She Never Looks Quite Back

The life of a woman typically encompasses loss and longing, despair and courage, love. She Never Looks Quite Back murmurs of such experiences. The stories depict themes of growing up, social unrest, nature, war, migration, reconciliation, and the pandemic. The narratives allow glimpses into lives conflicted by chance and choice…women who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, yet never giving up. This debut collection reveals women’s unquenchable thirst for life. Mallika Naguran's lyrical style of writing amplifies the fragility of humans while bringing into play metaphorical connection and intervention. The tales are timeless yet prick at many of today’s issues.

She Never Looks Quite Back by Mallika Naguran
Excerpt from The Liquid Goalie p38‑39

Now she felt lucky to have survived the harsh journey through rugged Algeria when just hours before the transit in Tamanrasset, the bus driver had chanced upon boreholes linked to hidden aquifers that still leaked moisture. She felt lucky to have overcome the dodgy men at Sabha in Libya, where she had heard of hopeful migrants being taken away and sold as slaves. She felt lucky to be unscathed after passing through the Libyan seaport of Misrata, where unsuspecting ones were raped, drugged and then prostituted in distant African towns. Yes, she was lucky to have gotten away from all of that, to have made it this far. She was lucky to have learnt how to swim upon her brother’s insistence. 

Tamba had said, to survive one needed to know three things: how to start a fire in the wilderness, how to swim, and how to break the nose of an assailant. And all three she did to stay alive on this journey. She was just nineteen.

I am a survivor. I must hang on.

Looking into the eyes of the baby grey whale was the most beautiful thing she had ever experienced. She realized then that she had saved the lives of the dolphins from the orca with her dinghy. A liquid goalie, indeed! 

Sanji shut her eyes, floating on the calm seawater, and drifted off dreaming about her friends of the sea. How she’d live to tell such tales to Naa, Tamba, Kemo. If only they’d believe her! 

When she opened her eyes again hours later, the childlike clouds wore angry frowns. In every fairy tale, Sanji then remembered, there was always a witch or a giant or a troll or a wicked stepmother that had to be fought off. The same sinking feeling swept through her. That her story, if ever were to be told, might not quite have the same fairy tale ending. 

“I am a survivor. Please Allah, lemme hang on.

***

Two days later, migrating Eurasian spoonbills escaping the premature cold of Europe in November flew from the coast of Italy across the Mediterranean, looking for an island to stop along the way. 

Propelled by the winds, the flock of spoonbills flapped high, fuelled by the little reserves they had in their bodies. They hadn’t fed as much as usual because the wetlands they had depended on in Europe had shrunk, giving way to urban settlements. But they remembered the wetlands of Libya and Tunisia across the water, and intended to reach there before dark. 

The leader of the flock spotted a strange object out at sea and glided down to take a closer look. It recognized the human shape but this one had an unusual, bright colour. It took a sharp dip, dropping altitude. It angled its feathered body through the air and just above the surface of the water, circled around the creature.

Penguin Random House SEA
2021

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mallika Naguran

Mallika Naguran is a children’s book and adult fiction writer. Born in Singapore, Mallika published her first poem when she was 10. She authored adaptations of classics for children: Peter Pan, and Ramayana: The Quest to Rescue. She Never Looks Quite Back features her stories written over the last two decades. She is presently working on a fantasy novel for middle graders and an environmental fiction novel for adults. Mallika founded the sustainability media firm, Gaia Discovery, and is passionate about nature, the underwater world and music.