Series 4 Chandni Chowk Part 2 The moon has bruises
Later in the evening, the telephone rings. It is the adoption agency calling to tell you that your son has asked for your name and address and, as he is of age, he has been provided both.
“He’ll be coming to see you soon, probably.”
“This was just to inform you…” the woman over the phone says, in her uncaring monotone.
“He’ll be coming to see you soon, probably.”
“That’s all well and good,” you reply, rubbing at your forehead with a hand. “But you must be mistaken. I don’t have a s—.”
The woman hangs up before you can complete the sentence. You place the phone back on the receiver, shaking your head as you do.
“It must be a misunderstanding,” you think to yourself.
And that becomes your mantra as you head over to the porch with a glass of water, gaze fixed on the patch of dirt that was not there last night. Auntie Number One’s words have been bothering you all day — her mention of Rashid has stirred up memories you did not know you still had. You draw in a sharp breath as they filter, unimpeded, to the forefront of your mind. The feel of the cold floor pressed up against your cheek, a numbing sensation in your wrist as it snapped, caught neatly between his hands. You remember harsh, baseless accusations —.
“Why can’t you just listen to me, Fatima?”
“Why can’t you be more like Mrs Zubair? She never disagrees with her husband, never talks back…”
“What’s wrong with me being friends with other women, Fatima? I know of your shenanigans outside the house — you’re hellfire, woman.”
“Fatima! Fatima! Listen to me. Do what I say, Fatima.”
“Do what I say,” you murmur to yourself, as you cross the yard.
You look down at the neat patchwork of graves there — graves you have labelled as ‘Husbands One to Four’ in your head. But tonight? Tonight you are not so sure. You sit down on the ground relishing the sound of silence and the feel of cold breeze that causes trees to sway gently, and leaves to fall onto the freshly turned-over ground. Grabbing a fistful of dirt in your palm, you remember things you have not thought about in months.
“Five years ago,” you tell the graves, “that is — the first night my oldest son went to university, there was a congratulatory party. The son — his name was Khalid.”
You draw in a sharp breath.
“He was studying to become a doctor. When we got back from the party, he — your — your father”
You turn towards the second grave in the neat line of four, eyes suddenly lighting up as you realise which one Khalid is —
“Your father hit me. It wasn’t the first time. It was far from the last. He nearly strangled me that night. And you weren’t there — you didn’t see how.”
Your eyes move towards the sky, and you look at the moon — so peaceful and placid, unruffled by the happenings of this tiny, meaningless little world. You wonder if the moon has bruises; you conclude that it does.
Hot tears flood down your face. You wipe them away and continue talking.
“Four sons! The last one I gave away, because he asked me to. A moment of weakness. Four sons, three that I saw grow up before my eyes, three whom I killed because I couldn’t — couldn’t help it, honestly, I thought they would hurt me, too, I thought they would … that, that you would.”
You cradle your face in your hands, now sobbing freely.
“We moved here six months ago. He hit me with a glass bottle on the head — he’d been” — you gulp — “he’d been drinking, and when I woke up, everything was crazy. I’d had enough.”
You laugh bitterly.
“I guess kitchen knives are useful, right?”
You draw a line in the dirt with your fingers and stare at the ground. Slowly, you begin to sing.
“So she chopped off their tails with a carving knife. Have you ever seen such a thing in your life?”
You sing, and you laugh and by the time morning arrives, you remember nothing of the night before.
At noon, a young man in a suit arrives at your doorstep. You do not recognise him, but shirk away almost immediately when he reaches for your hand and grasps it with his own.
He claims to be your son.
“I don’t have a son,” you tell him firmly.
“Leave my house.”
But he laughs and insists that he is your son.
“It’s all right if you don’t remember,” he says.
“I talked to Mr R — to my father,” he stumbles slightly over the word, “a few months ago, and I asked the adoption agency — because that’s how I got in touch with you in the first place — to inform you I’d be coming today. Aren’t you surprised?”
He laughs, his eyes searching, pleading for a sign of recognition—but you give him none.
“Where’s father?” he asks.
You cross your arms and stare at your feet.
The man’s smile slips off his face abruptly.
“That’s — they didn’t tell me.”
He clears his throat.
“The agency, I mean.”
“Yes — well. You ought to be going,” you tell him briskly, and move to close the door.
He steps inside and looks at you imploringly.
“I’ve wanted to talk to you for a long time. I know you didn’t mean to give me up, but I’ve … father told me you have a condition, that you don’t remember stuff all that well, a head injury or something, he said, but you have to — you do remember me, right?”
You change your answer midsentence.
“I do remember you. He walloped me with a broom after you were born, I can’t forget. Although I have forgotten. I’ve forgotten a lot. I’ll never forget, though, how much I hate you – and him, and all of them — hurt me.”
The words tumble from your lips like a waterfall, and you plough on savagely without pause.
“The head injury? He gave it to me. Threw me up against the wall, and I decided, that day, that he would never do that to me again.”
You’ve been backpedalling as you say this but your gaze does not shift from the face of the man who claims to be your son. His expression changes faster than the scenes in a fast-paced action film. One moment, he displays shock—the other, sympathy.
“Listen,” he says, “listen — I…”
And he walks towards you, down the hall, dust rising from the filthy carpet with every step he takes. Your hands reach out for a table lamp and you swing it at the man as soon as he in close proximity. It smashes into his cheek and he staggers, blood smearing the right side of his face like paan.
“Out,” you screech. “Out, out of my home before you join the rest of them, chopped into bits, trying to breathe underground when you can’t — can’t hurt me like he did, like I know all of you will if someone doesn’t wipe you out. Out!”
And you swing the lamp in his direction again. This time, it hits him in the stomach.
“I’m… sorry,” he gasps, tripping over his feet as he runs towards the door.
He leans against the doorframe and looks at you with apparent fury in his eyes.
“But we’re not — not all the same, I don’t know what he did to you, but — if you would just listen … we could get help….”
But you yell at him until he releases his grip on the doorframe. Rushing outside, he yells back at you so loudly that you are certain the entire street must have heard his words:
“Murder won’t get you equality!”
You breathe heavily in the wake of his departure. And quietly — quietly, like a woman has been taught to do, you close the front door.
Stay tuned for the final part of this three part series.
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