Samira sat on the floor of her adobe hut studying her hands as carefully as if she were plucking a daisy or reading the constellations on a bright night or counting the drops of water that dripped into the kitchen sink like a metronome. Her hands had five appendages each, five, just like her feet, which also had five. Like starfish. Like Christ’s wounds.
She stroked her hands slowly like Tony used to do. Tony would stroke her waistline, she would stroke his back, their lips would touch, their tongues would intertwine until they no longer knew where her taste-buds ended and his began. But that had been a long time ago and the first baby was now a young lady with boobs and all poking under her blouse like small mounds of brown sugar and fine corn silk grew under her arms. And after the first girl they had a second one.
Samira’s eyes ran over her hands. Her left index finger traced the lines of her right palm. Her right thumb touched the finger-pads of her left hand. As she did this, she felt that slight frisson that hardened her nipples and made her mouth water, moistening her lips into a pink gloss, just as her other lips used to turn deep crimson under her bushy tropical tangle. Samira remembered how Tony’s tongue would explore until it sunk into those depths that tasted like zapote fruit and smelled like wet soil. But that pleasant memory also brought back dark memories of how Tony’s tongue could also make her hurt. Tony’s inflammatory tongue, which could stir red-hot coals in her body and rouse rabbles at the university had become so caustic of late that Samira no longer remembered why they had married at all.
Samira traced the lines on her right palm. They spelled a perfect capital M, deep and clear, without any breaks, or sidelines or alleyways or anything that was not as clear-cut and bright as the wonderful future that was theirs for the taking.
They say that the lines in the left hand show a person’s destiny and those on the right one show the struggle between destiny and will. The lines in Samira’s left palm remained unchanged throughout her life, while the ones in her right hand had started changing at some point. Samira no longer remembered when this had started to happen.
How could hands change so drastically? First the head line of her right hand broke off, when she had to have her appendix out in a hurry. Then another line went haywire, when her tiny baby boy was born, a candle flickering in the wind to be snuffed out two hours later. Then Tony started acting strange and fine lines started appearing on her right hand like branches in a creeper.
Whenever Samira would reach this point in her ruminations the crazed lines in her hand took over her brain like a creeper that strangles anything that crosses its path. What mattered most, Samira repeated to herself, was that her destiny and her will had parted ways and the rest of her body had also started breaking apart. Her tongue no longer said what her brain really thought, her brain got disconnected from her heart, her heart and her reason were at odds leaving her soul bereft. At the end of the day all she could do was stare at that bottomless pit that nothing and nobody could fill.
Samira’s reverie was interrupted by a volley of hail that hit the French windows of the main house. When they had bought the plot to build their dream house, they had decided not to touch the adobe hut built by the previous owner at the back of the garden. It would be their love nest. As it turned out, not only had Tony started an affair, but he had the gall to tell the children that Samira needed to be sent to a rest home, “until she felt better”.
The hail stopped pounding and the rain dissolved into a light drizzle. Lucerito had her nose glued to the French window. The tears running down her face mirrored the curtain of water on the other side of the glass. She was looking at the adobe hut where her mother lived trying to remember the last time that she had buried her face in her mother’s warm bosom.
-Why does mummy spend so much time all by herself in the little hut?
Tony was about to say something but then changed his mind.
Samira looked across the garden at her daughters and her husband wishing she could be on the other side of the French windows. She couldn’t afford to mull over the past. Whenever she thought of Tony with the other woman, a dark viper would slither up her vagina all the way through her gut boring its way to her heart, pushing the air out of her lungs and if she was lucky, coming out through her mouth, nose and eyes in a torrent of wails and tears.
So instead of trying to deal with a world in which there was no room for her, Samira decided to create a world of her own. It was a place were time stood still and the present was suspended in the middle while the past and the future whirled round and round like a giant Ferris wheel, producing a strobe effect in which lights moved back and forth, where the future and the past were one blur and the present was where you wanted it to be.
The drizzle stopped and the sun melted the dampness that still clung to the window panes into thin tendrils of steam.
– Look at mummy, she is wading in the fountain! Can we go play outside?
Tony opened the French windows and stared at his wife. Samira was standing in the middle of the fountain holding water in her hands as if offering it to the sun. Her hands looked like starfish, with five fingers, like the five senses, like Christ’s wounds, like the Gutierrez family, who had been five, and then became four and now were three plus one and soon would be one minus one minus one, because children grow up and grownups grow apart and go their separate ways. At the end of the day, everything that adds up has to be subtracted, although who is to say that everything that has been subtracted can’t add up again? The trick is to do it yourself before life does it for you. Samira’s lips moved and her soft voice floated over the fountain and stopped at the French windows of the main house. She looked at her children. Then at her husband. Their eyes met. The Ferris wheel came to an abrupt stop. The past and the future became an indistinct blur. The sky burst into light. In a flash, Samira ran to the main house with her arms outstretched until they were covered in a tangle of fingers and palms and crazed lines.
Samira no longer knew where her hands ended and those of her family began.
[This story is a translated extract from Las Manos de Samira awarded a first prize by A Quien Corresponda, a Mexican literary review whose demise was due to budget cuts.]