Translated by Aran Hughes and Glykeria Patramani
And all of a sudden, Mariam wakes up in her white sheets and black hair, soaked in sweat and tears and says: “I had a dream. I was holding a cotton doll in my hands and then slash; I ripped it open and pulled out all the foamy innards. And then my fingers twisted out of shape, gnarled and cracked at the tips and the raw flesh from inside turned outside. And everybody was staring at me terrified, thinking I was about to die and my mother was running about, screaming and shouting, “The umbilical, the umbilical”! Then, I caught myself in the mirror and saw; I was being turned into a rock. I panicked and cried out, “Help! Any moment now my heart will turn to stone!” Petrified, I woke up and now here I am.” Mariam sits up and wipes her eyes, lifts the covers, opens her legs and from inside her outflows the first blood.
A kitchen where nothing has ever been thrown away, two mouths with tongues grown old before they even got to know each other, a sip of coffee, some rusks dipped in milk, bronze peacocks, a TV ad selling creams made from snails and the heavy smell of mothballs. And amongst all of this a tray with semolina cake, nine candles stuck in the top and a parcel on the table.
The two mouths sing: “Happy birthday Mariam! Happy birthday to you!” Ten fingers with pink nails untie the ribbon, peel the sellotape, tear open the paper and oh! Behind the transparent plastic there’s a baby sleeping; with a rubber face and limbs and a cloth torso; with little red cheeks and moving eyelids, you lay down the doll and they close, you lift it up and they open.
The two mouths speak: “This is not your usual doll; not an everyday rubber and cloth baby. This is a sign. It’s your baby.” Mariam opens the box and takes the doll in her arms. “From now on, I will be here for you and you will be there for me. And together we could save the world.”
Mariam carefully walks towards the pool, wearing her stripy cap and a one-piece swimsuit, the burden of the whole world in her fragile hands. Eight pairs of adult eyes follow her steps; one, two, three and into the water she plops.
And the swimming instructor says “circle” and the women form a circle. And the swimming instructor says, “this is Mariam and her baby and these are the other mums and theirs” and “now together let’s all welcome her”. And the mums, bubbling with joy, splash their babies’ feet against the water, Mariam caught in the middle of the splashing white foam that swells and swells and then shrinks and shrinks. And the instructor calls out “enough” then “positions” and the circle splits and they all take their positions. And they start taking breaths, as everything begins there.
Yet, no one uttered a word, no one asked what and why. All of them just plunged and soaked themselves in the water, until their fingers went wrinkly on the underside and they all turned old and alike.
A river flows by, a beech wood stands still, a bleach bottle on the bank and a used condom among the leaves. Kids playing, mums and dads looking bored, birds singing. And the summer grass, far from lush, spiky like hay, yellow and sparse.
Mariam sits on a rug under a tree, feeding the baby. Or more precisely, she smears its face, then gobbles the yoghurt herself, scrapes the pot and admires the baby’s appetite.
And from deep inside the wood, a girl in a red dress and thick rimmed glasses pops out; she stands in front of Mariam and looks at her. “What’s your name?” “My name is so and so, yours?” “Mine’s different.” And “What are you doing there?”, “I’m feeding the baby”, “But that’s not real”. Silence. And then, a woman’s cry, “Annaaa!” shatters that silence like a piece of glass. Little Anna turns her back and hopscotches away. Mariam, spoon in hand, stares into the void, not noticing the ants parading over her baby’s cheek.
Mariam wakes up. She unravels her face from the sleeve that earlier kept away the sun, now the early moon and looks at the branches, just about to grab her, move in and choke her. In one stroke, she shakes off the shade and the dew, sits up and looks about her. Yet the baby is nowhere to be seen; neither the baby nor its clothes; neither its yoghurt nor its blanket. Now, in their place, a complex trail of saliva and the lingering aroma of animal breath.
The wind blows. Bits of the foamy innards fly freely in the air, some caught in the thicket, some caught in the spider-webs. Mariam gets up and starts chasing them. Running bare-footed, she spots a knee here, a hand there, some fingers further on; all cut, bitten and chewed up, if there had been blood inside, the wood would have been soaked in red. Mariam quickly turns her blouse inside out and gathers the pieces one by one.
Up until somewhere over there by the creek, next to a fire slowly dying out, she catches sight of a dog sitting and chewing away. Mariam draws near, the dog shows her his teeth. But Mariam isn’t scared. She steps on the still burning stones, over the ashes and quickly snatches the doll’s head out of the teeth and leaves.
Now, there’s a blue emptiness spreading all around. The streetlights start to flicker and before long they are bright. An owl, blinded, flies towards the darkness. Mariam walks on the asphalt, with empty hands and dirty nails. The wood is behind her now. The city still far away.
About The Author
Glykeria Patramani is a writer based in Athens. Much of her work has been within the field of cinema and documentary.
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