The girl with the tree inside her by Radhika Venkatarayan

Vinothini Warli Tree Girl

(Listen to the audio version of this story, read by the author here.)

They call me the girl with the tree inside her, a very unremarkable tree. The tree is not pretty or manicured. The government does not use the taxpayer’s money to care for this tree, because it is neither on an important road nor does it fall in the route of any politician’s daily commute. It is an obscure tree that is on an obscure street. So obscure that the road that this tree is located in is called the Second Street. Second to what, nobody knows?  It is such an ordinary tree that it is one that you find almost carelessly growing in the middle of a street. Who planted this tree? What family does it belong to? What is the name of this tree? Nobody knows. It is a generic tree, with a trunk that is brown and leaves that are green. The kind of tree that does not flower, bear special fruits or give a spot of shade to the passerby. If anything, the tree is an irritant because of the way it sprawls on the road. But it is not even irritating enough for anyone to want to do anything about it. An ordinary tree made special only because of the fact that it lived inside a girl.

I wasn’t always that girl. I used to be many other things in the past. People had different names for me. If you met me some months ago, it is possible that you might have described me as a “big” girl. Yeah, with the air-quotes. Except that like all people I know, you were using air-quotes incorrectly. But I digress. If you were more honest and somewhat artless, it is likely that you might have called me the fat girl. If you met people who hadn’t seen me in years, they would remember me as the chubby girl. Some might have also said that I was cute. If you met my more diplomatic acquaintances they would have said, she had such a pretty face, cow-like brown eyes and a toothy smile, some would have elaborated. If you had met my doctor, he would tell you how he diagnosed me as obese some years ago and had warned me about the three thousand four hundred and fifty health conditions that I was a prime candidate for. Prime candidate. That was perhaps the only race that I was ever going to win. If you met my father, he might have told you that I was pleasantly plump. If you met my mother, she would have said that I was more plump than pleasant and that it was entirely my fault. If you met my boss he might have told you that my not being personable enough had doomed me to a lifetime of corporate failure. You might also have heard me rant about how this form of blatant sexualization of women in workplaces made me mad. If you met the saleswoman of the store I shop for clothes from, she is likely to have told you that I was plus-sized because some smart marketer realized that my demographic indulged in hyper-consumerism too. If you read that magazine that featured me in a story about women achievers who were Plain Janes, you would see that the journalist described me as a real woman. Italics. If you met my closest friend, she would have said that I was a little roly-poly but nice. But. If you had met my fat friends, you might have heard them say that I was nice because I was rotund. Because. If you met the thin girl I went to school with she would have complained that everyone treated fat people with care but nobody was nice to thin people. If you met my four-year-old nephew, you would have heard him sing this little ditty that he wrote for me:

If you don’t stop being naughty,

I will feed you to Aunt Fatty.

But two weeks after my thirty-first birthday, I had an epiphany, one that asked me to battle against this tyranny of labels. There was only one thing left to do, and it was to get science on my side. And that is how I set up a gastric bypass surgery for myself. Or as my nephew with a now redundant ditty offered a more elegant layman explanation, Aunt Fatty is getting her stomach stapled!

If you visited me at the hospital I would have told you about the excruciating post-surgery pain. I might have also told you about the colour of my vomit each time I eat food these days. Green. I might have showed you that inconsolable scar on my stomach and you will notice its colour. Purple. If you asked me how I felt, I would say that I felt lighter already. My wallet is lighter for sure.

Today I am going back home.

You are not here to meet me, to drive me home. And so, I drive myself home. But I am happy. It feels good to be amidst this traffic. Strangely enough being for a prolonged time in a hospital makes you feel indulgent towards even fellow travellers and their potential moment of road rage. Anything is an improvement over sanitized hospital wards that unsuccessfully attempt to mask puke smells. Maybe the after effects of the drugs I’ve taken have not entirely worn out, because nothing else can explain why I decided to take the longer route home. I feel light. Lightheaded.  If you ask me why I skipped the red at the traffic signal, I will probably tell you that I feel fearless. I fish out my phone from my bag, not once taking my feet off the accelerator and that is when I text you.

I am back! Coffee tomorrow?

Sure. Look forward to seeing lesser of you. *winks*

I giggle as I grab the steering wheel more firmly. And I think that is when I hit the damn tree.

Radhika’s work has appeared in New World Writing, Fiction 365, Out of Print Magazine, Mookychick, Pyrta Journal and One Forty Fiction.

Art by Vinothini Anantakrishnan. (This work first appeared in Roar Magazine’s Spring ’12 edition )