Glass Dolls

By Rajitha Sivakumaran

My father sent me the glass dolls. They came from the city, thousands of miles from here. They were my most prized possession; I didn’t let anyone touch them. I kept them on a shelf, away from sweaty hands and longing eyes. I did not see much of my father. He taught math at a university on the other side of the island. He came home once every three months and when he couldn’t visit, he would always send us something. I had turned fourteen just the month before and was expecting a package from him.

The postal service on the island was neither reliable nor delivered daily. When we did receive it, envelopes and packages often came resealed. My uncle said that the government checked the mail. There was talk of an anti-government group. With the extra checking, the mail seemed to take even longer to reach the villages. When the postman finally arrived (it was always the same one), it was during prayer time. I ran to the door, much to my mother’s disapproval. The postman eyed me, holding an envelope, and asked if I had spoken to my father recently. I shook my head.

“Well, you should call him to make sure he’s okay.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s trouble up north. Apparently, the government received some sort of threat from that rebel group. They’re rounding up anybody who isn’t a Crishtalka for questioning.”

He added, “I hear some of the people they took didn’t come back.” “My father has nothing to do with that group!”

“The government doesn’t know that, young lady. They just think the minority is fighting back.”

I swallowed hard.

“You look terrified, girl. Don’t be. That letter is from the university. It’s obviously from your father. I guess you only get a letter this time. No doll.”

He left, chuckling loudly. A breeze hit my face. I left the door open halfway, inviting the rare wind, and stepped away. Tearing the envelope open, the university’s fancy letterhead greeted me. The letter was dated to nearly a month ago. Suddenly, I felt a scorching pain on both sides of my head. My mother drew my face close to hers, her fingers wrapped around my ears, twisting them.

“What are you doing, girl? Why aren’t you praying?”

I dropped the letter, my hands flew to my ears and I prayed that she wouldn’t get the stick. She finally let go, her interest, thankfully, aroused by the letter. I followed my mother’s eyes as they swallowed the words. My curiosity burned. Her eyes were back at the top. Her face became red. She muttered something and then shook her head.

I could only make out two words.

“Missing… how…”

The door moved back and forth behind her. I felt the soft breeze that had over a matter of minutes turned into wind. I began walking toward it, keen to close it before the wind blew in garbage. The wind was getting stronger. How had the weather changed so quickly? I froze when a thin, ragged-looking book flew in, its flight ending upon impact with my mother’s left leg. For a moment, the worry on her face dissipated. She looked down at the book. It was a Calculus textbook. And then my mother screamed. She picked up the book and threw it blindly. Her uncontrollable sobs and the breaking of glass filled my swollen ears.

 

*This story is from our Spring 2015 issue "The Visual"
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