I want to be like the flower that dies before getting old.
That’s what Modari, the fat Indian girl, used to say. She didn’t die, nor did she grow old. She just got fatter and fatter. By the time her adolescence was over, she’d grown huge, globese. She reclined on her bed cylindrically, unable to move, filling the feathery fabric with fluff. And because she cast so much shadow, moss even began to grow in the folds of her flesh.
Her life was one of distraction. They would turn the television on for her and leave her to bask in the suds of soap operas. Modari would cry, stare entranced, and let out high-pitched peals of laughter, adding harmony to birdsong. Pressing the buttons on the remote control she took possession of the world, everything was so easy, a touch was enough to change dreams. She could rewind life and cause time to pause in its tracks. Her destiny was, after all, at her fingertips. Modari lived her night in daytime, and her day by night. On the luminous screen, the girl peeled back time.
But so much substance sapped her strength. The fat girl couldn’t sustain herself with so much sustenance. She had neither the strength to get up or sit down. Her flesh was unemployed, and her body as flaccid as a stuffed watermelon. A mere idea would cause her head to drop. By now, her family could tell the signs: if it was a good idea her head would droop to the left. A bad idea caused it to tilt onto the right shoulder.
For the good of the story, it must be said that she answered the call of nature right there, in the middle of her flesh. At a certain hour, a servant would come and clean her. He would undress the girl and ask her permission to wipe her crevices, folds and pleats with perfumed towels. He would lift her, turn her over and change her nappy with all the strength of a whale fisherman. Then, he would leave her, stark naked, like a mountain exposed to the cool air. Finally, he would help her to put on a light, transparent slip. The servant was by no means gentle with her. But she grew languid as his fingers brushed over her. And she would fall asleep with the remote control in her hand.
So that she wouldn’t weaken further, they made a window in her room, far from prying eyes. They punched a hole through the wall, raising storms of dust. As it was impossible to move the fat girl, they covered her with a plastic sheet. Modari sneezed in soprano, more concerned with the television than the state of her lungs.
One day, a traveler turned up. The migrant brought her cloth, colours and perfumes from India. He was a sober, solitary man. He saw her and immediately fell in love with her great volume.
—You’ve got so much woman inside you that if I was polygamous, I wouldn’t need another one.
The man loved Modari but was finding it hard to get to the stage where his love might be consummated. He whispered passionately:
—If one day I manage to put it into practice with you . . . But he was going to have to dig through more flesh than one of our miners deep down in the Rand.
—From now on I don’t want any servant to touch you.
He took charge of her ablutions himself. Modari took delight in being flushed and the man would dry her, apply soothing powders to her skin and rub her with lotions. It was during one of these sessions that the act of love took place. The visitor pushed back her legs as if he were casting aside the trunks of a pair of baobabs. They made love, and goodness knows how he managed to descend so far into her pulpsome network of caves. Straight afterward, Modari felt light. With the remote control in her hand, she realized that at no time during their lovemaking had she let go of the little box of buttons. And so, bathed as she was in perspiration, she joked:
—What do you like better, my love: to be panned or canned?
She felt so light that she tried lifting her arm. And she managed to. Delighted, she waggled her fingers on high like so many marionettes. On the following night, they made love again. And on the remaining nights too. Then, Modari realized that every time she made love, she got visibly thinner. After some days, Modari was getting out of bed and trying to take a few steps round the large room. Her consummate lover seemed more dissatisfied than a bee. He was so gnawed by love that he was losing his fingernails. His heart was suffering from an excess of access.
A month later, Modari was even dancing. She was slim, a picture of osseous elegance. Hundreds of kilos had evaporated, converted into heat and nothingness. Modari busied herself pulling in saris, tightening dresses, adding holes to belts. At first, her family was happy. But in time, they stopped rejoicing in the change. Modari was growing hollow-cheeked and scrawny. It was either one thing or neither: she was either ill or overly lovelorn.
—Too much in love?
Modari rejected any advice. Love is like the sea: being infinite, it yearns to complete itself in other waters. I won’t hold back, she shouted. And she went to speak to her man who was compliant: they would love each other forever after but she should leave the remote control on the bedside table. At least for the meantime. Amid laughter and lips, their bodies intertwined. For the first time that night, Modari felt the bite of tenderness. The taste of a kiss slithers between one’s lips and teeth, between life and death. Blade and velvet, which of the two are touched in a kiss? Mouth to mouth asphyxiation: that’s what a kiss is.
The following day, Modari, now shrunken to minuteness, was devoid of weight. Never before had a woman been seen with such poverty of flesh. To the extent that her lover was afraid:
—No, Modari, I shouldn’t touch you, your body can no longer provide love with its access.
Modari smiled: was her sweetheart scared she might die? She felt like answering that, because of love, she was all the while living infinite lives. In order to die now, infinite deaths would be required. Instead of this, she asked:
—Don’t you remember that, before, I wanted to be a flower? Well, answer me then: don’t you find me scented?
He grabbed her hands as if summoning courage. And he announced that he had to go on a long journey when the sun next came up.
—Tomorrow, my sweet love.
Modari moved away somberly. She remained like this, hushed, removed from the moment. The man thought she was weeping. But suddenly, she turned round, plying him with her laughter. Waving the remote control, she challenged him:
—Come and catch your rival here. Come on you jealous thing!
He took her in his arms and cuddled her, vanquished and eager. Those who kiss are always princes. A kiss makes sleeping beauties of them all. The Indian girl surrendered as if asleep. Afterward, the man looked at his own arms in surprise. There was no sign of anything or anybody. Modari had been extinguished. Her body had left her life, time had been exiled from her existence. Modari had departed for bygone times. The man even heard the remote control clatter to the floor somewhere in the room.
Translation of “A gorda indiana.” First published in Contos do Nascer da Terra. Copyright 1997 by Mia Couto. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2007 by David Brookshaw. All rights reserved.