Excerpt of Queen of Dreams by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
(Page 2 of 3)
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When the story was done my mother would kiss me, her lips as cool as silver
on my forehead. Sleep now, she whispered as she left, shutting the door behind
her. But I'd lie awake, listening to the soft cotton swish of her sari as she
walked down the corridor. She'd stop at the door to my dad's bedroom--that was
how I thought of the big, dark room in the back of the house with its large, too
soft bed and its tie-dyed bedspread--and I'd hear the companionable rumble of
their voices as they talked. In a few minutes I'd hear his door closing, her
footsteps walking away. She moved quietly and with confidence, the way deer
might step deep inside a forest, the rustle of her clothes a leafy breeze. I'd
listen until I heard the door to the sewing room open and close, the sigh of the
hinges. Then I'd let go and fall into the chocolate-syrup world of my dreams.
I dreamed a great deal during those years, and often my dreams were
suffocatingly intense. I'd wake from them with my heart pounding so hard I
thought it might burst. When I could move, I'd make my way down the dark
corridor by feel. Under my fingers the walls were rough and unfamiliar,
corrugated like dinosaur skin, all the way to the sewing room. I didn't know why
she called it that; she never sewed. When I opened the sighing door, I'd see her
on the floor, face turned to the wall, covers drawn up over her head, so still
that for a moment I'd be afraid that she was dead. But she'd wake immediately,
as though she could smell me the way an animal does her young. I'd try to crawl
under her blanket, but she always took me--firmly but kindly--back to my own
bed. She lay by me and stroked my hair, and sometimes, when the nightmare was
particularly troubling, she recited words I didn't understand until I fell back
into sleep. But she never stayed. In the morning when I awoke, she would be in
the kitchen, making scrambled eggs. The sewing room would be bare--I never knew
where she put her bedding. The carpet wasn't even flattened to indicate that
someone had slept there.
My discovery occurred on an afternoon when I'd gone to play at the home of
one of my classmates. This was a rare event because, in spite of my mother's
urgings, I didn't tend to socialize much. Children my own age did not seem
particularly interesting to me. I preferred to follow my mother around the
house, though she didn't encourage this. On occasion, I listened from behind a
door as she spoke on the phone, or watched her as she sat on the sofa with her
eyes closed, a frown of concentration on her forehead. It amazed me how still
she could be, how complete in herself. I tried it sometimes. But I could keep it
up for only a few minutes before I'd get pins and needles.
I've forgotten the girl's name, and why in the course of the afternoon we
went into her parents' bedroom, but I do remember her telling me not to jump on
her parents' bed, they didn't like it.
"You mean your mom sleeps here--with your dad?" I asked, surprised
and faintly disgusted.
"Sure she does," the girl replied. "You mean your mom
Under her incredulous eyes, I hung my guilty head.
"You guys are weird," she pronounced.
After that afternoon, I undertook a course of serious research. One by one, I
went to the homes of the children I knew (they were not many) and, between games
and snacks and TV, checked casually into their mothers' sleeping arrangements.
Finally I was forced to conclude that my family was, indeed, weird.
Armed with the statistics, I confronted my mother.
That was when I made the other discovery, the one that would nudge and gnaw
and mock at me all my growing-up years.
My mother was a dream teller.
The discovery did not come to me easily. My mother disliked speaking about
herself and, over the years of my childhood, had perfected many methods for
deflecting my questions. This time, though, I persisted.
Excerpted from Queen of Dreams by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, pages 1-9
of the hardcover edition. Copyright© 2004 by
Chitra Divakaruni. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or
reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.