PodCastle 695: Black Wings, White Kheer is a PodCastle original.
Black Wings, White Kheer
by Rati Mehrotra
The wings knock against the closet door on full moon nights, trying to escape. The sound terrifies Sarita, because if it wakes Amit, he might think there’s an intruder in the apartment. He might arm himself with something (what? Sarita settles on the kids’ baseball bat), throw open the closet door with a warrior’s scream, and pound the old bones of her once-beautiful wings, reducing them to a pile of dust.
Blood and feathers, why does she torment herself like this? Amit is a sound sleeper. He snores with his mouth open, spread-eagled on his back, taking up three-fourths of their bed. Besides, the wings can take care of themselves. Does she not know this better than anyone else? Far likelier that Amit will be the one in need of rescue.
Still, she cannot help but think of the promises she’s broken, along with her wings. The recipes she’s forgotten. The family she’s left behind. And all for what?
A small snuffling sound alerts her to the presence of her younger daughter in the corridor outside the door. For them, she thinks as she scrambles out of bed. For them.
Ayla stands with her thumb in her mouth, her eyes large and anxious in the dark. At the sight of her mother, the thumb falls out, and she puckers her face to cry.
“Hush, darling.” Sarita swoops down on Ayla and lifts her up. “What are you doing, awake at this hour?” Although she already knows, has known for a while. Ayla is only five, and Sarita had hoped desperately to have more time than this. To have a normal life, safe from hunters, even if that normalcy came at the cost of freedom and so much else. It isn’t fair. Chia, Ayla’s sister, is older by two years and—so far, at least—perfectly ordinary.
“My back hurts,” says Ayla tearfully. “And I had a bad dream.”
“Oh sweetie,” murmurs Sarita, “dreams are not real,” hating herself for the lie. But really, what choice does she have? Is she going to explain the blood-soaked history of her family to a five-year-old? Is she going to say, honey, I used to have wings. You’re hurting because you’re growing them too—rather earlier than I did. And if I don’t cut them off, evil creatures will come for you, just like they came for my mother. And they will do things to you that are too terrible to contemplate.
No, that is obviously not an option. Nor can she try sending Ayla back to bed; that will just bring the dreams back, stronger than ever. So Sarita does what she always does when one of her children is scared or upset. She cooks.
She goes to the kitchen of their tiny tenth-floor apartment and sits Ayla down on the counter.
“Guess my favorite childhood dish?” she says.
Ayla beams, delighted with this turn of conversation and the indefinite postponement of sleep. “Chocolate cake?” she hazards.
“No,” says Sarita. “That’s your favorite. Try again.”
“It’s not chocolaty at all. Though it is sweet.”
Ayla scrunches her face in concentration. “I know,” she shouts. “Ice cream!”
“Hush.” Sarita gives a quick glance at the corridor behind. “You don’t want to wake Papa, do you?”
Ayla shakes her head, pursing her lips tight.
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