Shifting Sea

Jane can see a shimmering aura surrounding her, setting her apart from others. She feels uncomfortably distinct from the other students in her class. Sometimes they are friendly, more often they are not so friendly.Jane’s mother has told her many times that she is special. She understands that she has no choice in the matter. Jane is a shy girl, too shy even to turn away quickly from a rude stranger. She is almost twelve. She is thin, underdeveloped for her age.Medium height-but with narrow shoulders, bright almond-shaped eyes, thick curly hair.

Every Morning after Jane’s father leaves to work, her mother brushes her dense, dry curly hair,  with a half-broken hairbrush and reminds her to brush her teeth before she runs off to the nearby school. Much of her waking life Jane is with her books that she gets from her school library. The actual world is blinding to her. A maze. But if there is a way to be memorized through the maze, she will memorize it. The great adventure of Jane’s young life until now : reading books, drawing pictures and taking care of her four younger siblings. She cares less on her dress, her food or how they live.

Her mother is always proud of her when Jane shows the report card from her school, but her father is different. When he returns home from work, he asks Jane to stop wasting her time in reading, instead she should work with her mother in the kitchen,or take care of her other four siblings. “Jane, stop reading books,books are useless.” he says haltingly, awkwardly, taking a sip from a glass bottle. “ Learn cooking, cleaning the house which will be useful in future. In his aggressive barking voice he accuses the girl.Jane leaves that part of the room to the other end because their house is just one long room. She doesn’t like the smell of the liquid that her father drinks, nor his voice.She hides her books under a bed cover and dashes to stay with her mother.Jane’s mother pinches her mouth, refuses to utter much, the unspoken words become a din like nocturnal insects in the dry heat of summer. She doesn’t like to argue with her husband but she couldn’t stop. “ Let her do what she loves to do.” she says, “ Now a days girls are going to college, working and I want Jane to finish her school.”

“Stop the nonsense!” Her father screams slapping his palm on the floor. “ Jane is a girl and girls don’t need to go to school.She needs to do only the household chores until I find someone for her.” Jane’s mother serves him food in a banana leaf and sits there quietly. She understands that there is no use in arguing with her drunk husband.

After Jane’s father asleep,her mother lays down on the floor with Jane on one side and the other four of her children on the other side. “Not to worry dear,”she assures her. “ You will finish school and go to college.”

Jane smiles and whispers. “In that case, I want to be a scientist.”

Her mother doesn’t understand the word, but pulls Jane closer. “ Sure,if you set your mind, then you can achieve it. Come, let’s sleep.” Jane’s mother has never gone to school but she has taught herself to read and write. She is determined to send her daughter to school. Jane lays awake for a while thinking about her dad’s anger.Whenever her father drinks the awful stuff,he shouts and get angrier. It seems like his face starts to change shape and swims and a little bit of space opens up between her parents.  It is almost midnight, when moonlight shines diffusively through the filthy window.Jane stops thinking,turns her head toward her mother and closes her eyelids.

Days pass. One late afternoon,after school, Jane memorizes her timetables on the front veranda, when she spots her father at the door with a stranger.Jane glances at them as they approach.Her father clears his throat. “Jane,come meet my friend Mr. Roy.” he says. “Come.” Jane closes her notebook,takes a big step,and folds her both hands. “Namaste!” The man is old, short and skinny. He runs his hand over his bald head and a fake smile flashes on his lips. His head shines like the glass balls people place in the flower beds around their houses. It looks like it might shatter the instant her bangs into something. He winks at Jane. Her father walks forward. “Go, ask your mother to make a cup of tea for our guest.” he says. Jenna scuttles inside to call her mother. Her mother is sweeping the kitchen floor. “Mom, dad wants you to prepare a cup of tea for the guest.” Jane’s mother stops sweeping. “ Your father came early today!” she gives a surprise look and asks, “ Who is the other man?”

