Part 15 (1/2)

Black Milk Elif Shafak 93330K 2022-07-22


Mama Rice Pudding bangs her scepter furiously.

”Enough! I know where all of this whining and bellyaching is coming from,” she says. ”You've been talking to Miss Highbrowed Cynic, haven't you? You are meeting with her behind my back, aren't you?”

Blus.h.i.+ng up to my ears, I stop and say no more.

Week 36 It's true. I have been continuing my visits with Miss Highbrowed Cynic on the sly. We draw the curtains, lock the doors and talk about books-just like we used to do in the good old days. Like proper intellectuals we grumble and grouse about everyone else, holding our heads high, feeling like the brightest bulbs in the crystal chandelier of society. I double over with laughter when Miss Highbrowed Cynic throws a bedsheet over her shoulders and takes up a green bean for a scepter; she does a fantastic imitation.

One day, out of the blue, she says, ”Did you ever wonder why mothers use the p.r.o.noun we when addressing their kids?”

”What do you mean?”

”Check it out. They have this funny way of talking. 'Did we get dirty?' they say. 'Did we get thirsty?' 'Did we pee in our pants?'”

I crane my neck forward and listen carefully.

”If the child falls down, the mother starts, 'Oh, honey, did we fall down? Nothing happened, it doesn't hurt!' How does she know if it hurts or not? It isn't she who fell down, it's the kid!”

”Yeah, you're right,” I say.

”The child has a separate body from his mother's, and as such, he is a different ontological being. Many mothers simply cannot accept this.”

”That is so true,” I say agreeably.

Suddenly her tone mellows. ”Just be yourself,” she says. ”Don't let Mama Rice Pudding turn you into one of those snow globe moms.”

”What is a snow globe mom?”

”You know, those half-hysterical ones who speak to their kids in a high-pitched-toy-frog voice even when they are no longer babies? Who want to breast-feed until the child goes off to college? They've lost their minds with motherhood. They live in a vacuum. Their universe is a snow globe. Colorful and cute inside, no doubt, but overprotective and airless. Don't you become one of-” She leaves the sentence hanging.

”Who? Me? Never!” I say self-a.s.suredly.

”There is a thin line between motherhood and fascism,” she declares.

”Trust me,” I say. ”I won't ever force food into my child's mouth. If she doesn't want to eat, she won't eat. I'll give her plenty of s.p.a.ce and freedom from the start. You'll see what a democratic mom I will be.”

”Good,” exclaims Miss Highbrowed Cynic. ”That's my big Self.”

Week 38 This week I learned that a pregnant woman's body belongs not to her but to all women.

The other day when I was grocery shopping, an old lady I had never seen before came over and checked my shopping cart.

”Oh, you are buying eggplants,” she said with a look of sympathetic horror on her face.

”Yeah,” I said cautiously.

”But there is nicotine in them,” she said, and turned to the apprentice, as if he were responsible for this terrible mistake. ”How can you give her eggplants? Take them back.”

The grocer's apprentice nodded, accepting the lady's authority. Without consulting me, he took the eggplants out of my cart.

”Give her broccoli instead,” said the old lady.

Again the apprentice did as he was told.

”And some spinach. It is very healthy. Oh, don't forget pepper. Whatever you cook, always put green pepper in it.”

Into my cart went a package of spinach and half a pound of green peppers.

”Are you done with my shopping? May I go now?” I asked.

They both grinned at me.

It is the same when I go to the neighborhood pool. All the women feel the need to say something, anything, to help me through another day of gestation.

”Be careful. The floor is quite slippery,” says one.

”Better stay in the shade,” cautions another woman.

”Make sure you don't dive belly first,” says the one next to her.

”Don't swallow chlorine,” adds someone else.

On the street, in the bus, on the boat, in cafes and restaurants, complete strangers give me advice. If one of them happens to be eating something, she immediately offers half her food to me.

No matter how many times I say ”no, thank you,” they insist until I give in. So I walk around munching on other people's sandwiches and cakes. It doesn't matter that I've never met these women or that I'll never see them again. Where there is pregnancy there is no formality. Where there is no formality there is no privacy.

Week 39.5 A wave of tranquillity has come over me. Currents of air gently stir the haze of clouds near the horizon and the tulips of Istanbul sway in full bloom, purple, red and yellow. Suddenly the world is an exquisite place and life is heavenly. I am smiling so much that the muscles around my mouth have slackened.

As I pa.s.s by the electric pole today I realize the Converse trainers are no longer there. Someone must have taken them down. How great is that! How lovely the weather, how kind the people, how blue the sky. What a wonderful world!

”It is called happiness hormone,” says Mama Rice Pudding. ”It is released when a woman nears the time of birth.”

For the first time in my life it dawns upon me how much power hormones have on us. I have always thought of myself as one thinking, choosing and creating individual. But how much of our lives and relations.h.i.+ps, behaviors and choices, are guided by hormones? If they are capable of boosting up one's morale, can they also do the opposite, propel one deep into gloom? But life is too beautiful to contemplate such unsettling matters, and I simply don't.

Week 41 Panic! The time has come and I am terrified. Her Majesty the Queen is doing everything she can to calm me down, but it is no use. There's only one finger-woman who can help me right now. I need to speak to her.

My belly at my chin, careful not to slip, I descend the stairway to the bas.e.m.e.nt of my soul. There, in a city as spiritual as Mount Athos, beyond a wooden door, I find Dame Dervish, sitting cross-legged on a grape leaf. On her feet are cerulean sandals, around her neck a silver Hu.

”Dame Dervish, may we talk?”

”Of course,” she says. ”Words are gifts from one human to another.”

”Okay, do you remember the time I felt grateful for not being an elephant? Now I wish I were one.”