Kabir was a fine man, the kind that was loved by everyone in the village, helpful to the poor as he was to the rich. He had only one fault. He loved his children, all four of them. A bit too much. And he would do anything for them. His youngest one, Muhassin, wanted a younger brother. Someone to boss around, the boy said, standing all of his five years tall before his father. Kabir laughed at the boy, pulling his snotty nose, “If my son wants something, I shall get it for him!” He promised.
But later, in the kitchen, when he bounced the idea off his wife Shahina, she bristled her nose, “Kabir Ikka, you have a litter of four! By Allah, if you want another one, I suggest you give birth to it yourself!” Now Shahina loved Kabir, but really, the man believed that child rearing was all about love and toys. What did men know about the troubles of a woman? Shahina meant business, and Kabir knew this in the way she squinted her eyes, and threw the rotis forcefully onto the plate, like a slap on his face. So he tried a different way. “Alright fine!” he said, “Then I am going to Chavakkkad to buy a teddy for Muhessin. That shall be his younger brother.” And Shahina threw another roti, saying nothing.
She didn’t like the idea of dolls in the house, especially for a growing boy. Dolls were the houses of the iblis, the devil, and there was a reason the prophet had forbade them. She said, “Kabir Ikka, the boy will get over it. He will get used to being the youngest. Must you spoil him like this with dolls?” But Kabir was adamant, and Shahina’s heart was disturbed, so much that a few of her ever-perfect rotis were burnt, round black holes that stared back at her like eyes of the devil.
That night, in the bedroom, when Shahina snuggled into Kabir’s side, she kissed and nibbled his ears the way he liked, “Kabir Ikka?” she whispered, “Must you spoil your kids so? Must you go all the way to Chavakkad to buy a silly toy?” When Kabir turned on his side to look at her, she felt the sudden heat rise off his body, the lust in his eyes, as he pressed her close to his chest, hissing, “I shall spoil my sons as I spoil my wife” he hissed biting her cheek, setting a squeal out of her, “And maybe I shall buy you a pair of earrings too, eh?” he said. Unable to control herself, Shahina blurted, “I want Bangles!” she squealed, and blushed as Kabir laughed at her silliness. She kissed him, strong and fully on his lips, stopping his laugh, enjoying the tremble of life coursing through his pulsing body.
The next day, after she offered her morning prayers, Shahina prepared lunch for Kabir, a pair of rotis and a dollop of chicken gravy, leftovers from her neighbor Miriam’s home. Miriam’s leftovers were a feast here, and even as she packed it into the box, her heart trembled with excitement, at the bangles that would soon adorn her sleek white arms. She waved Kabir goodbye, as he kick-started his bike, waiting eagerly for him to leave so that she could rush to Miriam’s home.
Soon, she was telling Miriam of the Bangles, savoring the glint in the girl’s eyes, recognizing it for jealousy,. “Bangles?” said the girl, wrinkling her fair nose, “Gold Bangles?” Shahina smiled, knowing that the girl didn’t think they could afford it, and enjoying the act of proving her wrong.
It was Miriam who always did this to Shahina – telling her how much her husband loved her, and showered her with gifts. As if this was any indication of love, thought Shahina, At least Kabir did not shower her with a fine thumping the way Iqbal did. But today was different. She didn’t want to think of any such pettiness. Today Kabir’s love would be on her wrists, a proof to wear for the world to see.
After their afternoon prayers, Shahina and Miriam sat watching their children play together at the play house installed at Miriam’s rich home. Gossiping and complaining in turns. But today, something was different. For the first time, It was as if Shahina felt Miriam’s equal, as if she could understand and relate to Miriam’s myriad problems.
It was evening, almost time for the Asar prayers, when Shahina left Miriam’s home, a song playing in her heart, the wind in her ears, the rain pealing down on their little village. Kabir had been gone longer than usual, which was not surprising. She’d told him to go to at least four gold shops before making the final choice, and he had promised her only the best.
When her hand pressed the gate open, she heard the shriek from Miriam’s home, and froze into the ground. Miriam had run out of the house, and towards her, with a mad glare in her eyes, the mobile phone in her trembling hands. Shahina beheld her, and even before Miriam whispered “Kabir…” Shahina felt a cold wave engulf her, surround her, and drown her in the pouring wind. “It was a bike accident” said Miriam holding Shahina, “He was hit by a truck, skidded in the rain. A painless death. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon.” She whispered, and Shahina forced herself to repeat the words: From god we come, and to God we return.
By nightfall, when Kabir was returned, with the mangled teddy bear, and the bloodied bangles, Shahina’s hand gripped Muhassin’s little one, pressing it hard, her other hand resting protectively on her own stomach, knowing in the strange way of those that had their happiness robbed too early, that Kabir had indeed given Muhassin his little brother.