...and then

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Questions for jealousy

Irrational jealousy,
When did you become me?
Long ago when I had a man
On the left palm of my hand
I told him to go play.

When he came back, because he knew he could
I couldn't smell any kisses, neither numbers, nor wood.
And it was okay then. And we could talk
A lot like friends, more like lovers,
Once we'd both gotten over the shock

Of finding things this normal, no questions asked.
And I liked to hear the odd story, of sex that wasn't as great as ours.
I asked him about love, and whether they had better breasts,
All he said was a faithful no. Truth or kind lies, he left me to guess.
I never knew, then, nor did I care

To investigate the run of adult play
I knew love was to be shared, not locked up and hidden away.
So now that you have me, jealousy, you bitch, all I ask of you
As you viciously smoke me like a cigarette,
If not shared love, what must I feel instead.

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Sunday, 21 April 2013

A bit of a Kiss

She leaned across from where she stood close to him, unable to smell anything on him but a whiff of trust and interest. They'd been talking several hours and all she wanted to do was make him aware of her affection for the evening, affection for the undivided attention she got from him. And perhaps to say she had given him the same.

It was a scene out of a cliche. A softly glowing city was all around them, as they stood anonymous and glorious, devoid of the popular notion of love. And yet free to love the way they pleased. If all this moment required was a peck on the cheek, that was okay. And if it involved a more intimate kiss, an inclusion of man and woman, that was okay too. Nothing mattered but an exchange of secret information: "I am having such a good time."

She leaned in, gently registering he was taller than she had first assumed. She stood on pretty tall heels and he was still taller than her. She laid her palm on his upper arm and decided to give him a peck on his cheek. But as she leaned in his head moved just a little towards her, taking his cheek away from her and gently offering her his lips. Everything about him was gentle. The way he talked, the way he charmed her through the evening so that it came to this, the way he was wicked, all with a gentleness that she didn't gather till he dropped her home safe and went away.

As his face turned, her eyes struck confusion. Should she be love struck and kiss him on the lips, or should she just keep this a friend-dinner casual and stick to puritan plan A? There's little room for decision making when an attractive man is making very clear what part of his face he wants you to kiss. Even if there was room, there's even little time when you've already leaned into his warm space, so tantalisingly close to his beautiful shoulders and ordinary smile, and you don't know where to go without looking like an owl trying to get comfortable. So she did the safe thing. She kissed his cheek. And said with singular fervour, a warmth in her voice that was the perfect foil for the cool December evening, perfectly ordinary words. "I am having such a good time."

And him, with his world of experience and his world experience, looking unsure, like a teenage boy, hands in his pockets standing close and warm, head leaning in just a little, stopping now, moving again, till he got her to respond to the gentle manipulations of his open, hesitant face and head. A little dance, a little wondering of his own, should I kiss this woman, will she kiss me back. And she leaned in, eyes open, so close that she went cockeyed and, curious, her neck stretching towards his face, a face she'd loved, in a way, for a good decade. A kiss of those who were having a good evening, no tongue, no mad gnashing of teeth, a chaste old fashioned kiss. For her, a kiss like never before. She wasn't sure who broke the kiss. The city around them was still cool, psychedelic and suddenly it looked different to her, like it had been washed in the rain. But it hadn't rained. Unless you called this slow excitement of wine and a kiss rain. In which case, it had.

They went back to their table and talked some more. She hoped he wouldn't remember a thing she had said all evening.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Three wishes

"I have three wishes," said the four year old, her young arm around the neck of an impatient mother, who wanted to go back to adult things that gave her joy.
"What are they," the mother asked, patiently. It was bed time after all.
"My first wish is you'll never forget me, my second is that you'll never send me to live with someone else and my third wish is you'll never go away anywhere."
The mother laughed, head thrown back, her heart warming and melting at the edges, delighted that someone wanted her this badly. She checked herself immediately, though, and spoke to the daughter, addressing the little child's insecurities. "I am never ever going to forget you, monkey," she told the little girl holding her lithe body tight, and plastering a kiss on the child's hair-strewn cheek. "I'll never forget you, either, Ma," the little girl replied, her voice suddenly slowing down and the day gradually disappearing from her breathing. The little girl was asleep.


Fiza was awake, crying. Her fingers moved to the corners of her eyes to see if she really was, or if it was just the dream struggling to make itself real and get past her eyelids. The fingertips came away wet. She wiped her eyes and woke up fully from her nap. Someone brought the coffee in and Fiza asked what time it was. The clock in the room had stopped working and the air was still. She figured it was still early in the evening, even late in the afternoon, because it was flatly bright outside, making everything look uninteresting. If you could look at anything in this blasted sun, that is, she thought.

Sipping her coffee, Fiza wondered why Maryam had asked her those questions last night. She wondered about the insecurity this child felt so deeply that she had to ask her mother not forget her. Am I not doing enough, Fiza asked herself. Like all young mothers, guilt was Fiza's unwanted and surreptitious partner, arriving without announcing and staying stealthily in cool, dark corners of Fiza's life; almost childlike in its approach to her, waiting to pounce from unseen places and scare her so hard that she lost a year of her life, in one instant of a wicked "boo!"

