The Irony in the Child’s Eye

A short story about Ramani, a mother.

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The predisposition of a suckled breast is that it sags. Green veins materialize from fatigued bulbous adipose and announce that you are tired, tired of having bared two children, now sleeping snugly under the blanket. One pale and light like a day, one dank and dark like night, now entangled in each other like the interior of a brooding egg.

Ramani stood naked in front of her dressing mirror. It’s blasphemous for a woman to catch herself naked in the mirror. But Ramani had been probed and entered and had born two children, one that exited quietly through her cervix and one that demanded retribution, kicked and turned till blade were to be drawn and incisions made and were taken out precariously.  Surely she had known nakedness thoroughly. 

Ramani sheepishly peered at the mirror. Apparition stared back at her with a frivolous calm. Her eyes snaked through the outline of her hips. Her ebony body is sculpted with copious amounts of curves, corner of her almond eyes, the bend of her neck, nape bursting with her vertebra.

woman looking at a mirror
Image source: Pexels

Dark circles of shame colored her around her nipples and black coiled hair under her thighs glistened against her soft white underbelly. She absorbed her sinful nakedness till it was time for her to get dressed and leave for office. 

Tea boiling in the kitchen called for her attention. She poured milk into the tea leaves swimming listlessly in the boiling water and watched as white dissipate the brown and turn into a murky yellow. 

She had instilled the habit of short naps in her children while she was busy in the kitchen. The first to be woken up was her firstborn. Her older offspring stirred in his sleep twice before she could wake him up from their short nap today. Appu turned four last winter and had procured the habit of making witty comebacks at her jabs.

Otherwise, he had been a quite sweet child. The child never shrieked nor strutted. Appu, though young had acquired the habit of blending adroitly into the backdrop. Her dark slender child was like a midget shadow of her inky husband. His sapphire eyes lingered in her eyes for a second before getting lost in the trivialities of the busy day ahead. Appu sprung out of the bed and ran to his grandmother.

The toddler was harder to wake and harder still awake. A sharp cry cut through the morning Malabari air as the girl child opened her tender eyes. The girl was only months old and hardly sitting up on her own by now. She was white like the underbelly of a snail, immaculate and unspotted by the world. The neck was still hardening, which left creases beneath her plump jaws. Looking at those creases, Ramani is reminded of the marks under her belly. And the pain that gave it to her.

Though the child had been rowdy inside her womb and tried her with kicks and slaps, once expelled had been as sweet as the other (though outbursts of toddlers are bound). Ramani struggled with chores of household and work and toiled day and night. Perhaps they sensed it in her womb and carry the sorrow within their bones that made her offspring calm and taciturn. Perhaps god divides your agony and mixes them with your breast milk that the children turn invisible.  

While Ramani was preparing herself to leave, a visitor appeared at their back porch  (as it happens women often visit through the back porch in Malabar rather than the front in their informal visits). Sheeja, an acquaintance from the neighborhood had appeared with Paal payasam.

It’s an ordinary scene in Malabar for women to travel the short distance from their back porch to their neighbor’s with most mundane things in their hand, a portion of their cooked tapioca, two tender coconuts a slice of jackfruit, etc. It’s as if these ceremonial visits are an exhibition of unbridled comradery between these chained souls

“Where did the little mavericks go! Hadn’t spotted Appu in the neighborhood for days!!”

“Illechi, I don’t send Appu out to play in this March heat anymore. He is dark as he is. I don’t want him looking like a wild baboon.” 

“That is true. Where is the small one?”

“She is with Amma”

“Isn’t she such a beauty! How you and he with your dark skins get such a pretty girl is such a wonder!!”

Ramani felt her lungs fill up with pride. The outside world would have been oblivious of the existence of Ramani’s children hadn’t it been for the stark difference in color between them. This had probed some curiosity in the masses that Ramani didn’t anticipate.

Ramani belonged to the lowest caste in the Kerala society and it’s peculiar to find babies this fair in the community. People always were amused and moreover pleased to find her girl child. 

“My Amma was saying you might have eaten saffron while you were pregnant that you landed such a beautiful baby. I say it’s carrot.” 

“I guess it’s carrot. Apart from hearing about it, I have never seen saffron myself”  Ramani let out a shy smile. 

“That’s what I said! How are we to get saffron in our hands!” Sheeja let out a jocular smirk that soon turned into full-bloomed laughter and Ramani chimed in. 

Sheeja bid bye to her soon enough that Ramani occupied herself packing her bag and stuffing her Steele tiffin in her cloth bag. Ramani cleaned her tiffin box that’s been chipped at the corners and filled it with matta rice and topped it with charred black fried sardine. She stuffed lentil curry in her small steel container. This will do for the day.  

As she was putting chappal on, Appu rushed to her to give her a kiss before she leaves for office. Once the transaction of kisses was done successfully, Appu’s sapphire eyes locked again into Ramani’s. 

Ramani prodded the child

“Hmm! Chodikk! (Ask)”

“Amma, if it was you eating carrot that made Vava so white, what did you eat that I look black?” 

Ramani stared dumb folded into Appu’s eyes. There was not a hint of irony in the child’s eyes. He merely looked curious. 

Ramani felt a chink form in her heart. Alas, she was late for the office and didn’t have time to investigate the casualty. 

So she made distractions for the child, which can easily be done to her young children who are yet to be touched by the heat of the world, and ran to the bus stop.  

It was a sunny day but summer rain has begun. The bus was not crowded and finding a seat was easier today. Ramani watched as light diminished and brightened as the clouds sheathed the sun and unsheathed again. But her head was clouded in thoughts. The chink that formed earlier was spreading.

Clouds vehemently emptied out into the earth and day passed sluggishly. Ramani sat on her desk as bundles of files passed under her pen. The smell of moth-eaten paper that excited her regularly received no sniffing today. Her black ink pen moved aimlessly through the white paper as her distraught mind wandered around. 

children jumping on sofa
Image source: Pexels

Ramani realized her womb started hurting at some point of the time, but the seminal poetic brilliance at play escaped her mind. She glides through time perhaps untouched for the first time. 

Ramani reached home around thirty past five and found her children on the floor of her room. It took a minute for the deed to unravel itself to her. She realized her girl child’s one thigh was covered in kajal and the older child has finished the job was working on the next thigh. She stood numb as Appu ardently apply more kajal into his sister. Her kajal box lay open beside him. 

Ramani took a minute to compose herself. A minute passes by. 

“Appu, what are you doing son?”

“Hi Amma,  I am making Vava look like us. See she is already my color”

Ramani searched the child’s eyes again.   

Not a hint of irony in them! The younger child suddenly aware of her transformation, started howling loudly. There was nothing left for Ramani to do but chime in. 

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