I sat in front of the glaring lights. Bright lights between the mirror, enhanced my reflection of a masked face in white make-up paste. The make-up artist diligently applying colour dust with a small sponge on my dark skin.
“You really have very soft skin,” she whispered into my ears with a smile.
I smiled back asking,
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Don’t know,” she said, moving her attention to my eyes now. Eye make-up was the hardest to do. I empathised with her and asked her if her arm was aching. She had it suspended for quite awhile now. But the artist continued without complaints. She took out the brush from a mascara tube and poked it into the tube with its dry bristle to get out a patch of colour. Then she brushed it over skilfully on each of my naturally long lashes. Nearly an hour later, the make-up artist finished making a face of thick unrecognisable mask. She looked at me with a definite smile of satisfaction spreading across her painted lips, brightening up her face.
“It’s done. You look different, nice” she said. “Take a look.” She held the mirror up to me, so I could take a closer look.
A transformation did occur. I also thought so. I smiled and said to myself, what a good cover-up this could be? Not just to hide one own’s grief but also other emotions too. Masks made sense.
I didn’t. No. No.No.No Last thing this Problem. I no want this trouble.. Oh God. Oh this loneliness. It kills me. Gently It does. I know not how. But it does. Lovingly and softly. His smooth touch. Hypocrisy of it all, Pills. Bring me them. My pills. bring my pills.
“Are you okay?” the makeup artist asked looking at my face with an expression of concern. My eyes were shut and a deep frown appeared between my thin brows. My pupils darted underneath my eyelid leather. The makeup artist wasn’t getting through to me. I heard her from a long away, trying to break through my gushing monologue; the cinemas of my mind.
The wind was rough. I woke up with a terrible pain. In the early dawn, the door rattled vigorously in the stormy winds. The pain increased gradually. I screamed and held on to the flimsy frame of my bed. A summer’s day. The winds revved up like a car in the hands of a novice driver. Five years of age. I sat by the window as winds knocked on the glass pane. Another morning. Some clouds had gathered. I opened the windows and a sudden gust of wind whipped my face as it passed through the hut. My hair blew wildly over my face, almost veiling it with a mass of dark locks. I looked at the distant sky and saw layers upon layers of dark clouds; each layer a different shade of grey. The little daisies down the mountain danced insanely in the ferocity of the winds. Poor yellow little souls and blades of grass. Then there was a knock on the door. They came back. There was a ship wreck off the peninsula. Couldn’t make it in the storm. How was I to endure that? Those faces of the desperate sailors floated in the ocean of my eyes; their bodies floating. But the garden still looked nice. Who was at the door? Son, my son. Did you come for me? Have you come for my soul. Oh God. The wooden door went off the latch. It flew apart, flung open. Crazy! The crazy winds. My hut seemed to be wrung out of its soil. But the door flung open. The mountains green, but dark and grey today. Dark. Yes, pitched dark it was too, when my 16 year old sailed away off to the edge of the peninsula. On a boat they sailed towards some faraway coral islands. The mountains spring. The fall from this height among the rocks and the craggy crevice. The rains lashed its spray across the..My son are you even alive? Come back to mama. But no drugs and overdose. The ship that drowned in that ever engulfing sea. Took away. The water. The ocean. This stream. How I miss you? Little baby. Little. No more. My son. Down by the green valley, I see him running. I see him now and then he vanishes. There he is again. Play. Play. Playing hide and seek. Don’t run to the ocean though. Come back. Come back. Oh dear child. There he is coming home. Up the hill he climbs to get back. He’s here. In my arms. Kisses and hugs. The ocean rises and falls. Boats passing through mountain bridges. Suddenly all falls apart. No boats. No ships, only the sounds of the raging seas.
