I counted the stars, mimicking my Granny’s way of making pockets of spilled grains over the granite platform for birds. Mom had been right about the stars whispering lullabies. They told anecdotes that had crossed my days. About my friends who called me rasmalai, my favorite sugary delight, resembling my name; how Indu Miss almost caught Shini and me exchanging answer sheets in our midterms—something her elder brother from grade seven taught us; gossips about senior students that filled our fifteen-minute tiffin time; how Raman Sir had pierced a student’s ear from grade eight with his ballpen’s tip. All those stories by the twinkling flecks overhead couldn’t fix my problems.

I counted sheep after I entered high school. Mom had been right about the state-level practice causing real fatigue. Studies fueled it, doubly so. I’d drop on the couch after school. But nights still remained the long droning hums of crickets. I scribbled couplets behind my elder sister’s diary. Some nights passed better, some faster, but most of them were a repeat from the past. Jiji fought over her diary, calling me invading her life. I swore I didn’t read any of her confessions and rants. And that the territory of my teenage lured poems was caged only in the last few pages. But she stopped talking to me, even ignored the boy from her class who’d laughed at my braces. Mom assured Jiji would come around one day, sooner or later, but her sourness didn’t thaw. My sister wouldn’t talk to me for years. My verses couldn’t surface above the flood of my longings for her warmth.

I counted every dribble of the rough brown ball. I even counted my equidistant footsteps falling after it—in the sunlight, over the tiles, on the road, or on the pavement. The team practice was grueling but never enough for the nationals. So, I dribbled more and counted more, and my palms soared, left worse than the right. Mom said we could win the national championship. And we would but without me. The engineering classes munched on every ounce of my energy and hours. And the anxiety of merciless nights hit my grades slowly, semester by semester, pushing them down every year.

I counted on pop bands and Bollywood songs blasting through my headphones while acute office pressure and urgent deliverables flogged my days. Nights now worried me less as love swept my senses away, and the wedding talks… my wits. His naked back curled against my front repelled the dark gloom. When the daydream of the annual honeymoon fogged, we pulled the quilt together every night, but he woke up alone. I typed words over words, not minding his imperceptible snores until the sun eclipsed the darkness.

I counted keystrokes and my words. Lines and paragraphs. My characters, their idiosyncrasies, the weight of their own minds. When the sunrays swept over my fantasyland, we made love, worked long hours, made love again, cooked and cleaned together, went for picnics, movies, holidays.

I counted hits on my tweets trumpeting about the crappy book I’d self-published and gyan on sleeping and sleep patterns. I took rebirth. Twice! The scents of their heads and skins, which were my recluse, evaporated without warning.

I started counting–

Their teeth.

The pencil marks on their walls that climbed up, up, and up and the inches in the measuring tape.

Their scores, their grades. And sheets covered in crayons, drawings, doodles, paintings dripping with watercolors. The books they read and the pages they scribbled on.

Frames hanging over our walls, portraits of jungles, and human sketches the elder one painted. Diaries filled with stories and poems the younger one weaved.

The family portraits boxed inside canvases. Magazines with emotional stories, journals with stormy essays.

Exhibitions and the book signing ceremonies.

I counted all their memories, crucial or not. But every enumeration was ephemeral. The props of my midnight stage were shifting sands. Everyone moved on, children to their work, with a partner… Mom to the afterworld… my husband followed her soon. My eyes drooped in the lonely daylight; nights were unchanged. Stars were no storytellers anymore. Sheep didn’t run through the infinite cosmos of my mind. Dribbles, footsteps, words flaked off with time.

I heard the drip drip drip of a tap. A joy shuddered through my veins when the leakage tore apart the darkness.

I counted the drops, waiting for the eternal rest to come along.

Rashmi Agrawal lives in India and sits across a big window to write, enjoying the diverse seasons. While a constant urge to see her name on a novel’s spine nudges her, she steals small pockets of time to weave stories and flash fiction. Her words are available in Bending Genres, Full House Literary, Alien Buddha, and others. When she isn’t writing, she listens to audiobooks and irritates her daughter. She tweets @thrivingwordss.