Short Story: Daddy’s Hat and the Hole

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Painting: Pam Baumeister

By Kamalini Natesan

I don’t like this curb; it’s hard. I liked the one mommy and I used to sit on everyday, for many days, that one had a padding. People loved us. They would drop all sorts in Daddy’s Hat. Mommy used to keep his hat by our side, and she would sing. Mommy was an angel. She would tell me I was her angel too, her favourite, and so named me Seraphina. I liked my name, especially when mommy called out to me in her Angel Voice, “Phina, my Seraphina, Oh Oooh, Phina, my Seraphina!” I miss mommy’s voice very much. I still do.

One day, mommy left me, saying she had to use the washroom. There was a restaurant which we used to visit, she and me. I waited. It was a bright sunny day, and we had collected a lot of money in the hat. She took it all with her, when she left for the washroom. I waited for her return. I hummed a song and then another, and then another. I don’t remember how many songs I must have sung, because afterward I stopped humming, and I sang with words from memory, from what I remembered. I do have a good memory too. People continued to stop and gaze, and some of them dropped coins in Daddy’s Hat. I was okay for a long while. But then I got really tired and hungry. Mommy did not return. Finally, it was late, very late, I think. A young woman stopped by me and asked me my name. I proudly told her it was Seraphina, Phina for short like mommy called me. The lady told me her name then – “I’m Dina, hello Seraphina, what a pretty name you have! Where are your mommy and daddy?”

I did not know what to tell her, because I did not know. So, I began to weep. The Dina lady caressed my head and put her hands upon my shoulders. She picked up Daddy’s Hat, and I stopped crying. I was afraid she would take it away from me.

“Don’t touch Daddy’s Hat!” I said loudly. She smiled but did not put Daddy’s Hat down. She then took my arm, and asked me to go along with her. I did not want to leave that spot because mommy would return and wonder where I’d gotten to. I wrestled my arm free of her hold. I was upset and very hungry by then. I held on to Daddy’s Hat which was still in her hand. The little money that had come into the Hat after mommy left for the washroom, would fall out, I was afraid.

“NO! I will wait for mommy here, she will return, she always does.”

“Listen my child, it is past 9, it is dark and there are wolves out here, big bad ones, you can’t keep sitting here alone. I’ll bring you back tomorrow morning, but please come with me, you’ll be safe I promise.”

I looked into her eyes. They were green, and they were kind. I wondered what wolves would come to this street. I’d never seen any. But then mommy and I never stayed out this late. By the time the sun sank, we were back in our little place under the bridge. We had a cozy little home, and we would buy bread and meat and share it every night and sleep in each other’s arms. Daddy had left for another country to earn; mommy told me. So, it was just us, and I had stopped missing daddy. I liked that it was just us, mother and Phina, friends, playmates.  I had Daddy’s Hat, which was like having him. So, for me the Hat was daddy, and it kept earning for us, didn’t it! So maybe Dina lady was right, it wasn’t safe for me, a little girl. I decided to go along, hoping mommy would find me. Or I would.

***

I’m ten now. I live with Dina and her mate, Arnott. They are nice to me. I still go to The Curb every other day. Dina kept her promise to visit what she calls a ‘shrine to mommy’. I still sing, but no longer with Daddy’s Hat, which always holds a pound or two, because Dina knows I like it that way. They gave me a room of my own. Arnott is not as nice as her. He hugs me a lot and sometimes even spoon-feeds me, but I feel more loved by Dina than him, even though he is more touchy-feely. I don’t like being touched so much. I know they both love me, because they took me to an office, where they signed papers and stuff, and then the Officer-in-Charge handed me over to them, as my ‘legal guardians’. After that, I was told, I was theirs for keepsakes. Okay, I said, and they both hugged me hard. I heard Arnott tell Dina that it was a good thing to have a daughter all their own. Dina laughed all the way in the car, and Arnott laughed along with her, punching her and both of them kept looking back at me in the seat, sharing glances. I don’t know why, but it made me feel happy that they were so delighted about whatever it was. I chewed my nails, and then I looked out of the window the whole time. I could see lots of people in parks, cycling and dogs running along. The world looked far bigger than I’d known it with Mommy, or even after Dina took me home. So many people live in big houses, I had not known. I thought everyone lived under one bridge or other. To see Dina and Arnott, in a home with so many rooms, and then the neighbors around – everyone had a house, and many rooms. It was strange and wonderful. I got used to it in time. I don’t mind it at all. And the food is good, and there’s always enough.

