Red is Too Cliche
I see her.
It is the third day she is walking by my flat. Today she got a little closer than yesterday. And today, she is carrying bougainvillea.
I look at the bougainvillea branch bearing too many flowers outside my window. It is a good day to write.
I go to the computer with a glass of water and start typing. Today, the words come flowing like a flood. It is almost as if somebody recites it to me in hushed tones from insides my head.
Somebody who resides inside my head.
I hit save. I do not edit this draft.
But I read. And reread.
I reread the legend of Kannagi. I feel sad for her. I have driven past the temple dedicated to her name, back home. It was always full of women.
All kinds of women.
Too much women. So too much flowers. Strings and strings of jasmines.
This is too much. Should I open the window and ask her what she wants?
I see the bunch of ixora in her hand. But I don’t like ixora.
So I go to the computer to write.
Today, there is no voice. I feel lonely.
I want to paint.
Kannagi sold her first painting. A Neo-Dada art. She juxtaposed a newspaper, a birth control pill, a breast and an anklet. Because blood is red and red is too cliché, she used maroon and black.
Like a mad woman she threw buckets of maroon at the painting. And smudged it with a black paint brush. And when she was done, she sprinkled a diluted white with fingers.
Like a mad woman.
She went home with a full heart.
But her boyfriend was on his knees. With a bouquet of red roses. And a ring.
She hated red roses. She hated red.
She had just started having a good day.
It is a good day. I go for a morning jog and come back. I want to write.
What do you do when you want to write but don’t have the words?
I take a sip of ginger tea and look out the window.
She is there. She has come again. Today she is standing outside my door. And today, she is carrying lilies.
Ding-dong. That’s my doorbell. I open the door.
Her face looks scared. And helpless. We stare into each other’s eyes for fourteen seconds.
‘What now?’ she asks.
‘I – I don’t know’ I pull out the hair stick and let my hair down. ‘Come in?’
She walks straight to the study. ‘These are for the anklet’ she smiles and leaves the lilies near the computer ‘appreciate it’.
She sends her finger through the spines of my books. Classics. Biographies. Art. She stops.
‘I want to live’ she says, ‘please let me live’. Her voice, so delicate and soft.
I hold her hands and I kiss them. She looks beautiful. Like a goddess.
‘Is she a goddess or a human, Kannagi,’ I asked my grandmother once, ‘according to the legend?’.
‘Why does that matter?’
‘That much chastity…for a human?’
‘That much anger…for a goddess?’
‘But a human can’t tear a breast and fling it at a city!’ I said, touching my chest.
‘But a goddess can’t love like a woman!’ she said, touching her heart.
How would you know if it’s your heart or your chest that aches, she wondered. She had a pain in her chest, Kannagi. If the pain is fluctuating it is probably the heart, that’s what she had heard. So it was her heart. It was bleeding.
She was not alone; she was with child.
So she said ‘yes’. But she asked him to take the roses out of her sight.
And now she will have to fly back home. A new canvas.
The canvas is very thick. The red paint does not bleed through it. I am painting a slut.
She has come again.
I open the door. I see jasmines in her hair. But there is a dagger in her right hand.
‘What did I ever do to you, you crazy bitch?’ she jumps on to me and I fall down. She gets on top of me, pulls the string of jasmines from her hair and wraps it around my neck.
‘Kannagi!’ I shout. ‘Kannagi, stop!’
‘You made me pregnant?’ she screeches, ‘you made me get married to that bastard? And fly back home?’ she cackles. Like a mad woman. ‘I pleaded you to let me live! I pleaded!’ she howls as loud as she can. Then she wails, ‘I only wanted to live...to paint… paint!’. She covers her face with her hands and weeps. Her dagger slips down and I swiftly pick it up. My heart races as I raise my hand to stab her in the back.
But I can’t.
I can’t. Because I made her. She is mine.
We do not move for fourteen seconds. We stare into each other’s eyes.
‘Fuck you!’ she shouts and flings her breast at my study. Then she stabs herself. With my hand.
Kannagi moved back to her ancestral home with her husband and unborn child.
Ciara Mandulee Mendis
This story is inspired by the legend of the goddess Kannagi. You can learn more about her here.
Ciara Mandulee Mendis is a Sri Lankan writer. Her debut collection of short stories titled The Red Brick Wall was shortlisted for Gratiaen Prize 2020, the most coveted award given for Sri Lankan writing in English. She holds an M.A. in English Studies from University of Colombo. She is employed as Assistant Director (Literature & Publications) at the Department of Cultural Affairs, Sri Lanka.
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