The swiftly rising grey vapour from the burning wok started to release a burning smell of fried green vegetables and spices covering the warm air of the windowless kitchen. The chirring exhaust fan chugged in the smoke making Era choke on her breath causing her to feel a tingling up her nose just before she loudly sneezed, " Achoo! "
Before she could wipe her nose, she felt a painful twinge in the lower-part of her belly and the familiar feeling of bleeding down there. " Oh no! No! No! No! " she muttered faintly as she ran towards her room abandoning the burning food.
Anxiously she pulled the draw-strings of the pajama and looked inside, seeing the spots of blood a cold sweat passed over her.
" Why is this happening? "
" Is my period here? "
" But… "
" No. Yes. It should be the period. "
The consoling words out of her mouth didn't match her frowning temple creased in the shape of 'w', her eyes stretched wide and bloodshot and the lopsided bun on her head was pulled loose in frustration.
Era gave birth to a baby boy two week ago. The pregnancy was a little difficult and she had to push her son into existence in the absence of her husband, Dimah, who was nowhere to be seen until it was time to go home. Bearing the chafing pain in her thighs and her son, her silent husband had accompanied them back to the house.
" I should call Dimah. I need to go to the hospital and get checked out. " Grabbing her phone she scrolled to the namelist of people's names starting from D in the contacts. Thumb hovering over 'Dimah', reluctance caged her.
" Am I worrying too much? "
" He had an important client meeting today. "
" It's normal to bleed. "
" I'll be wasting his time calling him, complaining about a trivial matter. "
" But...I'm scared. "
She felt anger at admitting to be scared, even if it was to herself. The thumb slid one name down and clicked on the name 'Doctor Sha'.
As the dialing tone beeped in her eardrums, she walked to the crib placed close to the bed. Her baby lay in there sleeping. Her arms and legs were so tired they were trembling with the need to rest. Placing the blue, fluffy, cotton stuffed pillow horizontally on the bed, she placed herself on it and took a comfortable breath.
The call cut itself when the other side didn't pick up. Hesitating to redial, her eyes moved to her son. How envious! His tiny head the size of a cosco ball shone with the baby oil she had massaged him with in the morning. Thin but lusty strands of black hair covered his round head. On the other hand her hair fell everywhere; on her towel after a shower, on her pillow after a nap and clinging on her comb after a single brushing. Her previous wavy hair laid limp and lifeless against her shoulders. Now she was terrified to even touch her thin and straw-like hair lest she ended up bald and just put them up in a bunch above.
When he was given into her arms, after she woke up, swaddled into a white towel, she had felt the touch of something indescribable, almost religious. The sublime beauty of nature, her son she gave birth to; made him, nurtured him inside herself. Her face which was sticky with tears of pain and exhaustion was cleaned with her tears of happy motherhood while she held him within her arms for the first time.
Reluctantly, she left her soft pillow and went to wear a sanitary pad. When she walked out of the bathroom, the burnt smell had already spread to the inner rooms and she could hear her bed-ridden mother-in-law calling her name as if an echo followed her. Running back to the kitchen, she was greeted with dark clouds of smoke and a dark cluster of mess stuck to the bottom of the wok, making the earlier sizzling and succulent green vegetables unrecognisable.
Lifting the hot & heavy wok, she put it in the sink and leaned against the wall staring at it filling up with the running tap water. Some of the dark mess swam above and little bubbles of oil circled the edges. Only a few moments of rest were exchanged for this extra chore. How unlucky she was?
She heard pattering of a pair of tiny feet, before a small body rushed into the kitchen cutely calling, " Little Auntie! Little Auntie! " and came to a forceful stop when he laid eyes on her.
" Don't run in a hurry Great King! " Her teasing rebuke only made the little boy smile wider and giggle at being referred to as a King. It's what his mother, her Elder sister-in-law, called him when coaxing him to drink his milk and finish his dinner.
Clinging on to her pajamas, he stared up at her with doe shaped eyes and Era remembered how he spoon fed her sugar-water from a bowl. The sight of his hand stretched out, staring at the spoon diligently as if daring it to shake but also afraid of dropping it had warmed Era's heart.
" Want your almond cookie? " Era leaned down whispered softly barely concealing the sharp pain she felt.
" YES! " The tiny Great King expressed his opinion loudly before urgently leaning towards Era and holding his index fingers to his lips and warned her with a, " Shhh! "
" Grandma will hear us! " Era solemnly nodded back, holding back her giggle at the serious look on his palm-sized face.
The secret exchange of cookies and hugs were unknown to the old Grandma inside who was unaware of being looked at with contempt from her eldest grandson. Era's mother-in-law had a quirk to hold on to all the sweets and snacks and lock them up in her treasured wooden box where no one could touch it. The comic books of heroes defeating the beasts which the children read also couldn't escape their fate and ended up being locked. Only in the evenings were the children allowed to read from them for just about an hour. And how endearing was the peaceful quiet for every adult in the house.
