An Eggly Tryst by Zakir Aatish Khan

First Afra purrs like an American Bobtail. Then her prodigious arms flail like the jubilant wings of a duck. And then she purrs again, at least she tries to. Improvisation on these subtle features is her solitary affair.

Although if she had to bend and twist and squirm and screech in a room full of people none would have taken notice of her peculiar gait; never at least with her clothes on. Soothing breeze of November whistles past the windows sending mild shivers of cold through her tail bone and all the way down to her toes. She flinches at once at the sight of the egg responding to the wind with a slight jolt. Takes a leap and stands erect on the ravaged bed with her head tilted downwards, eyelids wide apart, obstructing the breeze on its way to the egg—her egg.

It's late, too late, she should have been asleep already but sleep can wait as there's attention that the egg demands which she unfailingly has provided with much care and conviction so far. She flails her arms again, tottering inch-length steps in quick succession, projecting enough precision to avoid the precinct where her precious will endure the dread of crushing down to bits. And the right moment arrives. She spreads her legs apart, squats halfway, outreaches her arms and with a filial sincerity embraces her giant egg, and delves headlong into the sea of visions full of obscure happy promises of the future.

The night she laid the egg is now behind a thick haze. Memory coils out as brief residue of sensations, elation, derision, subdued voices, translucent visions, pats on her back, a too hairy man, a too bulbous pair of breasts, ‘push’, ‘don’t dare squeeze’, ‘fat-hen-fat-hen-fatten-fattn-ftn-fn-n....' Clung on to the egg, tethered to the tarnished memories she hears the hasp of the door, and a jagged shadow play on the floor.

"You'll never create enough warmth for him uncovered. Couldn't you wait for me to arrive?" With one swift motion of his hand, Naved, Afra's husband, unfurls a woolen blanket and throws it over like a fishing net. Afra along her egg have now become a black mound, the 80W bulb illuminates a crescent at the top of its contours. Afra couldn't perceive the next bulbous shadow play on the floor which would be her mother in law.

"Could you please scratch my shoulder, Maa?"

"She's tired. And you're not supposed to talk while doing this," says Naved. Afra twitches and gives out a low moan and recedes back into silence. The daily soap opera and the orchestrated soundtracks shrilled out from the television. She has to endure the jarring confluence of discomforting dialogue and melodramatic wailing housewives for another hour until the voices of the reality show judges fill the room an hour later. End of her breeding ritual for the day. While the housewives are striking a seething debate over a despicable intruder in the family she is caught off guard by a click emanating from inside the egg— a rap, a scratch, a tiny explosion, she doesn't yet know. Undecided, Afra tries to convince herself that it’s the television, and resumes observing the silence inside her warm black cocoon. She's not going to share about the sound with Naved or her mother in law.

“Ask her to stay rock still, Naved, she’s already spoiled enough of yolks and our times," says Maa while popping peanuts and massaging her bulbous thighs. Naved rains a fury of abuse in Afra’s ears.

The egg, entrapped between her flabby cloaks of skin, has started to shine like a giant piece of moon. Half submerged in dread and half in anticipation Naved removes the blanket from over Afra; raps on the egg with his knuckles then delivers a vigorous rub. Raps again.

“As cold as dead.” Naved walks away dejected. The television has painted the wall blue and then with an unpredictable abruptness Afra's sweaty trunk reflects a blast of overlapping colors, and likewise her egg. She rubs the outer side of her arm against it to check her own capability. Her eyes have still not adapted to the visual insult. She feels injured somewhere in her eyes but turns out to be a transient infliction.

There’re still enough days to count on to. And Naved, she could rely on him had he been as sincere as her but the case is always the opposite. Naved sits on the egg for not more than ten minutes, on odd days it's eight, and on rare occasions he never surpasses the mark of eleven. No, she doesn’t want to entirely rely on him. It will come on its own, she believes, the skill to warm the egg, set a habitable inner atmosphere for her child to grow. She trusts her body, not him. But the responsibility of hatching the egg is breaking solely on her shoulders. This disparity has remained undaunted in all household affairs. Afra has lived all her life through the unfair shares of it. Somehow she hopes someday to break out of this disparity, this monotony of highly partial banality. Also, not relying on Naved is proving to be as perilous as pushing the egg out of herself. A riot of unsettled grievances harbor in her empathy for the egg, and all her hopes now redirect to it. With utmost care she pulls a blanket over the egg, leaving the tip to feed on television light, and hulks across to the washroom.

