This is a work of fiction inspired by the painting ‘Flaming June’ by Sir Frederic Leighton. (Fyi – that painting is a bit NSFW)
Sonia looked down at baby Manu.
He is so cute. My little son. His perfect, chubby little toes. Those rubber band wrists. Is it okay to want to eat him?
When she looked at him, she forgot lack of sleep, forgot helplessness, forgot lack of time. When she looked at him, everything in the world settled into its right place.
She leaned down to touch his squishy cheek and felt her lower back seize up again. Ugh. She was so tired. She felt like her very blood was tired. Like the breath that came out of her mouth was tired. All tired. Every kind of tired.
Three months since Manu was born and the thought of the next few years made her want to curl up and die. It also made her want to weep with gratitude. Such extreme feelings still, the hormones were still hanging around.
Sonia remembered the days she was pregnant. They had been so happy. Reading pregnancy books, laughing over weird birthing videos, taking way too many ‘bump’ selfies. Even their sex had improved. Manoj had bought her a sheer nightie in flaming orange. Gossamer thin material that seemed to blaze around her. And then, Manoj had painted the baby’s crib the same flaming orange. All their friends had asked – why orange? Why not blue or pink? Manoj would wink at them and say, ‘It’s the color of more babies.’ All that was gone now. No winking, no smiling, and no color at all.
Manoj loved the baby. She knew that. When Manu was born, Manoj was crying and laughing and looking at her as if she had performed a miracle. (And she had, make no mistake.) He had been so excited that he had gotten the date wrong on the birth certificate.
He had come home with the birth certificate, so full of pride and joy. It was the first day back from the hospital and she had been trying to get Manu to nurse. But it just wasn’t happening and she was desperate. The baby was crying of hunger and she was crying with frustration.
My baby will starve because of me, she thought. And she had been so relieved when she heard Manoj coming in. He came bouncing in waving the certificate in her face. Sonia looked at him and cried harder.
“I can’t get him to feed! I don’t know what to do!”
“I’m sure he’ll latch on when he’s ready. Look at his brand new certificate!! He’s official! WE’RE official!”
“Did you hear what I said? He’s crying of hunger and I can’t feed him!”
“I’m sure he’s not crying of hunger. Always so dramatic, Sunu,” Manoj smiled.
“Don’t treat me like an idiot. I know why he’s crying. Do you know how long I’ve been trying to do this? All you had to do was get a piece of paper!”
She yanked it out of his hand and looked at it.
“Manoj, the date isn’t right! Can’t you even do one thing right? And then you come here and tell me how to behave… Go away, Manoj. If you can’t help, just get out.”
And she flung the paper at him.
He backed out of the room, stunned, the certificate hanging limp from his hand.
That was the beginning. Sometimes it was her and sometimes it was him. Someone was always snapping. Just last night, they had had the worst fight. Even worse for the fact that it was conducted in frantic, harsh whispers because they didn’t dare wake the baby.
Manoj had, shockingly, asked when they might consider sex again. He had said it casually, with an awkward smile. And she had suddenly realised that Manoj was afraid of her. He was afraid she would explode. And he was right…
“Manoj, you know how the past three months have been. How could you even ask such a question?”
The atmosphere changed suddenly. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Sunu, how can you ask me that question? I know the last 3 months have been tough for you. But what about me? Do you even know I still exist in this house? I love Manu, you know I do. But you haven’t looked at me properly since he was born. You never talk to me. You talk at me. You want me to get things. You want me to be quiet. And then you want me to go away.
“I am trying to do this with you. But it’s like you’re part of an exclusive club for which I have to earn some secret membership. But you won’t even tell me how to earn this privileged spot. You want me to jump through hoops that don’t exist. You gave birth. I get that. But we’re a unit. No, we were a unit. Now, I don’t exist.”
“What the hell are you talking about?! You want me to think of YOU? When you’re sitting in your blessed AC office, eating at the right times and working in all that QUIET, I have a baby who won’t stop crying! Who takes an hour to feed! He sleeps in stretches of 20 minutes and then wakes up hungry. He takes hours to eat, but poops ALL the time! I haven’t thought of me in three months and you want me to think of you?”
“This is exactly what I’m talking about, Sunu. I’m ready to help. You want to hire help? We’ll do it! But you don’t want to. You want to do everything your damn self. And then you cry and complain and behave like I don’t exist.”
“He’s my son! I should take care of him! Why can’t you understand what that means to me? I’m his mother! If I can’t take care of him, then who can? You think someone else can do better than me?”
“I don’t understand you anymore. You don’t want me. You don’t need me. You’re wrapped up in being a victim. Fine, go ahead. Be a baby martyr.”
Sonia felt close to tears again. How was she expected to put up a good fight when she hadn’t slept?
“I do need you, Manoj. It’s just… I can’t do this now… I don’t know how…”
“Well, it’s about time you figured it out.”
To be continued…