Swelling

by | Aug 10, 2021 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Two

That’s a baby gull, sweetie.

A baby gull? Those exist?

A slow, guttural laugh. Of course, jaan, Faree.

I know, I know – it’s just – I’ve never seen one before; I’ve never seen a baby –

A kiss. Blowy, dry, lipsticky. Human.
Tears.
I’ll never –

Sshh. You’re with me now, Faree. Don’t think.Hand inside her trousers, searching. Then deeper. A moan. Is it her?

We shouldn’t –

Why not?

Why not, she’d thought. Silence, then, and a quiet, pleasant yielding of her thighs. Kisses. Then thrusts.

Oh!

Yes, jaan. Faree. Yes. Oh!

“Hey?” Junaid’s voice breaks into her reverie.

Farah’s head snaps up to meet his eyes. “Yeah.”

“I don’t want to pressure you. We have a long, long time ahead of us.” His face settles into a brief smile. He kneels on the floor beside the bay window, his palms open across her bare knees.

She nods. “I know.” But she doesn’t, not really – she doesn’t agree with him. Yes, she is not yet twenty-nine – but her body doesn’t seem to realize that. She’s growing old, she knows it, she can feel it in her bones. Everyday, her limbs protest a little harder when she wakes up in the mornings, the roots of her already-pale hair are lightening, the skin on her chest is papery-thin in pockets, the flesh on her cheeks sinking in slowly but surely each day. Junaid, older by more than a decade, looks younger, sprightlier; his face is gentler, finer, smoother. Everyone who meets them notices it and is disconcerted, thinking, Why did Junaid marry this aging hag?, she knows that. But it wasn’t Junaid’s body that had sheltered another soul for three quarters of a year, and then shattered in on itself when the soul never found form; Farah had known as she’d lain on the gleaming white bed, counting the blades of the ceiling fan –whir! one. whir! two. whir! – that the law of ageing was perhaps similar to the law of banking: that you reaped as you sowed, and if you didn’t invest, you wouldn’t gain. Mahira, who’d just had her third son, had been adding years to the world since 2005. Stupidly, unknowingly, trustingly,Farah had gushed to her friend that she looked brighter and livelier with each birth – giggling, Mahira had confessed that she felt it to be true, too. Later, Farah had felt chided and embarrassed as she’d lain dully on the lumpy mattress of the hospital bed – prostrate, thin-limbed, her hollowed-out stomach wobbly – listening to Junaid’s steady wails outside the window. She had failed to make a successful investment of years; she deserved her premature oldness.

The year after that, when her belly started swelling again, Farah and Junaid were careful. For a while, they didn’t tell anyone but Junaid’s stepmother, and a few days later, Junaid’s father. Finally, she told Dr. Hamid, who advised her to cease all activity, so she did. She’d lie in the bay window for hours, collecting pudgy softness around her top and middle as she refused to move, staring at the gulls flying across the wintry sky, sometimes reading one of Junaid’s school books, tutoring a few mill-workers’ children when they’d come to visit her. Once, Hasina Didi’s adopted son – the brown-eyed toddler – and his solemn older sister Kiki brought her a tiny toy truck, with greying rubber spheres for wheels. “We think it’s going to be a girl. Girls like trucks,” Kiki, who knew what a sedentary, swelling woman augured, explained. And Farah and Junaid would wake in the middle of the night, each night, and walk to the terrace, his hand on her back, hers clasped around her torso, hugging her almost-investment. They’d stand at the railing, his chin on the top of her head, and watch the cars speed through the intersection beyond Tantra Marg, beyond even the beach, until the last car of the day was gone. The city then seemed truly theirs, like a giant, reeling bay window.

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