Section I: Chapter 8

He tapped on the glass.

No one responded.

“Open up!” he yelled, “Open up! Open up! Open up!”

Finally, the window was slowly lowered.

Subhash clenched his fists.

Suddenly, thunder rumbled, and a bright flash blinded. He collapsed. Struggling to breathe, he dug his nails into the asphalt, unable to break through. The sky was gray, clouds gliding like fumes.

Soon, the sound of tires screaming echoed. And the smell of freshly cut grass disappeared.

 

. . .

 

“Naima! I have a phone call for you!”

“Who is it?”

“Someone named Devin?”

“What?”

Naima was heading back to her desk, coffee in hand, as the new secretary yelled across the room. Although her row of cubicles was empty, she knew it was best to have the call patched through instead of continuing their conversation over other peoples’ heads.

“Naima speaking. Who am I talking to?”

“I’ve been trying to reach you for the past twenty minutes…”

“Devika? I keep my personal phone on silent. Why? What happened?”

Devika didn’t respond and Naima could hear her breathing.

“What happened? Is everything okay?” Naima persisted, the questions pouring out.

Devika explained what occurred and Naima gazed across the room, at those with their shoulders hunched at their desks and some talking to one another while also grabbing coffee from the break room, their voices lowered to an audible whisper. The secretary too greeted another advertising client who just stepped in and was promptly directed into the conference room.

Soon as Naima hung up, she raced into the hallway, past co-workers and even her editor, who asked about an article. Naima didn’t reply and hopped onto the nearest elevator, and once the doors shut, bit her bottom lip until it cracked and bled.

 

. . .

 

Devika hugged her and helped her to a seat in the waiting room, surrounded by others cradling their injured arms and family members tapping their feet.

“Relax. Take a breath. Harjeet is monitoring the situation.”

As if on autopilot, Naima lowered her body into a plastic chair bolted into the floor and watched the TV hanging from the ceiling.

Family Feud was on and contestants were trying to answer “Reasons why someone will make fun of your car” for the grand prize.

Naima closed her eyes. The tree was smaller but still there. The leaves weren’t as bright.

Eventually, a police detective escorted her to the lobby. Devika stood a few yards away.

“I’m sorry. I know this is a difficult time for you,” he said, as he took out a pen and notepad.

Naima mumbled, “Thank you.”

“Are you comfortable with me going through the details of what happened?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m ready,” she murmured.

The detective explained that neighbors found Subhash lying in the street with a gunshot wound to his chest.

“Would you know of anyone who’d hold a grudge against your husband that might’ve led to something like this?”

Naima pictured Subhash in bed, his fists covered in bruises and blood.

“No,” she said.

“Because if you had any clues whatsoever, it could really help our investigation.”

“Do you have to do this now?” Devika interrupted.

The detective didn’t respond and handed Naima his card. His blue veins were visible on his wrist. She thanked him once more and returned with Devika to the waiting room.

An hour later, a doctor met them. She listened as he explained that Subhash was in stable but critical condition.

“He’s in a medically induced coma,” he told her, “He’s lost a lot of blood but he’s under constant surveillance.”

The sounds of trolleys carrying patients screeched, and the vending machines shook.

Devika asked how long Subhash would be at the hospital.

“The most important thing is to wait for the swelling to go down,” he said, “This is all we can do at this point.”

This time, he made sure to face Naima directly.

“I feel I should tell you this now instead of later,” he said, “but your husband, even if he wakes up, won’t ever be the same as he was before.”

She cleared her throat and asked in what way he’d be different.

The doctor admitted the effects could be as debilitating as being unable to walk or speak to losing his memory and mental function.

At a certain point, the words stopped making sense, and she asked if they could see him.

Devika held her hand as they stood outside the window of the room. Subhash was lying in bed, tubes across his body and the ventilator connected. Nurses checked on his vitals. The doctor added they could visit him soon.

Back at the lobby, Devika asked Naima if she wanted someone to come along. Naima said “No,” and kissed Devika and Harjeet each on the cheek.

She drove from the hospital parking garage and through the heart of Princeton. Locals packed the sidewalks, flowing in and out of bookstores and bakeries, their blue veins illuminated under the bright sun.

 

. . .

 

 

Tulsi ran and hugged her in front of the school.

