Growing Young Lady
1999: Pukekohe is a small and intimate farming town, rich in thick dirt hills, buildings
sprouting from fertile soil. On the 13th of March at one in the morning, I was born to a New
Zealand born Indian man and Britain born Indian woman. I came into the world with rolls of
fat, like a lump of playdough. Seven pounds fifteen. Blubbering, dripping saliva, a sweltering
face in the tight hospital crib. My Granddad said to put me on a diet and everyone laughed.
2000: My first birthday. I lived in a seven bedroom house, built in the 60s by my dad's
parents. It was up the road from where I was born. I dragged my body around the walnut line,
my dress sweeping the bread and bright sugar beads. I was wearing white tulle, tight on the
bodice, with a flowing long skirt that reached my ankles. The fairy wings and tiara
accessories were tacky but my hair was growing. Baby fat stretched my skin, taut, I was
drunk on a bottle of milk. In the midst of the birthday, She found me in the stainless steel
shower, sitting in a puddle of water, patting and playing with it. The bottom of my dress was
wet. Nobody really questioned it; it would make for a great story when I grew up.
2008: In my second last year of primary school, I wrote my best work to date: Sherlock and
the Owl. In the midst of writing it, I felt my underwear become damp and slippery. The
classroom was silent, only the croaking of metal desks and plastic chairs. I left my desk and
walked to my teacher’s desk, raised my hands to make a ‘T’ shape and she gave me
permission to use the toilet. I walked past the bag room, my bare feet stick to the lightly
dusted auburn lino like a glitter slime hand. Past all the bags, I walked into the girl’s
bathroom, and went straight into a cubicle. The bathroom had grey speckled marble floor, pee
coloured cubicles and white toilet. There was red clumping blood slung across my light pink
cotton underwear and it smelt of mashed eggs. My throat closed up as I wiped my skinny
thighs and they were stained red. I must have gotten food poisoning. I didn’t leave the
bathroom for another hour, when the bell rang for lunch. I stuffed my underwear with toilet
paper, tissue thin, and tried to smooth the bulging. My navy skort hid the bundle.
2009: Dad and I were sitting in the old maroon Ford. We were parked across the road from
Pukekohe Intermediate School, waiting for my older sister; Sapna; to finish classes. In thirty
minutes, she’d be walking across the wet field, in her black leather brogues, covered in mud.
I got the damp ratty tissue from my pink cardigan pocket and blew my nose very loudly but it
was mostly clear. I asked Dad, ‘why do I look like you?’ I knew the story of Mum and me in
the local hospital but I didn’t understand how Dad was a part of my genes. Dad told me to
ask Mum. Neither of them told me. Maybe he didn’t have any biological association with me.
I was only my mother’s daughter.
2010: Pukekohe only has one lingerie store, Bendon. It slouches on the 500-metre strip of
stores on King Street, single-storeyed dead red and dirty white blocks. I kept my eyes on the
ivy carpet, arms cross in front of me, avoiding the undergarments. The store was riddled with
posters of women and men on the white brick walls. I remember her breasts protruding and
his groin was thrust into our face. The first bra I tries was a violating violet, laced with
embroidery and heavily padded above the wire, pushing my chest up to give the impression it
was larger. It matched the women on the poster, her eyes awaiting to praise me. The texture
felt like steel wool. My gender was cupped and hot and stiff. My chest felt pregnant. Mum
paid for five 16b padded bras, two of which were coated in lace. She begrudgingly brought
one sports bra as well. The sports bra was soft and hid any trace of my femininity. I would
live in it if I could.
2012: My cousin’s pre-wedding ritual took more than six hours. The ritual was called a Petti,
the groom is covered in a yellow paste; made of turmeric which gave his skin a glow for the
wedding day. The bride should also be doing the same at her own home. I was going to be
part of a ritual as the youngest relative, and he had asked me a few weeks ago. When we got
there, the main pastel green rug was covered in white clothes and many Indian pieces were
set up across the floor. Brass trays, red and orange spiked flowers, copper cups with mustard
turmeric and red powder, and two wooden stools. One of the stools was for me. During the
ritual I got my period and asked Mum for a tampon. ‘You have your period?’ I asked why she
needed to know. Mum rummaged through her bag and slipped one to me. Immediately, she
went to talk to my aunt. When I came back, she told me I wasn’t allowed to do the ritual. In
India, if a woman has her period she is considered cursed and isn’t allowed to leave the
house. Our generation has an upgraded version of that. If you’re menstruating on the day of a
ritual, you are not allowed to participate or it could be bad luck for the groom. I don’t know
her name but another girl two years older than me sat on the wooden stool next to my cousin
instead. I sat on the white cloth with Mum near the back.
2018: I lie in bed at 1am. It is black and I can feel the empty space in front of me. I feel like a
boat drifting into the black sea, nothing separating the sea from the sky but an invisible
landscape. I wanted to cry and scream, climb out my bedroom window to sleep on the cold,
gravel against a wall. My family slept in their own bedrooms, side by side against mine. I let
out a quiet shaky breath, bloated stomach and aching forehead. I can’t find the confidence to
sleep. I can feel all these memories flooding into my mind, the flaws and guilt of how I’ve
aged. As I yawn, my eyes and nose water. I run my thumb in circles against my thigh till the
area goes numb.
2019: Going to the GP has always felt like an observation chamber; all my thoughts and
actions become a clinical matter, everything I say makes me liable to an invisible contract.
My GP has never explicitly labelled me as depressed. I only found this confirmation from
report I requested for the university disability services: “symptoms of severe anxiety and
depression.” My counsellor is more humane. She talks about her son and memories of being a
nurse in England. I think her name is Debra or Michelle, something western like that. A few
weeks into our sessions, she asked me about my paranoia; the active fear of being observed.
We were in my tenth session and she concluded my anxiety likely stems from my unstable
daily life. The official, clean statement felt careful and methodical, like a line of labelled