Wash your hands
I wash my hands with soap, rinse, once, twice. I see me in the mirror. Do they all see me the way I
look in the mirror?
I step into the tub. Scrub with the bath-cloth all the curves of my body. For a full minute under the
shower I stand and let water run down the right side of the shoulder, then the left, then the right again. Step out of the tub. Wrap myself in the bathrobe.
I didn’t mean to touch her. Just poured a handful of grain inside her plate; watched her meek little head turn, sniff, and wobble towards food, and you said, “Wash your hands.”
I wonder what would happen if I forgot to feed her.
It smells of fresh air. You’ve left the window ajar. It’s cold. You are a nice guy. Mother used to like
you a lot when she was around. She said, “He’s a nice one, mind you.”
I wash my hands. Walk in the kitchenette because that’s where you are. It hits me then that I haven’t checked in the mirror. How do I look? Finish your food!
I walk in to the kitchenette. Sunlight, rushing through the window, blackens your profile. You are standing in front of the window, facing me. I can’t see your face. You open your arms and hold me tight, let your fingers in my hair. You ask if I’m hungry. I ask if you’re leaving. You say finish the food
I sit down.
I like to press my feet on the leg of the table. I like to lean back on the chair, let it rock back & forth just to the brink of loosing balance. My hair dangles in the air. My hair is still wet.
I haven’t looked in the mirror since I sat down to eat. You come to the table with a plate in your hand. My lunch. I get up and go in to the bathroom. I look alright. I come back. You say Eat
I want you to tell me not to eat. I want you to say Stop it, it’s not good for you
I know myself it’s not good for me, but what can I do? How can I stop? Like sleepwalkers I walk to the table. I sit down on a chair, stare, chew, stare. There are times I can’t swallow. I take a bigger bite to push it down. You leave for work. You like me a lot. You tell me you like my hair pulled back in a braid.
There are times you tell me you like my hair loose on my shoulders. You are a nice guy. I am in the bedroom, mostly, sitting on the bed. Mother said: “Keep him, he’s a nice one.” There is not much space to pace in our place, anyway. With you taking care of things and all, there isn’t much to do for me, either. I like it here in the bedroom. It’s good to have a wall that runs around the space, keep me in. It’s good to curl on the bed, and hug my own knees. It is good to have the door locked.
I was curled up under the sheets when you walked in. I had pulled my knees up, hugging them, my face, down. You came close and bent over. I had this feeling that I hadn’t feed her for a day or so. I had a feeling that she was hungry.
Hungry? A day or two? She must be dying. Thin, and crumpled like an empty little sack, blank eyes looking into mine. I lifted my head a bit higher, and looked. She was there in the cage, looking. Her head was up, not buried in her furry chest. She stared as you. You pulled yourself on top of me and pushed yourself in, in. For one split second, I was exposed, embarrassed, then, nothing, numb.
I like to pick her up and hold her. Then, I think of her tiny sharp teeth sawing on the wires of the cage to get out and get lost and get stepped on. Dizzy, rushing here and there under every one’s foot, scared, miserable. They step on her. Or chase her. Or trap her. I don’t like to see her like that. I don’t like her teeth yearn to gnaw at things all the time. I don’t want to pick her up, press her to my cheek.
I only feed her.
I turned my face. You were looking at me. I was aware. I could sense you shift to your side, jab your cigarette in the ashtray, exhale. You kept breathing softly. You got up and switched the lights off.
One day, you came home early. Why so early? I threw her back in her cage, sat on the bed. Why did I take her out? I wish I could check in the mirror.
I turn and look at my reflection in the windowpane. My cheeks, hidden under my hair. I pull the hair back. I’m fat. Why? It’s one of those days. Life would pass easy if I didn’t look… in the mirror. You don’t talk to me. You come and sit beside me. I can’t see your eyes. Your hands, on me, feel like ants scurry under my skin. The ants crawl down and up, make my hands sweat. Draw the curtains shut
I get up to do as you say.
Sweat drenches my palms. I clutch on to the sheets. Can’t you feel it? It’s too dry. You can’t push in. It is out of this same spot that I glance at the corner of the wall. I am looking, not straight at you, but sideways at that corner on the left. A big flowerpot sits in that corner. Up on the wall, a bit above my head if I was standing up, a picture frame hangs. One could fit in the corner where the two walls meet. It is my habit to measure by eye, corners of walls when I need to keep safe. It’s like I rush to stand in the corner, any minute, facing the wall, so the kicks don’t hit my drum belly, and I keep thinking in that corner that the skin is too thin, stretched on my belly, and I don’t dare turn around and look at you for the fear my belly would burst under the kicks. I will have my knees bent a little, press my forehead to the wall. Dizzy. It will be bruised all over my backside. Who could sit, or walk like this with the painful bruises under the cloths, and keep face? “Turn around.” “No, You’ll hit the belly, the baby.”
I am used to measure corners of walls to shelter my belly when the blows come.
I found her stiff little body at the bottom of the cage. Collapsed. Out of fear. Fear of what?
Fear of the cage? Or maybe she just gave in because she was desperate. Depressed. Sad? But why did she wait so long? Why didn’t she die sooner? Why didn’t she say something? She should have. Like me. I yelled. I have. Why didn’t she yell?
I yell often, and when I yell my head weighs down and wags around. Words bubble out, and I shut my mouth. You keep looking. I watch to see when you would get up and raise your hand. And bring it down.
I crave a pot of steaming tea, set at the foot of my throw-pillow, in the cellar. We have no cellar. Mother had a cellar, and she taught me all about things I needed to know. Like keeping safe. And quiet. When I can’t help but taking your mean, measured blows, I crave a throw-pillow in the cellar and someone who’d care to bring a steaming pot of tea to the cellar. For me. But we don’t have a cellar, and I have never walked up the stairs of a summer-kitchen, holding the tray full of the dishes of food while someone is pulling on my hair from the stair- top, twisting it round his wrist as I wobble to carry on steady and spill nothing and walk safely up in to the backyard, up in to the hallway, in to the dining room, up to the table, and say: Help yourself, please.. 🙂
I sit on the bed, my bathrobe wrapped ’round me and you tell me to go wash my hands, and finish my food, and close the door, and leave her in her cage. And draw the curtain, because it is not good to be seen from outside. I know you’ve got to go to work and come back and take care of my cage and all. But I’m shut in. Can’t help it if I can’t eat. Something inside me knows it’s time to be seated. Head, bent over kneecaps. Gazing ahead whit life dead inside my head.
Don’t you want to wash your hands?
Summer 1997, Totonto
Translated into to English Summer 2005