The brine beds soaked- the sky was a gloomy basket of silvery ash- the wind announced the forthcoming of unknown bluster. Mother awry spat the sappy betel. Behind her was the panorama of our salt stocking ghetto. Something tickled beneath her skull.
"I have come to see the haul," she made a shy excuse.
"Wait here," slowly, he loaded the carrying pole with harvested salt. Mother observed with a nod. Until father set off to the unloading point. When his feature became fairly distant, she sat cautiously on the aisle of the salt bed.
She touched the thick raw plastic base stretched in the ground. A salt farm generally consists of arrays of 40/50 beds altogether. Piquant seawater pours in these beds through a canal dug nearby. Mother caressed the smudgy plastic and raised the hand to the nose to smell it. The dopamine spiked high as she slurped the moistened hand in immense pleasure. Still, the delight was not complete. She wanted to lick it from the plastic.
First, I was an amorphous lump- my spirit murky- my wisdom jejune- my feelings selective. I floated incoherent, uncertain between time and abstinence. There was another with me, my twin. It was weak, and I craved strength. I asked if it agreed to conjoin. The twin denied. It disapproved and said I was the dark. When the moment was fair, I devoured it. Now I got both darkness and light.
My family had been salt farmers for seven generations. My grandfather, the chieftain, found a beautiful girl from the clan for his youngest son. Unimpeded by any divergence, who swore an oath to abandon school and follow the patriarchal pursuit. Mother liked her man from the beginning. The brutal and wild muscles of his salt-made fists kept her thrilled longer than the nights. Soon I came to be. Uncertain if it was for my arrival or continuance of a pre-matrimonial misfortune, an upsetting urge harbored in her conscious. It started to begin.
Mother had nasty imaginations. These could have been called phantoms of the juvenile mind. However, to the elders, she was way past the time of being identified as immature. Her exasperations were peculiar. She wanted to go running to the yard and start dancing maniacally among the gossiping men. Imagined arousing an oomph in her brother-in-law by stroking his mustachio and sitting on his belly. And when he is flabbergasted and dumbfounded, smile like she was doing him a favor. Sometimes, she wanted to yank out Father’s pajamas- wave it through the house like a winning flag- look for words of encouragement and pretend that she had made a funny scene. Mother was both ashamed and intrigued by her visions. She thought of them as nothing but abrupt fascinations. Often, she giggled at the images she contemplated, unaware of the alarming compulsion that would dribble its way to reality. There was yet another trouble to come.
When my eyes were formed in the womb, her visions became livelier. She needed a distraction desperately. Women in the house noticed her hysterics. Mother was observed and suspected. The distraction came in slow steps and brought along a shameful appetite.
My grandfather had built a warehouse containing bales of plastic sheets. Torn and rugged plastic pieces were replacement materials, used in the salt beds, cleaned, and shuffled after the storms. The area around smelled of tangy hollow substance- attracting mother like metal to a magnet eventually. The aroma filled her stomach with an icy sensation. She sneaked into the warehouse stealthily, fidgeting and trudging in paces to decide if she must do it. Finally, the temptation won and, Mother fixed her tongue upon the surface of the plastic. Overwhelmed with satisfaction, she tasted the sweat-filled texture of salty bounds, delighted and discreet. For any mysterious reason, this appeared like salvation from her obscene illusions. Every night of bewitchment, Mother spent hours licking the plastic, inhaling a heavenly odor, and feel fulfillment.
Although her concern wasn’t entirely gone, Mother was a philosopher. She was not rattlebrain and was aware of unusual eating habits during pregnancy. A lady in her village ate small crock pots used for lighting flames in local Hindu temples.
What she was scared of, lest something ominous caught a glimpse of her baby. There were rumors around her when she was unmarried. Oftentimes, Mother woke up to find nail scratches and biting marks in different parts of her body. Her mother and grandmother suggested that she should hide the matter at any cost. Otherwise, no one will marry her. Her cousin told her it was the doing of a ghoul. It might have taken a liking to her, and when she was asleep, it tried to make out. When she was a child, Mother and this cousin of hers were close, sexually and emotionally. Curious teenagers used to touch each other, breasts, and elsewhere.
Mother trusted whatever she said. She fancied having an affinity with a demon. There was another woman in her village whose baby was eaten by the ghoul. Mother shivered with the idea of an unfledged lump coming out of her vagina. Her demeanor went fanatic.
