• Monday, Jan 27, 2020
  • Last Update : 03:27 pm


  • Published at 03:20 am June 10th, 2017
My life has been about bleeding seven days a month. My mother comes to me with a scissor and she leaves a shallow cut on my thigh. It bleeds and makes me uncomfortable. It leaves marks. Mother says, “That is fine.” An elephant statue sits right next to the garden path. When it rains it glistens darkly. It looks thoroughly bathed and overjoyed. Rain pools around its base and finds worm-like creaks emerging on the soft earth and she seeps through them. The elephant’s nose drips continuously and the leaves make rain-noise. I like the elephant. The bald head drenched in endless wetness. I can’t understand my sister. She argues with ma and gets slapped. I will be ashamed to eat afterwards. But that doesn't stop her from squatting on the floor and gulping down boiled rice and dal. She tells mother she will marry a sixty three years old man and be the youngest wife. He has said he would take good care of her. She wants to be pampered all her life. My sister, when she eats, spills her food everywhere. Trickle of dal hitches a ride down her arm and drips off of her elbow. She doesn't mind the stickiness. Red ants hover around her. Her toes wriggle as one or two climb on top. She never bothers. The moist mosaic that has turned dark over the years from grime and filth doesn’t bother her either. She can sit there without a stool.
I don’t understand what she means by this either. But I know she’s given up something very precious to say something so confusing. Her words don’t make sense because they don’t belong to this world.
My mother holds me one night and asks me if I understand why she cuts me every month. She doesn't wait for me to answer. “I want you to bear the uneasiness, Mira. The difficulty of being a woman is that we constantly want to leave. But we can never escape. I want you to understand this.” I don't understand her. I am happy just sitting on her lap, embraced. You see, I am a selfish girl. There is no father. Men come and go. Every time we go to buy eggs and tea from the corner store, bystanders wriggle as if they want to say something. As if words are hanging off their lips like threads hanging off the mouth of freshly caught fish, they fidget whenever we walk past them. What is my dream you ask? I always wanted to be able to create intricate patterns. In our two storied house with tin shed, the rickety wooden stairs take me to my grandmother’s bedroom that was meant to be used as an attic. The roof always wants to embrace me. So when I enter I pretend to be a skinny spider and scurry on all fours. My nanu has made a quilt the size of a room. She has used all the colours that are new to me. There are rivers and oceans, men and women, marriage and love, snakes and horses, palm trees and banyan trees, boats and palanquin and a giant elephant in the middle. The journey is possible only because there is this promise of oneness. Nanu’s room smells of betel juice and rotten wood. The single window on one of the walls has wooden frames and wooden wings. The days when my elephant drowns in happiness I sit by it and hold on to the two rusty iron bars. I smell hundreds of years of sweat and salt with my nose pressed against them. Stretching my arms through the bar I would intercept the rain before she can pour over the elephant’s head. Rain, wetness and hunger. Behind me, nanu would be hunched back and crouching over the promise of one needle penetrating one thread, only once, on a quilt made out of torn saris.
My mother will only have eggs from that corner store alone. Nowhere else will do. Once I decided to go somewhere else and not tell her. When I came back home she made me throw all the eggs on the kitchen floor. She left it that way. Ants came and made a huge red pile. It made me itch all over. I couldn’t stand the dark circle against the red. She called me over and made me clean it up with the ants crawling up and down my arms. I screamed and wanted to jump in a water bucket. It was a blistering July day. Sugarcane stood in the corner in rapt attention. Sweat crawled down and ants scuttled up. My arms shook. She stopped my nanu who was descending the stairs when she had heard me scream. “Stop it!” said my granny, her white mane dancing left and right. “Do you need water amma?” said my mother who wasn’t angry but very calm and polite. “Why are you so angry? Why?” said nanu, gripping the wooden railing that had a curved head of a horse. “Mira! Finish this quickly. Your nanu needs water,” said my mother, still blocking nanu’s way and watching me as I was looking over her shoulder, pleading nanu with my eyes. “You witch! You deranged witch!” cursed nanu. “Exactly. Have you forgotten that?” said my unrelenting mother. “Shaoly!” trembled my nanu. By that time I had forgotten the ants. “I didn’t make the rules, amma. You know it,” said ma after a pause. My nanu looked away and slowly started to ascend the stairs. “The world is cruel enough. You are cruel enough,” said nanu, as she left me with my mother. My mother looked at me and said in a determined voice, “Do not listen to your nanu. There is no cruelty in this world. Don’t be sentimental.”
