“I have three wishes,” said the four year old, her young arm around the neck of an impatient mother, who wanted to go back to adult things that gave her joy.
“What are they,” the mother asked, patiently. It was bed time after all.
“My first wish is you’ll never forget me, my second is that you’ll never send me to live with someone else and my third wish is you’ll never go away anywhere.”
The mother laughed, head thrown back, her heart warming and melting at the edges, delighted that someone wanted her this badly. She checked herself immediately, though, and spoke to the daughter, addressing the little child’s insecurities. “I am never ever going to forget you, monkey,” she told the little girl holding her lithe body tight, and plastering a kiss on the child’s hair-strewn cheek. “I’ll never forget you, either, Ma,” the little girl replied, her voice suddenly slowing down and the day gradually disappearing from her breathing. The little girl was asleep.
Fiza was awake, crying. Her fingers moved to the corners of her eyes to see if she really was, or if it was just the dream struggling to make itself real and get past her eyelids. The fingertips came away wet. She wiped her eyes and woke up fully from her nap. Someone brought the coffee in and Fiza asked what time it was. The clock in the room had stopped working and the air was still. She figured it was still early in the evening, even late in the afternoon, because it was flatly bright outside, making everything look uninteresting. If you could look at anything in this blasted sun, that is, she thought.
Sipping her coffee, Fiza wondered why Maryam had asked her those questions last night. She wondered about the insecurity this child felt so deeply that she had to ask her mother not forget her. Am I not doing enough, Fiza asked herself. Like all young mothers, guilt was Fiza’s unwanted and surreptitious partner, arriving without announcing and staying stealthily in cool, dark corners of Fiza’s life; almost childlike in its approach to her, waiting to pounce from unseen places and scare her so hard that she lost a year of her life, in one instant of a wicked “boo!”
Fiza laughed again. What a funny little girl Maryam was! Imagine a mother forgetting her own daughter. She quickly ran a check of all of Maryam’s favourite fairy tales to see if any of them had characters that forgot their daughters. She could think of none. Fairy tales were an easy target. If something discomfiting or completely out of character occurred, Fiza choked her immediate worry and went back a few steps, to check what the child had been reading (rather, read to) or watching. And she was almost immediately right. If one day was a trail of almonds all along the house and a frightened child under the bed behind imaginary bars or scrubbing the floor with a forlorn face, the next was a desperate seeking of a kiss on the mouth with closed eyes. Thank you, Hansel and Gretel and The Sleeping Beauty, respectively. This, however, didn’t look like the work of stories. This was entirely new. And Fiza wasn’t sure she had dealt with it well. What did the parenting books say about dealing with insecurities? She couldn’t remember. All she could remember was Einstein saying, or having been known as saying, “if you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairy tales.” She just might have taken that too seriously, though.
Those three things Maryam had said, Fiza hadn’t decided what to do with them. So she got over them; it was just one of those things kids say, and that she must make an effort to reinforce her love for Maryam in more ways. And of course, not forget Maryam, she thought as she giggled again. Where was Maryam anyway? It was playtime and yet there were no sounds of the kids from the neighbourhood playing, there was no squealing of the girls as they got excited over absolutely nothing, and no sounds of thundering feet tattooing the lawn in an impromptu design. Maybe it was too hot to play running games. Maybe they were playing board games. Well, that means a few more minutes in bed for me, thought Fiza, complaining quietly about how tired summers made you.
She lay back down on the pillow and picked up the book she was reading, filled with serene gratitude that she was well looked after and didn’t have to really work hard at all. Even the cooking, unless it was a special occasion, was taken care of by a retinue of staff that her home was blessed to have. All she had to do was approve their decisions regarding the house; the rest of the day was hers to do as she pleased. And she did a lot. A woman of fearsome intellect, Fiza’s interests were as wide as they were deep. From working on her research and giving underprivileged primary school children lessons, to tennis and collecting and documenting pottery through the ages – everything in between too. The afternoon heat, the slow pace of an Umberto Eco book and the increased tiredness she felt these days did their work and Fiza was napping again.
She was in the same dream with Maryam. This time the room was dark, the air was cool; as usual Maryam and she were in Fiza’s large bed. The pillows were soft, the covers smelt lemony, the heavy drapes were drawn, the hum of the AC comforting. Maryam was restless and asking questions, talking about the army of things that decides to ambush a child’s mind just before bed time, every single day. “I have three wishes. My first wish is that you’ll never forget me. My second wish…”
Fiza woke up to two people talking gently in the room. One was a beautiful woman Fiza had never seen before. A high forehead, dark, ebony eyes that were at a slant, a smile so perfect it was a crime to have it stop. She wore a white cotton shirt with pin tucks and a pair of jeans, her hair neatly brushed and lay gentle on her shoulders. Earrings that dangled with a playful light touched her jaw now and then as she moved her head while she talked quietly to the man sitting next to her. He was listening to the woman intently and Fiza found herself wanting to ask them what they were talking about. But that was while she was still sailing on the warmth of the nap; as soon as she shook it off, she wondered who these strangers were and why they were in her room, especially since they had paid no attention to her and hadn’t realised she was awake.
“Excuse me,” said Fiza, and the couple stopped mid conversation. The young woman came forward and leaned in to kiss a very surprised Fiza’a cheek. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. I was just taking a nap and woke up to find you here. I hate to ask but I don’t know who you are…” Fiza trailed off her question, recognising how embarrassing it was to both parties, this name and face forgetting. The young woman’s face, something happened to it. A quick flutter of eyelids, a tightening of the skin around her forehead. What was… A shock of wetness in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” began Fiza, appalled at her upbringing that she would forget someone’s name and face. Especially when they had come to her home.
“It’s okay,” the young woman said laying a gentle hand on Fiza’s wrinkled old hand as a nurse came in with the day’s medication. “It’s ok, Ma. It’s me, Maryam.”