Nonetheless, it was not easy, meeting the irrefutable thirst. Stowed-up plastics were seldom exchanged with regularly maneuvered ones. Mother always wanted fresh supplies. She often visualized men working on farms, droplets of sweat sprinkling over the plastic ground, mixing firmly with sharp white molecules. Her scrutiny in every movement caught Father’s attention. He began keeping an eye on her. One night while Mother secretly made her way out, Father followed her. He was stupefied to find Mother hovering over a plastic sheet. Her knees bent, taking lapses of the frowsy thing with her tongue in and out gradually. She was looking for nothing better than a lingering street dog. Fortunately, before he could let out a furor, Mother got aware of his presence. They both stood frozen to their spot. Ashamed and insulted, Mother began to weep, covering her face into the hem. Father stood aside the door to make way for her. Mother took the gesture.
“Is it because of the child?” Father asked the next day.
Mother uttered something in a faint voice.
“Do not attempt the drama again. I'll make arrangements for you.”
With these words, he left the room.
The monsoon was over. It was time to celebrate the crimson autumn with warm convivial festivities. There was a custom in my village, "cook with the heat, eat with the catkin". Women and girls cloaked the indoor lobby with fresh manure. The halcyon air dismissed the dampish atmosphere. Dozens of paint coats imbued the courtyard as little girls made round pattern mandalas. Feast, frolics, and tympanum went on with overwhelming hospitality. My mother was the center of the Jollus, and she was expected to follow flamboyant customs. She was in her last trimester. It was time she ascends the Dheki every morning, threshing rice grains from the outer husk as an increment to mental stamina. Elders said this process eases labor pain.
They built a homestead with hay and timber near the outhouse pit where Mother will give birth to the offspring, me. The house became much crowded and, it was difficult for Father to feed her addiction. She was not receiving her quotidian dose. Mother grew exhausted, restless, and irritated with coinciding perspiration. So, Father invented a strategy. He cut the used plastic sheets into pieces and wrapped pickles in them. A confection enveloped with love everyone assumed. Little ones in the house ran to Mother to deliver the packaging. Mother threw away the pickle and kept the plastic, carried them with her all day. At nights she was erratic as she was sleeping with older women. I wouldn't say that my father was a caring man but not cruel either. The reason why he was putting up with Mother's delirium was me. I already feel so precious!
Mother waited for me too, but she had different apprehension. In moments of turmoil, one day her water broke. The tickle in her head increased with the level of pain to make my bearing night herculean altogether.
My lips were tight. I was wrapped in embryonic blood. The suture between my nave and mother's umbilical, delicate. The cold southern breeze rushed through me, eyes shut. I was expecting to hear earnest cheerfulness from the ladies present in the shed. I must be quite a sight for them. And that I was. Except they let out a cowering gust, my grandmother renounced. I felt no warmth of fondling. Is my mother unconscious still? I whimpered my first cry. There was no one to embrace me.
I was stuck halfway down from the shoulder. The octogenarian midwife performed an episiotomy to bring me out. I was shaded vertically in different complexions. They laid me in the crib, unclean and unwanted. When my mother woke up, she found only the midwife sitting beside the cesspool. She observantly handed me over to Mother and waited for a reaction. It was a joy when our eyes met. I wanted Mother to encapsulate me in her bosom. For me, the moment was so precious. But for my Mother was not. She looked puzzled, then horrified.
She asked the midwife what happened to me.
“You tell me,” the midwife warranted. “Have you been a minx?”
“No, I would never.” Mother vehemently shook her head.
The midwife gave a huge sigh. “This child is evil,” she said. “She has half her father and half the demon.”
“Is she possessed?” Mother asked.
“No, you are,” glared the midwife. “They will be arranging an exorcism. However, that cannot decide the fate of your daughter.”
I noticed everything was quiescent outside. All the clattering had swopped into the serene tranquility of disappointment. I moaned to getting Mother's attention. She was staring at a blank. There was no thrill in her eyes- no bonding- no connection. Fear and uncertainty had shadowed her endearment.
When I was inside her, I could see the visions she imagined. I used to hear voices whispering in her head and, I knew her aberrations.
I could surmise.
Oh, how she could put her daughter in this misery! Mother didn't want me.
The nearly fainted midwife started reciting verses from the Holy Scripture. A Mother was forcefully trying to push her just-born back in the womb through the vagina. Never did she witness anything such horrific. The helpless yelp of the poor child gathered a few Osprey outside. Only the verses segued to darkness.