Ammu

She sat at the edge of her bed, aimlessly staring at the rough mural she painted on her wall and clutching prayer beads, wondering exactly what comfort these were supposed to bring. It was the first cold day of the season and no amount of therapeutically sterile cold air could fill her lungs with the courage she attempted to summon. She dug her toes into the old carpet, tracing patterns in the blotches of paint and dirt when she caught strands of black hair she had callously cut off a few days earlier. “I thought I got all of it,” she wondered. It was the only thing that made her feel in control at all this past week.

It was a buried memory — something she didn’t quite know was inside her, but always suspected it might have been. Whether stress or changes in hormone or something else entirely, she knew it was true. She remembered every moment she had spent those initial days after the event choking down her throat in hopes it would never come back up. But, it was here now, and she needed something, someone. Ammu, right? That was her job, right?

The adhan had just finished and she could hear Ammu unfold the prayer rug. She closed her eyes and recalled watching dyed threads in bright yellows and blues and golds being woven together in the camps that her grandfather’s balcony overlooked in Dhaka. Like the worshipers, the rugs established a strong diaspora identity muddling old-world and new-world race, sex, and gender performances. Suddenly the wind wasn’t anywhere near cold enough to sterilize her lungs. She heard the final cracks of Ammu’s knees coming up from prostration.

Every step between her bedroom and her mother’s was an extra 10 pounds on her body and she was clammy with cold sweat as she asked, “Ammu can I talk to you?” Her voice broke as she asked for permission to tell her own truth knowing she was about to break her mother’s heart in a way she will never be able to get back. “I’m so sorry,” she cried. “I’m so sorry.” Confused and fearful, Ammu exclaimed, “What? What is it? You’re pregnant? You must be pregnant! I’m taking you to the doctor right now. Tell me what it is.”

Scared and unprepared for this reaction, she screamed, “No, please, no doctors. I’m not pregnant.”

“Then what? What happened?”

She sobbed, unable to bring out the vomit she pushed down so many years ago, not to her mother.

“Someone touched you,” Ammu finally whispered. Her silent reaction confirmed it. “Was it your father?” No. “Your brother?” No. “Are you sure it wasn’t your father?” No, it wasn’t him. “Then who was it? Tell me right now.”

“I can’t!” she screamed from her heart, “I can’t say it.”

“You tell me right now and we are getting in the car and going to the doctor.”

“I can’t! It doesn’t matter. It happened in Toronto. It’s over.”

“You’re making this up. You had a bad dream.” Ammu walked away to pick up her prayer beads from the prayer rug on the floor. “Go pray and calm down. God is punishing you. Go ask him for forgiveness so you don’t have any more of these dreams.”

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