We lay calm in our beds that night. Even the baby, for once, slept soundly; even the dog, out in its kennel. And perhaps that was the odd thing, after all: how trustingly we slumbered. As if fate had gifted us a few last wholly innocent hours, before innocence fell away forever. For when I woke, in the early morning – what was it? A difference in the quality of the light? Some new texture to the silence? But I opened my eyes, and I knew it. Something had changed. Something was wrong.
Blinking up at the ceiling, eyes unseeing, I made my muscles relax. First the feet, then my calves, the large ropey ones around my thighs, the shorter ones of my waist, my heart – was that what was different? The now? A window had opened. The choice was mine though. All I had to do was step through. Everything was right.
The baby’s wail cut through the alcohol fumes: low hanging clouds from the excesses of the night before. That’s how it was. She would be asleep one moment the next it was as if the entire world was beckoned. Sliding out from under the arm, which lay thick around my neck: a python of gigantic need, which had swallowed me whole many times; I wore my spectacles, then walked bare feet into the nursery.
Picking up Nina, I shushed her. Teething was painful: incisors cutting through gums. It made her want to chew on something, harder, unforgiving: anything to rival the ache of breaking down barriers.
Does she know this is only the first of many obstacles she will face in life? That she will need those sharp teeth to bite through arms holding her down. Use them to inflict pain on another being, to save her own?
The swaying of my body as I carried her down the stairs calmed her. Then, reaching for my breast, she latched onto it, sucking with a determination that echoed the sensation running through my body. Is this what they meant by seeing the world through your child’s eyes?
I looked out the backdoor into the darkness: I have stood here before, in a different life. I know when the dawn will reach out its silvery claws, extending it over the lone tree in the courtyard, caressing my skin and for a few fleeting minutes I will be warm. I have been cold, freezing, since my mother called me a few weeks ago.
For the first time in many decades, kith and kin were getting together at the temple of the family deity. Neglected except for short annual visits, when one of my cousins would attend to the needs of the idol housed there, it had surfaced in the collective consciousness of the larger household.
A series of illnesses, dreams from beyond the funeral pyre, delayed marriages, women having children late or not having children at all, had led to the astrological question being asked: what was wrong?
The answer: appease the divinity at the core of the generational tree.
The last two priests appointed to perform the daily religious rites, met their end under mysterious circumstances; since then, the gods left to their own devices and had become unhappy at the lack of attention from the family who had sworn to take care of their footprints on this Earth. So in late December they came, from across the globe; assembling at this tiny village in the South of India.
Brothers buried teenaged disagreements. Daughters of the family who had changed their clan-lineage by marriage had been specially invited to attend, for it was they… us… me? —Who had borne the brunt of celestial anger? The rituals continued over two days: ancestors were appeased, the foundation of a new temple lain, naysayers were silenced. Then, in divine acquiescence, it rained.
But, why did I not fit within this celestial pattern? By leaving the home country had I cut off the threads, which had warped me into the fabric of that family tree? Why was it that appeasing the ancestors had not yet cast its umbrella of benevolence over me? Something had shifted: I could see it shimmering in the air, just beyond me. But it wasn’t enough. For, even the stars did not deliver at warp speed. It took them a while to realign, leaving me no choice. I had to bend time, take it in my own hands.
Hearing his heavy tread on the staircase I froze. The second step from the top, which coughed hoarsely; the fourth, which squeaked in a high-pitched voice; the one below, which was silent, and the one after which sighed. I willed myself to break out of the hypnotic effects of the symphony. There were only a few rungs to go. I was again a child, the one who was never seen or heard; and I knew I would not go back to that. I couldn’t wait another lifetime.
When he entered the kitchen I was ready.
Mikey’s cold nose pressed against the back of my knee, trying to comfort, to encourage? Securing Nina over my right hip, I picked up the unsheathed urumi (Indian sword with a flexible blade), which lay in readiness next to the remnants of yesterday’s pizza.
No, sometimes you just had to do these things yourself. You couldn’t depend on the cosmic to set everything right.