Fiza laughed again. What a funny little girl Maryam was! Imagine a mother forgetting her own daughter. She quickly ran a check of all of Maryam's favourite fairy tales to see if any of them had characters that forgot their daughters. She could think of none. Fairy tales were an easy target. If something discomfiting or completely out of character occurred, Fiza choked her immediate worry and went back a few steps, to check what the child had been reading (rather, read to) or watching. And she was almost immediately right. If one day was a trail of almonds all along the house and a frightened child under the bed behind imaginary bars or scrubbing the floor with a forlorn face, the next was a desperate seeking of a kiss on the mouth with closed eyes. Thank you, Hansel and Gretel and The Sleeping Beauty, respectively. This, however, didn't look like the work of stories. This was entirely new. And Fiza wasn't sure she had dealt with it well. What did the parenting books say about dealing with insecurities? She couldn't remember. All she could remember was Einstein saying, or having been known as saying, "if you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairy tales." She just might have taken that too seriously, though.

Those three things Maryam had said, Fiza hadn't decided what to do with them. So she got over them; it was just one of those things kids say, and that she must make an effort to reinforce her love for Maryam in more ways. And of course, not forget Maryam, she thought as she giggled again. Where was Maryam anyway? It was playtime and yet there were no sounds of the kids from the neighbourhood playing, there was no squealing of the girls as they got excited over absolutely nothing, and no sounds of thundering feet tattooing the lawn in an impromptu design. Maybe it was too hot to play running games. Maybe they were playing board games. Well, that means a few more minutes in bed for me, thought Fiza, complaining quietly about how tired summers made you.

She lay back down on the pillow and picked up the book she was reading, filled with serene gratitude that she was well looked after and didn't have to really work hard at all. Even the cooking, unless it was a special occasion, was taken care of by a retinue of staff that her home was blessed to have. All she had to do was approve their decisions regarding the house; the rest of the day was hers to do as she pleased. And she did a lot. A woman of fearsome intellect, Fiza's interests were as wide as they were deep. From working on her research and giving underprivileged primary school children lessons, to tennis and collecting and documenting pottery through the ages - everything in between too. The afternoon heat, the slow pace of an Umberto Eco book and the increased tiredness she felt these days did their work and Fiza was napping again.


She was in the same dream with Maryam. This time the room was dark, the air was cool; as usual Maryam and she were in Fiza's large bed. The pillows were soft, the covers smelt lemony, the heavy drapes were drawn, the hum of the AC comforting. Maryam was restless and asking questions, talking about the army of things that decides to ambush a child's mind just before bed time, every single day. "I have three wishes. My first wish is that you'll never forget me. My second wish..."


Fiza woke up to two people talking gently in the room. One was a beautiful woman Fiza had never seen before. A high forehead, dark, ebony eyes that were at a slant, a smile so perfect it was a crime to have it stop. She wore a white cotton shirt with pin tucks and a pair of jeans, her hair neatly brushed and lay gentle on her shoulders. Earrings that dangled with a playful light touched her jaw now and then as she moved her head while she talked quietly to the man sitting next to her. He was listening to the woman intently and Fiza found herself wanting to ask them what they were talking about. But that was while she was still sailing on the warmth of the nap; as soon as she shook it off, she wondered who these strangers were and why they were in her room, especially since they had paid no attention to her and hadn't realised she was awake.

"Excuse me," said Fiza, and the couple stopped mid conversation. The young woman came forward and leaned in to kiss a very surprised Fiza'a cheek. "Sorry, I don't mean to be rude. I was just taking a nap and woke up to find you here. I hate to ask but I don't know who you are..." Fiza trailed off her question, recognising how embarrassing it was to both parties, this name and face forgetting. The young woman's face, something happened to it. A quick flutter of eyelids, a tightening of the skin around her forehead. What was... A shock of wetness in her eyes. "I'm sorry," began Fiza, appalled at her upbringing that she would forget someone's name and face. Especially when they had come to her home.

"It's okay," the young woman said laying a gentle hand on Fiza's wrinkled old hand as a nurse came in with the day's medication. "It's ok, Ma. It's me, Maryam."


Sunday, 14 April 2013


A million babies, all trying to get out of my skin.
Million, thousands, I do not really know.
As many babies as there are pores, straining and struggling
To get out of my skin.

So I kneel on the floor and offer my tears up
To an  all-consuming sun. May it never be night, I say
And attempt to bind it with the promise
Of a million pregnancies, under my skin.

For when the night comes and everything is cold
In the summer's darkness, the stabs under my skin
As many stabs as there are pores, escape and rise
Wisps, ghosts, smoke rings of pain.

And locked in my room, bound with handcuffs
Of compulsion to be an adult, I lie rigid, hot,
On the left of the bed, watching
A simulation, a feeble dance of all that hurts.

And yet I cannot see. I do not see.
All I see is a cloak of muslin
that the wisps and ghosts and smoke rings make
And the muslin turns heavy, dark, velvet.

The sun! The sun! I cry as the velvet
Morphs again and turns to lead, with laces, a vest.
I close my eyes, I wait for the inevitable. Hands crossed, laced
A thousand suns explode behind the orange of my eyes.