FICTION June 3, 2022

A Dosa is Like a Labyrinth

The morning after Mom leaves to “find herself,” we sit at the dining table, zombified, and Dad stares at the front door as if she’ll walk in anytime now and make us breakfast. But I know she isn’t coming back ‘coz she left us a note saying she isn’t coming back, and in shouty uppercase letters, instructing us not to look for her. As always, we don’t disobey her, but she hasn’t told us what to do next, so we cradle our chins on our palms and wait until our stomachs growl. I have to take over. Even though I’m only fourteen, I’m the woman of the house now. Dad has zero control over anything anyway. I stand up to make dosas for breakfast, like Mom did every Sunday morning. I bring out the batter from the fridge and pour a ladleful onto a hot pan, but instead of spiraling the batter clockwise with the bottom of the ladle like she’d drilled into my head, I spread it anti-clockwise, because who cares, she isn’t here, she can’t yell and thunder anymore. The batter doesn’t cook on the pan though, it turns into its parents: rice and urad dal. Dad and my brother scrape out of their chairs; somehow, they’re back in their pajamas. They walk backward and disappear into their rooms, and now I’m moving backward too. I’m placing the rice and urad dal mixture back in the fridge instead of making breakfast. I can’t control it, I’m going backward and backward against the clock, spiraling, spiraling, until the sky goes dark and it’s last night, Mom’s still here, she’s humming, Dad’s smiling behind his book, and if this is how perfect things could’ve been, maybe, just maybe, I can go all the way back to the point where she quit her banking job after giving birth to me and convince her not to. Maybe then she won’t resent Dad and me for hitting the brakes on her career, and she won’t leave us. We can still be a normal family, happy even. So I keep going in reverse—all the way back to last Sunday when she’s making dosas, the air is luminous and light, I’m breathing easy, but then I notice she’s spreading the batter clockwise, and I yell, “STOP!” but it comes out as “POTS!” and my mother turns around to look at me, her smile hardens to a deep frown, and as always, my body tenses—I clench my toes, and when she turns back to the pan, the dosa has burned, and once again I’ve disappointed her.

Hema Nataraju is an Indian-American writer and mom, currently based in Singapore. Her work has been published in 100-word Story, Wigleaf, Sunlight Press, Nurture Literary, and Atlas + Alice among others. She loves dosas for breakfast, but only if someone else makes them. Find her on Twitter @m_ixedbag