It was late Thursday evening and close to their bedtime. Rain began to pour and they could hear drops of water seeping through the tiny cracks of their wooden roof and landing into the overflowing silver bowl placed in the middle of their bedroom. There was thunder and through the long, thin gaps on the shutters, he saw lightning flash for the third time. In the room, there was a mat, a small table, a chair and basket of clothes. It was very simple. They had just finished taking a shower and were talking. His two sisters sat on the mat, one facing the door and the other facing him. The sister facing the door had on a green dress that swept the floor whenever she stood up. The other was slightly younger and wore a blue dress that came up to the knees. They were combing their long hair and once done, one made a braid, while the other rolled it into a tight bun.
He talked to them and cracked jokes that were quite smart and humorous for someone who was only six. Despite his happiness, there was something bothering him. It had been bothering him all week and all day. This feeling was not new to him because he had felt it many times before, and this feeling of dread and anxiety, just continued to grow by the minute. He walked around the room in his yellow shorts and white singlet, hoping and praying that maybe, just maybe, they would forget about it.
“Tomorrow is Friday and Amma said we are going to drink the oil first thing in the morning.” The sister in the green dress told him as she stood up to leave her comb on the table. She had on a very funny smile because she new that he hated nothing more than having to drink that oil during the school holidays.
Thunder pounded once more and this time he stopped walking around the room. He froze at that instant and stared at his sister with his pitch black eyes.
“No, no, no! I will never take that oil.” He said stubbornly as his arms folded in front of his chest and his face slowly began to tighten.
“ Appa will make you drink it. He will come to you with a spoon full of oil and put it into your small mouth.” She giggled. “There is no way that you are not going to drink that oil.”
“No! I do not like that oil and I am not going to take it. None of you will ever get me to drink that oil. Just wait and see.” He turned around so that his back faced his sister, this way he wouldn’t have to hide the expression of doubt that he felt at the pit of his stomach. The thought that his sister may be correct on this matter provoked a sense of irritation and helplessness within him.
“I will catch you tomorrow morning and carry you to Appa.” She whispered in a singsong tone as she walked passed him and towards the door.
“I won’t take it!” He shouted, and as he ran towards his sister, he almost slipped on the puddle created by the overflowing bowl.
“What is going on in here? The neighbors are going to wake up if all of you talk this loud.” His mother was standing by the door in an orange sari with red polka dots. Her hair was falling out of her bun and she stood there looking at them until her attention drifted to the silver bowl and the puddle that lay next to it.
“I don’t want to take the oil tomorrow, Amma.” He said quietly.
“What nonsense. The oil is going to clean your stomach. Do you want to be sick or what? You better sleep now; tomorrow you will be the first to drink the oil. One of you should also pour out the water.”
“Amma, no, please.”
“Periya Thambi, everybody has to take it.” The other sister said in a straightforward manner. She had remained quiet this whole time, as she is not one who gets involved in arguments. However, she was getting tired of the conversation. She knew just as well as he did that everybody had to take the oil.
That night, as he lay between his two sisters on the woven mattress, he stared at the ceiling, listening to their breathing and the pitter-patter of the rain. As he turned to his side and faced the shutters, he felt small drops of sweat sliding down his neck and onto his back. He simply could not stop thinking about it; that queasy feeling which he would feel tomorrow once he swallowed the oil. The way it would linger for a while and then churn in his stomach until the time came and he felt the urge to go to the toilet.
There he would be squatting over a black hole with a bucket placed a meter below. He shut his eyes close at the thought of being in that congested and malodorous toilet, waiting to get out and having nothing else to do other than staring at the four walls. This was only one part of the horror, the next came when the oil had kicked into the systems of his siblings and they began banging at the toilet door.
“Get out, I need to go!”
“Stop taking so long!”
“It’s coming, it’s coming!”
From the amount of force used on banging the door, a third fear would creep into him: What if the door breaks and falls down?
He sat upright and looked around him; he sisters were still asleep. He felt his shirt sticking to his back and as he pulled it away, he realized that a small patch of sweat had been created. He removed the light sheet that covered his legs and lay back down. As he continued to ponder, he thought to himself, there must be a way to escape this. The rain had now stopped and he had finally devised a plan. He did not think about how effective it might be or if it would work at all. It just seemed like the best plan out of all the other ones. For him, that was good enough.
The next morning he woke up an hour earlier than usual and after washing, dressing and eating a small breakfast he walked over to the living area. It was lit by the morning light, which entered through the open door and the shutters, which had been pushed outside. He sat on the stool that was placed by the door and played with the rubber bands that he had found on the table next to him. An hour had passed and he began to wonder why his mother had not called him to the kitchen. His sisters were roaming around the house doing their chores and as they saw him sitting alone in the corner they became a little suspicious.
“Are you feeling ok?”
He would not answer.
Another hour passed until he saw his eldest sister walking towards him. He knew now that time had come.
“Appa is coming with the oil, wait here.”
It took a few seconds before those words sunk into his head and he processed what his sister had just said. His heart began to beat like the drums of a marching band, his eyes darted around the room and his jaw fell as he merged into a state of panic. Nevertheless, as he watched his father walk up the stairs and near him, he pulled himself together and did exactly as he had planned.
He slid off the stool and raced past the door and down the cement steps. Chickens flapped their wings in fury and flew under the house as he ran into them in search of his slippers. Dirt and sand stuck to his toes as he tried to get his slippers on properly. He looked around; the house was surrounded by a large compound consisting of small shrubs and plants, as well as a fence, which was placed around it. The ear-splitting shout of his father sent him running around the bushes and past the gate.
He was not running aimlessly; this was all part of his plan. He knew where he wanted to go and he knew that once he reached his destination they would not stand a chance in feeding him the oil. Unfortunately, the possibility of this changed when he turned around and found that his father was chasing him with a cup full of oil in one hand and a spoon in another. He was barefoot and behind him ran three of his sisters.
He chuckled at the sight of them struggling to keep up.
After a few meters, he had arrived at his destination: the school field. ‘They’ll get tired after a few rounds, and then they’ll leave me alone,’ he thought to himself.
“Dei, stop running!” His father screamed after him. His face was melting of sweat and patches of oil stains covered his khaki shirt. Suddenly, he felt a pull in his right leg and began to slow down to a limp, balancing the cup of oil in his hand as he bent down to give his calve a squeeze.
Distracted by the sight of his father, he slowed down to see if it was a bad injury, but as his sisters caught up with him turned around and increased his pace.
He was out of luck.
All three sisters grabbed him; one had his feet, the other held his hands together and the last sister to arrive held his head firmly in her hands. There was a mixture of laughter and heavy breathing as they carried him towards his father and placed him down.
“Open your mouth now and take the oil” His father said sternly.
“No!” He screamed to the sky and pushed away his sisters in an attempted to run away. Yes, he did feel bad for making his father run around like this, but there was no way that he would drink that oil.
One of the sisters put her hands around the bottom half of his mouth and pulled him into her as their father poured the oil into the spoon. He cried aloud as he watched the spoon full of that yellow, thick liquid come towards him. The smell was pungent, unbearable, and he knew that the taste would be even worst. They shoved the spoon into his mouth, pulled his hands around his back and as the liquid touched his lips, he gave them a face wash by spitting out the oil. He laughed when he saw the faces of his sisters filled with drops of oil, but he had forgotten that his father brought a cup full of oil.
They did not stop feeding him until the sixth attempt, when he finally gulped it down. His eyes squinted to a shut and he let out his tongue in disgust of what he had just consumed.
Oh no… He thought to himself as they walked back home, covered in oil.