The Ceramics

Jeremy is upset with the Grammy nominations. He was upset last year, too. I daresay he’ll be upset next year as well. I swallow the urge to argue that Grammy nominations are, in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential, because I can tell that Jeremy wants to rant, not reason, and trying to push him another way, won’t, in all likelihood, end well for me. He is drinking an espresso, and I am trying to drink a cappuccino, but for some reason cappuccinos are always more bitter than I expect them to be, and paying nine bucks for a cup of flavoured foam is bound to suck the pleasure out of drinking it.

Jeremy tells me about his girlfriend and his classes and his trip to Amsterdam. I pride myself on having mastered the art of smiling and nodding and prodding at the right moments in conversation, and now I put my skills to good use. Jeremy, of course, then fulfils his end of the transaction and asks me what’s been happening on my end, and this is where, I suppose, I ought to tell him about the ceramics. The ceramics, I must admit, are growing to be a bit of a worry. It was alright when they were only taking loose A4 sheets and scraps of my discarded notes, and I even managed when they seized my anthropology paper, because it wasn’t too much of a hassle to print it out again. The issue is that they might start on my textbooks soon—or the library books—and those are dreadfully expensive, and I can’t exactly afford to buy them again, and borrowing from people who have their own exams to study for isn’t really feasible either. And then there’s the crack in the floor.

I’m not sure why they like paper, of all things. I understand their need for some means of nourishment, but why paper appeals to them so much is beyond me. Perhaps it was simply the first edible material they came across, on account of their being used as paperweights. Possibly it’s some sort of twisted revenge, on account of how they’re advertised as paperweights. Either way, it’s mesmerising to watch them open their little mouths or jaw or beaks or other digestive appendages (forgive me, I’m no zoologist) to nibble on their scraps.

It started with the rabbit. I bought the rabbit from a tiny shop near the college, the kind of shop full of cutesy souvenirs for tourists. The rabbit was, at the time, only the size of my fist. He sat perfectly still on the shelf and stayed perfectly still as he was wrapped in light pink tissue paper by the lady at the counter. But as soon as I placed him on my desk back in my dorm, he jumped to life and started scurrying around my desk, nose quivering inquisitively, bright eyes gleaming. The next day, the tissue paper vanished. I thought nothing of it.

The fox came next. Don’t ask me how she knew where to come—perhaps the ceramics had commissioned a search party—but she trotted out of the shop and arrived in my room. She bounded up the leg of my chair and leaped to the desk, chattered excitedly with the rabbit for a minute, and then left as abruptly as she appeared. Over the next few days, the ceramics started arriving in twos and threes, timidly peering round the corner of my door and then dashing inside with mounting enthusiasm at the sight of the rabbit. In came a turtle, a lion, a rhinoceros, elephants, and even a seal. A snake, a whole family of giraffes, a penguin, and—well, you get the idea. That’s when I realised what was happening with the paper, you see. Because they’re growing. Growing at an alarming rate, to be honest.

The rabbit is as large as an ordinary mammalian rabbit now, and the elephants are as tall as I am. Most of the birds have wings, so they can fly up and stay perched on the cupboard, and some of the smaller animals are happy sitting on the elephants’ backs, which is how we’ve been managing so far. Like I said, though, I’m worried about the paper issue, and if the ceramics grow any bigger, I don’t know what I’ll do. For now, the ceramics are accommodating enough. I’ve always been good at climbing, and they let me clamber over them to reach my things, and I can always study in the library and eat in the dining halls. Living between ceramic and cement isn’t as inconvenient as one might think. And they’re all beautiful. My room is now alight with shades of marigold and crimson and sepia and powder blue. They don’t stink, or anything, and their purrs and growls and clucks are reasonably quiet. So it’s not too bad. The biggest issue, I suppose, is that they’re growing to be quite heavy. That’s how I ended up with the crack. A rift down the floor, right next to my bed. It’s not very large, but there’s every chance that it could grow bigger as well, as cracks are wont to do. Like a sweater unraveling itself. Or a friendship. Not that it’s the ceramics’ fault, of course; the poor things have to eat. Anyway, should their weight happen to overcome the durability of my floor, I might have to rethink the situation.

If I tell Jeremy, he’ll probably be interested in the science of the thing. How do the birds fly? Shouldn’t the extra weight mess up the aerodynamics? How do they make sounds without vocal cords? I figure it’s best to ease him into the topic, so I tell him about the new anthropology professor, and then we realise it’s 3:45 p.m. and that Jeremy has a seminar on the other side of the college in 15 minutes. “Well, it was great to see you,” he says, and I tell him the same. I head to the computer room, because I ought to get fresh paper for the ceramics before they get to my textbooks.

Taneesha Datta has written for The Times Group, the Tulane Review, and the Kolkata Literary Meet, among others. She is a recipient of the Times Star Newsmaker Award, has been named on the Bengal Chief Minister’s Merit List, and is currently Chief Editor of Tidings Media.

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