Fiction from Hema Nataraju
One of two things can happen tomorrow:
either the parents will accept their newborn the way he is, despite the beard that touches the tips of his toes, wrap him in a thick blanket to hide his luminous face—which will glow brighter in the inky darkness of the night as they whisk him home through the hospital back door and then contemplate moving far, far away; to a place where nobody can follow and make a lab rat or a messiah of their sweet child.
the mother will cry soft sobs saying over and over again that this is for the best. While the father, holding a dam of tears behind his icy exterior, abandons the baby by the dumpster behind the hospital, the mother will get on her knees, swallow the pain of fresh taut stitches tugging at her belly and pray that the world doesn’t make a lab rat or a messiah of her sweet child.
the baby is nestled between the soft pillows of his mother’s arms. She kisses his forehead and strokes his beard, while his father wipes away an errant happy tear. Outside, hospital security guards struggle to keep the crowd trying to catch a glimpse of the miraculous, freakish baby under control. Nurses sift through offerings that desperate people leave at the hospital door; keep the good stuff for themselves. One has her hand in her pocket, her fist guarding a lock of the baby’s beard which she cut off while bathing him and tonight, she is sure her husband’s cancer will be cured.
the baby’s velvety beard glows golden and fiery, like a flashlight during a powercut as he feeds at his mother’s breast. He smells like her childhood, like effervescent giggles with her friends, like guava slices with salt and chili, her safe, obedient childhood in which she never cheated in hopscotch games, never stole tamarind pods from the neighbor’s tree like her friends did and little secrets that she never spilled and held close to her heart because she had pinky-promised.
cocooned in the tight space between his mother’s arms, the bearded infant dreams of a sky studded with baby diamonds, growing slowly and hardening, hardening like his mother’s resolve.
Hema Nataraju is an Indian-American writer based in Singapore. Her work has appeared or will be coming soon in Ellipsis Zine, Moria Online, Spelk Fiction, Sunlight Press, Paragraph Planet, and in print anthologies including Bath Flash Fiction, Best Microfiction 2020, and National Flash Fiction Day 2020. She tweets about her writing and parenting adventures as @m_ixedbag.