crying when I dragged the bulging suitcase to the door. There was no sound, only tears. It was easy not to smile back when he smiled. But it was more difficult not to cry when he cried.

Someone asked me once why I talk about him all the time now — even more than I did when I was married to him. It’s not like I want to remember how his palm used to feel on my breast. Or on my cheek.

Yesterday, on my way back home, the train was populated with jerseyed fans returning from a game. But now, in the cold, wet morning, the seats look emptier than ever. Things somehow feel even more vacant if they used to be full before.

Never get used to the fullness of things.

He called me Ambujam when he said goodbye. Maybe I’ll soon tell him that’s no longer my name.

Neeru Nagarajan is an Indian Tamil writer. Her work appears in South Florida Poetry Journal, The Maine Review, Middle House Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @poonaikaari.

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