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 doesn't?"
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.
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No Man's Land
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