The Woman-Child

Image by Basil Gloo

Image by Basil Gloo

She was a pathological liar since four, and schizophrenic since twelve. This was no good thing, seeing as how she had been afflicted with all the symptoms of adulthood before even stepping one inch through the door of puberty. Did she grow up before the rest of the girls – wrecked by the sorry imagination of childhood stories, misleading little devil of words next to pictured pages – did she grow up only to grow old, skipping the tenderness of youth entirely and stepping into the wrong puddles, which swallowed her up like oceans?

It is not difficult to imagine her as a woman-child: A quiet night on a quiet street. She cycles through the corn fields while her dress flies up her thighs, exposing white cotton … and if a grown man had seen her in her wild abandonment he might have felt unlawful stirrings within himself, welcomed yet undesired, and he would have blamed this budding girl-child for cycling past him, for wearing white cotton panties, slightly damp with a sweet-musky smell, for celebrating freedom and youth and innocent sexuality in the tyranny of an ankle-shackled era. She was a baby-adult, a child-wife, a girl half soaked in love for beauty without realizing its consequences. Or maybe she did. Everything but a girl.

She grew up just to grow old, her feet already closer to the grave than the rest of ours, a head swarming with people – “Saleem, wait, do you want to meet Saleem? Wait…” – with no faces; there were no stories to tell so she made them up, spinning tales that grew above her short frame. Maybe she wanted to be larger than life but she was the smallest child you’d ever see – “Dada beats me, see these bruises? He took chair and threw it at my face. Doctor-man couldn’t touch me because that would make me a bad girl. When Ma is sleeping at night, Dada comes. I am sleeping too but he wakes me up. He smells funny, like pigskin. He touches me and puts his hands…” – and she sings a song of infidelity. Again she sings to me, she keeps singing. We are in a room with no doors, the walls reach higher than my fingers can reach and a loud Victorian tune plays over and over like a record broken. Arsenic white walls and dirty corners. She catches a rat, cracks its spine, and eats it. Head, feet, stomach. When we get to the heart, she doesn’t notice it is rapidly beating.

Published at Glossolalia.


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