Collector of Souls Comes to the Shadow Shop
At sixty-five a piece, her inventory still sells briskly at the weekly Mumbra market, two or three by the same buyer, shadows to hang by the doorway or keep under a lover’s pillow. She must wake up early to cut and carve new ones to sell. She compensated her lack of more talent with practise. Now she’s more nuanced in her art: she makes shadows to order, and the courtiers are regularly commissioning her for more. The demand for life-sized ones keeps rising: three-dimensional, good enough to place on the cot, or the spare armchair by the window, as good as alive, friendly and caring. Last week, the queen received delivery of a shadow-mate shipment: they only glide and gossip, dance at the queen’s fancy, caress when she’s lonely.
Sitting on the steps of what was once a warehouse, and now is her shop, Adori thinks she’s done with the business of shadows, lost count of the years passed by, and that it was truly time when, should dusk come, it’ll be all powerful to melt and take away her shadows under the covers of night.
She thinks of her husband, the man who had tried to poison her, and the ageing world of superficiality and nakedness. Suddenly, a man appears nearby. Studying an old map whilst strolling, he looks up and approaches her. Instead of querying her for some address, he laughs, the cynical laugh of drunk crematoria men after they’ve had too many pyres to burn.
“What?” Adori asks.
The man laughs some more, and Adori only half-desires she be let into the cause of his mirth when he releases the map to let it rise and flutter away, before he sits cross-legged beside her.
“Well, time to go. Is it?” She asks.
The man sighs.
Adori stares to make sure. It’s the Collector, doubtless. She studies his face for signs of benevolence, then retires to his whims. She hadn’t been indulging the Collector for some time now, not giving away her shadow pieces on demand for free. Her children didn’t need her anymore, and she thought she had lasted on borrowed time longer than she deserved.
“Okay.” Adori rises to her feet.
The man gives her a beedi to smoke, and she sits again, beside him. The Collector talks about the Battle, the bodies, how he’s tired and overworked.
Elsewhere there is the cacophony of hoots, bells and soldiers’ cries.
Even sounds have shadows called echoes, and they pluck strings of the heart, reverberate.
Lingering shadows gather around them. With a sweep of her hand, Adori scatters them away to places they are needed, and walks away with the Collector of Souls.
is the author of Anatomy Of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople
(2022), Girls Who Don't Cry
(2023) and Where We Set Our Easel
(forthcoming). Mandira's work has appeared in The McNeese Review, Penn Review, Quarterly West, Citron Review, Passages North, DASH, Miracle Monocle, Timber Journal, Contrary, Watershed Review, Gone Lawn
and Prime Number Magazine
, among others. Anthologies where Mandira’s work can be found include Best Small Fictions (2021), Best of Asian Speculative Fiction (2021, Insignia) and And if That Mocking Bird Don’t Sing
(2021, Alt Current Press). She edits for trampset
and Vestal Review
. More at mandirapattnaik.com