My feet are never comfortable in red sandals. And the sari always gets tangled ...  Of course, people always step aside when I walk by. I always think they like my perfume.
I am very aware when I sweat. The beads trickle down my back. My armpits itch. I want to reach down and do something about it. But I am a girl. I am scolded because my legs spread wide when I sit. My mother often makes me wear sari. I want to like it. But my legs get all tangled up. I want to put on lipstick. I will definitely get slapped if I do. My mother says, “We are not whores.” There is no father. Men come and go. Confrontations with my mother often end with me tucked under my nanu’s arm. She tells me stories, nanu. I bring my nose closer to her mouth as she inhales and exhales in between words. There is a sudden coolness and smell of damp interior that surrounds her lips. I observe with absolute attention. Her story doesn’t last long. My sister says nanu doesn’t know how to tell a story. She is too blunt. Here nanu goes: “Once your grandfather bought me. This house was a gift from him. Your grandfather’s wife didn’t like me at all. There were other women. But she couldn’t stand me because I came from a good family. I could read and write. My father had paid a tutor for me in those days. Your grandfather had heard of my beauty. But my father wouldn’t agree so he kidnapped me and brought me here from a faraway land. I remember I cried a lot. Then his wife came although it was forbidden for her to visit our part of the mansion. She came because she heard that I was stolen. She must have been curious to know what made a merchant steal a zamindar’s daughter. She found me repulsive. She grew up in a city. I had no manners, apparently. All I knew was that this wasn’t my world. I wanted to go back. Your grandfather then built this house for me and made me move here with servants. In those days river beds of the Buriganga had stairs leading into the black water, hundreds of them. All the boats from every part of Bengal came and unloaded its gifts. Only there were boats made out of wood, unlike today.” “What about ma, nanu?” “What about her? I made sure she had a college education. She is a well-read woman.” “And my father?” “He was a good man.” “Is there more?” “That is all.” “Do you like Bangla cinema?” There are times when I bring nanu a piece of paper to read. She can never manage it as she doesn’t have her glasses. I wanted to get her new pairs but she said she didn’t need any. My sister often hits me over the head and calls me a fool. She tries to make me doubt grandma. She is also the one who always drags my pants down in public and makes me hysterical. So I have no reason to believe her. Soon the day of my sister’s wedding comes. But no one has come to our house. My mother shut the door on the face of the moulavi who accompanied the groom. There are only two ladies sitting with nanu on the veranda. I don’t know why. My ma is in the kitchen. I don’t know why. Something will surely happen. There is this feeling about it. Knowing my sister, I'm sure something will happen. Suddenly she appears before me. I am in the back yard trying to decide which room to hide in. She comes and grabs my hand and starts dragging me behind her. Her palm feels cool from the red hena paste and her finger rings dig into my flesh. We snake from one room to another. Every step is followed by tiny protests from her anklet and mine. Her atar comes floating to me. Her red dopatta has beads that get caught on a door handle. I help her get untangled as I intently listen to nanu’s gold banlges clink against each other. She almost sneezes because of the giant ring puncturing her nose. Soon we are inside mother’s room. I struggle to get away the moment I see the direction she is taking. But holding on to the door frame does no good against her force. I am a little girl after all. We are finally here. Where we could never enter. She takes me to the adjacent room and points towards the picture on the wall in one corner.
