A Lesson in Shadow Puppetry Learnt the Difficult Way by Susmita Bhattacharya

It was only meant to be a bit of fun. We traced our shadows on the wall, laughing at the shape of our noses, the jut of our chins, the spill of our hair. We used thick black crayon – we were going to redecorate anyway. We chuckled at the wobbly lines that defined us. We made comical poses, the children relishing this act of complete madness. We left our shadows on the wall to entertain themselves like the shadow puppets from the Han dynasty. They danced while we basked under the warm tropic sun. And washed our feet in the ocean’s blue, still waters. And embraced each other under the shade of the beach umbrella.

But who knew that those moments of abandon painted on the wall would become my lifeline? Who knew that only I’d return? Alone. Unhurt. Guilt-ridden. To this:

Shoes on the stairs, socks trailing behind.

The half completed Lego castle.

The dentist appointments.

Tins of paint, waiting.

Those chalk outlines that contained them have vanished from the roadside. Was it a magician’s mean trick that made them disappear? Legend has it that the dead queen was brought to life through shadow puppetry to help the Emperor Han Wudi come to terms with his grief. She danced on the walls, defying death. Keeping him company. Making false promises.

But my black shadows remain still. Frozen in comic poses. The laughter poised like icicles to pierce my heart.

Four silhouettes.

Three missing their people.

And me, a living shadow.

Susmita Bhattacharya was born in Mumbai. She teaches creative writing at Winchester University and is the lead facilitator of the Mayflower Young Writers project in Southampton. Her debut novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian), was published in 2015. Her short story collection, Table Manners, will be published by Dahlia Publishing in September 2018. She lives in Winchester. @Susmitatweets | susmita-bhattacharya.blogspot.co.uk.

Image: Fancycrave