Flash Fiction: He said to ask you this
By Sobia Ali
Everyday, I wait till your father has gone out to work, before I come into your room to wake you up. He does not like my attention being diverted when he is at home. I think he is a little jealous of you. Or perhaps of me, that I am going to be with you all day when he has to be away. You know otherwise he is absolutely devoted to you, and won’t ever like to part from you.
I open the door slowly, lest I startle you. You lay there on the dainty curtained bed, quite lost under the flurry pink bed sheets and blankets. For a moment I panic that you are not there. That they were right, those women in white uniforms. Then a soft pink little hand peeps out, a small plump foot jumps out of all that velvety pile. And I almost laugh out loud when I see you hacking away at coverlet in anger to remove it from your face. I remove it for you, suddenly impatient to see your milky, moon face, haloed in curly shiny black hair.
I give my finger to you to hold and take to your mouth. You suck and bite it with small uneven gummy gums. I tickle your belly, kiss your hands and feet, then lift you unto my lap. I giggle as your thin lips curl around my nipple and your red busy tongue lap up the milk, gulping, slurping. How I love to suckle you, baby.
I talk to you about the life I had before … when I went out to work too like your father, before I had to stay at home to take care of you. I tell you of my friends there, that they will come with gifts for you; about my family, my elder sister who eloped when I was ten years old: about my father who never recovered from the shock; about my mother who was always struggling to overcome her indifference — things I never told anyone before, things buried inside me for years.
I had always disliked doing household chores in the past — mopping, dish-washing, cooking. But now it is different. With you around, I do it without sulking and brooding. And then there are hundreds of works associated with you too; there is your bed to be made, your nappies to be changed, your bottles to boiled, your feed to be readied. Now I don’t mind things like we are poor, we don’t go to big restaurants, and I don’t owe a single party dress. You are the great leveller in my life.
Yesterday, I could not hold myself back from sharing you with your father. He looked so tired and unhappy — the poor man. Absolutely wasted-out. I felt so guilty for having you, while he laboured there at work all day long. I told him that while I washed clothes in the courtyard, having laid you on the cot near me –gurgling and tossing your feet up in the air with the sheer pleasure of being alive — you gave a shout of joy and flung your hands up like you too wanted to fly when you saw your first eagles soaring in the sky as gentle breeze wafted through the sunny world.
Did you know what he did then? He snapped at me, “For God’s sake, can’t you stop this nonsense.” They are overworking him, poor man. But afterwards, in bed he was sorry, running his fingers through my hair, rubbing my back in that sympathetic way as though I was sick or something.
Hi baby, Mama is worried. It is about your father again. I think the poor man is going crazy! The way he watches over me all day. When I ask him why he is getting the jitters he says it is because of you, baby. He cries then and says when again you talk to him, ask him why he was in such a hurry to be out, to be born? Didn’t he like all that murky warmth inside your belly? Could he not wait a few months more? Why this, why that?
See, how your father talks such gloomy, poetic things. Lately he has got into the strange habit of surprising me with untimely visits. And only yesterday I saw him hiding all sharp objects, and two days before that when we ran out on gas, I was searching for kerosene to light the stove with, it was not anywhere to be seen. When asked, he replied quietly, ‘‘I gave it to our neighbours’’.
And at nights too he holds some part of me, that he can wake up if I try to get up and come to your room. He thinks I am cranking. That I would burn you, or cut you. I want to stop talking to him about you, yet he obsesses over you all the time. He worries I shall take you away. He says ‘get a grip on yourself’. That nights are dangerous. He says strange things all the time.
When I tell him how you are turning out, how you are blooming, he bites his lips and restrains his tears. To make him believe, I remind him of the time when I was rushed to the hospital — I can still feel those utensils going inside me — the emptiness afterwards — and they saying I lost you. That you died. But I know you did not. How could you have died when you were not born yet?
Sobia Ali is from India and has Master’s degree in English Literature. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, The Punch Magazine, The Indian Quarterly, The Bosphorus Review of Books, trampset, ActiveMuse, Ombak Magazine, Literary Yard, and is forthcoming in Gone Lawn and elsewhere. She is currently working on her novel.
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