Before that mother would take a fast of silence. She would empty her wardrobe into a suitcase. My brother and I would pull at her skirt, wrap around her legs, beg her to talk. We became like beggars on the street, reckless for change. We begged for words. Hers.
My father would speak to us in a monotone, but that didn’t matter. If only he would talk to her, maybe she would talk back.
I don’t remember how mother left. But I remember father in his rubber boots, naked in the dirty pool, rubbing and scrubbing the faded blue walls. Before that we had never used the pool. There was always rain water, leaves and flies, tadpoles swimming in the dirty water.
When father was done scrubbing, he filled the pool. My brother and I watched the pool fill up for hours, waited for the water to warm up beneath the sun.
We had most of my father’s family over the next day. The water was still not warm, but my youngest aunt arrived already in her bikini. She jumped in the pool before everyone else. We all followed her after--all the aunts, uncles, and cousins. Our father was the only one who didn’t swim.
I had my eyes open under the water, looking at the bodies swaying, the sunlight travelling through the pool.
Beside the pool, our father was shaking blackberries onto a white bed sheet. The sheet and his bathing suit were red from the berries when we heard the sound of shattering glass from inside the house.
When we went inside, we saw my mother’s brother on his motor bike in our driveway, a golf club in his hand. He started swearing at our father when he saw him.
The next thing I remember is that I was in the bath with my aunt. We were both naked. I didn’t know what I was supposed to look at. My aunt scrubbed my head hard.
When the bath was finished, everybody was already gone. There was only my father sitting with his red bathing suit on the sofa.
For the next two days it rained. It did not stop. The pool water became dark and dirty. When the rain was over, my father drained the pool.
The apartment had soot-covered windows that opened to a crowded street. Some nights we couldn’t sleep from the noise. We had a small patio with dried plants. Salamanders crawled on the cracked cement walls. I caught them, cut their tails, put them in a glass jar. I watched them jump around in the jar. I let them go after their tails grew back.
My bed was beside my parents’ bed, but some nights I slept between them in their bed. They’d let me sleep in their bed at nights that we heard the red alarm. If we heard the red alarm, they’d turn off the lights, hold me, and we’d all run to the mechanical room. We sat there in the mechanical room with the neighbours, then went back to our apartment, back to bed.
It was right before New Year. My parents were baking pastries. They had orders from family and friends. I helped with spreading the dough, cutting the cookies, putting the pastries in the trays.
I can’t believe they’re turning so well, Mom said.
They put one tray in the oven after another. They packed the baked pastries in boxes.
We tasted so many pastries we were too full for dinner.
At night, we heard the red alarm again. We turned off the lights. They held me. We ran down the stairs. There was only one old man in the mechanical room that night.
Next morning, TV showed burning houses, men in khakis walking through a murky river under palm trees.
Mom called their friends to come pick up their pastries, but nobody picked up the phone. Mom called my aunts and my uncles and they didn’t answer. After that, she called my grandma.
They’re all gone out of the city. Mother is going too, said Mom. My brother is taking her.
We can leave too, said my dad.
They didn’t tell us anything, Mom said.
We can go on our own.
Mom went to the bathroom and slammed the door.
My dad followed her and put his ear on the bathroom door. After he came back to the kitchen, he bagged the boxes of pastry in a garbage bag, took it downstairs.
I went to the patio and looked at the salamander in the jar jumping up and down. I took it out of the jar and placed it on the floor. I pressed the knife on it, cut its tail. I didn’t wait for the tail to grow back. I left the salamander on the floor and came back inside.
Her name was Pari or Zari? I say.
I don’t remember, says Mother.
I tell her Pari slept in her bed with her. I tell her Pari walked in her sleep.
You’ve dreamed this, says Mother.
It’s true. I dream of her sometimes.
Remember the night she menstruated into the mattress. Remember the black stain on the mattress.
I am trying to eat here, says Mother.
I say, I like the name Pari. What happened to her? I ask.
The rice is undercooked, the stew is too thick.
Remember I told you about the day I was nearly arrested, Mother finally says. Mother has told me that story. She has told it as much as she has told me the story of my birth.
Mother says, Pari was arrested that day.
Mother says, Promise you won’t write about this.
She stands up, removes the half-full plate in front of me, puts it in the sink. She runs the water.
I am left with the knife and fork in my hands. I am facing my mother’s back.
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