Chrysalis is my first YA short story, and the second story I wrote this year for Short Story 12×12 challenge. The submission call from Dark Hearts served as a writing prompt, and what started as a fantasy piece evolved into a contemporary drama and the prologue of a series I plan to write about three teenagers with touch choices to make (next year’s Big Project!).
Attempting this story reminded me of the vast spectrum in children’s literature. I am grateful to be blessed with the interest and aptitude in writing in so many sub-genres… I started as a picture book writer, wrote early reader/retellings of classics and fables, completed a chapter book last year, and have currently outlined three novels – a tween comedy, a upper middle grade epic fantasy and a new adult steampunk (overcompensation much?).
The only book missing from my TO DO list seemed to be an anguish-filled school drama and CHRYSALIS provided the ideal background for that.
For quite some time, I had been thinking of writing a story based on the ‘real’ teenagers of Chennai. No lovable vampires, no flying broomsticks, just raw, adolescent confusion and chaos. Anjana, the protagonist, came to me fully formed, a hitherto-sheltered teen who falls utterly in lust with the most troubled boy in school. Here’s an excerpt from CHRYSALIS:
It’s been happening ever since the year started. The lies. The stories. The rumors. One minute we were worrying about Botany practicals, and the next minute the grapevine is agog with the news. Dhaval proposed to Susan in the parking lot. Sridar intercepted Nandhita when she was walking home and gave her a rose. Somebody saw someone kissing. Hearts were on show, inside and outside the school grounds. Everybody is out, to hunt and be hunted.
I am not invited.
I don’t know why, though. I am not fat. I have good skin, in the color of fresh broken wheat, even though my hair’s a bit frizzy and my eyes are too small. My best friend Kayal, on the other hand, is short, dark, plump, freckled and completely dumb. But unlike me, she is bombarded with proposals. So are a lot of other girls in my class.
I look at myself carefully. What’s lacking? Don’t I have the goods? What are they doing, what signal are they sending out, that I am not?
“Anju! Anju! Open the door… what are you doing inside?”
Shit. Mother. The One who insists I come home straight from school, not realizing that school itself is the danger zone. I dress hurriedly, and open the door. “Why is the door locked?” she asks, sniffing the air.
I want to laugh. She thinks I have been smoking.
“I was trying that new skirt Periamma gave me,” I reply and point at the discarded clothes on the floor. Convinced, my mother leaves the room and takes up the Kitchen Queen role. Soon, the king of the house would be home and hot pakoras should be waiting on the dining table.
It is almost July, yet there is no sign of monsoon at all. I enter the shower to get rid of this sickly, sticky feel on my skin. Water falls on my head, hot and hellish. I yelp; it is so hot outside that the tap water is boiling. As I close the shower valve, I hear my mother saying: “The priest said it was a special pooja. The Goddess is so enraged she has cursed this city with unending heat; each of us donated a litre of sacred liquids to cool her down.”
I imagine a shower of fresh milk and wild honey and tender coconut nectar on my skin. I feel delicious. And hungry.
The bell rings. That’s Father. The One who changes the channel when a kissing scene comes on, yet forgets to log out his internet sessions. He comes in, looking tired. In the morning, he leaves with an anxious face. I have only seen him wear these two expressions. When he looks at me, a third adds on. Confusion.
At dinner, I pick at my food. Dad watches the sports channel. Amma and Paati exchange banalities and clever barbs, a battle that started long before I was born and would end only after one of them dies. I am bored, so I think about Kayal and her new boyfriend. The one who bites her.