a doll


She avoids eye contact with me, her gaze focused on the void. Her mouth is flat. Her ornate kimono faded. Her ebony hair, however, glistens in the rays of frail light coming from the tiny window behind her. It’s the only window in the room. The room is at the north end of the house and dark and cold even during the day. An old light bulb hanging from the ceiling casts a dull glow in the room, not reaching to the murky glass pane between us.

“Are you coming?” Hearing a familiar voice of grandma, I take my eyes off the doll in the glass case. I turn to grandma who is looking at me with mischievous eyes, waiting for me at the doorway. Her hand is on the light switch.

“Wait, I’m coming.” I rush.

“What were you doing in the corner? I thought you were afraid of the dark.” grandma teases me as she turns off the light and closes the door.

Grandma and I walk back to the living room, leaving the dark storage room where grandma retrieved some paperwork from the past.

“I’ve had that doll since I was a little girl like you,” grandma smiles at me. “I made that kimono for her, the one she’s wearing, from pieces of an old kimono. My mother taught me how to sew. All by hand!” Grandma’s eyes twinkle. “ I brought it with me when I married your grandfather…” her voice trails off, then whispers. “Maybe, you’ll get the doll when you grow up.”

I manage a grin.

I am staying with my grandparents to give my mom “a break.” We just had my brother born, and she is busy with him. They say I am a big sister now and have to grow up and take care of myself a bit more.


The phone rings, and grandma answers. She gets busy chattering away, turning her back to me.

My head itches where I had my favorite butterfly pin fastened. When I bring my hand to scratch, I don’t feel the pin. I pat my head everywhere. I look around. I bend and twist. My vein is pumping fast, and my face is getting hot. I flip my skirt. I tap and shake my shirt. I slap my head again. Nothing. My butterfly has disappeared. I cover my mouth and swallow. Grandma put it on for me just before we went down to the dark room. It must have fallen off. I look at grandma, who is still talking and bowing to the person on the other end.

I’m a big sister now and have to grow up and take care of myself.

I purse my lips, take a short breath through my nose, and retrace my steps.

Searching for any sign of my butterfly pin, I trek through the corridor and come to the end of the hall.

It must be there.

In the dark room.

Go on. Get in there and look for it. …But, it’s dark in there, and I can’t reach the light switch.

My thoughts now have background music, or rather the echo of my heartbeat.

Leave the door wide open. I’ll just run in and run out really fast!

I take a deep breath and raise my chin. My fingers fumble for the door.

The door cracks open, and the glaring eyes catch my attention. The doll’s gaze is focused on something. I follow her stare and find my butterfly. On the floor. In front of her.

I clear my throat and push the door all the way open. The lights from the hallway expose the pathway towards my butterfly. I take the first step inside. It makes the creaking sound from beneath the tatami floor and makes my foot retreat. I focus on the butterfly. I force my foot to land on the floor and tiptoe the rest of the way to snatch it.

The chill from the metal piece gives me goosebumps. In my chubby palm, my butterfly emits its radiant colors.

As I leave the room, I catch a glimpse of the doll one last time. She stands in silhouette against the window, her hair gleaming in the soft light.

Hmm…was her hair that long?



13 thoughts on “a doll

  1. Nelkumi, you created and captured a wonderful amount of tension in that childhood memory. How old were you? As with your magnificent story ‘Bud’ the the character of your grandmother is beautifully portrayed. Thanks. Anton.

    Liked by 1 person

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