Jane shrugs her shoulder. “No idea mom.But for sure very old.” she says, “Can I sit here and memorize my timetable?”

“Sure but first finished sweeping the floor.” Jane’s mother walks out of the kitchen with a chipped white cup with black tea: the only cup they have.Jenna could hear them talking for a while and her mother comes back inside and starts to switch on the stove. Jane is surprised to see her mother cooking so early. “ What happened mom?” She asks.

“Nothing dear.” she says. “The guest will stay to eat dinner. We have only one potato and a handful of rice.” Jane closes her notebook. “I can get something from the nearby store.” she asks, “ Would you like me to get something?” Her mother shakes her head. “We will cook what we have but get one or two green pepper and a bunch of spinach from our backyard.”

“Sure.” Jane leaves.

After the dinner,her father and the old man drinks from a bottle, Jane sits there with a book on her hand and her mother sits quietly. A fat fly buzzes in circle just above his head. It settles on his arm, he tries to swat it. Then it lands on the back of his neck, he swats again. The fly escapes and perches on the broken window frame. A twinkling laughter escapes from Jane’s mouth and she quickly covers her mouth.The old man looks at Jane with long, narrow eyes, fixed so hard the corner looks like keyholes. He purses his lips, whistles and beats out on the bottle in a rhythm.He comes toward Jane and spins her around. “ I like your sweet daughter.” he laughs, running his hand into her hair above the temple, twisting her hair around his index finger. Jane snatches her hand free from the old man and runs to her mother.  Inside her head is buzzing with scary thoughts, on top her scalp feels loose. He tongue is licking her brain, it tastes sickly salty.Her mother wraps her both hands around Jane. “ Get out from my house.” she screams. “ My daughter is not in a marriageable age and you are like her grandfather! Shame on you!” Jane’s father springs from his seat with a raised hand.His eyeballs glistens and turn into little squares. “ Don’t utter any word. If he wants to marry our daughter then it is perfect.” he says. “ There is no age barrier for a marriage.And he will keep her happily.” Then her father turns toward the old man. “Sorry for all these.” he folds his hands. “ We will be happy to give our daughter to you.Please come and sit here. Come.” he requests. Jane and her mother sit there dumbfounded with tears in their eyes.

Next morning,sunlight comes slanting through the gaps between the wall of the room. Jane opens her eyes to find the sun round as a ball and is ‘wrapped in a cotton wool. Birds are squawking, who knows where they are hiding, there are none in the air.The old man and her father are sitting on the front veranda.The old man’s shoulder is hunched,his collar bones rounded.They are busy making deals on Jane,the old man is ready to give lots of money in exchange to marry Jane who will be his third wife and in promise to give him a son. You could see the gold and black molars,the worn down stumps and gaps between his teeth. Jane looks for her mother. She sits in one corner of the kitchen with her youngest son on her lap, her legs are stretched out into the aisle. she is feeding milk to the little one. Jane sits there leaning against her mother.Her mother doesn’t say anything and Jane starts the conversation. “ So what will happen mom?” she swallows her tear and continues. “ I am just a kid. I want to go to school, I want to be a scientist.” She glances at her mother. “ Why are you so quiet today? Are you not going to help me?” Her mother pulls her closer and tightens one hand around Jane’s shoulder. “Your father is a crafty bastard. He has taken money, cows and a few goats as a bribe from the old man.He wants to buy a small store and start his own business and that way he will be able to take care of your four siblings.”

Jane pulls out from her mother’s embrace. “ What about me?” she asks. “ What about my dream? My life?” she shakes her mother in her small hand. “You want to sale me to the old man in exchange of money and goats? Really mom?” Jane covers her face and cries. “ You promised me that I will continue my school. You lied to me!” Jane’s mother looks up to the ceiling and back to her daughter’s face. Her beloved daughter whom she has promised to fulfill her dream. She has to do something but what. She leans her back against the wall and searches for a way to set her daughter free.

Image result for quote of child bride

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