As she straightened her back which ached often when she had been hunched over her homework for too long, she heard her mother’s voice.
“Homework can wait. Please help me in the kitchen. Your dad’s on the way. Your brother’s hungry”.
Wordlessly she stood up. Silently she laid the table.
“What’s the point of applying out of state? Isn’t psychology available at a community college?” Her father asked, appraising her critically.
Why did it feel like he was always trying to catch her in some supposed salacious act?
“She has prepared all the applications and letters of interest”. Her mother chimed.
She looked at her mother in surprise. She had never expected support from her because it had never come from her.
“Okay”, her father conceded.
She left the room quietly but couldn’t keep from hearing her mother’s conspiratorial whisper,
“Don’t antagonize here. She’s 18 now. What if she leaves us and starts living on her own? This is a temporary thing. Let her interview. Who’s going to offer her a spot at the universities that she’s looking at? No one. At least she’ll feel like we listened. Moreover, she’s going with two friends. She’s safe”.
The sound of her heartbreaking became even more grating over the silence.
“Did you like him? I just loved him. You’d make an adorable couple with him”.
She looked at her mother’s shining face and heard the relief of her being accepted by a guy dripping from her voice.
“You liked him, right?” Her mother persisted, “Isn’t he handsome?”
She looked unbelievingly at her mother. Since when did her orthodox parents become so interested in her views on a man’s physical appearance. Because besides that she knew nothing about him.
She had liked how he looked. Truthfully, she nodded.
She woke up with hot searing pain along the side of her belly. She waddled over to her husband. He was bent over his laptop, working the night away. He looked up at this inconvenience and rolled his eyes.
“Sure you’d go into labor right when I’m working on a project that could change my life. Get the hell in the car”.
Many hours later, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a much weaker girl who had to be whisked away immediately to the neonatal care unit for oxygen and observation. Her boy came home with her the next day. The girl struggled between life and death for 21 days. Finally, one spring evening, she brought her home wrapped in a red blanket with blue flowers. She had survived. Against all the odds that life stacked against her, the girl had survived.
She silently watched the effortless camaraderie between father and son. She silently watched the girl trying to prove herself. The girl tried to insert herself in random conversations to maintain her relevance but she could see that the girl was fast fading in the background. She wondered why the girl tried. Slowly she watched her grow into a woman who argued and bantered. Where did she get it from?
She carried her seven month pregnant body into the room where they were fighting. She had grown tired of their bickering and sometimes wished she had more control. But she was afraid that her son’s inability to hear no and the girl’s insecurity around playing second fiddle to him would make things worse.
As she stood at the door, fearing that she was going to pass out any minute, she felt a first contraction and then a second.
Six hours later she gave birth to a 26 week preemie. Her husband muttered something under his breath and exited the room.
She knew it was a girl.
When everything in life was angry with her for giving birth to a 26-weeker which was a girl, the girl had her back.
She watched the eight-year-old kid bring food for her, massage her feet that had swollen due to preeclampsia, and even fix small meals for her father and brother.
She was feisty as ever but she was caring too.
Slowly the boy started spending more time in the nursery. Slowly she watched him become one with his sisters.
He screamed and she shivered. This wasn’t something new. She had never spoken up against any man. She assumed a silence and accepted all fault in any given case. It was easier that way.
Her son came forward. He firmly took her hand and removed her from the room. She followed her blood in daze.
Her husband never yelled at her again.
She watched the boy poring over applications as the girls laughed and chatted. He was filling his twin sister’s applications also. He gave them an annoyed look every once in a while when their laughter became too loud and then, because he could hardly ever not be himself with his sisters, broke out in a grin too.
“She will go where you’re going. She won’t go to an out of state school on her own”. Their father commanded.
“If I’m accepted at a better place, then I’m going there. Even if I have to on my own”. She heard the girl say. Her head jerked up. She saw a proud smile on her son’s face.
The twins were ready to leave for college. She felt her heart jumping out of her chest. She saw her youngest child sobbing. She heard her brother consoling her. She saw her oldest daughter’s profile. Strong and haughty. How did she get that way?
Her son came forward. He had become a confidante even though she didn’t speak much. He knew all the secrets because her eyes were always dead.
He hugged her. She hugged him back. He was her pride and the child that had locked her husband in for her. Her marriage would forever be indebted to him. How could she ever thank him for it?
She hugged the girl. Somehow she had never accepted her as her own. She was someone else’s with her smart mouth and relentless spirit. She picked arguments and tried to prove others wrong. She had a deep disregard for what people called normal and had a particular dislike for her father. It was hard to own this wild child. She was a force of nature.
Something about this girl terrified her. She had grown up hearing stories about such girls getting raped, abducted or divorced. She had heard of such women in women’s circles. They were mentioned in hushed tones and clandestine words. They were beheld from afar because getting too close to them would sometimes taint good women. This girl was trouble.
Her youngest daughter came up and hugged her sister. She was asking her older sister questions about school and life and love and the cosmos. She listened in awe at her oldest’s patience in answering her little sister’s questions. Somehow, all of a sudden, her rebel girl sounded just like her. Patient, forbearing and the ocean that absorbs many storms.
They departed from the station. Her husband remarked as they were on their way back to the parking lot,
“That girl of yours is trouble. Keep an eye on her. I have no time for any lovers that she has at college or any extracurricular activities that she gets into. Make that very clear to her. She has somehow gotten it in her head that she and her brother are equals. Let her know that the world out there is very bad for a woman”.
The world out there? She looked at him with disgust mixed with surprise. He wasn’t the world out there and yet, some of the biggest horrors were lived by her through him behind closed doors. She would’ve been safe in the world out there. She had never been safe with him.
Her youngest daughter piped up before she could disagree for the first time,
“She’ll be fine. She’s a great person. She just doesn’t have time for bullshit”.
As her husband’s eyes widened at hearing their ten-year old curse without inhibition, Saamat felt her heart lightening, her spirit rising, and her being becoming one with the girl she gave birth to many years ago, who fought critical illness from birth and societal injustice many times in her life but always came out on top. While Saamat had silence, the girl had defiance.
While Saamat thought fortitude would come to her rescue, the girl problem-solved on the spot.
And now, the girl had helped her raise her little girl and for that she could never thank her amazing daughter ever.