My heart still hurts a lot sometimes and I cry softly. I do weep openly too, but mostly when Arnott is absent and only Dina is in the kitchen. They put me in a school, with many children too. I’m in a class that is lower than my age. Which means, I’ve to work hard to catch up with 10-year-olds. I am clever, but not enough I heard Arnott tell Dina. That made me feel silly. I have tried to be good, and I work hard but there is a lot I can’t understand, then I go quiet. But I miss Mommy terribly. When will the missing stop, I asked Dina. She told me to give all the love in my heart to her and Arnott, and slowly that would replace the love I have for Mommy. But that’s not what I want. I want to keep my love for Mommy without missing her so much. I don’t want to let Mommy go, the way Daddy left. I have Daddy’s Hat, and now I have Mommy’s Pain.

***

I am twelve-years-old now. There are lumps on my breast that feel strange. I also almost bled to death, at least that’s what I thought one day, when I was returning from school.

“Oh, you’ve got your period!” Dina told me plainly in the car. She was not disturbed at all, when she discovered my bleeding. I was in a state of fear, and some tears. She helped me clean up and showed me how to take care of this new event, which she repeated many times, would happen again and again and I shan’t die. I understood. I take care, but it is not easy. Dina needs to be with me on those days, and she is kind. Now these growing lumps on my chest, which I despise, I have to live with. There’s nothing to be done for now, Dina told me. She smiled and pinched my cheeks. Then when Arnott returned, he hugged me, and gave me the lollies I love. They do try to give me what I like. They laughed and seemed delighted. I don’t know why I can’t understand what makes them laugh and smile often. But I like it when they do. I smile along.

“Oh dear me, Phina, you’re such a baby! You are going to be a teenager soon, you should know. I’m sure there are girls in your class that wear bras,” Arnott loudly proclaimed, when he found me looking forlorn. I didn’t like the way he said that. I felt he was trying to make me feel silly, which I already feel often enough at school. I always raise my hand, but mostly my answers are incorrect. Others laugh, sometimes they don’t, but Stephanie is always nice, she sits by my side and presses my hand, smiling sweetly. No one really knows all the answers anyway.

Dina and Arnott say I go to a special school. Of course, I am special, I don’t have a real mommy and daddy. What I have is Daddy’s Hat, and Mommy’s Pain. There’s a hole inside me, I think. I think it is what I am, a girl with a hole inside her. I tried to tell Dina one night, when she was praying with me, and pressing down my legs to keep them from moving. Yes, I move my legs a lot, more than most children my age, and they seem to have a mind of their own. Dina pressed hard on my legs till they went still, and that’s when I tried to tell her that I had a hole inside me. She smiled the way she always does and patted my head.

“Of course you do, but it’s not empty is it? You have Mommy and Daddy in there. And for the rest, there’s Dina and Arnott,” she burst out laughing. I don’t really know why she laughed loudly then, but it was a kind sound. I often don’t understand why Dan and Dina laugh – I listen and I sit and I smile. They turn around to look at me, but they don’t seem to mind that I just sit there, moving on my own, rocking the chair, or humming. They love me, and they say it a lot.

Dina was right, it wasn’t an empty hole. She also said that I should not worry and be happy that God had sent her and Arnott to be my parents instead. Of course, I was happy. I had started liking school too, and made friends with Stephanie and John. We were together from the beginning, when I started in Prep, and now up until Grade III, we had moved together. Often Stephanie’s mom came over to this home, and stayed awhile chatting with Dina, while Stephanie and I played together. John never visited with his mom to play. The building blocks and little shapes to put in their right cutout, etc. that Arnott had bought for me, we played with. I often heard him asking Dina if my ‘muscles’ were getting stronger, if “Phina has better coordination now?”  I’m not sure what that meant in words, but I understand now that they were worried about my keeping up with the rest of the world. Stephanie and I were pretty much the same. We had fun together. With her I laughed, a real laugh. It was always so nice to see someone like me around. We missed John at such times, but the hole inside me got smaller, so much that I could barely feel it. When my friend left, I would go to my room after dinner, and I would find it again – the Hat and the Pain, and sneak my way back in. I didn’t want to ever lose it.

