In the Indian diner two blocks down from Cumbersome corner, Nandita picks up her razor. Beneath the plasma TV displaying Indian cricketers cricketing in South Africa, Nandita’s mother is locked into The Forest of Hands and Teeth. From behind the bay marines at the counter, Nandita’s older cousin Kyla is horrified.
Nandita’s aluminium scooter leans against the wall. Her razor is in her right hand. Barbie is in her left. And Nandita’s forearms rest against the edge of the table.
Kyla has a customer to serve – medium takeaway: rice, lamb saag, beef vindloo, chickpeas.
It’s two hours from closing, but already it is too late.
Ten-year-old Nandita brings her razor down to scythe through Babie’s locks. She takes up a pencil-thin paint brush dipped in browns and greens to administer sores and rotten wounds onto Barbie’s naked flesh.
Nandita’s mother licks her right thumb to turn a page. Kyla replaces her disposable gloves as she takes an order for butter chicken.
In 2009, the year of Nandita’s tenth birthday, Barbie has turned 50. When Kyla, 35, was Nandita’s age, Barbie was a toy only the older girls could play with – so sophisticated, with her grown-up boyfriend, her handbag, her high hair and even higher shoes. And her boyfriend.
Barbie joke number one: why does Barbie have no wrinkles? Because of plastic surgery.
In fact, Barbie has grown younger. She’s now the toy of eight-year-olds, and of twelve-year-olds no more.
Barbie joke number two: why does Barbie have no children? Because Ken comes in a different box.
Well, these days, Ken doesn’t come at all. What comes with Barbie is not Ken, but castles – fairy castle, princess castle, underwater castle, a castle in the clouds.
These days, Barbie’s for babies. And when you’re ten, which is almost eleven, Barbie must die.
Behind the bay marines, Kyla serves another butter chicken, and sees how the drumstick resembles the socket joint of the hips of her favourite doll, which she still takes from its box from time to time to gaze at its frozen smile – so warm and complete.
Nandita puts down her razor and takes up a skewer still black from the tandoori oven and pokes its point into each blue Barbie eye, wishing she had something less cumbersome to work with.
For Kyla (wiping the bench where the butter chicken sauce has been spilt) it’s like watching someone spit on her own grave.
Nandita’s mother turns another page of Carrie Ryan’s zombie romance – where the living-that-hide learn how to erase their legacy love for the dead-that-walk.
Nandita paints green and brown and red onto the plastic flesh of hairless – and lately eyeless – Barbie. Nandita’s mother has told her nothing about the book that she his reading. But Nandita loves to sit by her as she turns page after page – under the TV and inside the diner – Nandita steadying her arms to mutilate against the edge of the same table that her mother steadies her arms to read.