Early hour preparation comes to a halt by Naved’s astounding indifference towards the woolen blanket.

“Why do you forget in detail the confusions we’ve already worked out? Don’t tell me we haven’t tried georgette fabrics, or chiffon or the handloom bedspreads we bought from Bengal; we have even tried out the satin petticoat of your mother on many occasions.”

Naved, as always reluctant to perform his duty exerts a guttural ‘duh’ and begins undressing in the peculiar speed of an ailing sloth. Stuck midway of the unbuttoned shirt his fingers fidget for the next button as he fumbles on his speech.

“I was wondering what if we enwrap the egg in my polyester tees and the woolen spread over that?” Such suggestions nowadays have become too rampant. And Afra knows she will give in. As she knows her defiance could raise nothing but futility. Naved poses as an ugly imbecile lunatic, wears the expression of a model rejected by artists of mediocre flair. Hairs, ruffled; stubble of beard, oddly trimmed as if in haste; bones are jutting out of his elbows whenever he bends his arms; collar bone hung as a handlebar moustache; chest, a ravaged nest of a crow, the bush of hair reveals none of his mustard skin; varicose veins have netted more or less both of his legs— on left the veins have faded climbing halfway through the shin, on right they’ve ended abruptly inside a protrusion like that of a cluster of benign tumors. Think of a black cat, drown it in water, shave it in patches, douse a bottle of tomato soup on it, make him roll on a bed of talcum powder, and hang it upside down— that’s Naved’s groin. Afra has an anathema towards cats, and a profound disliking for tomatoes. Perhaps she loves the concept of talcum powder that she has been enduring Naved for almost half a decade now. So the cat after having posed for quite a while manages a sincere poise. Filial sincerity doesn’t seem to ever take root within him. Afra waits on the floor with six or seven of his polyester tees balled up between her arms. "Could you please hurry up, you're messing up the schedule," says Afra. Naved wipes off with his wrist an invisible trail of snoot dangling down his nose, and steps back, making inadequate room for her to dress the egg.

Once done, Naved crouches halfway, resembling too much a bamboo armature, and approaches the egg with inch-length faltering steps similar to Afra's. The egg, concealed beneath multiple layers of tees, is as though absorbing through his embrace an unidentified shock. The view of the egg’s gruesome makeover is more than what Afra is capable of bearing. She throws over the duo the woolen blanket and takes a sigh of relief. And hopes Naved succeeds in providing for her egg a superior incubation session. “You stay firm. Don’t let it crack though,” interjects Afra and takes up tidying the room excluding the bed.

They both stun each other when Afra enters the washroom, Maa was already there working off her cracked heels. And Afra, having nothing else to do, sits by the bed and observes the grey mound that shivers like a giant bird.

“I hope it’s a boy,” Afra hushes. And Naved takes an unrealistic hiccup, too gay for her to not comment on it.

“Why do you always have to spoil my words like this?”

“I didn’t do anything; it’s just my throat, and the unnecessary amount of chili powder you sprinkle over the breakfast.”

“You haven't had breakfast yet.”

“I’m anticipating it, you know, the burn in my mouth.”

“Okay, don’t talk much. You’ll spoil the temperature.”

With a sudden revolting swoosh, Naved throws away the blanket and emerges as a drenched languid cat. The egg rolls sideways.

“I can’t do this anymore. It just isn’t a man thing.”

“Alright, nobody's forcing you. Are we, Afra?” Asks maa while running the hair dryer at the top speed. “After all, isn't it a duty for the mother but an obligation for the father? Just stick to the norm.” Afra doesn’t know how to respond to this so goes into the kitchen leaving them to stay in cahoots against her. None bothers the entire day to undress the egg. But in the afternoon Afra puts it into a bucket and carries it to the rooftop. There are men and women relishing the dying sun over cups of tea; elderly and children are playing weird games with balls and Frisbees. But in some of the neighboring rooftops couples are engaged in the hatching processes of their own eggs in their own respective ways with much more affection than she can ever imagine. They’re photographing their eggs from all angles. And the parents are taking group photos of all their children keeping the egg at the golden point. Kids are drawing faces with whiskers, hats, long noodle-like hairs and eye patches on the eggs turning them into shaggy cartoon characters. Afra feels a lump growing in her throat. And flings an empathetic gaze at her egg, which now looks scarlet because of the penumbra the red bucket is casting. The world is swirling in a whirlpool of affectionate clouds, expanding and contracting like a chest. The sparse stars glowing low make her wonder if she had to step on them would it slip off the sky; if they’d bear her weight. Soon the neighborhood turns on its lights and darkness seeps in.

