©Sumana Khan - 2014
I stand in the street, the wind lifting my hair and howling in my ears. The red bus in front of me blinks and pulls away with a metallic grunt. I once had a pencil box that looked like the shiny red bus. It was a long time ago when people let me in and out of their hearts and homes freely. There were no fences for children. Then I grew up and grew fat and became as brown as the earth – melanin and adipose are strong barbed wires – my smile and outstretched arms went unnoticed.
The coffee shop across the road is a snow globe. A diorama of beautiful people, velvet hair, steaming cups, gleaming smiles, fretful frowns, folded news papers, gaping laptops and flashing mobile phones. I can feel the latte in my throat already. I make my way to the cafe and place my order with a smile; but it’s weak, my smile. It can’t cut through the fence woven from tightly pursed lips, furrowed brows and unseeing eyes. I sit in a corner just beyond the reach of the warm tongue of sunlight. Shadows make good fences.
Through the coffee mist and the double-glazed glass, the sunlight is thick honey on red and white checkered tablecloths. The man on the radio sings of heartbeats and heartbreaks. In the days of the pencil box, I would dress in the colours of the earth - orange and blue and yellow and green to become one with the sun. Years later, when the fence grew around me, I mourned in black and blue. It is a sea of black and blue inside the cafe. The colour of corporate success for the thin. The fence camouflage for the non-thin.
The black watch cutting into my wrist blinks 8:49:02 AM. The sunlight, having failed to lick my corner, turns to kiss the man in the black suit and white shirt and red silk tie. His eyes are green glass marbles held before a flame. I’ve played with marbles in the days of orange and blue frocks. I played with the boys and our laughter fell about on the street like raindrops. I’d scoop the marbles and bunch them in my frock and carry them home once the sun slid behind the temple cupola turning it black. And then the elders - they said my blossoming breasts and my legs and everything in between needs to be fenced. Yes, somewhere in that torso was an endangered species called Honour that had to be locked and protected. Penned in, I’ve watched the land of freedom - the boys so unbridled and unshackled.
My stare has traveled on the beam of sunlight that dances on the man’s marble eyes. Perhaps he feels it like a lash on the cheek, this unseeing stare of mine, and turns to me. I smile, he looks away. His fence is a band of gold, coldly circling his finger. He touches it, still looking away, turns it this way and that as if adjusting a knob to turn off my smile. Embarrassment scalds more than the latte.
I extricate myself, latte and smile unfinished. I must rush to my place of work. A day-care for little people under three. It is fenceless and the smiles are free.
©Sumana Khan - 2014