Life is curved. Backs against concrete, we sit side-by-side: two letter Cs. Our tunnel stays cool in the afternoon heat, dry in the monsoon rains.
Balaraj remembers the time before the tunnels when we lived in a hut. He points to empty mud flats. From our tunnel, I look up at the hill houses with their dark window eyes and imagine being inside one of the squares.
He tells me about big trucks driving down our village road, tyres tall and wide filling the sky with dust. People ran out to watch. The trucks stopped, their dirt cloud turning the crowd into ghosts. Giant metal teeth bit the tunnels, lifted them off the trucks, put the tubes on the ground in a line just like my toes–touching but separate. Then it stacked them three high.
I watch a woman climb to the top row, scramble into the tunnel next to us. ‘A honeycomb’ she says and lies down inside. Her feet stick out over the edge, blue sari tumbling like water.
Balaraj is good at finding things in bins. We eat almost every day and have a blanket in our tunnel. Sometimes he finds coloured pens. He writes letters and numbers on the tunnel walls. One day he drew our hut, Ma and our sisters. He showed how the floods came and washed them away, but the heavy tunnels stayed put.
This morning the trucks came back. Men with sticks banged on our tunnels and told us to get out. Women screamed, babies cried. Balaraj grabbed our blanket and helped me climb down to the dirt. Now we stand with the other tunnel people and watch. Machines dig deep into the ground. Metal jaws take our homes and drop them into a long hole. Each tunnel touches the next, end-to-end, making a big grey snake.
Balaraj asks a worker what is happening. ‘Flood control,’ he says. The man tells us how water from the monsoon rains will go through the tunnels and the ground will stay dry. Soon this place will be as empty as the mud flats. I wrap the blanket around my arm tighter and tighter while I think of Balaraj’s pictures, water washing away the hut, Ma and our sisters again.