I am 17. And I have found the words for my resentment.
I am not defined by what I want to be. I am defined by what I most don’t want to be. I do not want to be the image of my father. I hate our common dimples and the endless galaxy of moles on our bodies. It is fittingly ironic that it is a muscular defect and cellular malfunction that connects our dysfunctional family. I am odd and inarticulate, my mind froths with delicious young cynicism. I hate it when the bathroom floor is wet. I fling half-empty coffee tumblers to stain an inadequately scrubbed wash-basin. I snarl at my mother when she touches my things. I do not want to be like my father.
I am 7. I have short hair set in a side hair-parting. I look like a girl boy. My first permanent tooth has grown out fully – a gnarled incisor. It flashes when I smile. My mother hates it. She hates it when I wear my watch on my right hand. My father used to do wear his watch on his right hand with its face down, scratching it against every surface his hand met. The glass recovered with a thin white patina, a scab. He could only read the time at only one angle when it was only too late. My watch is digital because I cannot tell the difference between 7:30 and 8:30. I am weak in Maths. I am not like my father.
I am 38. I am at a holiday resort with my pregnant sister-in-law. My stomach is no longer contained by the drawstrings of my salwaar-kameez. I am aware I’m morphing from a woman into an ambivalent. I am losing control of my body and I have mixed feelings about having children. The women happily tell my sister-in-law this is the best decision she has made, her husband will become closer to her. Our eyes meet. Look where your closeness brought you, I think. She is afraid. I don’t hold her hand. Why would you bring something into this world, I think. Will you mother, and father, your child? I think. She looks away, and smiles at someone else.
I am 14. My belly button distends like a mouth in a self-conscious moan. My waist is thinning. I am becoming an hourglass. Memories of my father slip and leave from my bare feet. I am not my father. I am a woman. How can I be my father?
I am 72. I am dead. I come back as ashes to my motherland, but it’s my father’s name I bear.
I am 29. My mother smells cigarettes on my clothes, and confides to her maid, I love the smell of smoke. The maid pauses, phrasing something carefully in her head. I call her away to help me pack my boxes.
I am 50. My father has died. I hang up, and wash the dishes. My nails are peeling.
I am 5. I am sleepy, but my mother’s hands are too tired to carry me. Where is the smell of musk, and the feel of evening stubble against my cheek? I am about to cry, but my mother pinches me.
I am 23. I visit the hills. The winter hasn’t turned yet. I am 23 only once. The bamboo shoots are 99 only once. They flower only once. The villagers are afraid of a plague. I scoff. They eye me wearily, the open mouthed, open shirt-collared, open minded woman. I walk till my breath stops misting. The sun warms a cold spot on my back. My hair smells of warmed shampoo. My shadow looks like a hunched man with puffy sweatshirt-sleeves. Is it like my father? Where is he now? Is he here now, because I am here now? A kitten runs, chased by two king-sized bandicoots. I smile and eat pork for lunch. The homestay’s mirror has speckled mercury spots. Maybe the villagers are right about the plague.
I am 66. My upper lip flourishes white with neglect. My voice deepens. But I don’t talk anymore. My mouth is set in firm discontent. The lines harden over my eyebrows, etching a graph of how life has panned out – a well-controlled flatline. My left eye has a veneer that I can never rid of, no matter how much I blink. I scrub at the windows of my house, willing the film of dust to go away. I polish the wine bottles with coiling creepers. I coax, then plead a shine out of my mother’s dulled steel plates. Every surface in my home frames my father.
I am 42. My mother climbs her first flight to tell me I have too many things. I tell her she never gave me enough. My mother says, I am sorry, I am not your father.