“Carry your playing outside.”
I’m playing with Babi, with her yellow hair. Daddy brought her for me. “I brought you Babi;” as if it was a person, the way he had said the name, that long time ago.
My mother doesn’t like her, doesn’t like that I like Babi more than her. But it is not why she is asking me to carry my playing with her outside. It is because of her work; it is time for it. And she doesn’t play with her work. She doesn’t go to work, how other people’s mothers that I know do; work comes to her.
This evening, this one that comes goes, “How are you, little Pretty?” His smile moist, as if his lips are melting off; would make vomit fill your chest.
I’m standing in the corridor. Hearing children play outside the way children play. Can’t join, because I don’t know how to play like that – with big, tall shouts filled with clean happiness.
“How old are you?” The man, his liquid smile leaks into the eyes looking down upon me with this look that stains. Looks at Babi, nods, “Beautiful.” She is. Miles more than me. But this man, the way his eyes are smiling water, you would think I was a flower bursting with colour in the sun.
She is holding a blue wrapper when she comes out; not tied firmly around her body like other people’s mothers I see, just held up in front of her body, a neat slice of her breast showing at the side.
Her frown is hot on my face, those tongues of flames in her eyes that leap out and lick at the edges of any little happiness you manage to find, and kill it; that red look my eyes know even in the dark. I look down at the man’s feet – dusty leather slippers, toes like freshly uprooted root crops. He goes to her. I hear him whisper a rush of things. And hear my mother laugh a phrase; not a laugh of something funny, or of someone happy; just a limp laugh that flops down at her feet dead. Then a silence of mourning.
I look up. Man is not there.
I go to her.
“Go inside there,’ – pushes me through the door, and shuts it behind me.
I’m supposed to be outside, and her inside, not like this, upside down how it is now; this man filling the room, the mattress, my breathing space, with himself.
“How old are you?” The voice is smaller now, a breath. His hand cold meat on my leg, up between my legs, up, up – a finger finally finding heaven . . . then a broken sigh of “Oh, god.”
That was the day I learnt that a woman carries god between her legs. Within the brackets of that dark little temple.
The doll slips from my grip and dies.
I want to say “Eight” to his third “How old are you?” of the evening, but I don’t. Because: how do you add it up when you’re half of a girl and half of a woman; doll in hand, god between legs; mother outside, child inside.
How old are you if you were given birth to eight years ago, then one day you’re born.
I’m 33 now. And I have just now figured out the reason why my mother stayed outside, why she did not come inside with me, to hold my hand that first day, and tell me that it would be hard, but would become better as I grew older, that I would grow used to it, used to being used like she was; it finally occurred to me that she stayed outside because it was taboo in her village for a mother to witness the funeral of her child.
What she didn’t know was that it was a birth, not a funeral. A becoming.