Ball of Fire
By Roohi Choudhry
She inhales their deep scent, tingling and fresh: benevolent oranges gleaming in unabashed splendour, piled haphazardly upon their throne. The strands of the crude basket weave in and out of a multitude of summery colours, bearing its load with a loud dignity. A solitary ray of winter sun yawns into the room, the razor-sharp gleam slicing the table into sandwich halves. Some of the oranges have been baptized by this warmth, their furrowed surfaces aglow with delight. They seem to turn their fat bellies toward it, lapping it up almost audibly. She too feels overwhelmed, by her quickening pulse, by some enigmatic emotion surging through her; warm through her chest, chilling her feet, throbbing behind her eyes, gathering into a bubble in her throat. She struggles to name the feeling, to understand and subdue it, but she cannot: she is numbed by its ferocity.
She follows the errant ray to its source somewhere beyond the cold security of the iron trellis-door bars, above the washing line and high wall behind it. Somewhere above it all is a vast, blinding brilliance. When she strains her eyes long enough, she finds it to be of the palest, most crystalline blue adorned with gold-lined clouds. Even when she turns away, the image is imprinted upon her vision for the longest time, stamped negative-like on everything she looks at. But this too is marred by the iron bars, wrenching her back into the kitchen.
Other images flood her mind: discreetly edging her watch up her arm and under her sleeve, slinging her handbag over her head so that it stretches securely across her torso, nervously checking all the car-door locks each time a traffic signal shows red.... She chides herself, tries to ban these thoughts from her consciousness, but she cannot keep them from shadowing everything she does and slithering darkly into the deepest workings of her mind.
She refocuses her attention onto the tranquility before her, but finds the ray gone. The space beyond the wall is as dazzling as ever, but the rebellious gleam seems to have been retracted. There is just enough light to see by, to work and write in, but none left over for the oranges or her idle joy. She supposes, though, that this is not important. What is relevant is that there is enough light in which to do relevant things. And it's not as if we need even that, she thinks: Our minds have contrived lights, lamps, candles for us--quite enough for our survival in the impending darkness.
Then, why, she wonders, is her earlier elation replaced by such emptiness? Why do her fingertips long for the warmth of that weak sunshine? Why, as she shivers in the gathering twilight, are the floor tiles so cold? These, and too many other things, she struggles to understand through the long South African nights.
(Roohi Choudhry has lived in southern Africa most of her life, different countries at different times. At the moment she is headed for the US for postgraduate studies. "Ball of Fire" is her first published work.)