The Shadow Seller
I screw a new bulb into a lamp. That's all it takes to have me twirl into the empty space in the middle of the room, where there's no risk of bumping into anything sharp, like the edge of my bed, or painful, like the pile of earrings under my mirror. I twirl once, twice, but not for the third time—something's amiss. The tripod's shadow is cast on the wall behind me, and the lampshade's shadow is cast on the wall in front of me, but my very own, trusty old shadow is nowhere to be found; the only one that has been patient enough to keep tabs on me—the only one that has occasionally been willing to duplicate me—is nowhere to be found. I go down on my knees in front of the table and try to rattle open its bottommost drawer; even today, it refuses to give way. Just as I'm about to creep back under my bed, a cry reaches me through the window, "Shadows for sale. Brand new shadows for sale."
I poke my head out, squeal into the rain, "Shadows guy, stop" and run out to the porch. The empty road roars as it fends off the umpteenth onslaught from the skies, till a solitary creature walks up to the garden's gate and enters. Like all denizens of the neighboring district of Dopur, the entrant is dressed in the garb of a crow, with a pointy black hat on top and wing-like black shawls hanging off each shoulder. The mask of hair covering the face gives away the his-ness of the salesman, who does nothing but stare.
"Should you be out selling stuff in this rain?"
"It's all about supply and demand, sir. When the sun shines, people look to buy mangoes, folding chairs and livers. When it rains, people ask for umbrellas and shadows."
"Are you selling umbrellas as well?"
"Why aren't you at least carrying one for yourself?"
"My hat is waterproof. See."
The salesman's hat comes off to reveal, amidst thinning strands of curly hair, three large, round bumps crowning his forehead; throbbing, irradiant, they stun as much as three suns rising simultaneously over the horizon would.
"Which shadow do you want to buy, sir?"
"What are the options?"
"We have the standard-size and the micro-size. We recommend the standard-size for adults like you, while the micro-size is a better fit for babies, invalids and those on their deathbeds. The moment we carry out the attachment procedure, the standard-size shadow begins to expand and matches your proportions in no time."
"How do you attach it?"
"I use a surgical super-glue to attach the toes of the shadow to the toes of the customer, sir. This is a state-of-the-art adhesive that doesn't irritate the skin and that never wears off. For just five hundred bucks, you'll get to own a permanent, painless shadow that'll be unlike any you've had before. Are you interested, sir?"
I nod. Something no tougher than a handkerchief brushes across the underside of my toes, and I'm told, "Done." I turn around and find what I've been looking for—a short, stubby shadow of my own. I stretch my legs out, and the shadow does the same; I pull my feet together, and the shadow does the same. I immediately surrender all the money on me to the salesman. He and his three bumps hop away into the rain, and my new shadow, too, disappears.
I run back into the room where the lamp still burns bright and find my new, oh-so short, oh-so stubby shadow waiting for me. I jump onto my bed and twirl, and so does my shadow. I twirl again and find my shadow to have grown as thin as me. I twirl again and find my shadow to have grown as tall as me. I twirl again and find my shadow to have grown three bumps on its head—three round, equidistant, half sun-like bumps, that not only refuse to set but also start to grow bigger and bigger as I continue to twirl. Striving to accommodate them, first my shadow's head expands and then my shadow's torso expands; while the room keeps spinning, my shadow turns into such a colossus that it stoops over me as if it were preparing to devour me. I stop twirling, lie down on my bed and keep still. This distracts my shadow, and it ignores me and vaults towards the farthest corner of the room; inevitably, its toes pull my toes away with them, shredding my legs from the shin-down. My feet get replaced with gristle before I can even blink, but any hint of pain is kept at bay by the blood that seeps through my back and freezes me. With a buoyancy I could never replicate, my shadow sweeps the earrings aside, fixes the broken drawers and punches hole after hole through the seat of my chair; it goes about its business while dragging my four feet along the floor.
Subhravanu Das is an Indian writer living in Bhubaneswar. His work has appeared in Muse India, The Bombay Review and 365tomorrows.