When you’re poor, people feel entitled to make judgments about your reproductive choices. Why have children if you can’t afford them? Haram, she’s only thinking of herself. But I doubt anyone knows my story. It’s easy to judge from a distance when you have nothing to lose – Astaghfirullah.
I wandered the crowded city for days on end. I learned my lesson quickly. When people saw me with my three children – thin, pale, and in ragged clothes – they judged me. I could see the contempt in their eyes. Sometimes, the twins would leave my side and wander off for a few minutes. Those who saw me with only my baby in my arms, their eyes were softer. When it was only me and my baby, they were kinder. Astaghfirullah. I never begged. I wasn’t used to asking for pity. I walked every day, from shop to shop, until my feet bled. All I wanted was a job- any job- I would have been happy cleaning toilets. Alhamdullilah. I had no place to leave my baby, because we had no home.
On the edge of the city, there was an abandoned construction site neighboured by a hill of sand and rubble. To my twins, it was a castle. Bless children’s hearts. They lived through their imagination. It made it easier to sleep on the cold concrete. The city noises muffled the grumbling of emptiness.
When people saw me only with my baby in my arms, their hearts were softer. You can sweep the flour off the floor and clean the oven. Do you know how to do that? You need to be here at 5 a.m. Okay, you can bring the baby as long as you do your work. The twins stayed in their castle whenever I went to the bakery. She is tender and always cold, like her mother, God bless her soul. He is adventurous and his favourite dinner is knafa.
He must have aged a thousand years that day. Astaghfirullah, God forgive me and maybe someday I’ll forgive myself. My daughter slept in the only sunny spot in her castle while her brother chased ladybugs. At the construction site, a block of cement hung loosely from a rusty metal rod catching sun. She couldn’t have even screamed. The cement blanket covers her cold body forever now.
I walk the city everyday until my feet bleed. Someday, I’ll find her sleeping in a sunny spot under a kind, empty sky. I’ll watch her play with her other half and tickle her baby sister. Someday he’ll smile again. Every night he comes back covered in black grease. I wish it looked more out of place on his skin but it suits his eyes. He hates adventures now and spends most of his time hiding his broken heart under broken cars. Astaghfirullah.
I miss you, sis. Forgive me. You know… I was bringing the ladybugs to you. Tell mama you’re in a better place now – how could you? I can feel you in my heart. I’m sorry we left you there. I hope you’re always warm now. Sometimes mama looks at my eyes and I think she sees you. Please forgive me. Sometimes I think about you and my stomach hurts. I can’t cry but my stomach hurts so much. Astaghfirullah
by Rasha Shraim (Third Place Winner, Flash Fiction Reading and Writing Competition, 2016 – Organized by BrandMoxie and New York University Abu Dhabi)
To read Rasha’s interview with Tempo, check it here: Flash Fiction Winner: Rasha Shraim