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by Shweta Narayan

Blue neon catches on chrome, on white shirts and sneakers, on the ashes smeared on my skin. Twin lights cast knife-shadows in rhythm, splitting and crashing together in a cartoon bruise. Like the group onstage, playing the colors.

She tours as Kali and the Backup Smurfs. The smurfs are gnomes in face paint: natural mutation, modification, or little people come out into the open, take your pick. No matter that modding is the likeliest explanation; our kind steps outside and urban legends grow into their predictable trinity — monster, freak, alien.

But Kali …

It would explain the eyes. Her fans wear copies, of course; the tech is not expensive. Basic cams track gaze, fiberpixels darken into eyes that stare back unblinking. Out beneath the smog it’s protection, shaming any sala into looking away from breasts and hips. Here, it’s performance. Lines grow, spread, open into eyes on backs, on knees, on gloved hands; and each one dances like a tiny piece of Her.

Her. Hair writhing loose, black bodysuit, with kohl-lined eyes. Returning every gaze, every bit of attention, of adoration, as surely as her undistorted voice does. Could she be real – as real, at least, as her ash-painted consort, challenger, other self? Eyes on her fingertips, twined in her garland of skulls. In that hair. Following me from all around as I slip through the shifting, strutting crowd. Dancers‘ eyes wide on my tiger skin, on the cobra round my neck; little bursts of fear before they flinch away to let me push an intermittent path toward the stage.

Eyes in every lyric, telling these people I see you too. The dangerous hope that opens the crowd to itself, to its glances and its touch, accidental, intimate. To perfection: they see and touch and taste her in each other.

If any of our kind dared come so far into the open — and to take so ludicrous a mix and throw it back, black and blue, in every smiling set of teeth — well. It could be Her they taste.

So I wait, while sweaty shoulders rub ash from my arms and elbows hit my back, for something more than mere cam vision. She would surely know me – but only algorithms react; only pixels look back. When she finally turns my way, between songs, it is to watch the dancing snake.

The bloodied tongue flaps down to her chin, inanimate.

Another act. An interpretation. No more.

But Drummer Smurf’s bass line comes in as I turn away, hitting a fuck-you five-beat Taka Takita; and every bit of her skin stares out at me and her voice, her voice is true.

I open my third eye to watch — to return adoration — and I dance.

Copyright © 2013 by Shweta Narayan


Shweta Narayan writes about herself: „I was smelted in India’s hot summer, quenched in the monsoon, wound up on words in Malaysia, and pointed westwards. I surfaced in Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, and Scotland before setting off to California, where I live on language, veggie tacos, and the internet.  I mostly write people like myself, wherever their stories started — the liminal folk. The ones on the boundaries, outside, half-anything. Those who fit uncomfortably. My favourite liminal space so far was Clarion 2007, for which I received the Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship for writers of color.“

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