Downstairs she notices the egg has noticeably diminished in size. Naved has still not arrived from work. Maa is up with her phone, television, and the nail trimmer whose click stands out sharp from the indoor cacophony of the house. There’s still an hour left till Naved’s home. Afra prepares to direct the advantage of the spare hour to her egg. But the incubation session comes to a halt as Naved enters earlier. Still under the blanket Afra yells out to turn the fan off. But Naved, adamant to not listen to her, turns up the speed instead. The clank of the fan and the whirling sensation over her back gets into her nerves. She throws out the blanket, lifts the egg and threatens to smash it on the floor. Maa enters the scene with a broomstick which she brandishes as a cutlass.

"Leave the egg on the bed or I'll wipe you out of the house. Quick sharp, get off the bed." All of Afra's ferocity sneaks out at Maa's sight. Her eyes sucked inside the sockets at Maa’s abomination to rip apart Afra's skin. Scared of her, she places her egg gently on the bed.

"Don't ever dare to touch the egg. I will replace you from now onwards," hushes Maa, and leaves with the egg on her waist. Afra touches herself to check the amount of heat she has generated in such a short span of time. She's dead cold. Her paunch faces Naved who's smoking for the second time since he arrived. Confused as always, Naved thinks of other measures to hatch the egg in absence of Afra. He's very much looking forward to get rid of her.

"Naved, come fast, we've a problem here."

He rushes at once and Afra tags along, clothes can wait. The diminished girth of the egg by now is too much visible. Maa without her clothes stands in great resemblance to Afra except her in-drawn eyes that hardly seem to notice anything at all whereas Maa's eyes are popped out like a choking toad. She's holding the egg out against the high intensity filament bulb; everyone has that in their homes to keep track of the egg’s growth. They all stand aghast at the look of the egg. It has lost half its size. And no one but Afra becomes the point of suspicion. "Maa, hand it over to me. I can fix it," says Naved and snatches the egg away. Afra jumps in to claim her right over her egg. "I decide who gets what," interjects maa, her eyes popping out a few millimeters out more. "Over my death," Afra's stock reply can't overcome the dread maa was passing. "Death? So be it." Naved, having a superior hand in matters of strength and height manages to win over the charge. He strips down to his hairy nakedness, places the egg on his navel and sits on the floor. Between the angular fold of his body the breathless egg endures a risky corner. Maa takes up guard, while Afra tries various means to inject fear in them. Threatens them of consequences; glides and sways as if improvising on a set of ritual moves to appease a tribal deity. Tired and exhausted they both give in after long, and wait for Naved to get done. But the silence again escalates into a clamor. None of their voices are intelligible at this point and that’s when the uproar crumbles down to monosyllable exclaims of getting hurt, stunned, triggered by an ancient bodily pain, shot by a bullet, or a view of somebody's brain spilling out.

Naved absorbs the shock of the egg’s explosion in his belly and pubic hair.

'Deadrip,' they call it.

As Naved stands up, the egg drops on the floor. The size having further reduced is crushed down to multiple bits. And nobody but Afra notices an unspecified yellow creature flying out of it. A slimy translucent gob melts between the eggshells producing a thin trail that snakes across the floor to the outlet; intermixing with detergent water splashes in the gutter, and sails. Naved and Maa, having lost their interest in the egg, turn on the television. Afra collects the eggshell in utter frenzy, and runs out for her unborn child that too long has escaped through the window.

Zakir Aatish Khan, a self taught writer, residing in West Bengal, India, has a decade long experience in visual arts and literature. The prolonged familiarity with their intricacies has led him to choose literature as his prime art form. His works have appeared in Kitaab, IHRAF, The Bombay Reviews, Muse India and one is forthcoming in Aleph Review Pakistan.