The Year of the Flood

by Sudha Balagopal


It’s the year my friend Sia and I practice French kissing on the mirror. The year we shave our tufty underarms with a rusty razor, and tweeze our eyebrows into surprised arches. The year she writes letters to the young man next door. The year I help her sprinkle emotion, offering words like yearning and longing. The year our mighty Ganges shrugs off her embankments after a long, hot summer. The year we fall in love with love.

It’s the year we drool over Mr. Darcy and moan for Romeo and Juliet in our text books. The year we’re subjected to relentless coaching―English, Hindi, math, chemistry, history, physics―even as we crave golden mangoes and juicy stories. The year the open-air terrace becomes our escape as we thirst for evening breezes and neighborhood dalliances. The year we notice a man slipping in the dark of dusk to visit the beautiful widowed lady at the end of the street, and Sia asks, How can love be illicit?

It’s the year we read and re-read tattered copies of Mills and Boon romances borrowed from the circulating library. The year biology homework languishes on our desks even as my Ma, a school principal, repeats, Procrastination is the thief of time. The year we ignore her, fret over shoulder- sweeping earrings and hard-to-find clogs instead. The year we splish-splash through puddled streets in the torrential monsoon rain.

It’s the year I stop playing “Killing Me Softly”on my cassette player because Sia looks as melancholy as the vapor-laden clouds. The year we purchase over-priced tickets from a scalper to watch Julie and drown in the angst of the movie’s forbidden romance. The year the young man slides in next to Sia and drapes an arm around her shoulders. The year our washed garments hang for days―listless, smelly, and damp―on the clothesline in the verandah.

It’s the year we practice draping saris and strut on our driveways pretending to be aunties even as Sia struggles at school. The year she whispers on the phone, just once, I feel hope. . . less with the three-breath-pause between the hope and the less. The year no one from her family will answer my knocks. The year Ma said Sia was, Married off, quietly, in another town. It’s for the best. The year I ask-ask-ask, What’s best about it? What about love? and she stands straighter to respond, Yes, what about it? as if book-life and real-life are unrelated. The year she notices Sia’s befuddled young man hovering, and tells me, You’re known by the company you keep.

It’s the year Ma and I gasp as the angry, swollen Ganges invades our home. The year we flee to the terrace above. The year I lean over the parapet. The year I watch my favorite things―shoulder- sweeping earrings, clogs, Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet and tattered Mills and Boon romances―float in the murkiness.


Sudha Balagopal is honored to have her writing in many fine journals including CRAFT, Split Lip, and Smokelong Quarterly. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc fiction in 2021. She has stories included in both Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Year of the Flood”?

This story began in a workshop run by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar. The workshop focused on the role of place in flash fiction. Her example story contained a refrain, which inspired me to attempt that style. Also, like the girl in my story, I, too, experienced a major flooding of our home. Our family was stranded on the terrace upstairs for a few days and while the disaster occurred decades ago, I still remember so many details: the speed with which the washer gushed in, how we grabbed what food we could, how we used a kerosene stove to heat water, how we slept in the open air, how we sang for entertainment. I must mention, though, that the characters in my story are all fictional.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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