***

I am older now, and I wear a bra, but Dina has to help me wear it, everyday before school. Sometimes when we return, and Arnott is already home, they argue. Sometimes they fight loudly, and that’s when I come out of my room and can hear them. Then I see them kissing afterwards. Then they fight again. One day, Arnott threw something at Dina, which broke into small pieces. I thought they were playing. But why would they throw things that fall down and break, I did not understand. They saw me watching them play. They turned to look at each other and then Arnott said in a not so nice way to Dina, “Now our kid is watching this horrendous drama show.”

To which Dina said, “Don’t have to worry you moron, she barely understands anything at all, leave alone your sarcasm and meanness toward her. Lucky girl, right? She’s better off than us, if you ask me.”

“Don’t you dare Dina, don’t you dare. I’m kind and a good parent. Don’t know about you. And she probably understands a lot more now, old cow!”

I was listening, but I couldn’t understand why they were so angry, when their game did not go well. John, Stephanie and I never ever get angry even if one of us is better at some things. And we never break anything in a game. I couldn’t understand why they thought I could not understand that they were angry and mean. I also didn’t understand why they were talking about me as if I wasn’t there. They could see me. Something was odd and not right. I reached into myself and felt my Mommy-Daddy Hole. I returned to my room and got into this hole with them. I was safe and then I slept.

***

I am fifteen now. Dina and Arnott celebrated my birthday yesterday. I have more friends now, there’s also Muriel and Banco. All four of my best friends were invited, and we cut a cake with five candles. Dina said to me, “Each candle is for three years of your life, you are now fifteen – a big girl my sweet Phina!” and she held my hand and we cut a large piece of cake together. Everyone clapped and sang the birthday song. Every year they celebrate my birthday, but this year Arnott told me it was a special one. Dina and Arnott also announced that they were getting married soon. Did that mean they would now be my mommy and daddy properly? I don’t really know what it means, but they seem very happy. They fight a lot, but are also happy a lot. My birthday party ended with Muriel and Stephanie quarrelling over a porcelain doll that belonged to Dina, and it broke. I have never seen Dina so angry. The party was not so good after all. I hated to see Dina angry and upset but Arnott tried to make her smile. She did not come to pray with me that night. I was fifteen years old, I could pray on my own. I returned to the Mommy-Daddy hole, and slept quickly. I was very tired.

Next day, at school, Stephanie and Muriel said sorry to me for spoiling my party. We did not discuss it much, but they were sorry they said to me, again and again. But my mind was with Dina. She had not helped me dress that morning; Arnott had. I don’t like it when Dina isn’t around to see me off to school. I don’t like it when Arnott helps me dress.

I don’t think of Arnott as Daddy. But I think of Dina as mommy. I can’t remember my mommy anymore, but I feel her inside me. I now keep Daddy’s Hat by my bedside.

***

Today Dina and Arnott are getting married.

***

Dina and Arnott are married, but I no longer live with them. I am in a Home with other children like me. They were very nice to me, when they told me they were selling our home and moving to another country. It has been a few months, I am told. They said they would return to fetch me. I look forward to that. I now have Mommy’s Pain, Daddy’s Hat and Dina-Arnott’s Wait.

***

I don’t remember Dina and Arnott anymore, as I threw away their Wait. I only have Mommy’s Pain and Daddy’s Hat with me, when I was brought to this Clinic. They told me I was too sick to be in the Home with other children. They told me I had to stay in this hospital with some other sick children, otherwise the Home children would get ‘contaminated’. I don’t understand that that means, but I like it here. My tummy and chest hurt a lot sometimes, but otherwise, everyone is always smiling and happy here. I am always with Mommy and Daddy now.

Bio:
Kamalini Natesan is the author of a debut novel, Naked Beneath the Midnight Sun (2019), published by Olympia Publishers, UK. She is a French teacher and an Indian classical vocalist (Hindustani). She speaks French, German, Spanish, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali (my mother-tongue) and Oriya. Her short stories, essays and poems have appeared in various online literary magazines such as YoursColdnoon, Oddball, The Curious Reader and in other anthologies. Currently she lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You may find more of her work here.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Shaheen Bagh and the Anti-CAA Protests: The Struggle to Create New Concepts”, edited by Huzaifa Omair Siddiqi, JNU, New Delhi, India.

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