Nija Dalal was born in Atlanta, GA; she’s a second-generation Indian-American, currently living in Sydney, Australia. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgia State University, and she produces for Final Draft, a radio show all about books and writing on 2SERfm. Her work has been published in Dry Ink, an online magazine based in Atlanta, and in Ordinary, an online magazine from Sydney.
photograph by Dorothy O’Connor
A Midget Toe
A sign of inbreeding long ago that weaves through generations from a small Indian village, where people still die of live wires in water, to a city where the rich live in sparkle-ugly towers built on top of slums. This minute warp in genetic code weft its way through my mother’s DNA and winds with her across oceans and continents, over, under, over, under.
I have named it “the midget toe.” The fourth toe on my right foot, it sits slightly higher than the others; it’s never quite fit in. It assumes a superior attitude, never touching ground unless forced, leaving the other toes to do the actual work of walking.
Because of the midget toe, my right foot’s profile looks oddly truncated. A delicate heel, an elegant curve at the arch, a big toe, and the rest is misery. A downward sloping hill ends with a shock flat diving board. The other foot bears no match; no, the toes of my left foot follow the graceful gradient you might expect, if you ever expect things about toes. The midget toe means every open-toed shoe purchase is fraught with one very disconcerting question: does it create the illusion of symmetry? The sales girl is never paid well enough to respond kindly; closed-toed is my refuge.
Like a grown woman wearing a padded bra, I hide my toe’s shortcoming and my shame with curved rigid structure. It feels wrong inside my shoe, self-consciously insufficient, while the left foot rolls easy and confident.
I share the midget toe with my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, but not all the women in my family. Irregular, unpredictable, like a needle skipping stitches, the toe dances with some, slights others. If my lineage were woven in an ever-lengthening fabric, if the midget toes were marked, the tapestry would show a sort of hidden genealogy, a kind of coded secret, and it seems slightly magical, fairy lights twinkling in a family tree. I didn’t choose to have it; life might be easier without it. But the marvel of the midget toe lies in the knowledge that no matter how far I travel, if I unravel, a twisting thread keeps me tethered across oceans and continents to an immigrant home, a leafy Southern suburb, a sour-smelling sea-borne city, and a small Indian village, over, under, over, under.