I wrote this as my assignment for University of Iowa’s ‘How writers write Fiction – Storied Women’ course which I’m enrolled in. We were asked to write from a female child’s perspective, using her voice to describe real and imagined details of her world.
The only mistake I made was coming out first. And that wasn’t even my fault.
“Little bird, little bird, fly through my window, fine molasses candy.
Through my window, my sugar lump, fly through my window, my sugar lump. Fine molasses candy.“
I remember the days when Mama sang this to me, only to me. My throat was tight when I heard her singing the same song to Alfie, my little brother. He appeared unexpectedly after Mama and Dad went to the hospital one day. I was dropped off at Gram’s place. Her house smelled like naphthalene balls and Nilla wafers. She made me draw all day while she quilted with her friends around the creaky dining table. Then she made me a sandwich with so much mayonnaise that the bread couldn’t hold it in and it dripped onto my dress. It was yucky.
After Alfie came, Dad started putting me to bed. He read me stories, but he didn’t do the funny voices like Mama did. He always tucked me in a little too tight, called me his little burrito. He always smelled like motor oil. I loved that smell. His cheeks rough against mine, he would kiss me goodnight and leave. In the darkness, I would hear her singing my song to Alfie who didn’t even care about the song. He only cried all day and all night.
Maya and Molly came in quick succession after Alfie. The song didn’t hurt as much as it did. Also because Mama stopped singing it. She hardly smiled these days, let alone sing. I did everything to make her happy. I would wake up early, before Mama on most days, calm any crying babies, get dressed, pack my lunch and leave for school with Dad. I would come home to find Mama looking like a crazy woman with her hair disheveled, still in yesterday’s sweats. She didn’t ask me how school was anymore. “Nina, could you change Maya?” “Nina, give Molly her bottle!”. “Nina, get Alfie dressed,” was all she said.
We didn’t talk about my teachers, we didn’t talk about how my day at school was. As soon as I got home, a crying baby would be placed on my hip. Dad usually came home late, his overalls covered in grease paint and always too tired to talk to anyone. After dinner, we would all just collapse into our beds as if our bodies were made of Jell-O, the long day taking a toll on us. Some nights I would hear Mama and Dad talking in really loud voices. I hid myself under the blankets and wished they would stop screaming.
School was rough today. I got an F on my English test. And then I overheard Stacy Wong and her friends talking about me in the girls’ restroom. They laughed and said that I smelled like baby poop. My cheeks were hot when I came out of the bathroom stall. They stood sniggering around me as washed my hands and left the restroom without a word. I cried all the way back home.
I went home and lay my head down on Mama’s lap already occupied by Maya. Mama responded with an irritated ‘tsk’, as if her entire body bristled. “Nina, get up and change and come hold Maya for a few minutes! I haven’t had a minute to myself since morning.”
I wanted her all to myself. Just for a day, just for a minute. I hated these babies. I hated this house and Mama and Dad. I bet if I went away, they wouldn’t even notice. I hated the whole world.
I walked out of the room and out of the house and before I knew it, my flip flops were flapping on the asphalt darkening in the dimming light of the sun. I passed the Hernandez house at the end of our block and looked back. Nobody was looking for me.
So I kept walking. It was getting darker and colder. My stomach grumbled. I had forgotten my sweater. And I didn’t know where I was.
A grey car slowed down. Through the descending glass, I saw a balding man with thick glasses. “Are you lost, honey?” He sounded like a snake hissing. I screamed and ran as fast as I could, not looking where I was going. I finally stopped at a traffic light because I was out of breath. I looked back. The car wasn’t following me.
Did Mama & Dad even know I was missing? I hoped they would come looking for me. I was all alone and scared. I missed them. I missed Alfie and the babies. I looked at the lights on in houses and I imagined their residents, all cozy and safe in their houses. I remembered “Little Bird, Little bird, fly through my window…” Then the tears came. “Mama”, I sobbed.
It was the best face in the world. Gram was walking towards me. I ran to her and threw my arms around her frail body.
“I had stepped out to refill my prescription. Shorter wait times at Walgreens at this time. But what are you doing here?” She ran her fingers through my hair. My chest heaved, I couldn’t stop sobbing.
Gram took me home. I finished a whole bowl of pasta and then some more. The smell of naphthalene balls and Nilla wafers was the best smell in the whole world.
“Let’s not tell them you’re here.” her eyes wrinkled as she smiled. Dad looked a lot like her.
“But Mama will worry.”
“Let them miss you just a little longer. I’ll call them after we clean up.” I smiled back at her.
“Okay, Grammy.” I kissed her cheek.
“And tomorrow, I will give them both a piece of my mind, for not treating my princess like a princess.”
My stomach full, my body under the heavy blanket covered with cherry blossoms, I drifted off into a deep sleep. Everything was going to be okay.