The roses were bleeding again. Pamela stood amid the shattered glass, looking at her swollen eyes but it wasn’t a long night’s sleep her eyelids were craving. It was change. A complete shift in the blurred figure that looked back at her in the mirror. The sunlight sifted in, making the red look redder. The sky is violent when in its dark blues and a poet in its lights but no one talks of red. No one talks of the shades of red that bleed into each other, making nothing but themselves darker.
They had been trying for a baby for 11 months now. Scott’s mother was persistent in her demands and Scott had never been the kind of son to refuse a mother. And so, after four years of a marriage broken the very first night by a twisted wrist, Pamela’s body had been tried and tried and tried again. She wasn’t asked if she wanted a boy or a girl. Hell! She wasn’t even asked if she wanted a child at all.
It was a fair enough assumption that any woman in her early thirties must be dying to manifest that nurturing quality so innate to her. Must be dying to leave her job, and volunteer to serve a husband and children with his family name till the end of her days. And so, based on this assumption alone, Pamela had been forced out of her decorated career as a writer into the domestic sphere without question. Her stories lost their audience purely because her words were snatched from her by an abusive man whose ego refused to stomach a better earning wife in the household.
She still wrote in secret but after having lost her initial contacts and confidence, finding a voice that reached outside the four walls of her husband’s house had become impossible. She wasn’t allowed to leave home in Scott’s presence; and in his absence, there was hardly ever time left after she was finished with the day’s cooking, cleaning, washing and weeping. She didn’t know why she had stayed with him all these years, but she was beginning to wonder. Was it fear? Fear of being ostracised by community? Fear of running away only to be found by him again? Her mind was numb in the cacophony of Scott’s words. She couldn’t find her own because his had impressed themselves so deeply upon her person.
The twisting, the abusing, the beating had taken shape into something almost tangible and she didn’t want another breathing in its presence, breathing as long as it had breath. Scott had called her barren. The pallor of the woman in the mirror was beginning to grow and she felt nauseous. Stumbling across the hallway and into the bathroom, Pamela rubbed, then washed the blood that had dried up on her neck. A shard of glass from the flower vase hurled so readily at her still pierced the side of the neck. Pulling it out made the blood drip on the white floor, as if the roses from the hall had bled all the way onto the tiles.
“You eat as if for two,” it had been that simple. That and the unflinching disgust for her body Scott had held in his gaze had been enough to kill her appetite. She pulled off her sweater to have a better look at herself. She was fat, fatter than she had ever been. But there had been no stress eating, there had been no eating at all. She took out a pair of scissors from the cabinet that hung on the wall and without a single thought, ran its edges through her hair. “I need to be as unrecognisable as possible,” she thought.
She had about four hours before Scott would return from work and her body would be tried again. She had about four hours before the man, who didn’t even look her in the eye, would mechanically undress himself and expect her to be undressed before he finished. She had almost four hours to breathe, almost four hours of freedom. She ran into the kitchen as if something had snapped in her, the blood returning to her face, dispersing its pallor into the walls of the house. 10 minutes later, the smell of red, roasted tomatoes rose in the air. Their folded, crinkled, almost droopy outer skin had faded into a light, yellowish-red but the juices inside were still alive. She ate them straight out of the pan.
By 3:00 pm, she was ready. Ready to go, ready to leave, ready to change. She grabbed whatever she could of Scott’s money that he had kept at his end of the room, but found some more tucked under her side of the bed. Maybe, there had been no sides of the room. Maybe it had all always belonged to him and she had just been too oblivious to know. She knew she was stealing. The money was Scott’s, it didn’t belong to Pamela without his permission. But for years now her body had belonged to him without consent, and even the smallest of resistances had resulted in a bruised eye or a torn cheek. This was only fair.
After a visit to the local doctor, she would board the bus for wherever 64 dollars could take her. But first, she needed to be looked at. She needed to know how to rid herself of the perpetual pain that had set into her bones since the day she got married but had grown unbearable over the last few months. The local clinic was silent. The receptionist greeted Pamela with a warm smile and sent her straight in to the general physician. “What on earth happened to you? Those bruises must hurt, are you in pain?”
After looking closely at her the scars and wounds and cuts and gashes that had been her wedding gift and had never stopped coming in, the doctor took her place. “The bruises seem old, who did this to you?”
“My husband,” she replied. “But that’s not why I came to you. I’m used to this pain. I came to you because I feel uneasy, as if my insides were revolting against me.”
“What exactly do you feel?”
“Nauseous. I feel listless and tired most of the time. And every part of my body has begun swelling up.”
“Are you with child?”
The realisation hit her like a thunderbolt but it had come to her now, it had finally come to her. It all made sense. She just knew. The calm began settling into Pamela, almost making her sleepy. “I am. I am with a girl, with my girl,” and lost in thought, she walked out into the street with no more of her questions remaining to be answered.
“To Missouri.” The sun was beginning to set but she felt more alive than ever. She boarded the bus along with the little bag-pack on her shoulders. But they felt lighter than ever, she felt like she could fly. The bus was crammed with black men and white men. Black women and white women. But the only heart she could feel beating was the one inside her, and it was not her own. Her little daughter had finally made herself known, and just by instinct, she knew there was hope.
“Can I take the seat?”
The man with the salt and pepper hair looked up vacantly.
“I am with child.”
He jumped to his feet with a sheepish expression, almost sorry for not having known sooner. But it was okay, even she had not found out too long ago. She sat herself on the long, red seat and finally exhaled. It had been a long day.
“How far along are you?” the man asked cheerfully.
“Don’t know. But not too long.”
“I can still make the most of it,” she thought to herself. “I can still give my baby girl the life I never had. I can still protect her. I can still protect us both.”
“It’s a baby girl, that is all I know for sure,” the blood had pumped itself back into her body that would never be tried and tried and tried again. The body that was her own once again. And it only belonged to her. Her and her baby girl.
“Thought of a name?” the man leaned forward as if to read something on her skin that was invisible to her. As if she had carried the name on herself forever but it had somehow been out of her own sight till right now. As if the glass pieces stuck into her, the bruises etched into her had coloured her skin a dark red and hidden under it a name she had always known.
“I’m Pam,” she finally blurted out dreamily. “And she is Ela. We’re Pamela.”
The bus drove on into tunnels and sunsets but she was half-asleep, comfortable in her dreams. She saw her daughter in a white frock, with eyes of pearls and hair the colour of her mother’s. There was no sign of her father in her face, there could be no sign of her father in her life. She would hold her hands but never twist them. She would braid her hair but never pull them. And never let another pull them either.
She saw her daughter in front of the same mirror she had herself stood facing before the sun had set for today. What reflected back was clear, untainted, happy. Ela’s eyes weren’t swollen and her neck didn’t bleed. Her face needed no hiding, her voice needed no silencing, her appetite needed no killing, her hair needed no cutting. Pam would put roses in her daughter’s hair and if there were any left, she would wear them in her own. She would cut the thorns off the roses before giving them to her baby girl.
Ela looks at herself in the mirror and smiles. There is no past in her eyes, only the future. She touches her hair and the roses adorning it. The roses aren’t bleeding anymore.
By Viveka Goswami