by Sofia Samatar
First she was a girl.
Then she was a mother (of a daughter).
Then she was a cannibal.
All the little children know this story.
The voice is an arrow, felt in the body.
Such a long ear! Of course she heard them.
She heard, she heard them, three daughters, no sons, what's the use, what's a womb if it yields no name, the name, the womb is a means to a name, to a history, she heard them say history is dying, history is darkening, names are dissolving, all the stars falling she heard them say it, this body making only nameless vessels is cursed, this body is cancerous, see where she walks, watch for her shadow, don't touch her hand, if you're pregnant don't look at her, yes, she heard them, her ear growing longer, more sensitive, delicate, quivering, bleeding, an ear like a quiver, she heard them, those arrows, she heard them, she felt them, she heard them. She overheard.
Dhegdheer's story is the longest one.
I remember, the oldest daughter says, when my youngest sister was born. Another girl. My father walked out, silent, he went to the café. My grandmother, my father's mother, was so angry she locked herself in her room. She wouldn't bring my mother anything to eat. My mother lay in bed with the baby and cried. She called my name. I remember her face, her arm, a faint glimmer in the darkness of the room. Bread, she said. Take the money out of my purse. Outside the sun was a glare, the streets loud, my shadow stark and black, cut out with a pair of scissors.
Years later I learned that, during pregnancy, some of the baby's cells enter the mother's body. So the mother feeds the child, and she also eats the child, she takes in cells that remain in her body for decades. And when she is injured or ill, the cells of the child rush to the site of the damage.
All of me rushing to my mother then. My cells in her body rushing, I believe, to heal her. My cells on the street rushing to buy her bread. In the kitchen I made her a sandwich of white cheese. When I carried it to her, it glowed.
I knelt in that radiance. Eat, Mama. Eat.
Cannibal/ cannonball/ laughable/ animal/ fanciful/ fallible/ flammable/ radical/ natural/ lavender/ tamarind/ tarragon/ mandarin/ cardamom/ calamus/ cannibal.
I hear you. I hear you. I hear you.
Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel A Stranger in Olondria (Small Beer Press, 2013). Her stories and poems have appeared in a number of places, including Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Eleven Eleven, and Goblin Fruit. She edits nonfiction and poetry for Interfictions Online. You can find her on Twitter, and blogging at sofiasamatar.blogspot.com
Photography: adapted from Whenever You Need Me, I Will Be There, by Lotus Carroll.