Her elder sister-in-law and elder brother-in-law were visiting the maiden house of elder-sister-law for a wedding and left behind their son in the care of Era.
With a newborn baby of hers, the bedridden old Grandma and now a six-year old nephew, Era was feeling more drained by the minute. Her sleep-deprived nights couldn't be made up by taking a short nap in the afternoon. Everything felt like a chore and every part of her body cried for rest.
Her eyes misted over with tears, blinking them away she rubbed the head of the tiny guy and asked him to play outside in the living room.
She took out five potatoes and set them up into the pressure cooker to boil. The whole dinner was ruined so she planned to make stuffed flatbread with a filling of garlic and potatoes. And a chutney of mint and coriander to accompany it.
As she started bending down to pick up chillies and tomatoes from the basket, she was held up again. The lemon scent of detergent was the most intimate to her and as she guessed Dimah was standing behind her holding her.
" Ah? You are back so soon? " Era felt confused as he was busy these last weeks making a proposal for the important client he was supposed to meet.
" Our family's Great King called and said he saw his little Auntie rushing into the bathroom crying. " His ever present calm composure was marred with a tinge of anxiety and overwhelmed with stress.
" It's nothing. I burned the vegetables so I was upset. "
" Era. "
" What? I'm not lying, okay? I was upset because I had to remake the dinner. " She walked to the sink and turned off the water. Leaning against it she turned to look at her husband. He was wearing a light yellow shirt which had turned into cream under the bright kitchen lights. He still held his black briefcase in one hand, a transparent polybag in the other and the contents which could be seen were a prescription and some tablets.
" What's the medicine for? Do you have a headache? I'll make you a ginger tea. "
" Era. Stop. " His face told his patience had run out.
" You need to let go of this habit of keeping your problems stubbornly to yourself. You need to tell me when you feel wrong or when you hurt. "
Anger, sadness, despair and exhaustion coursed through her blood making her burst out.
" I'm bleeding today. It hurts in my belly. My arms are sore. My legs are trembling with the effort to keep myself standing. I haven't slept properly in three days. There, these are my problems. What will you do? If I go to rest, who'll make dinner? Who'll give the pain medication to my mother-in-law on time? Feed our newborn son every four hours? Make the Little King do his homework? You? "
Era was feeling suffocated with these thoughts for a long time. Her mother's advice rang in her ears, " Women have to bear it all, child. Don't complain about your troubles. The more you complain the more you'll be resented. "
" Era, look at me. " Dimah looked at Era's lowered head tucked into her neck in an aggrieved pose and felt uncomfortable in his heart. He held her shoulder and said, " I know it's hard to bear it all. It's my fault I neglected you. I took a month's leave. I'll stay with you and baby. "
" I called the doctor on my way. The Doctor already guessed you were bleeding. Little King saw a small white stiff towel in your hands when he saw you running. Is that true? "
Dimah's voice was very calming which made Era's mood soften and also increased her urge to cry.
She breathed and sniffed her nose before she looked up and replied, " I bled a little after sneezing suddenly and then my belly started cramping. "
" Have these medicines, " He said, raising the polybag in his hand. " I'll boil the water so you can take it with lukewarm water. "
Saying this he raised his hands and rolled back his cuffs, and shuffled around the little kitchen space to pick the kettle and fill it with water.
A wailing cry made them aware their son woke up from his nap, as if they had done it always they looked at each other, smiled and silently acknowledged that he'll remain in the kitchen and she'll go look after the baby.
By the time she picked the baby up, her blouse was already wet. As she was nursing him, Dimah walked in. He looked at his family and once again felt the feeling of nervousness and excitement that had held him when he heard Era was in labour. He was so anxious that he was unable to move. By the time he calmed down and reached Era was already sleeping with their son also sleeping in the Baby Ward. He sat down beside her the whole night and murmured soft 'sorrys' to her and the next day he went back to the office without waiting for her to wake up.
" What am I making for dinner? "
" You? " Startled, Era looked at him. He can cook?
" Don't look at me like that. I used to cook before my sister-in-law came along. Mother was always sick even before she broke her leg. So I've been cooking for everyone since high school. "
" I'm impressed. I didn't know this. I'll help you, you can't do it all alone. "
" No. You'll rest here. Stay here with the baby. I'll look after the dinner. Don't act strong, let me help. "
" The potatoes I set up to boil should be done by now. I was planning to make a potato stuffed flatbread. "
" Eh? I don't know how to make those? Give me the instructions. " This sight of him after shedding his calm composure and scratching his head while looking sheepishly at her made Era's eyes fill up with mist again.
" Knead some dough. Mash the potatoes, add chopped chillies, garlic and onions. Stuff them in the dough and roll them into the shape of chapati and then slap it on the pan and cook it on both sides after greasing it with a little bit of oil. "
" On it! Don't move from here. I'll go now. Try to take a nap. "
When Era finished nursing she was still in a daze until it started drizzling outside, waving in the cool and refreshing scent of grass and soil through the window, that she remembered what Dimah's name meant, " Silent rain falling without thunder. "