Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the brightness of a September noon. Crows squawked out confusion in half-shorn beech trees, their black mourning coats speckled with glistening drops like diamonds. Gulika dabbed out her tongue to taste crystallised cold. She was on her way to tell her news to the bees.
“Hello, my busy, busy friends.”
Her grandfather, who first came to the green fields of Kent from tropical Mysore, taught her the bees needed to know the important events in their keeper’s lives, all the kinds of arrivals and departures. She wondered sometimes if he’d just been like her, finding a space in a place where no-one else looked like him, so she didn’t talk about it with anyone else.
She’d told the bees when her wriggly little sister arrived, when Uncle Jogesh left for London, when Janella started at Chartham school and she wasn’t the brownest person anymore. She liked the clear sound of her voice as it bounced off the square Langstroth hives, the soft way they listened.
“There was someone else new at school yesterday, for a little bit. His dad works in London, Paul will go to college there.”
There’s no special song for new people like there was for funerals, so she sang a bit of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, and the bees responded by quietening down before they carried on with their work. Gulika curtsied, her addition to the ceremony, then ran home to help with gathering her favourite Conference pears.
January brought watery sunshine and a creeping frost that threatened the newly planted Red Blossom lettuce. Gulika skidded down Shalmsford Street, trying not to scuff her shoes or choke on her half-eaten apple. She rounded the corner and skipped into the back garden, straight to the hives. They were covered up against the sneaky wind, neatly wrapped like murmuring Christmas presents. Gulika had to sing a little louder, to make sure they heard the good news.
“Paul gave me a Gala apple, he said he knew I liked them. I was polite like mum says, just took it. But he wants to walk me home from school!”
She hummed a bit of “Let’s do it”, drawing out the birds and bees line, and left the shiny white-fleshed sharply-sweet fruit in the chilly grass. Lots of creatures needed extra food in the cold.
Rain fell on Mayday that year, and the village fete was moved off the green into cosy St Mary’s church. Gulika left early, walking out of the midday sandwich buffet. She trudged home by herself, ignoring her gurgling stomach. She pulled out her tightly woven plaits as she walked, rubbing at the soreness in the base of her neck. The hives were sheltering under the perfumed cherry trees, looking bedraggled and sounding discouraged.
“Paul brought Janella to the fete. He knew I was going, and I was all done up like a Maypole. I just said I was busy that one time, because of the watercress. His eyes were all weird and glittery. I don’t think I understand boys.”
There didn’t really seem to be a song for this one, but it was a kind of departure so she hummed a bit of the funeral song, and stayed to comfort the bees until the sun broke through.
July was still mostly damp, and the yellow tulips on Shalmsford Street looked surprised to be hanging around. Gulika waved at her companion and continued to traverse the path carefully in new black-strapped shoes. She strode through purple borage and aromatic hyssop, that the bees loved to feast on.
“I’m going to sing the lead for the next concert! And Janella said she threw an apple at Paul’s head! Turns out they found lots of them stored at the house he just wants to get rid of.”
She sang her new song, “You fill up my senses”, and dropped a low curtsey. The bees hummed back at her, turning sunshine into gold.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, London-based, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Lost Balloon and JMWW. She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, a reader for Bare Fiction and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer