Every Sunday morning, my little girl wakes her daddy.
He’s the sort of person who sleeps on his belly. Swiftly growing scant hair a victim of the ravages of the tides of his sleep. Arms tucked under the pillow. Face stuffed in, like he denies ownership for his lucid dream-addled utterances. A heavy sleeper; that in minutes of a fit of conjugal conscience, his arms at my sides sink, sleep-logged, binding us in thick, sinewy bandages.
Our little girl stopped sleeping between us about a year ago. Roughly around the time we decided to let her hair grow out. At first, it seemed like it was taking after his hair – soft, thin, reluctant to germinate. But soon, her head spurted thick, lush, black hair. Like mine. Like my mother’s. Like her mother’s.
Her daddy and I have a running competition between us – a sort of partitioning of who she is, and what she’s like. She has eyes like mine, but lips like his. She’s quick to learn (tricky territory, but it comes from me), and is musically inclined (this he claims is his, despite being unable to hold a note on any scale). She has no interest in chocolate, and makes friends readily – something alien to both of us. In lighter vein, and on darker days, he attributes these to our fat, balding neighbour Mr. S.
Every Sunday morning, she stumbles out of her bed, and hurries, plodding on tiny feet, facing her biggest hurdle with Herculean determination – clambering onto our bed. She belly flops on her sleeping daddy, spent with the effort, and breathlessly whispers all kinds of things to his back. Freshly learned or improvised rhymes, words, sounds, secrets, fascinations. She’s always enamored by two moles along his spine, and uses them as buttons when she chants, DaddyWakeUp! DaddyyyyyWakeUp! DaddyDaddyWakeUp!
Daddy then attacks her, the groggy-eyed Godzilla, roaring, trying to get the monkey off his back. The baby chimp cheers and squeals, and soon tumbles over-shoulder and caves into his arms, defeated readily by a bombardment of kisses. Soon she soothes her stubble-burnt cheeks, but Godzilla is not done. He chafes her paltry-protesting hands against his prickly face, and her face is caught synthesizing the joys in irritation, the pleasure in pain.
Daddy then hefts her onto his lap, and they share a bowl of soggy strawberry cornflakes, her mouth too tiny for the tablespoon. As she sits proud on her favourite steed, she runs him through the highlights of her week: what Miss Jennifer said, complaints of how I never let her crayon the walls, what grandfather told/gave her, what her grandmother forgot this time. When silence lapses, she snuggles up to him, and listens to his thick voice boom through his chest as he speaks to me about how work went, what an a-s-s-h-o-l-e his boss is, his impending business trip, her grades, and if we really should buy her a p-u-p-p-y.
Once she’s bored, he picks her up, puts her on the carpet, navigates her by the head and heads to the bathroom. When he emerges, she greets a fresh, youthful, soft and clear-faced Daddy. When he hoists her, she greedily drinks in his aftershave. The smell of Daddy.
This Saturday, she was prepared with a magic trick for him.
With pure concentration, she’d lock her fingers to make an aperture; focus on her favourite objects in the world – a picture of Daddy and me, her purple dinosaur, the view from the window by the diwan; and click the shutter with a cluck of tongue: kachak!
It took a longer, more detailed Goldilocks for her eyelids to plummet that night. I’d sat down to abstractedly read a difficult book about the interpretations of dreams, when I’d heard a cab door shut self-consciously.
He gratefully took the glass of water I gave him. Droplets clung on, and I didn’t realize I’d made a face.
He said it was something new he wanted to try. It would give his face a little more seriousness. More age. It was, apparently, manly. He undid his tie, and rapidly unbuttoned his shirt. She’ll love it, just watch, he asserted, massaging the small of my back.
He kissed my shoulder, and my skin crawled.
She recoiled in horror when Godzilla turned, and jumped straight into my arms, hiding her face in my hair.
A black caterpillar. Kambliboochi. On his upperlip.
Gently, I prised her hands from around my neck. Say hi to Daddy.
She buried her head in the crook of my collarbone. Her muffled voice accused, That’s not Daddy.
While she contemplated the sole leftover sequin on my kaftan, back against him, I looked at her father. I couldn’t help smiling. The aversion to caterpillars, bristly creatures, and moustaches – even the sentiment of creepy face fuzz not going with his character, the poverty in its aesthetics – definitely from me.
He ran his thumb and index finger over his carefully crafted moustache, and sighed.
I told her to get her trick ready, Daddy’s coming! She gave me a look of disbelief, tragically cynical for someone barely two feet tall. She stood moodily by his chair at the head of the table, looking longingly at the depressions in the seat, sniffling for his smell, pleading with some otherworldly entity for her father to materialize.
The bathroom door creaked. She froze, eyes wide, and looked at me for counsel. We quickly arranged her fingers.
Her daddy took the towel off his face, and roared. Relief flooded her eyes.
Happily, she yelled, Kachak!
Thank you, R. With love, for Boochie.