Bhavi’s parents had long raised him on the bitter and sweet life has to offer by, each morning, scattering over the top of his head a mixture of the two. The fine grains and crystals of mustard colored turmeric and beige sugar interwove among the strands of his thick, dark hair like a comforting, invisible crown. “In this way,” his mother had said, “today’s difficulties will be lessened and overcome by its beauties.”

And yet, he’d come home each evening with a new tale of woe. His locker at school had been decorated with toilet paper, his books found lurking in the cavernous depths of hallway trash cans, and his teacher had called him a “know-it-all” again for simply providing the correct answers to questions she’d posed to the whole class, including him.

“If she didn’t want to know, why did she ask?” Bhavi fretted over dinner.

“It’s not about you,” his father said. “The problem is with her. Don’t let her bother you.”

“Maybe you’re using too much turmeric, Mom,” Bhavi said. “You’re giving me only the bitter, not enough sugar.”

“If I use too much, you’ll get a toothache, and grow to take it for granted or even dislike it.” She stroked his hair with fingertips stained yellow from the guilty spice causing his misfortunes. “Take heart. There are always lovely little treasures buried in darkness.” When he frowned, she kissed the tip of his nose. “It just makes it feel that much better when you find them,” she said.

When Bhavi first saw Soo standing at the front of his second grade class, staring at her shoes and letting her black hair fall forward like a gleaming curtain to conceal her face, he didn’t think much of it. Hard to be the new girl mid-year was all that briefly flitted between his oversized ears. But as she wound her way through the tight aisles to her empty desk two rows behind his, he started to pay attention. He saw her sidestep the outstretched foot of Billy Perkins with pride. He resisted the temptation to reach over and smack Billy for trying to trip her so soon on her first day. He thought of speaking up.

Then he realized she wasn’t frightened of Billy. She was mad. Dark, red mad. Blood coursing through the fierce expression in her eyes. He loved it and he felt his bones strengthen and harden in her presence. Her friendship would be the sugar he’d been waiting for, finally emerging to conquer all the turmeric. Bhavi’s cold teacher, who often glowered at him like he was an unpleasant scent lodged in her flared nostrils, called out his name and he turned to face the front, startled. He felt safe enough a few minutes later to glance back at Soo.

Seated at her desk, she looked up like she felt him looking. Her face was diamond shaped like home plate. The lids guarding her brown eyes were pink petals. It seemed others had tried to rob her of her shine, too, but he could still see it there—like his—a candle wavering in the dark winds of childhood, its flame not yet gone out. Ready to burst and scorch, as well as light up, the night.

Anna Vangala Jones is an Assistant Fiction Editor at Lunch Ticket and Editorial Assistant on the Fiction team at Split Lip Magazine. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in several print and online publications including Catapult, Berkeley Fiction Review, Little Fiction, New Flash Fiction Review, The Brown Orient, The MacGuffin, and Blue Fifth Review, among others. Her stories have been selected as the Longform Fiction Pick of the Week and nominated for the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology. Find her online at, on Twitter @anniejo_17, and on Instagram @anniejowrites

© 2018 Anna Vangala Jones. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, November 2018.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Yazmin Alanis).


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by Anna Vangala Jones
Turmeric & Sugar