The fruit-shop owner at the Sunday Bazaar looks sad this morning.
His cracked lips didn’t bend into a crescent moon when I greeted him
and his sclera looked like he had squashed tomatoes into them
from the Subzi dukaan on the opposite lane.
His children, 7 and 10 sit in a corner, peeling orange piths,
digging their teeth into the juicy flesh;
thin, tall legs resembling betelnut trees
lay half covered in a soiled blanket
that has 3 holes and a bunch of loose threads.
The skin on their legs is a brown canvas
of burgundy wounds and purple patches slowly turning green
and the carapace on their ankles embroidered
with a zillion brown “l”s in cursives that look like
they would tear open the skin faster than tissue paper.
From what I learned, the mother was burnt into ashes half a decade ago,
a cold December night when the winter soil
became corpulent with another gravestone.
Cancer- the father told me when the water in his eyes had dried up
and 2 springs later, the children welcomed a new mother whose love language
was painting red lines on their soft, tender skin with an old cane
or leaving marks of her long, slender fingers on their nape.
She spoon-feeds them every night a plate of angst,
coercing their tiny throats
to swallow glasses of trauma mixed with powdered dreams.
The girl plays with dishwasher soaps and aluminium saucepans
more than her toys
and waves at her school-going friends from the smouldering kitchen window
where she soaks lentils for lunch.
Earlier, the flaking off green paints on bedroom walls
had frames in squares and rectangles,
her mother smiling at her in a red-gold wedding dress
before the new wife pulled them down,
Speaking of which, she abandoned them last night and ran away.
The girl carries pieces of her broken home in skirt pockets
and covers them with an old family photograph
whose corners have yellowed.
The tall walls shield her bones and skull
and yet melancholy seeps in through the crevices of cemented red bricks
and whispers in her sleeping ear: You’ll never have a home.
Children of broken mansions like her don’t search for homes
but shelters, that, to them aren’t the prettiest bungalows
but warm hugs that feel like October’s mellow sunshine on a loved one’s
shoulder or breathe under a free sky, chasing delicate dreams they had
imprisoned inside rib cages.
Children of broken mansions take escapism as their shelter
and fence their hearts with barbed wires, hanging metal locks
on its gates to protect themselves from another tragedy,
craving for the love they never had and yet apprehensive about opening their
hearts again, for Mohabbat, Pyaar.
Children like her grow up to forage for shelters
in music and poems, books and mundane joys,
yearning for kindness and affection, seeking safe havens
in a loved one’s old clothes or a bunch of decrepit letters.
And yet, their hearts weigh heavier than all other organs
carrying the smell of a broken home.
Tell me, how do you rebuild a collapsed home again?