“Ammi doesn’t like it when you touch her books.” Rehan had a deep frown etched in the middle of his eyebrows as he stood in front of me, shaking his head disapprovingly in my direction. I stood there, next to the sandalwood bookshelf, dumbfounded while the tip of my finger slipped slowly from the edge of Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto. I knew he was going to tell on me. It’d be the 15th time in two days.
I was on a trial run, sort of like on loan from the orphanage, to the Malik family. It was fall of 2005 and every day rain was drowning any hope of a chance encounter with the sun. It was also the first time any family had shown interest in me. Not only interest but were actually considering taking me on for a whole month to see if I was a good fit for their family. They had put in a request with the Head Matron. The family wanted it done quickly and they had requested no paperwork for the trial run to speed things up. The orphanage didn’t usually allow for such unorthodox requests but in my case they made an exception. It was obvious desperation on their part. I had spent over seven years in the orphanage and so far had less than enthusiastic responses from any potential family in adopting me. So when the Malik family, a very affluent Pakistani-Canadian family, showed interest, the matrons almost immediately jumped on it. The possibility of their longest resident finally having a normal family was too valuable to pass on.
When I first heard from Matron Josephina that I was going to be living with a family for one month, I was pretty excited. The thought of a mother, father and brother was idyllic. I asked Matron Josephina why they had chosen me and she said, “They like your face.”
So here I was, five days into my one-month trial adoption, face to face with ‘older brother’ Rehan. His forehead was now sporting a thin, bulging vein that was silently pulsating as if anticipating my next move. I didn’t have any moves. Like all the times before in the last two days, I had zero moves. Rehan would tell Ammi and she would shake her head at me, just like her son did, while letting out cold sighs of sheer disappointment. Then she would tell me I should learn to be grateful and not touch things in their house that didn’t belong to me. It always confused me when she said that. If I were to not touch things that didn’t belong to me then how was I supposed to physically exist in that house? How was I supposed to walk on the floor and sleep on the bed? They didn’t belong to me. Nothing in that house, except a few of my clothes and a weathered old grey suitcase, belonged to me.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking about shiny lights that didn’t have a glass casing to live in. I thought about Jell-O and how it’s soft and laid-back. You could mold it into the shape of a smile and no one would notice any difference in taste or would even care. Tiny lights that escape from broken glass bubbles usually live on walls and ceilings, casting shadows on butterflies and sometimes making your nose seem smaller and your eyes seem bigger. They swim in wall paint and dance around doorknobs, trying to find shelter that carries a wide enough hole for all the light to get in. Just like Jell-O.
As I lay there in the dark, catching plastic fireflies that shone brightly on the ceiling fan, I felt a tremor on top of my chest. My breath slowed, hiding deep in my mouth. Shallow thumbs were leaving a trail of slime on my stomach. It was the usual time on this fifth night. Usual in this house where nothing was mine. I was slowly finding out that my body was also concealed in that nothing. I was getting used to this house. Used to the routine.
The night before I left the orphanage, I had heard the matrons talking amongst themselves. “It will all be new for her but I’m sure she’ll be able to adjust. She’s a good girl.” I wondered if this was the ‘adjustment’ the matrons were talking about and if I really was a good girl.
I felt my eyelids become rubber plates as sweat beads froze on every inch of my body. My arms were mimicking bricks, stretched under the mattress, heavy like drenched paper boats.
“These hands are not mine.”
“These hands are not mine.”
“These hands are not mine.” I chanted under my breath. I fell into myself and my ears became objects, detached from everything.
I stood outside Matron Josephina’s office. It was the 31st day since my trial adoption started and I was waiting for a decision on my fate. I looked up at the orphanage building and then at the garden. I never noticed how big everything was. So many rooms, so many chairs, so many beds, so many children. I felt sick. Something fell inside my stomach and I frantically started to look around for a potted plant worthy of my vomit. As I hovered over the unlucky cactus, waiting for my guts to come rushing out, nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing came out and I just stood there, my mouth open, head forward, staring into the dirt around the cactus. For a moment I wished I could remain like that, in this exact position forever. I wanted to be buried like this. I would be the girl who died holding a potted plant with her head bent downwards, towards the cactus head and mouth wide open. People would come from far and wide to attend the funeral of the freak. Some famous Italian sculptor would volunteer to make my headstone in the form of ‘a girl who died holding a potted plant with her head bent downwards, towards the cactus head and mouth wide open’. Years would pass and grass would grow on my grave. It would become a make-out spot for lit couples to engage in voluntary grasping of body parts. After they burnt out, they would lie together next to my headstone while one of them would ask the inevitable question, “Do you think her mouth is open because it’s a metaphor for a scream?” Cliché. Such cliché.
After some time, I heard the door open. Mr and Mrs Malik came out together with Rehan right behind them. They all gave me a quick look that spoke of strict blankness and then walked away to their car. Matron Josephina called me inside. She gave me the news, the news I was already pretty sure about. The Maliks had decided not to keep me. They had actually decided against adopting for a while because they had their hands full with Rehan.
“How do you feel?” I looked up at Matron Josephina, her eyes looked tired and full of concern. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t actually feel anything. Nothing. I was surprised. I was sure I was going to feel something. I wasn’t expecting just, nothing.
“I’m fine, Matron Josephina.” I smiled the biggest, fakest smile ever and went up to my room.
I looked in the mirror before unpacking. I pulled up my shirt and looked at my stomach. I wondered when I’d be able to touch it with my own hands and it wouldn’t feel like an inanimate object that was easily violated.
Nooks Krannie is a Palestinian/Persian girl and poet. Her 1st chapbook I have hard feelings & I wish I could quit chocolate was published by Moloko House in 2016, and her 2nd chapbook candied pussy is forthcoming from Thistlemilk Press. She tumbls at http://nkrannie.tumblr.com and instagrams at @nookskrannie.