Women stricken with grief and its derivates lose their ability to conceive. Plus, her husband started spending most nights away after their daughter passed. As it happened, he silently pressed their daughter’s doll into her hands and its hair had become the only thing that was able to lull her to sleep since. She uses the time awake in bed to figure out how she will manage to regain her composure the next morning. Her husband had gone to the wild and caught the snake that her mother-in-law had thrown at her to scare away the evil spirit she was convinced her daughter-in-law was harboring and free her from it, so that she could become pregnant again.
Her daughter’s complexion turned blue the last time she held her in her arms. She recalled kissing her on the forehead, smelling her hair, stroking her skin, which had started to lose its elasticity and moisture, and wiping tears from her cheeks that her dead eyes had shed just a moment earlier. Then her daughter’s grandmother took her away from her to bathe her and prepare her for her last resting place. She turned a deaf ear to her wails and stated, “She is gone, there is nothing you can do about it.”
“You are possessed and need to undergo an exorcism. You’ll start by visiting the graveyard,” she had said a few months later, seeing that she had not yet become pregnant again. The ritual involved several steps. The snake was one such hurdle she had had to overcome; another had been the one that entailed killing a dog and jumping over it in a deserted neighborhood; and today, a visit to the graveyard was due. There, she had to exhume her daughter’s body. Only in doing so, her own soul would be set loose. She doubted the effectiveness of this particular infertility treatment, for she believed that her daughter’s spirit had ascended directly to Heaven, because she had died without sin in a poorly-equipped medical facility.
She set off for the graveyard with an entourage. When they reached the fields they had to cross to get there, she looked around her and saw screeching scarecrows, women who walked fully dressed in black by her side feigning puppy eyes but not entirely able to mask their predatory gleam. During the stretch they walked along the canal, she had a chance to see butterflies flittering about in the reed.
They arrived at the graveyard and there she saw a big crow perched on one of the branches of a huge fig. Black sheep were grazing around the tombstones. She felt like a lamb being led to the slaughter. Her forefathers, consigned to those graves, would show no leniency.
Suddenly, her heart started racing and she felt like she was running out of breath. Still, she carried on. She walked over to the spot where her daughter lay buried and sat down on the ground. She removed the dirt from above her coffin and opened it. She didn’t even bother to allow herself enough time to reflect upon what she was expecting to find. She was not afraid of the darkness before her, but of what loomed out of the one behind her. The stench of putrefaction slapped her face. She could not even scent a hint of her daughter’s original odor in it. She was vanishing step by step. Next, she caressed what was left of her chin and wiped the memory of a tear from her cheeks. Then, she screamed, “God! Why won’t you let her return to her mother? Where are those you sent to relieve our pain? Where are the miracles you made us believe in?”
At some point, she had to cease her shrieking, for the crows had joined her and she could no longer bare the shrill clamor that had broken out around her. Her female companions came to her, and started hugging and praising her. They sounded cheerful, oddly so.
Someone called her from behind. It was her husband. He asked everyone to step aside, held her, pressed their daughter’s doll into her hands and said, “Let’s go, Sumya. I’ll take you home.”
The doll was the only thing which still smelled of her.
The Author, Amera Ayman Badawy:
Egyptian short-story writer. Co-founder of the literary group called “Discussion”. She is an author of children’s literature.