“Do we have money, Mama?”
Mama gripped the basin with her hands, peering into the mirror. It was cracked – as if a large spider had cast his web on it. Mama’s reflection seemed trapped behind the silky threads of the spider’s web. She tucked her wayward hair inside her bun and smiled at her reflection. But her eyes were filled with tears. She brushed them away and scrubbed her face with the trickle of water from the dirty tap.
“Mama!” I said sharply, tapping my foot like she does when she’s angry.
She turned around slowly to look at me. Mama has become slow these days. She walks like Grandma and she hardly talks. She sits up late at night, watching the gate to our house from the window. Grandpa says that she is waiting for Papa to come back…but how will he? Police have taken him away because he did something bad. But my Papa is not a bad man. When he lived with us, he would come home late and cook up a storm, throwing spaghetti into bowls and painting the kitchen walls with ketchup. Mama would scold him for making a mess but she used to laugh and clean it up anyway. She never, ever smiles these days. Not even at the daisies I pick out for her from on the garden. Grandma says that Mama is ‘depressed’ so I should not trouble her. So I draw her pictures of herself, Papa and me standing under the bright sun.She cries when she looks at them.
We are at the ‘court-house’ today. It is a big building, bigger than Uncle Toni’s house. And in a big room, Papa stands in a wooden box and many people sit in another wooden box. A man sits higher up than everybody he often bangs the table with a large hammer.
“Well…do we have money, Mama?” I demand.
Mama is still crying. “No Sara,” she tells me, her voice wobbly, like Grandma’s. “Everything is gone. Everything!”
I want to ask her where everything has gone, so we may go there and get it back. But judging from her mood, Mama will probably smack me.
“Why do you ask?” she finally says, looking at me. Her face is pink and her nose is as red as Rudolph’s.
“I want to buy something,” I tell her, smiling. Mama looks suspicious and she asks, “What?”
“That!” I cry, pointing at the brightest, bluest piece of sky that I have ever scene. It looks like Papa’s eyes, minus the black flecks that pollute his. It is like the water at the islands we had been to last summer. It is brighter than the bluest crayon in my box. It is just so…blue!
Mama looks at the piece of sky, visible from the window and then at me. And after months of crying, she finally smiles and presses a kiss on my forehead.
“That piece,” she says quietly, “And all the remaining pieces of the sky if you want!”
— Pooja Wanpal