My mother walks in at that moment. She sees us standing where her rules don’t apply. She takes two steps forward. Apa backs away. My sister knows she has touched something forbidden
“Do you really think that that man in there is our father?” asks my sister, her red nails polished and glowing. Then she drags me to the veranda and points again. There is our well in the middle of the yard with my elephant close by. “How can we afford to live in a house with such a big yard?” and without waiting for an answer, she drags me back in the room and makes me stand in front of mother’s mirror. My feet dig inside the soft rug. Her front presses against my back. I can feel all the intricate designs on her sari pressed against my skin and it is cool to the touch. Her chin comes up against mine and she uses her finger to angle my jaw towards our reflection. “What do you see, Mir?” “Your tickly is not rightly placed on your forehead.” “Look at your eyes, your lips, your nose. What do you see?” My kajol is well drawn, my lips have a tint of gloss, my nose has a tiny flower on it. “Mir. Can you see, Mir?” I turn my face towards her. Our reflections are breathing on each other. The strands on her forehead dance when I exhale. Her cheek holds the question as she presses her finger on my dimple. “I can see.” “You are my brother.” I look back at the reflection. In there, her face is still turned towards me. My jaw is still trapped in between her fingers. I see my kajol is well drawn, my lips have a tint of gloss, my nose has a tiny flower on it. My nanu’s fingers have coils going down from the tips. The thumb has grown extra layers of skin. The corner of the nail is chaffed and the nail is partly dead. Her fingers are crooked and cannot be straightened no matter what. My mother has stretch marks on her belly. I have seen it. She allowed me to. I can bathe with her. “Do you want to run away with me? I will never come back. So you can come with me, right now,” says my sister eagerly. Her fingers must have felt uncomfortable against the unwelcome signs of some hair on my chin. I reach out and slowly remove her hand. As I hold it, her fingers -- smaller in size than mine -- hide inside the crook of my palm. Walking to the store for four eggs has never been easy. My feet are never comfortable in red sandals. And the sari always gets tangled. “I walk for another day”, I tell myself. Of course, people always step aside when I walk by. I always think they like my perfume. My head bumps on the signposts for the footpath shops, often dislodging the perfect hair parting mother has made. Over time I’ve known where to duck. I am very aware of the moment when a flying jet of spit is about to land on my anchal. I tie it around my waist in a coil. I find it easy to walk in my sandals that way. They talk and they stare. I never forget to smile and say salam in return. Mother says, “You are the most impressive girl out there, Mira. There is nothing that can ever hurt you, as long as you remain my child – this loose woman’s child.” I don’t understand what she means by this either. But I know she’s given up something very precious to say something so confusing. Her words don’t make sense because they don’t belong to this world. I can never locate my mother when I take that walk through the busy market. But I know I dare not take a short cut. That is not an option for her. Every time I get back home with swollen eyes, scratched elbows, and torn frock sleeves, I find her ready with bandage and yellow antiseptic. The days I don’t have any, she will be standing on the porch with a cane ready. “Why is that you do not hate me, apa? Everyone else does,” I say, holding her trembling hand in mine. She takes her hand away. “Mir! We have a father. I have seen him. You can go to him.” She then comes back to me and holds my face up to hers, “You can be saved. Don’t you want to be free?” “Why don’t you hate me?” “We are a normal family, Mir!” My mother walks in at that moment. She sees us standing where her rules don’t apply. She takes two steps forward. Apa backs away. My sister knows she has touched something forbidden. My mother doesn’t like actions that are a clear display of lack of trust. She reaches out and straightens the gold tickly on my sister’s forehead. I thought she would cringe. But she dares my mother with her eyes. My mother says nothing. Suddenly there is this silence. Everyone gets to feel what each has lost or was never entitled to. My sister can’t take it. She bursts into tears and runs out. She is a liar though. She comes back whenever there is a festival and that too, with gifts. Mine are always men’s clothing. She’s got what she wished for. As a second wife of a sixty something man, she never gets to be treated as my mother’s daughter. *** “Nanu…” “Can’t sleep?” “I hate my father.” “You do? I thought it was your mother.” “I wish you wouldn’t.” “Can I tell you a secret?” “Why can’t anyone love her?” “Listen to me. When you were born…” “I know. Father left.” “…you had wings.”
Urmi Masud is poet, playwright and fiction writer.