Ten perfect fingers, ten perfect toes, two liquid pools of ink black eyes, and one tiny peaked nose. I do the count mentally, checking off the list in my head.
The pregnancy had been long, arduous, and worrisome. Early cramping and later spotting blood sent everyone around me into a panic. My mother had been the first card to fall. Eyebrows knitting, hands wringing, she had sat me down and concern-voiced her fears. Then came my mother-in-law. Her usual chipper facade exchanged for this new haggard, white-haired model.
Brazen wisps of tandoori chicken snake sinously from the oven to duel with the tangy sassiness of makhani sauce on the stove. They will marry soon, overcoming the quarrels and barriers that have separated them so long, combining their finest qualities. Dressed in their wedding garb of carmine, like all good Indian brides, they will unite to the trumpet call of bubbling ghee.
I sit sweltering, legs crossed, feet bare, hands cupped in my lap, back bent. The cool black marble floor of the front room of my grandmother’s house chills my thighs through the thin fabric of my salwar kameez.
Carelessly tossed emeralds and rubies lie strewn across an ornately carved teak table, blinking their arrogance in the dawning light. A once opulent landscape, an abundance of crystal and silver pots filled to brimming with the most succulent foods, is lain waste. Bodies are scattered across the floor in various stages of undress, like dolls abandoned by a petulant toddler.
“Can you guess how old I am?” she giggles, shoulders back, a few stray white hairs escaping the tight bun at the back of her head and snaking around her high cheekbones. The only lines on her face are the creases at the side of her mouth as she smiles.
“Come, tell me. Can you guess? I’m much older than you think, you know. Nobody ever guesses right.” She pats her slightly protruding stomach and rearranges her sari so it covers a little more flesh.
Alice stands facing the door, her hand quivering the key to the lock. The weighty shawl of barely acknowledged memories shifts uncomfortably across her shoulders. Were her white linen and lace wish-memories usurping the real events that occurred in this place?
Her mind tumbles, stumbles, hurtles backwards through blurred images, pitching and tilting through her own chequered history, until it finds a mere wisp of childhood. The little girl, clad in her red velvet dress adorned with a giant yellow ribbon around the waist, tied into a bow at the back, comes slowly into focus.
Marli sits in the dark, her knees drawn up to her chin, her breath coming in short sharp bursts. She is certain he can hear her heart beating; it’s hammering so loudly that her ears are reverberating. Her chest aches from where her knees are squeezed in tight by her arms. She makes herself as small and unnoticeable as possible.
Glimmer waited till the room was perfectly still, dark as pitch, and she could hear the child breathing steadily. Wings beating rapidly in a continuing figure of eight, an infinity of flapping, she hovered above the sleeping child.
She’d once seen a hummingbird hovering for nectar at a honeysuckle, body perfectly still, wings beating furiously, and she had felt a real kinship. The hummingbird, however, had stuck its tongue out at her, pulled a face, and flown of guffawing to itself.