Enmity dark as an inkstone
Every artist has a canvas.
Michelangelo chiseled marble.
Dickens was a fan of the written word.
My hands are my canvas.
“Please, don’t encourage him.”
I hear them arguing, but I pay it no mind. I am engrossed in the flower that is blooming across my palm; the tortuous stem that winds from my shoulder across my arm.
“I don’t see the harm in it, Mother. The boy’s an artist.”
My mother scowls at naanii, and turns toward me, smiling. I don’t meet her eyes, choosing instead to add the beginnings of a butterfly across the back of my hand.
“Would you like to hear a story, mera beta?”
I don’t answer, but I listen.
“Back in India- where you were born, mera beta!- when a bride is married, her aunts and older sisters spend the whole night before her marriage painting henna on her hands and feet.”
I am listening.
“We call this mehndi. Do you know what they say about mehndi, Aditya?
She laughs, her hand over her mouth.
“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it, Mother? They say the darker the henna, the greater the love a husband has for his bride.”
“Maataa? May I ask what they paint?”
I finally look up at her, and she beams at me, her eyes adoring.
“Of course, Aditya. They paint the sun, and the flowers its light feeds. They paint the sea on a stormy night; they paint the wind as it whispers the bride’s name.”
My eyes light up.
“You make it sound so pretty, maataa. I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to inspire such words.”
Naanii snorts from across the room.
“Talkative today, isn’t he? He sounds like a little scholar.”
My mother ignores her. She is gazing down at me. Suddenly, she grabs me under the arms and pulls me to her. I squeal, trying to protect my inked hands. My mother only laughs. She turns toward naanii, supporting my weight with her hip. I’m small for my age; still small enough to be held this way.
“So what if he’s a little different, Mother?”
She is laughing, laughing, crying.
She wipes a tear from her eye.
“He’s so smart…”