This story is by shameema binte rahman and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
‘But close friends?!’ Like, a friend ‘I can tell you anything without a feeling of ashamed or inferiority’; no, I don’t have such one. Back home in my Water Lily Land, my father had many friends. They used to come to our house; hang out for a long time and talk about so many things. I did not know the subject of topics. Those were just some words and sounds to me, but I can remember now their curved bodies trilling with laughter. They liked to drink a lot of tea. Their faces were always bright like a happy cat, cheerful like a blue periwinkle. My mother merely joined them. Once I played on the porch and saw her enter the living room; immediately a stream of air blew the faces of my father and his friends. Her steps and her roughly-moved-hair made her a nineteenth-century steam engine, which entered in a steady-flowing river in the late twentieth century.
Born in a remote village immediately after British colonization; Lotus, alias my mother, grew up with the idea of colonial wisdom. Lotus went to college to study English literature and later joined as an English teacher in a junior high school in the capital city, while girls her age from her home village lagged far behind her in the social status-quo race. She earned a mastery at defining good and bad, and how to control the bad.
She had never admitted my extravagant activities, which she thought were a lack of girlish gestures. For her, a girl should behave like a real girl in appearance and actions, be religious and obey family norms, rules, and regulation. When I was nine years old, I went with my friends to a local New Year’s festival without informing her; even my father had no idea. There was an open-air film screening through the projector and many fun activities. And, they stuck me there until late at night. The rule to enter our house, Lotus set the last time to come back home at evening, is, before the sunset; it could be 5.30 or 7.15 pm, whatever, no children are allowed outside after the sunset. On that venturous night, I went there alone without my older sister and brother and stayed until 2 am.
The mobile phone medium had not yet arrived in Water Lily Land at that time, and Lotus had no idea of my level of curiosity, of my range of mobility. She was initially terrified by fear and later got a high level of anger. She had beaten me until the dawn and ended with a scream, saying that she had punished me severely to teach me the lesson of not doing the same disobedience again in my life.
A bright yellow light seeps in between cracks on the wooden wall of my room. It is a one-room wooden apartment in a three-story house, built up at that time when this Cornflower Land was colonized by the Soviet Union. It has an oldy-goldy-woody smell that enters through the small window into my room every day. The window always passes bright yellow light in Summer, rain in Autumn and snow in Winter from the backyard; and smell, a minty whiff has always been in the room.
I lost my part-time sales person’s job two weeks ago due to the merger of my company. In the first few days, I enjoyed this routine less life to the fullest, but now I have become mopey. No friend to talk to, no colleague; nothing except digital socialization. This city of the Cornflower Land is not also a big metropolis either; thus, everybody knows everybody, sees each other in the supermarket, at the bus stop, and in the pub, and has never become a friend of other. Maybe, they carry the hate secretly in their deepest inner being. Maybe, they lost longing for friends. Maybe, I know nothing. I just have the feeling that these days have become hefty and empty.
The minty whiff prances me to the dread memory. The same dream I had three times in a row in my childhood. Yet I can remember how scared I was when I had the same dream after the second night that followed. On the third night, I burst into tears for thinking of sleep again. Yeah, my mother slept with me that night; she held me in her arms and sang a lullaby, which she usually did not do. But the same dream with the same quirk grabbed me in my sleep again. I can remember every detail of that night. I woke up immediately and started to moan as much as I had strength in my nine year’s old body. My loud, plaintive cry smacked my mother’s sleep, and she stared distractedly at my face. Her eyes were crooked; her face and eyebrows had many wrinkles.
That dream landed again in the last night after almost three decades!
My body feels like dried out and has some itching on my stomach skin. I have drunk a long draught from the water bottle next to my bedside table and put a pillow under my back to shift my body posture from lying down to sitting and kept my legs bent vertically. Now, I can see the yellow light on the cracked wall quite clear. Maybe the yellow colour or maybe not, my mind continues the same thought for the repeated dream; it seems that it has been spinning on a long, slow roller-coaster, over and over again.
I really want to talk to my mother. I really want to ask her why does this fucking shit keep coming back into my life? Again, and again . . . why and why? I left Lotus in the Water Lily Land five years ago because we were becoming unbearable day after day. We lost our ability to praise each other; instead, we silently retained a certain amount of grudge, resentment, anger, anxiety, and an obsession with humiliating each other. But now I want to talk to her. I want to listen to her. I want to ask her why this old lady with such a face returns to my dream? Or does she think, somehow or other, I am obsessed by this scornful face from my childhood!?
The yellow lights have become diffuse and dull; gradually they have been transforming into the colour I had in my dream. The shadow of the yellow light is not distinctive either; it seems very playful in its liminality. ‘Is it spooky?’ or ‘Does it reach my thoughts through my dry skin?’- I was ghastly asked by myself.
I have tilted up my face directly at the pale-yellow light on the wall and am astounded to see the entire room is flooded with the same dense, faint yellow. The flow fills up every single corner of this room – the wooden floor, the brown couch, the dark blue cooking pot, the white ceiling, everywhere. It feels like a yellow river with slow and steady waves. When I turned my body to the right side, opposite of the cracked wall; I surprisingly have seen an old lady coming out from the curve line of a yellow wave; exactly what was in my dream. She looks like the same old lady wearing the same off-white sari, which end part has covered her head with the same style, which does not allow her face to be seen clearly. First, I have noticed her sharp nose and then cheek and then her eyes, which are full of hate and anger. She throws a direct look into my eyes; concurrently, her lips move in multiple directions, as if she were pronouncing some sacred words, bluntly. In a moment, I have got back that unbearable fear under my skin, and it has revolved around me and been revolving.
The crooked skin on both sides of her eyes has become more explicit as soon as she has approached me. Within a few moves, I found out the face is no longer unknown to me. The same curved eyes, I had seen on my mother’s face when she was beating me for breaking her rules to return home.
My trembling body has gradually gained control of its pace of blood circulation. Outside, behind the window of my room, a brighter green with summer leaves has drifted. I hear my mobile phone ringing on the WhatsApp. It is the call from Lotus.
Lotus’ call from the Water Lili Land is ringing on my phone. I stare at her profile photo for a few moments and find her face as enchanting as if she had never been this old lady in my dream. I ignore her call and put my hands on the windowsill: ‘Yeah, the summer breeze has an alluring warmth.’