The Partitioning of Dreams
by Susmita Bhattacharya
She kept walking. Though her feet were raw and bleeding she kept walking. Though her tongue was swollen with thirst and her eyes crusted with tears, she kept walking. She lost a slipper and now hobbled over the stones and mud. But she kept walking. Her hand firmly gripped in her mother’s grasp. Her mother’s fingernails black with dirt. They had just buried the baby by the roadside. Her mother hadn’t cried, just muttered prayers as she parted the rubble with her own bare hands. They buried the doll along with her brother. She wanted to have that doll – it was the only thing she had brought from their home across the border. It was hers. But her mother said it would give her brother company. He would not be left behind alone. Years later, she would think back on how she had cried for her dolly, and not her brother who had been buried by the roadside. Years later, she would wonder about the home they had left – if the new owners feasted on the mangoes from their trees. Years later, she would realise how much she hated walking. Like her feet had memories in which they refused to indulge.
Now she lives in a house she is fast forgetting. There are notes stuck on every surface, reminding her to eat her meal, wash her hands, and change her clothes. Her daughters come and braid her hair, warm her food and tuck her into bed. She teeters between the past and the present. Sometimes she wakes in the night, her thirst unquenchable. She sees dead bodies floating in once pure streams. Or face down on muddy paths. She tastes the tart green mango that she’s picked from the ground in that backyard. Sometimes her daughters find her in the garden, digging up the soil – her fingernails black with dirt. My dolly, my dolly, she mumbles. They shush her and stroke her hair. They take her back in and help her into bed. She cuddles a plastic doll – probably her granddaughter’s – and makes comforting noises. She sees her mother, tucking her in. Did you find my brother? She asks.
You never had a brother, they say. Now rest. She has never mentioned him to anyone, ever.
She dreams of her baby brother. The one who got left by the side of the road. She clutches her toy in her sleep, afraid he will stretch out his arms and grab it from her. She doesn’t hear her daughters speaking in the next room. She doesn’t hear of their plans of moving her to a safer place, where she can be looked after twenty-four seven. She doesn’t see their tears. She dreams she is walking beside her mother, nestling her dolly in her arms and the sun is shining through the clouds.