Adham’s Picture

By Sheila Sundar

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Adham comes to our room most nights.  Sometimes when I arrive he’s already settled in the space next to his mother.  Sometimes he comes in only after I walk through the door.  His body ends at my hips and when I lie next to him his hands find their way into the heavy folds of my neck.  He no longer smells like baby, but like dust, like the thin ring of mildew below our sink, like our clothes when Farzana hangs them on the line too soon after it’s rained.  He’s already decaying, just four years after he is born.  I wonder why it has to start so early.

He’s not in our bed tonight.  I leave the door open to the bathroom as I wash my hands, the lavender exorcising the feel of the airplane, the memory of Aerolife from my hands.  The water seems to inflate my fingers, its heat erasing the prunish indents.  There is a stir from Adham’s room.  Then a shuffle of body against fabric, the creak and hush of feet on the floor.  I turn the heat up and watch my fingers redden and swell.

“Baba?”  I pretend I didn’t hear him coming.  He presses his face against my pant leg and I hold it there, his cheek against my thigh, his breath rocking us both slightly.  “You was in the airplane flyer?” I don’t know why he composed this name.  He’s never been in one when it took off into the sky, never felt that slight rush as it dipped down and rose up.  Flew.  The only time I have, it brought me here.  I doubt I ever will again.

He sits on the edge of the bathtub, his eyes still more closed than open.  His head rocks gently in his half-sleep.  “Baba?”  he says.  He lifts his arms up.  I haven’t finished washing yet, but I pick him up and carry him to our bed.  It creaks slightly, and Farzana shifts as I slide next to her with him to my side, at the bed’s edge. 

“You made it go up?” he asks.  “You moved the big wheel and it took off, into the sky?”

“Ji,” I say to him.  Yes.  And as I close my eyes, his feet folded against my knee and his cheek angled against mine, I believe it too.  I believe this picture he has drawn in my mind, that I will fly the plane.  That he will be in it with me and I will take us off.  That we will feel the low rush in our bellies of the airplane dipping and rising, flying, taking us into the sky.

– Sheila Sundar