I think I might have killed it. Actually I did, I believe. The sea didn’t take him. I did. I took his baby life the night that he was born. The storm had raged just outside my wooden door. It had rattled persistently in the crazy winds as it rattles now. Oh my dear, dear baby. Did I grab the pillow and smother you? The cries. I couldn’t take it anymore. The cries kept getting louder and louder relentlessly but, my baby. Not 16? No, he was but a day. I picked it up. Fed it put it back on the pillow. I took the pillow from underneath and then placed it on his face. I pushed. I pushed it hard on his baby face. His tiny little nose. His dad was away on a fishing boat. Fishing yes, he was. Caught loads of fish too. Off the peninsula. Mummy, mummy. I hear his slight voice crying, calling me from far afar. Only Heavens know. I see him floating up in the sky doing a summersault. Why? Mama why? I cried. I was hungry. The hunger pains were terrible. You didn’t feed me enough mama. I cried. You took it. The pillow and pressed it down until the last breath slithered out of me. Baby. Come on baby. Come now. Mummy didn’t do that on purpose. I wish I could do this to myself. My baby. Come, come now. No. No. No.No. Standing by the glass pane of the window. I see the sky cracking up in delightful, severe lightenings. The fire-works of the sky. I ran along the mountain path. My sister behind. She stopped and took a deep breath. Clearly, couldn’t keep up. I looked behind. She’s gone now. Just gone vaporised from the phase of the earth. Dinnertime was quiet. Soup. Watery soup and few measly pieces of meat afloat. I break a piece from the corner. My sister does the some from the other end. Mum and dad look on. They pick up scraps from the table. There’s no more bread left. Dad has not been paid for the work he did. His employer went bankrupt. The carpenter hasn’t been paid. Dip your bread not in wine but in water. Lo! The fury of the ocean. The sound and the fury. Waves overlapping, layer upon layer. The ocean couldn’t be contained. The wind and the ocean entwined in the fury of a twister. The boat tussled across the waves. Boats were rare on days like these. They are on their way to the Netherlands, for sure. A man did come through the fog and knocked on the door. I turned 18 and me, sister 20. Mum, There was no money at home. For dad had gone for a long haul across the seas. My husband. That’s who he was. He said. And yes, we had a church wedding. It was small all paid by the husband. Eyes half shut still on my honeymoon but stayed in the cottage. Sister and Mum next door. Dad not home. Hy husband not with me. Half-asleep, I listen. There’s suddenly lots of food on the table. I stand looking at it through the gaping hole of the wooded hut. The fury of the seas. I see through the gaping hole my husband paying his good money to my mother. My wedded husband! And then he left. The sailor who sailed into my life, sailed out in the same way. Off the sea shore, his sailing boat wrestled. Cheering with his mates he left. His ship over the bosom of the great waves, dancing like a toy. I saw through the crack of the shaking door. The flimsy bolt did shake. He left but he put a smile on Mum’s face. My sister sat alone by the window watching the ship float. Oh the horror. Few years past I’m now big with child. All the money has now run out. No more boats or sailors did drop by our hut. Mum sat mute. The man who fathered my child had left I, not wanted in his life, no more. No none of the children were really wanted. What did we do to deserve this? Why us? Oh why us? But surely it was going to be you. The easy targets by the sea. No one was there to protect us. A sailor’s wife. There’s a wife for him at every port, I’m sure. There was me and another some where. A storm did rise dark in the evening sky. By the window pane, shut and a rattling bolt sat my sister alone looking into the grey, melancholy. He’s but my husband alone, and I’m meant to share a life of love with him without a contester. But I think others loved him, although he didn’t marry them. Why did he need to marry me? He could’ve just broken into our lives, paid mum for our services and left laughing jolly out of that door. But no! Somethin’ made him marry one of us. In God’s name in the merry white chapel hall across the graveyard and behind the grey walls of the old run down church. There was endless booze and his friends swam in it not in the ocean so much, I reckon. Fish were caught in the muddy waters. Huge mouth watery Barramundis and pints of ale. Luckily mum’s white bridal veil was still there I wedded my husband in. I felt blessed, until I found out how he screwed us. Big time and yes, big time. My child would probably go the same way too as soon as he leant to row the boat across the hundred seas. 16 was the age. Tender and malleable when he would go out like his father. That’s when his father left home to become a sailor. He saw and learnt from all his drunken mates what they did at the end of a day on every port the ship threw deep anchors. While it lay fallen under the masses of water. My sister declared. She had it up to her eyeballs. No more no more of this nonsense. She was going to get a job. She wanted a clean a life for herself and for us. My baby was going to be borne out of a legal marriage. My sister understood that well and truly. She took off in the evening when a fierce storm gathered high in the sky. She cloaked herself in black widowed coat. Black like the dark day and the murky sea water. She took off. But not to return. I weaved at the fire with Mum. Weaving a knitted sweater for my little unborn. Sea-farer that he’ll become like his father. But I did nothing to stop my sister. My own mother’s womb that we shared once. Home that sheltered us. My blood. My sister. She went out in the fowl winds never to return. Mistaken. She returned all right afterwards but battered and bruised. Something went wrong at her job search. She couldn’t wipe the slate clean. Water in the well went round and round. There was no exit.
Critically acclaimed novelist, Mehreen Ahmed has been publishing since 1987. Her writing career began with journalism and academic reviews and articles. Her journalistic articles appeared in The Sheaf, a campus newspaper for the university of Saskatchewan Canada between 1987-1999.
Her latest book, The Pacifist, is available at all major online book stores.