I started reading ‘The First Woman’ where I left off many months ago. Kirabo starts learning to think about her mother. Her second self had ‘started to fly out of her body and she had linked the two’. Looking back I remember all those moments of flying out of myself, of trying to remember things I knew but which had been buried under piles of sound proofed woollen blankets. I would muddle through silence waiting to hit upon something.
When I was 7 or 8 I threw a massive tantrum at my grandparents house. I ‘flew out’ and barricaded myself and my cousins in the ‘majher ghor,’ which stood by the balcony overlooking the beautiful Art Deco house next door. Rifts of songs would meander in through the metal grills or drifting gossip from voices in the corridor below would come to us just as we were falling asleep. My cousins didn’t fully understand why we needed to lock ourselves in but under the duress of love for me joined in my crusade in this room. I claimed ownership of that room for then for the past and the future. I was only 7 but somehow the forced ugliness of that day has stayed with me.
In the heat of that enclosed room we sat, drawn in to our selves, not subdued or upset just ourselves.
What do we do?
It isn’t fair that I dont have a room. I will stay here until they give me one.
Yes they agreed though a little uncertainly, perhaps wondering what might make them waver. What was to test our solidarity? hunger heat play time ?
We sat on the bed in the middle of the room while bits of light from the broken closed french shutters slanted over.
What should we do?
I dont know but I always wanted to look through that drawer.
Do you think we can?
We huddled in front of the old dresser. It was a heavy looking antique with the gravitas of years of sitting in just that room. Dust had accumulated in the corners and cobwebs under its legs. I dragged open one of the drawers. There were letters there; Letters my uncle had written to his mother when he’d been living away from home. ‘Little adult’ I thought writing to his mum. I felt strangely grown up at that moment. I had sized up my uncle in that letter or sized him down and all the adults in the house. We went through all the letters written in blue Indian posts office proforma envelopes. We recited the words out loud written in beautiful cursive with a formality us bengalis never displayed in our own tongue. In between the baby blue gaps of the words I felt the grown up world reduced. My resentment, the burning anger that had forced me into the room started to disappear.
I don’t remember the end. The end doesn’t matter. Only fiction gives endings so much emphasis. It’s in the middle that things happen that matters melt into resolution while we’re waiting in the afternoon heat.
“A mosquito came zwinging. It must have gorged itself on someone because its song was slow and deep, unlike the skinny, high pitched hungry ones that flew as if crazed. Kirabo s eyes found it and followed it, followed it, and rising to her knees she clapped it so hard her palms burned.”
It’s uncanny how us bengali savarna produce these similar stories of our childhood homes. These antique filled dust laden houses where our selves were formed come barrelling out as soon we start writing. Kirabos mosquito reminded me of that. In truth I’ve spent more years abroad, more years in the unatmospheric presence of poky English terraced houses and streets. Its just that part of my childhood is untainted; it’s the time before the fall, before migration, before the sting of being clapped hard, emptied, deflated.