“Rangoli Man” by Mina Rozario

Maya’s entire town had awoken one morning to find swarms of people milling outside their doors, their skins a mottled mix of colors: sunny yellows, rich crimsons, deep blues, and everything in between. They discovered, not long after, that the rangoli art, vibrant patterns of colored powder that they customarily decorated the ground with on Diwali’s eve, had vanished from their doorsteps overnight.

Maya herself had crafted a rangoli pattern the day before. She had gently dragged her fingers through emerald-green chalk dust with meticulous precision, coaxing from it dazzlingly intricate patterns that revealed the color of the concrete underneath. She had worked until the day bled into dusk, and it seemed that the colors smudging her fingers had seeped into her bones. Stumbling into bed, she had almost fallen asleep before her head hit the pillow. She only remembered one thing from the space between wakefulness and dreaming: the sound of a man’s gentle laughter floating through the air.

The next morning, she had heard a polite knock on the door. She opened it to find a man patiently waiting outside, his skin draped with the green and blue designs that she had shaped with her very own fingers. Her heart had just about stopped.

“May I come in?” he smiled, teeth even and white.

“The house is a mess,” she answered softly, disbelievingly, though she stepped aside to allow him passage. “What’s your name?”

He had frowned as if perplexed. “I’m not sure.”

She merely nodded at the bizarre answer. “How about Harit for now? Until you remember your name, that is.”

His answering grin had been bright and mischievous and everything she wanted.

The townspeople had called the rangoli-people a blessing. The childless couple next door, Vidya and Kishan, had awoken to find a squalling infant on their doorstep, skin dappled the same red-and-orange of their rangoli pattern. Sushma, who had lost her beloved twin sister in their childhood, was greeted by a purple-skinned woman whose features uncannily resembled her own.

And Maya, now, had Harit.

She invited him to stay with her and taught him about bookkeeping and finances so that he could help her run her small sweet shop. They shared their meals, filled each silent corner of the house with laughter, and spent many a night whispering about their future.

For a time, everything was quiet. Then, Harit began to venture from their home for hours on end. He would visit other rangoli-people, frequent the bookshop, and explore the town’s outskirts.

“I’m not sure I enjoy running the sweet shop,” he confessed to her one evening.

She swallowed. “I see.”

“I didn’t want to disappoint you—”

“No, really. It’s alright.”

Not long after, he brought home a reed flute, which he played for hours each day. The sounds it made were haunting, mournful.

“I would like to write music,” he told her one night, fingers skimming down her arm. “Perform.”

“That’s wonderful,” she managed hoarsely. Sushma’s purple-skinned sister too had uncovered a new interest—woodworking—and had already gone to apprentice with a carpenter. It was so unexpected, Sushma had confided. Her sister had had such a strong aversion to manual work in their childhood.

“If it’s important to you, it’s important to me,” Maya assured Harit.

When he practiced, she listened to his music pulse in time to the ticking clock on the wall. She gave him her honest thoughts and asked him to perform at promotional events for the sweet shop. Everyone commended him on his playing.

When he decided that he wanted—needed—to leave, it was a surprise to neither of them.

“There’s so much more I have to learn,” he told her fervently.

She could neither leave her sweet shop nor resent him, so she helped him pack his belongings and sent him on his way with a kiss, tears escaping down her cheeks.

For a time, she mourned, convinced she would never find another who fit her quite as perfectly as he had. When word reached their town, however, of a talented, green-skinned musician who had found recognition in a far-off city, she couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit proud.

Of Harit, yes, but of herself too.

That coming Diwali, when the townspeople scrambled to make their rangoli art, hoping for another miracle, Maya stayed indoors. She lit the lamps on her windowsill, brewed herself a cup of strong tea, and sat down with her ledgers.

Mina Rozario is an Indian-American writer and technical product manager. Her non-work hours consist of dreaming up storylines, learning new dance styles, and trying not to kill her plants.

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