I am not surprised that the tribunal is displeased with him. They argue about what he will do for a wife if they allow him to let go of me. You see, there are no women left in the Reserve. The last one, a Declared Beauty, was doled out to an unanticipated widower. His wife fell into the river. They said that he wasn’t able to save her. If you ask me, I think he not only watched her drown, but pushed her in too, in order to get the Declared Beauty. When I decided to report my suspicion to the tribunal, Aji ordered me to hush.
“Try not to be too clever,” she said. “You know what they do with accusers who are proved wrong. You want your tongue spliced in two?”
“No.” But neither did I want my left breast cut off. I wish now that I had accused that man of murdering his wife and risked my tongue being spliced. Now, I’ve got a few hours left as a whole-chested woman.
As soon as my daughter’s face was shown to me, I grabbed hold of Aji’s hand.
“Check if there’s boy,” I begged her. “Check if a boy has been born anywhere, even in the next zone.”
For the birth of a boy would be able to save my baby girl.
“I’ve checked.” Aji whipped her hand out of mine. “It’s your fault. It’s all your fault.”
Indeed it was my fault that my baby was going to be put to death. Zore had offered well before my delivery.
“Let me,” he’d said, “impregnate my wife so there’s a Life Giver should…”
“There will be no should.”
“Should,” he continued, “a daughter be born to you.”
Only a boy would jabber out of my womb. My mind was made up. My tummy hung low and was nutshell hard. I was craving smoked tamarind. How could I possibly have known I would give birth to a girl?
How could I not have prepared in case of one?
I killed my daughter because I did not take the precaution of having someone else give birth to a son. She would have had a partner then and thus an assigned purpose in life. We don’t keep girls otherwise. Those in the Reserve are the product of fraternal-twin births. The tribunal believes that the female part should not be killed for it could very well hamper the male part. I wish I hadn’t laughed at all the men. I wish I’d recognized their alliance for what it was. Now my little girl has been buried alive and my left breast is being cut off.
I had just wanted to be suckled, to know what it would feel like to be suckled. To have a gumless rind pull at the hunger in my heart, feed at the nourishment my body was making. I had tasted the salt in my own milk. I wanted a baby to taste it too, and so I tried to feed the first baby I came across in the afternoon when most were blinded by sunlight.
Aji caught me with the baby at my breast.
“Don’t tell them, Aji.”
But already I could see her running hard in the direction of the tribunal. She’s a good citizen — Aji, my mother. I should be proud of her for keeping our rules and laws. In due time, I will either learn to be like her or pretend to be; for otherwise, they will put me to death.
In due time, I might prefer death.
Soniah Kamal was born in Pakistan and raised in England and Saudi Arabia. She has a B.A. in Philosophy with Honors from St. John’s College Annapolis, MD and is the recipient of the Susan B. Irene Award. Her short stories and essays, published in the U.S., Canada, Pakistan and India, are taught at college level and her work has received nods in national newspapers such as Dawn, The Hindu, The Daily Star, The Daily Times and The Tribune. Soniah guest edited Sugar Mule‘s South Asian issue.
Artwork by Amra Khan.