At Play


Each week, we pick a short fiction piece from our Fairlight Shorts archives to feature as our story of the week. This week, we’ve chosen a story about indecisiveness by Amita Basu.

Amita Basu is a cognitive scientist by day. Her fiction has appeared/is forthcoming in Fairlight Books, CommuterLit, Bandit Fiction, Toyon, Bewildering Stories, Gasher, and other magazines and anthologies. She lives in Bangalore.

Amita has been writing all her life: she started with longhand in notebooks and on loose-leaf, before moving to a desktop computer in middle school. For most of her life she has worked on a series of epic, mostly unfinished or unrevised novels. She began writing and submitting short fiction two years ago, and has published in around thirty magazines so far. She has also won the Kelp Magazine prize for best fiction. Amita is currently writing another novel, and working on a short story collection.

‘At Play’ follows a girl deciding on her future while spending a summer with her family and a new friend.



Over the airport the sky yawns wide, grey-brown with rainclouds gently weeping. As we land from Mumbai, this wide prospect dismays me. Has Calcutta grown up too?

But it’s the same old diesel-stinking, sunshine-yellow Ambassador taxi that carries Ma and Mohan and me cross-town. The same old double-decker buses – saggy-tired, wheezy-breathed, precariously lopsided – that block our view. The same old cycle-rickshaws – with their fragile plywood-and-rusted-nails frames, and seats half as wide as a piano seat, each vehicle yclept a two-seater – that struggle behind us.

Mumbai’s changing so fast I can see it, even though I live there. And that’s exciting. But Calcutta is still the perfect holiday-spot.

Through the windshield and windows, Ma scrutinises her city. The taxi driver updates her. Eight-year-old Mohan gazes out the other window. I took the window seat on the flight, but I’ll make it up to him. I always make Mohan fill the bit-parts in my show. This time I’ll give him a choice. Surely I can find someone else.

I don’t know what show I’ll stage this summer. I’ve already done a play, can’t do that again. Perhaps if we were staying with Pa’s side of the family – they’ve not seen my play. My very own adaptation of Julius Caesar, with me as Caesar and Antony. But no, I wouldn’t repeat it even then. Repetition bores me. Should I adapt and memorise a new play? That’s a lot of work. Ma’s family applaud anything I do.

Fronting Chhordi’s lane, last year’s construction site still gapes, skeleton-cheeked, its sand-mounds and gravel-piles now part of the road’s fabric. For our last visit before we move to Boston for Pa’s new job, Chhordi has marshalled the tribe full strength: as we crawl up the cul-de-sac, aunts and cousins lean into the first-storey enclosed balcony’s butter-yellow cage, frantically waving. They run downstairs, fighting with Ma to pay the driver and to carry our suitcases upstairs. I cling to my backpack. This hospitality, verging on violence, frightens me always.

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