Banesa made little explosions with her lips. She used the corner of her yellowing sari to wipe some spittle from her chin. "This is called a death rattle," she explained. The three women put their faces close to the child. Nazneen flailed her arms and yelled, as if she could see this terrifying sight. She began to lose the blueness and turned slowly to brown and purple. "God has called her back to earth," said Banesa, with a look of disgust.
Mumtaz, who was beginning to doubt Banesa's original diagnosis, said, "Well, didn't He just send her to us a few minutes ago? Do you think He changes His mind every second?"
Banesa mumbled beneath her breath. She put her hand over Nazneen's chest, her twisted fingers like the roots of an old tree that had worked their way aboveground. "The baby lives but she is weak. There are two routes you can follow," she said, addressing herself solely to Rupban. "Take her to the city, to a hospital. They will put wires on her and give medicines. This is very expensive. You will have to sell your jewelry. Or you can just see what Fate will do." She turned a little to Mumtaz to include her now, and then back to Rupban. "Of course, Fate will decide everything in the end, whatever route you follow."
"We will take her to the city," said Mumtaz, red patches of defiance rising on her cheeks. But Rupban, who could not stop crying, held her daughter to her breast and shook her head. "No," she said, "we must not stand in the way of Fate. Whatever happens, I accept it. And my child must not waste any energy fighting against Fate. That way, she will be stronger."
"Good, then it is settled," said Banesa. She hovered for a moment or two because she was hungry enough, almost, to eat the baby, but after a look from Mumtaz she shuffled away back to her hovel.
Hamid came to look at Nazneen. She was wrapped in cheesecloth and laid on an old jute sack on top of the bedroll. Her eyes were closed and puffed as though she had taken two hard punches.
"A girl," said Rupban.
"I know. Never mind," said Hamid. "What can you do?" And he went away again.
Mumtaz came in with a tin plate of rice, dal, and chicken curry. "She doesn't feed," Rupban told her. "She doesn't know what to do. Probably it is her Fate to starve to death."
Mumtaz rolled her eyes. "She'll feed in the morning. Now you eat. Or you are destined to die of hunger too." She smiled at her sister-in-law's small sad face, all her features lined up, as ever, to mourn for everything that had passed and all that would come to pass.
But Nazneen did not feed in the morning. Nor the next day. The day after, she turned her face away from the nipple and made gagging noises. Rupban, who was famous for crying, couldn't keep up with the demand for tears. People came: aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, nephews, nieces, in-laws, village women, and Banesa. The midwife dragged her bent feet across the hard mud floor of the hut and peered at the infant. "I have heard of one child who would not feed from the mother but was suckled by a goat." She smiled and showed her black gums. "Of course, that was not one of my babies."
Hamid came once or twice, but at night he slept outside on a choki. On the fifth day, when Rupban in spite of herself was beginning to wish that Fate would hurry and make up its mind, Nazneen clamped her mouth around the nipple so that a thousand red-hot needles ran through Rupban's breast and made her cry out for pain and for the relief of a good and patient woman.
As Nazneen grew she heard many times this story of How You Were Left to Your Fate. It was because of her mother's wise decision that Nazneen lived to become the wide-faced, watchful girl that she was. Fighting against one's Fate can weaken the blood. Sometimes, or perhaps most times, it can be fatal. Not once did Nazneen question the logic of the story of How You Were Left to Your Fate. Indeed, she was grateful for her mother's quiet courage, her tearful stoicism that was almost daily in evidence. Hamid said--he always looked away as he spoke--"Your mother is naturally a saint. She comes from a family of saints." So when Rupban advised Nazneen to be still in her heart and mind, to accept the Grace of God, to treat life with the same indifference with which it would treat her, she listened closely, with her large head tilted back and her cheeks slack with equanimity.
From Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Copyright Monica Ali 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Blood at the Root
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