“Are we going home?” Tulsi exclaimed.

Naima stroked Tulsi’s cheek and smiled.

At home, Tulsi immediately rushed upstairs. Naima slowly took off her shoes. Tulsi returned to view, asking, “Where’s Daddy?”

“Just get washed up, okay?” Naima said.

“Is he at work? Why is he working so late?”

“Please, just get ready for dinner.”

Tulsi hovered. Naima decided to continue her routine. She arranged the plates and rummaged through the fridge.

At dinner, Tulsi picked at the turkey sandwich.

Naima chewed.

“Do you want a snack?” Naima asked.

Tulsi slid her plate away.

“If you don’t eat it, I will,” Naima told her.

“Do you think I’m dumb?” Tulsi said.

Naima coughed. She drank her water and asked why Tulsi would think that.

Tulsi stared at the table.

“Honey, why would you say something like that?” Naima said, her voice shaking.

“I know you’re lying, Mommy,” she answered, “But you think I won’t understand. No one does.”

Naima embraced Tulsi. She kept kissing and squeezing tight until her arms grew tired.

 

 

. . .

 

 

White sheets covered the floor while paintings were stacked against the walls. The canvas and easel were placed by the window, and Rhona’s brush drifted across the plain white surface, until inch by inch, shapes formed.

Tulsi’s easel was next to Rhona’s, and she’d glance over, her canvas still empty.

“What are you drawing?” Tulsi asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” Rhona responded, her brush curving along an outline.

“How come?”

“I have an idea, but I want to go with the flow this time.”

“But what if you mess up?”

“Why would I mess up?”

“Like, if you…color too bright…”

“Is that bad?”

“I don’t know. It can hurt people’s eyes.”

Naima chuckled, overhearing the conversation from the dining room table, where she was emailing contacts on her laptop.

Falling silent, Tulsi watched Rhona.

Rhona noticed and asked if she wanted to brainstorm ideas.

“I have too many,” Tulsi said, sounding mournful.

“That’s great! You should write them down.”

“None of them are good.”

“I don’t believe that. Just try first.”

“Okay. But I don’t know which to pick.”

“It depends on which one you like best.”

“I like all of them…”
“Then do all,” Rhona said.

At this point, Tulsi turned back to her canvas, and pondered. She dipped her brush and started to fill the space.

Rhona went to the kitchen while Tulsi continued, her apron stained and her fingerprints bright yellow and green.

“Turkey?” Rhona asked as she made sandwiches.

“I don’t want to even hear the word ‘turkey’ for another century,” Naima said.

Rhona cooked chicken patties instead, as Naima got up and stretched. As Rhona sliced cheese, Naima went into the living room to check on the paintings that were finished.

Earlier, Rhona explained that she’d been up all night, and showed them some logos and designs she’d been creating over the past week.

Tulsi was hesitant when she first met Rhona, commenting softly on how tall she was. Rhona laughed and immediately introduced Tulsi to her closet full of art supplies, even describing the varying styles.

Naima, however, remained in the background and made a point not to interrupt throughout the afternoon.

By the time Naima was sifting through the paintings, the light was fading from the window. Most of the paintings didn’t elicit any strong positive or negative feelings within Naima. Some she was intrigued by, but none moved her. Until, one in particular caught her attention and she slid it out from the pack, holding up with both hands.

“Bon appetite,” Rhona remarked, setting their plates on the table. Tulsi said she just needed more time to “smooth out the contours”, which was a phrase she learned that day.

Rhona stood beside Naima.

“What do you think?”

“This feels familiar…”

“It’s inspired by the Parable,” Rhona explained.

Naima was fixated by the image of a young black woman surrounded by orbs, looking like planets.

“I know it wasn’t that kind of sci-ifi, but for some reason, this is what I could express.”

“Do you have another easel I could borrow?”

Rhona arched an eyebrow, and grinned.

Naima started work on her own next to Tulsi, even as the city yelled.

“What are you drawing?” Tulsi asked.

“What do you think it is?”

“I see a tree.”

“How do you feel about the tree?”

“The contours are nice,” Tulsi said, stroking her chin like a philosopher.

Rhona, who was wrapping up, smiled and shook her head. Naima smiled too and told Tulsi to help clean and get packed. They had a busy week ahead.

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