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Doña Rosa

"I said no prayers when I watched their remains burn and rise in smoke"

Published onJul 16, 2023
Doña Rosa


Photo by Udayaditya Barua:

When I sit in silence, I can hear Doña Rosa shuffling around, humming an unfamiliar tune that feels like love and sorrow. She wears a white blouse and a red knee-length skirt, their hemmed edges embroidered with rainbow flowers. Her hair is tamed in a pair of braids and topped off with a milk-white fedora hat. The tamarind seeds that dangle off her wrists clatter as she prepares to fight bad energies and the stubborn sun that causes me stress. I don’t know the taste of Ecuadorian air, so there will be scented candles instead; I’ll pick jasmine. 

Arms around my shoulders, she cups my heart as she whispers prayers to my troubled coronita 1 in a blend of Español and Quechua while resting my head on her bosom. I realize Doña Rosa makes up for both grandmothers I never had—one never acknowledging me, the other finding ways to establish only my cousins were hers. I remember feeling nothing when they died. Aunties eyed each other from behind their pallus2, questioning my allegiance to blood by my lack of wet eyes and trembling lips. My grandmothers’ children—the ones that birthed me—knowing I’d never touch their dead cold feet, not unless some ridiculous ritual forced it upon me when I was too tired to fight back, took me to their pyres anyway. I said no prayers when I watched their remains burn and rise in smoke, and wondered what they meant to the people who wept for them.

Doña Rosa plays with my hair, twirling thick strands around her stout fingers and tugging, mostly gently, sometimes a little aggressively. I know the feeling. When my father was still keen on being ‘dad,’ he’d pull me off my slumber by what he’d like to call my ‘chicken-leg’ wrists, make me sit up on the bed with my back to him, morning sleep still clung to my eyes, and brush out my waist-length dark brown waves. His thick fingers which always smelled of metal and oil would work through my scalp in between brushes, and he’d fuss about how mum cared too little about beauty and its many regimes. I’d rather fixate on the ugly seeds he’d planted through the years that grew like giant beanstalks and ripped us apart; make it easier for me to hold on to the many shades of my despair, hate him for replacing mum and me, but the thorny memory of his love is my only road to Doña Rosa.

With the sweetness of Bengal injected into my veins, I want to grow roots in the folds of the Andes. It will be my safety net once mum is gone, having told the world her many stories, and having loved all of me with all of her bruised heart because when I will finally fall apart, Doña Rosa will douse my flames with showers of white rose petals, and her large arms will keep me from exploding into irretrievable ash. She will pray in languages I don’t understand but can feel gliding down my skin like a feather—balming it’s cracks, cocooning me in colourful felt blankets, loosening my bones, and beckoning me to rest without dreams, without nightmares. Doña Rosa will tell me I am beautiful and loved, and her scent will tell me many stories about her people.

For now, Doña Rosa hums again, the same love, the same sorrow, and I find myself wanting to listen to my friend’s advice and not think.

Tejaswinee Roychowdhury is a writer, poet, and artist from West Bengal, India. With her fiction and poetry nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2023, her work has been or is scheduled to be widely published in Dreich Magazine, Muse India, Taco Bell Quarterly, Twin Pies, Roi Fainéant, Setu Bilingual Magazine, Paddler Press, The Unconventional Courier, Kitaab, MiniMAG, Pandan Weekly Newsletter, and more including in short story and poetry anthologies. Founder and editor of The Hooghly Review, Tejaswinee is also a lawyer and can be found tweeting at @TejaswineeRC.

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