Saturday, July 26, 2014

DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction: FEHMIDA ZAKEER

Babies in the Park
Fehmida Zakeer  

A low rumble rolled across the sky and she looked up. Smoky swirls of grey were invading, breaking the even blue of the sky. Arif was in his pram. She had been pointing to the flowers and the dragonflies flitting about like little helicopters on a rescue mission and he was smiling, copying her and giggling. That’s when her glance fell on the little island in the middle of the pond.

 Two little babies, a girl and a boy, about the same age as Arif, were sitting side by side, looking towards her. Reena looked around to see if there was someone with the babies. But there was no one. She glanced at the people walking nearby. No one seemed to have noticed the babies on the island. Another rumble rolled bringing with it a breezy sprinkle of rain. She pulled up the hood of the stroller and looked towards the island once again. The babies had disappeared. A few dragonflies were flitting amongst the sparse stalks of grass swaying in the breeze. Reena had never noticed dragonflies in the park before. She pushed the pram and ran to escape the falling raindrops.

At home, Reena thoughts went back to the babies. It was happening again. But she did not have much time to think, busy as she was planning Arif’s first birthday which was coming up in two days. 
She had asked Sameer to pick up the cake on his way back from the office. Soon the house was filled with the chatter of guests and the excited calls of infants and toddlers.  It was close to midnight when the last guest finally left. After checking on Arif in the nursery, she uploaded the photos and sat down to view them. Then she saw them again, two babies on either side of Arif in almost all the photos he was in.

Reena called Sameer, her heart hammering, ‘Look, there is something wrong with the pictures.’

But he did not see anything wrong. ‘Great photos, your brother has really taken them well.’

‘No, look here and here ... two babies.’ Reena pointed to the screen. ‘I can’t see any other babies..’ He frowned and glanced at her. ‘You’ve had a long day today, go to sleep now. You are tired.’

When she checked the photos again the next day, she did not see anything out of place.  
Sameer came and stood next to her as she was looking at the pictures. ‘I was thinking ... maybe ... why don’t you go see a therapist ... maybe talking will help you deal...’

She looked up at him, ‘Are you suggesting something here?’

He rubbed his forehead and sighed, ‘I’m not suggesting anything. Just that you should talk to someone who can help you deal with the situation.’

‘There is no ‘situation’ as you put it; I’m fine. Don’t try to make it as if I’m having issues.’ She knew he was only trying to help, but there was nothing wrong with her, really. Sameer put his hands up and said, ‘Ok, ok, just a suggestion.’

Reena sighed and got up.

In the evening, she stood on the balcony and looked out towards the park. The regulars who circled the paved path bordering the pond were missing though she could see a few people lounging on the benches. Even the ice cream and balloon vendors were absent. It seemed as though the dark clouds had kept everyone away. She could see leaves, and what looked like small bits of straw, flying in the air. 

After some time Reena realised that what she had taken to be straw bits were actually hundreds of dragonflies whipping about in the cool air. She was broken out of her reverie by the sound of Arif giggling loudly. She looked over her shoulder, towards the crib. Arif was sitting with his back to her and opposite him were a little girl and a little boy, carbon copies of each other. It was as if her secret longing to see all her babies had come true. Her throat went dry as she saw the outstretched arms of the children reaching out and forming arches. Engrossed in their play, all three were laughing in delight.

A thousand flutters reverberated inside Reena and she swayed. As she lurched towards the crib, the girl looked at her with bright green eyes and smiled. Reena slowly walked towards them, determined to find out if the babies were indeed there or if it was just her imagination. She had to make sure she was not making it up in her head. Suddenly the door opened, distracting her. It was Sameer. When she glanced back, only Arif was in the crib.
Sameer looked at her pale face and asked, ‘What’s wrong, what happened?’

She shook her head and sat down on the sofa. ‘Headache, the weather I guess.’ A wave of cool air swept across the room.

‘Why have you kept the balcony doors open, then? There’s a storm coming.’

Sameer closed the doors. He took Arif from the crib and went out of the room. She leaned back on the sofa and closed her eyes.
The doctor’s words resounded in her ears even now, ‘The scan shows the presence of three babies, a pair of twins in a single sac and a single foetus in a separate sac.’

Later in the car she asked Sameer, ‘What do you think we should do?’

‘The doctor says with your history of miscarriages, it would be best to ensure a safe environment for one baby.’ His shoulders drooped.

She said, ‘It seems so wrong ... why don’t we ask to keep the twins ... or all three, oh I don’t know ... why do we have to take this decision at all?’

‘We’ll get a second opinion and think it over,’ Sameer said.   

She hadn’t seen the needle being guided into her stomach but had felt the furious twinges in her belly – like the wings of dragonflies imprisoned inside a glass jar, urgent, restless, desperate.    

After Arif was born, she’d wake up to cries, but when she peered into the crib, he would be sleeping, his lips curled into a rosebud of a smile. Sometimes, in the middle of the night while nursing him to sleep, her half-open eyes vaguely following the grey shadows of the leafy branches outside the window, she would sense two forms lying side by side in the empty crib by her bed. She used to put it down to fatigue, dismissing the images from her mind.
She sighed now and opened her eyes.  

Suddenly a buzz sounded, agitated and urgent. She sat up and looked around. Her eyes fell to the balcony door. Two dragonflies were moving in the narrow space between the wire mesh and the glass doors. She wondered how they had managed to enter without her noticing. They flew up and down without a pause, knocking and buzzing against the glass, much like her thoughts.  She got up. At least she could free the dragonflies from their desperation.  As she pushed open the door, a soft shower of rain flew in. Though they were free to go off into the night, the little dragonflies continued to fly in front of her. They twisted and twirled, tracing a rainbow-hued path. Reena stood entranced, her chaotic thoughts quietening as she followed the dance of the dragonflies.  After sometime, the little flies twirled one last time and raced out into the night. Reena watched them disappear into the darkness and closed the door.

She went downstairs. Arif was sitting on his chair and Sameer was turning spoonfuls of food into a parrot one time, an ant another time, an aeroplane the next time. She smiled at the splatter of food patterned around father and son.

She put her hands on Sameer’s shoulders and he looked up. ‘You are right. I can’t ignore this anymore. Let’s fix an appointment.’

Bio: Fehmida Zakeer has been published in journals and anthologies such as Out of Print MagazineAsian Cha, Rose and Thorn Journal, The Bangalore ReviewThe Four Quarters MagazineQuarterly Literary Review SingaporeMuse IndiaPangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the WorldRipples: Short Stories by Indian Women Writers, and elsewhere. A story of hers was placed first in the Himal South-Asian short story competition 2013 and another was chosen by the National Library Board of Singapore for the 2013 edition of their annual READ! Singapore anthology. She was twice on the honorable mentions list of the Binnacle Ultra short competition. Her articles have come out in various Indian and International publications including AzizahHerbs for Health, and Good Housekeeping.


  1. In this quite strange and wistful story, the dragonflies add to the otherworldly quality of the work.

  2. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Becca.

    I am intrigued that you call it 'wistful'... I like the image it conjures and yes, it sums up the 'aura' of the story nicely!