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The Goat in the Math Problem

Story by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar (Read author interview) June 28, 2021

Photograph by Max S.

A goat is tethered at the boundary of a circular field with a rope 1.5 times the radius of the field. What is the area of the grass the goat can eat?

The goat in the math problem has no appetite although the grass is fresh and green and moist. Tethered to a tube well shaft, she looks at the tiny purple and yellow flowers dotting the grass, raises her head to gaze at the silk spilling out of corn ears in the adjoining farm, at the blue sky smattered with white clouds.

The goat in the math problem knows. She knew it this morning, huddled with other goats under the dealer’s tin shed. Wads of rupees exchanged hands before her rope was untied and handed to a burly, bearded man. She bleated, dug her hooves in the ground, head-butted the man who scooped her up, threw her in the back of his rusty truck. Other animals watched. A stench rose in the air as bladders and rectums released.

The goat in the math problem observes a ribbon of smoke rise from the chimney of the two-story house across the circular field. Then, a young boy emerges and runs past the rusty truck parked outside, past the hens pecking at the ground. He is coming toward her. As the boy approaches, the goat notices he’s about as tall as the burly man but much slimmer. He kneels beside the goat and extends a naan for her to eat. The aroma of the freshly cooked bread is appealing but the goat retreats and gazes into the boy’s eyes from a distance. The boy moves closer, caresses her brown-and-white-spotted back, scratches her ears, and cuddles her in his arms. To the goat, the boy’s eyes look kind, his touch reassuring, the sound of his heartbeat calming. She rests her head on his forearm and nibbles at the naan.

The goat in the math problem jumps up from the boy’s lap when he retrieves a folding knife from the pocket of his kurta and opens the blade. She bolts away from the boy as far as the tether allows. The rope traces an arc below which is the area of grass in the circular field the math problem expects her to eat.

The goat in the math problem positions her head parallel to the ground in an attacking stance as the boy’s knife gleams in the sunlight. She staggers and stomps as the boy yanks her close to him and brings the blade down—on the taut rope, inches away from the goat’s neck. The goat falls backward as the rope drops, then springs up and darts toward the corn stalks swaying in the light autumn breeze.

The boy who’s not in the math problem knows he’ll be made to skip a meal as a punishment for allowing the goat to escape—the goat his father had bought to sacrifice on the Eid-al-Adha holiday. But, he’s not worried. A little hunger won’t kill him. He pockets his knife and watches the puffs of dust around the goat’s hooves until they disappear.

About the Author

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian-American writer. She is the author of Morsels of Purple (2021) and Skin Over Milk (2022). Her stories and essays have won several awards and have been published in numerous anthologies and journals. She is a fiction editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. More at https://saraspunyfingers.com, Twitter:@PunyFingers

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Two

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