I wiggle my toes on the white wrinkled sheet. They look strangely frail, out of place. I’m fascinated with toes. Mine and others. It’s my sweet little secret. Ma will go on and on about styling my hair or getting out of my grungy jeans… which, of course, makes me not do it even more. I hate it when people tell me what to do. I hate it even more when people tell me how to fit in. I don’t want to fit in; I don’t want to look like you so yeah, if my unkempt look and my scowl make it obvious that you need to leave me alone, yeah, that’s how it’s gonna go down. But the thing I will take good care of are my feet. For my own sake, mind you. Not to impress you or her or him.
They’re my subconscious message to the world, y’see? When I’m feeling sassy, I paint them hot pink. When I’m yeh-meh-bleh, I keep them nude. This week they’re gothic black. ‘Cause I’m seething with anger. I probably should have taken off the colour. What with it being a janaza and all. And to be honest, I liked Shireen Aunty. I could have done it out of respect for her but I figured, Ma is pissed off at me anyway. So why bother? Huh! Ma is pissed off at me because I refuse to act all happy-like. When it should be the other way round, y’know? She’s the one abandoning me. Starting a new chapter, she says. Be excited, she says. This is good for us both. Whatever. I mean, I’m fifteen. You think I don’t know how this is going to turn out? She’s thirty-five. She’ll probably have a baby with this doofus she’s marrying. Then they’ll both “ooh” and “aah” over the drooling, pooping, wailing monster. They’ll be this picture-perfect family that ma has been dreaming of being for…like…forever. And me? I’ll be the non-belonger, left staring at my toes.
* * *
Why does that teenager glare at her toes? That too, black toenails?? Ehheh! I don’t understand young girls nowadays. Thank God I don’t have any. Girls or boys. Hard to believe, if I had seen my last pregnancy through, he would have been eight years old today. Then again, I wouldn’t look this good. My stomach would be hanging out like Turgid Tina over there. I’d look haggard and sleep deprived ala Droopy Dolly. Oh, the sheer dread of putting on all that pregnancy weight! Stretch marks. Cellulite. Not for me, thank you very much.
I didn’t tell Tanvir any of this when I was pregnant. As far as he knows, I just ‘lost’ the baby. See this three-carat diamond solitaire? He gifted it to me that same weekend. I suspect it makes him a bit sad that we never conceived again. But people adapt. He has his business and his golf and his pen collection. I have my mahjong mornings, kitty lunches, Kolkata shopping sprees. Really, we’re happy. I don’t understand why everyone in Dhaka thinks a woman’s life is incomplete without a child. Women are far stronger than men. Take Shireen’s husband for example. I give him maximum six months before he either remarries or dies. But, if it was the reverse and my friend had been widowed, the case would be different. Women…we learn to be motherless and fatherless and husbandless and jobless and worthless. Why wouldn’t we be able to learn to be childless? I don’t tell anyone this. They’ll think I’m some sort of an alien.
* * *
Astagfirullah! Nanziba has the audacity to come to a janaza dressed up like that?! Won’t she ever learn? Even back when we were in primary school together, she had to be the centre of attention. But now she’s become downright unbearable. Always name dropping. Always bragging about her social do’s and the political don’ts. As if she knows all the answers. Nothing! I want to tell her, you know nothing! Wipe that smug smile off your face. Trading an eternity of happiness in heaven for a blip of a life here. Don’t you see, don’t you see, you silly perfectly-coordinated woman? This is all going to disappear in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, you’ll be lying wrapped in white cloth like Shireen here.
Oh you ludicrous people looking at your mobile phones, whispering to each other, jingling the cash in your pockets, jangling the bangles on your wrist, wondering when this janaza will end. Can you not see the janaza is your beginning?! Repent your sins. Reject your blasphemous lives. Come back on the Path of Allah. Don’t be afraid to be a Muslim. Yes, I said it. Muslim. Muslim! Seems like it’s become an embarrassing word nowadays. Not just abroad. Even here in Dhaka. Where people won’t fast but are quick to throw iftar parties. Forget to pay the fitr yet remember to go to the tailors for Eid blouse fittings. How narrowly they define being a Muslim when being a Muslim is supposed to define their entire lifestyle. No one wants to give their children good Muslim names anymore. It’s all Sheena, Rina, Lovely, Lily, Daisy. Andalibs are becoming Andys. Samirs are becoming Sams. Well, I am Amina. I am a Muslim. I choose to wear the hijab. I will not flirt with your men. I will not partake in your superficial laughter. I shall pray for you all.
* * *
With a phlegmatic cough, the hujur draws everyone’s attention. He tells the congregation to join him in offering prayers for Mrs. Shireen Kazi. They move in unison. Some raise cupped hands to their chests, requesting clearer signals. Others leave them on their laps, in total subjugation to what may be. A few have intertwined fingers, determined not to let anything slip away. While those who are hopeful about harmony have parallel palms. Each on their own, they offer prayers with fervent sincerity, wanting to be heard.