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The Pigeon-Pea Princess of Sanganakallu

The pigeon-pea, that lies under seventeen cardboard mattresses, grew in the stone age, amongst wild animals, and traveled across time and continents, and out of a store-bought box, as others poured into a clay pot to simmer as dahl on my fire, for me to feel it now. I’m tough skinned I’m told, by a father and husband after hidings, before I learn to bark or bite or fly or hide, out of sight, so they can’t take aim, train their weapons on me to hunt and treat me like their prey.

The pigeon-pea, through my cardboard mattresses, digs into my hip, until I move, and now my back, until I move, and now my thigh, until I move, and turn tail, switching round but it catches my shoulder, and I move aside and sleep, until it wakes me, grazing the back of my neck, the light of the factory recycle centre warming my face, like the sun that’s not risen yet on the day.

The pigeon-pea is there, I know, but I can’t find it, though I lift each layer, run my hand along the corrugations, the sounds of the stacking machines starting and I consider starting afresh, finding material for a new bed, seeing as the caretaker lets us take what we like as long as we don’t sleep there past night—a building of cardboard needs just one stray spark—and we’re just cut-outs that will go up with it in flames, we’re not etched into the landscape like the animals of the Sanganakallu, we’re temporary and too easily biodegradable, recycled before we’ve found our first use.

The pigeon-pea used to grow where birds, wild dogs and long-horned sambar deer roamed, around the pottery factories of the Sanganakallu, and fire made the pot it cooked in on the fire, that saved the perishable from the spoil. But new people to the street don’t always know how to use such bounty. Here where cardboard grows, they try to sell it to removal companies for packing, or to recycle, or end up setting it on fire. And even then, I tell them to make logs of it, to roll and bind the cardboard tight and the work is warm while waiting for the fire to light. But some don’t want to work. Some want quick fire and it goes out as they lose interest and move on. Others just want to watch things burn. I used to set things alight, make a bonfire of my life. Rake over the ashes in the morning trying to remember what I’d burned, what I’d razed to the ground in the heights of my ambitions to be free. Now I learn how a factory can make. I learn how to build myself a cardboard house, from the inside out, sustainable, piece by piece, that I will one day inhabit. But for now I use twine to bind my cardboard mattresses into a bed and the newspaper lines on pages, to line the layers, as insulation from the cold concrete of the street. I used to feel nothing, take whatever would make me numb. I could sleep anywhere, without food or heat. Now I have logs and a pot to make a fire and dahl. Now when I sleep, even on seventeen cardboard mattresses, I feel one dried pigeon-pea.

You call me your princess and tell me I have to feel, but now I worry and wonder about these boxes, these cardboard coffins, big enough to make beds and rooms and palatial eco-homes and I ask you how far have we come up the archaeological layers, from Neolithic houses on ash mounds, and rocks bearing bulls in petroglyphs of sun circles with horns or interlocking bulls making a sunflower in Sanganakallu? I tell you that a bull can shake off the yoke that has it plough the same furrows where the bodies of cows are buried, their bones picked clean and broken shards sharing the soil with the sickle blades and ground-stone axes and the pottery pieces that were once earth, that liquid rock of clay, malleable until dried out like the pigeon-pea. And you call me your princess and I tell you—listen. I am my own princess. I am my own pigeon-pea. I am my own Sanganakallu.

Rosaleen Lynch, an Irish community worker and writer in the East End of London with words in lots of lovely places and can be found on Twitter @quotes_52 and

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