With a little spittle she dampened a sheaf of tissue paper and dabbed at the bleeding spot on her right wrist. The blood stayed put. It always works, thought Rani, as she proceeded to widen the wooden windows a little more to let the early morning light, breeze and kampong smells through.


Rani had always, since a child, been the first to rise and fling open the twelve green windows of her granny’s timber house in Jasin village of Malacca. Two metallic latches had to be unfastened by sticking the hand through tiny square gaps on a wiry grate – one on the top, the other, bottom. The tips of the gaps had bits of wire sticking out, sharp and rusty, waiting to catch at any human flesh that brushed against it.


For 30 years in a row, Rani could never avoid grazing herself against this, no matter how careful she was. A ritual, no doubt, to let the fresh air and sunlight into the dark house each time she took a break from Singapore, to stay with her extended family—grannies, uncles and aunts—in Malaysia. She took her little boy along with her this time, hoping he’d appreciate the simple country life, far from the maddening crowd of Singapore city.


Placing a blackened dented kettle of water on a gas stove to boil, Rani stepped out on the back porch to brush her waist-long hair in the crisp morning air. In the distance lined a snake of wooden rickety houses in a curve—each about 40 feet apart with its own plot of land. Each with its own story to tell. Even with the inhabitants long gone.


What happened next? Read the rest of this short story when She Never Looks Quite Back by Mallika Naguran is out.