Raindrops and Freestyle
“It’s raining again,” said Dr Hart.
Naina, who was washing her hands at the sink, didn’t turn around. It had poured for the last two days without pause. She thought of how she had spent the weekend shut in her room, headphones plastered over her ears, emerging only when Adam had left for his own shifts. For a few minutes of Saturday night, she had even gotten herself drenched on purpose. Looking in the mirror afterwards, she hadn’t been able to recognize the wide-eyed, wet-haired woman who stared back.
“Naina? Can you hear me?”
“I’m sorry.” She wiped her hands and faced Dr Hart. “What?”
“I said I’ve referred a patient to you. Do you mind spending a few minutes with him right now?”
The patient was only in his twenties. Indian, like she was. His name was Sid. Tall and dark-haired, with long, thick lashes that looked like a woman’s.
“What’s the problem?” she asked.
“Nothing.” He flashed her a brilliant white smile. “Only my back. It’s been bothering me lately.”
“What about it?”
“It’s sort of sore. Clicks a lot.”
“Have you seen a medical practitioner about this before?” She typed his name into the database. Nothing. She looked up.
He was staring at the gilded silver frame that she kept on the side of her desk. ”Who’s that?”
It was a picture of her and Adam, taken when they were honeymooning in France. She still remembered asking a busker to take the photo. Adam licking salted caramel off her lips afterward, even though they were in the middle of the street.
“No one,” she said.
She had met Adam at medical school. She had loved him because he was all the things she wasn’t. Tall, white, and there on full scholarship. Her father was livid when he found out. He spent that night breaking plates and packing bags, and the next morning she was thrown from the house. Her punishment gave her the one thing she most desired: freedom.
In the end, she had the white wedding she’d always wanted. All of Adam’s family came—everyone wanted to see his exotic Indian bride. At the reception, she drank just enough champagne. They danced to Bob Marley. They were almost happy.
A year later, she was pregnant. The slave of someone else’s cravings. The home of a tiny tap-dancing swimmer, who freestyled inside her in the middle of the night. She went into labour during a thunderstorm. It was an emergency caesarean.
When she woke up, it was over. Her freestyler was gone. Only a scar left behind, to prove it had happened.
“You should lighten up a bit,” said Sid, on their second appointment.
“In what way?”
“Stop thinking so much.”
“What makes you think I’m thinking?” she asked.
He reached out and touched her forehead. “You’ve got lines, for God’s sake. You’re only, like, thirty, and you’ve got lines. What are you thinking so hard about?”
Freestylers in blue water. “Nothing,” she said. “Do you have a medical history I need to know about?”
“I had a slipped disc a few years ago. Does that count?”
“Everything counts. How much pain did it cause you, on a scale of one to ten?”
His mouth twisted. “You know, it didn’t really hurt until after surgery. And then it felt like I was missing something.”
“Like phantom pain?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Just like that.”
After the baby was born, she began to forget things. Food in the oven. Clothes in the machine, that grew stiff and wrinkled when she left them in too long. Her card in the ATM machine, that she never got back.
One morning, raw from the shower, she studied her body in the mirror. She was still thin-waisted, her hips as narrow as they had been at sixteen. Nothing to remind her that she had almost become a mother.
They began to avoid her at the hospital. Grief was a communicable disease—everyone knew that.
Only Adam was persistent. He began leaving roses on her side of the bed. Notes taped onto the mirror and slotted between the pages of the books she read. Messages sent from strange numbers. He was trying to revive something in her that no longer existed. She didn’t know how to tell him that that something had been lost, that it had escaped her in a purple vortex of afterbirth. That it had folded itself into the bloodied sheets, and still lingered on in the cold, sterile smell of the hospital.
After a while, he stopped trying. And the woman that had married him disappeared into a world of missed dates and vapid silences, leaving a ghost behind.
“The man in the photo,” she said to Sid, “He’s my husband.”
“Wow,” he said. “You’re married.”
“I guess I am.”
Sid tilted his head. “You don’t look married.”
“What do married people look like?”
“I don’t know. Like they’re lost. Like they’re just waiting to get home and find themselves again.”
“What do I look like?” she whispered. Suddenly, she wished she could see herself the way other people saw her. The reality, not inverted and partitioned by a mirror.
He smiled. “Like you’ve never been lost in your life.”
“Have you been lost before?”
“I was in Christchurch during the earthquakes. Never felt so lost in my life.”
“I wasn’t here then,” she said. “I was in India. My father died that year.”
“What was he like?”
Her beautiful, bespectacled father. With his Hitler moustache. Who had called her a disgrace and slid her suitcases outside, into the rain.
“He was the best,” she said. A lie that didn’t even feel like one.
“You’ll have to take your shirt off,” she told him. “I need to see the skin.”
So he did. The skin on his back was lighter than the rest of him. Thick down trailed from the top of his neck and along his spine. She went up to him and held her fist out beside his body. They were almost the same brown. Almost matching.
Sid turned, and a corner of his mouth lifted. “What are you looking for, exactly?”
He was still wet. Raindrops were caught on his lashes like tears. She reached up and stroked his damp hair, and then she kissed him.
And then she was lost.
After dinner, Adam folded his hands on the table between them. His sleeves were pushed up to his elbows, exposing a teenager’s arms. Devoid of muscle, hardly haired. She remembered that they were the first part of him she had loved.
“They want me to move to California,” he said. “New job. Nice apartment.”
“You’d like that,” she said, smiling slightly.
He waited. She waited.
He shifted. “Say something, Naina.”
The air grew warmer. It smelt of bolognaise and detergent and something else. It reminded her of that night in June, when the baby had been born. She could no longer remember the contractions that had ripped through her. Only the coldness and the wetness. The raindrops that had shivered and sparkled on everything that moved.
“You should go,” she said.
There was nothing left inside her. She saw her fear spread its white wings, watched it soar around the kitchen once and burst into a million beautiful pieces.