I think my mum and dad hate each other. She sometimes tells me that he doesn’t understand her anymore, that he doesn’t understand our relationship.
“You don’t get it!” she screamed this morning. “You never have! You keep rushing me, you don’t respect my boundaries.” She hesitated, “I’m not sure you ever did.”
His face, often drowning in an ocean of expressions, seemed suddenly blank. Confused, perhaps?
“What are you doing, Ama?” he almost whispered. “What are you doing to yourself?” The lacings of pain weaved through his voice – I am certain the defeat cut me somewhere.
Mum was deflated at the edge of my bed and dad stood at the door, both frozen in silence for what felt like hours.
“We want to be left alone,” Ama mumbled.
“Leave us alone. Now”
“You need to stop thi–”
“Now. Please. Don’t let her hear this. Not again.”
She turned to me, seemingly apologetic for the disturbance. Mum never liked fighting with him in front of me. For as long as I can remember they kept their conflicts private, sheltered from my prying ears. I remember at my eighth birthday party last year, they left for half an hour and came back more frustrated than before. They tried to keep it hidden, private, but it was splattered like paint on both of their faces. I didn’t need to hear it to know.
Dad’s face, now an emblem of hurt and offence, twisted. He breathed, as though about to continue his pleading. I saw him hesitate, watching his eyes move across my room, growing sadder each turn, until they rested on me. His eyes now glassed with the onslaught of tears, he sighed, shook his head slowly, and withdrew from the door.
Mum turned to me, more energetic, forcing a smile, “Now, where were we?”
I pointed at her hands, desperately clinging to a shirt of mine and smiled at her. I sang for her, “The sides swing first to touch the other and then it bends in half, but do it any other way, I’ll have to point and laugh!”
“Yes!” she almost screamed, “well done Muneera! That was amazing! How did you learn it so fast?”
Every time she asks me this, it hurts a little knowing that she doesn’t remember yesterday. Every day she forgets yesterday, and tomorrow she will forget today. She has taught me this song 33 times now, how do I tell her it’s not new to me? “You’re just a good teacher, mummy!”
I like to think it’s okay – that she’ll be okay. She’s been hurting recently, really badly. 33 days ago was the first time she had put fresh clothes on in a month and a half. Dad, in the days before that, used to come into my room at night and sit on my bed, looking only outside the window. He would sit there in silence, staring into the night, mechanically patting the mattress twice half an hour later, and quietly rising and leaving me. I preferred his method more, but I have to do what I can to help mum. If it means letting her teach me the same song 33 times in a row, so be it.
The first time she came in here to teach me was also the first time her and dad had ever fought in front of me. Their screams were unbearably hysterical. He made every effort to emphasise to her that she needed to change, to pull herself together, and she, of course, didn’t hesitate to tell him to “get the hell away” from her and get a life of his own. I think most of me sided with dad that day, but she needed me more than he did, and so I, of course, didn’t tell her that.
“Now what do we do once we’ve folded them?” she continued.
“We put them in a pile with the rest of the cleaaann clothes” I said, singing the word ‘clean’ the way she always liked.
“That’s a good girl.”
She rose from the bed and made her way to the wardrobe to put the shirt away. She knows I know the answers to all of these questions, I always have. I think she just asks them so that she can be sure to know what I can say, and therefore she can continue our conversations.
I watch her as she looks at my clothes, still holding my folded shirt in her hands. She does this each time too, just watches. The time she spends doing so, however, varies depending on whether she wants us to read together or not. We’ve already done our reading today so I think she’ll take a while longer watching than she did yesterday.
“You won’t need all of these clothes soon you know. You’re growing so fast, it only seems right we get you all new ones. Of course, we won’t throw any of these away, no most certainly not. I think we’ll put them in a box and store them in my wardrobe, I have more room anyway. Yes, that sounds good. That’s a good plan, yes? Don’t you think so, Muneera?”
“I don’t think so, mummy. I think I’m still small. I won’t be doing any growing for a while.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right. Yes, definitely, of course, you’re right. Okay. We’ll leave everything here then. Exactly how it is.” She always sounds relieved after she says this. And I’m always surprised at it. Doesn’t she wish I would grow? Doesn’t she wish I could?
I hear her sigh and watch her shoulders tremble as she begins to cry. A whimper escapes her – “I’m so sorry sweetheart. I’m okay, I promise.”
Still gripping my shirt, she lifts it to her chest and turns to me, looking directly through me at my bed. She begins to walk. I watch her mechanical movements, each day the same: two steps then the right slipper comes off, another two then the left, another two and she reaches the bed. She sits herself at the edge first, placing the shirt on one of the pillows, and lays herself down slowly on top of it, gesturing for me to join her.
“I think a day in bed would be nice for us, don’t you?”
Before I can answer, her eyes are closed and she, finally though momentarily, looks at peace.
She reaches her hand out, fully extended towards me. I watch as the tip of her middle finger rests a centimetre away from me, and yet, not close enough.
After the funeral, she never used to come in here. Last month, when she came in to teach me to fold, was the first time I had seen her since I left.
I’m not entirely sure whether she remembers that I’m not actually there and just pretends, or whether she really doesn’t know.
Either way, it helps me just as much as it helps her. It’s cold here, lonely. I like it when she speaks to me.
I watch her sleep for hours. The sun has completely set by the time she awakens. And at that same time, just like clockwork, dad is at the door, watching her, ready to lift her out and away from my room, from me.
About The Author
Celine Basma is an English Literature student in her final year at the University of Leeds.
She started writing at age 9, mainly dabbling in poetry and playwriting. ‘Another Day in Bed’
is her first fully completed short story.
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