by Soniah Kamal
The breast is a gigantic wad of fat. Getting rid of both of them will mean getting rid of at least fourteen pounds. Getting rid of one, seven. Seven pounds of shapeless fat sliced off painlessly, while I lie on a table surrounded by people who care for me, who have been paid to care for me.
I’m the first person in my family to have my breast cut off. Unless I go through with this, I won’t live. At least not live well.
“You deserve it,” Aji keeps saying. “You brought it on yourself.”
I don’t like Aji. She’d have brought it on herself too if she’d had the guts. The tribunal cuts off a man’s tongue for blasphemy and his right hand for a first robbery. It believes a chumped penis is a fitting punishment for adultery. Usually I agree with the tribunal. However it does not seem sane at all to me that feeding someone else’s baby should merit my breast being butchered.
Is it my fault that my newborn daughter was wrenched away from me? I barely saw her face. Her gumless mouth was already sucking at something in the air. Perhaps she was preparing for the moment her little mouth would suckle at my breast, sip at the milk already beginning to seep down my tunic; I imagined so.
It was wrong of me to have imagined it.
“That’s when your transgression began,” Aji said. I should have looked at my newborn daughter – no, merely, simply girl – and said, “Take her, bury her.”
I had always thought I could.
I have been midwife at many a birth. I have seen the pleasure when a boy is announced, and I have seen the disappointment and pain, although they try to hide it, when a mother hands over the baby girl and says, as the custom goes, “Take her, bury her.”
I thought I was going to have a son. My tummy hung low and was nutshell hard. I craved smoked tamarind – another sign of a boy in the offing. Can imagination play havoc with the taste buds as well? Can shying away from imagining the worst make it less intolerable?
I have held newborn girls in my arms and passed them to the burial committee with no more thought than what I would have for dinner that night. I did not flinch, my heart beat steadily and yet, last, when they took the baby away, my heart began to beat with bewildering wildness and followed them, insisting that it be buried with the child I had carried for nine months and three and a half weeks.
Aji did tell me that my little one was asleep when they laid her down. That she continued to sleep even when the first shovel of grit fell on her face sandwiched between those tiny fists of hers. I like to think that my little girl was defiant. Bold in her un-crying silence. Calmly ignoring the tribunal that was suffocating her to death.
My husband is not speaking to me. He is speaking to the tribunal, though. Telling them that he does not want to remain married to me once I become breast-less. Aji says that the tribunal is trying to convince him that once my breast is chopped off, I will have paid my dues to society. I will have suffered the punishment for breaking the law without any need for extra punishment from him. Aji says that my husband is trying to argue with the logic that one is rendered innocent after suffering punishment.
“She’s not innocent by any standards,” Aji said he shouted. “Not with a lopsided chest proclaiming otherwise to the world.”