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I have six siblings, and we sleep in the same small, hot room with just a window facing another house.

Mother is pregnant again, and I am wondering where they will put the baby, because there really is no more space. There isn’t even any space enough to fart without fearing someone will get cancer from inhaling the stench. But as usual, “God gives children; He will take care of them”, is what I hear till my brain boils and dries and then sizzles.

Mother looks frail and sickly, and that is not only because of the pregnancy, but also because father is a poor farmer, and the oil pollution in our community stunts the growth of his crops and also makes getting fish in the river difficult.

Our whole life stinks, and it is not only the oil and deadness of the water that causes it, but the fact that we are just too wretched.  The poverty stinks from the inside out, and when I look at our cracked mirror, the image I see is distorted and ugly like there’s a cruel artist inside me with the power to paint repulsive things to be seen on the outside. I know what that painter looks like…it’s been with me, with us, all our lives.

There is never enough of anything, the topmost of that being “food”. We are too “plural”; the food is too “singular”.

We always eat in silence, with veins coming out of our necks and heads because we are angry at the food…at everything. But my own veins are usually longer, stronger and darker because I am the angriest.

I am the eldest child. I see things more deeply, and understand night sounds more clearly than my siblings. The hardons that come with the nocturnal sounds don’t make me think of pleasure; they make me think of murder…Or suicide.

I blame my father silently for multiplying children thoughtlessly. I see the way we suffer, and it breaks my heart. The country is almost like a shattered glass; our region with its pollution, like broken pottery—why should we too be a sad combination of both? Why shouldn’t he be wise and leave God out of his stupidity!

Oh, my veins get as fat as poles many times.

Mother delivers triplets one midnight, and they look very hungry even as they suckle her shrivelled breast. I see as father looks like he wants to die.

We are 10 in the small, airless house now.

When we wake up the next day, father is nowhere to be found. There is no food to cook for the night; so starving and silent, we wait for him to come back.

But father never comes back.

I do not tell mother I am going away when I leave two days later; I just go.  I don’t even think.

If life is good to me, I might come back for all of them. But…where and how will life be good—I wonder, as I walk towards the bank laced with boats ready to take me over the oil-coloured water—when I am carrying the artist I have known my entire life inside me?

But I don’t look back. The artist and I enter the boat. I only hope to drop it somewhere inside the coloured water before I get to…wherever.

If the “it” is gone before I get to “where”, I might be able to become a whole and beautiful “him”. I might be able to get a life.

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