Jasmin met Abdul in the university cafeteria and experienced love filling her belly like an overinflated balloon, rubbing against all her vital organs. She felt sure this sensation would make her pop or fly up and disappear into the clouds.
Jasmin’s father was strict and insisted on her finishing school before she found a husband. He made sure she stayed home instead of gallivanting with her friends, and watched as she read the heavy textbooks the teacher told her to buy. When Abdul approached him, Jasmin waited in the kitchen with her mother. The women had cups of tea and listened to the murmuring voices next door. Jasmin counted the seconds, and her mother had a confident smile on her lips.
When Abdul came through to the kitchen, Jasmin’s father had his arm around him.
After the wedding, Abdul held Jasmin in the bedroom above his parents’ house. He wouldn’t turn out the lights because he said he wanted to look at her and thank God for all the happiness she had brought him. Jasmin protested, but secretly she felt firecrackers go off inside. The next morning when Abdul prayed, Jasmin closed her eyes. She felt the sunrays sparkle on her face and marveled at how neatly the world folded into her pocket.
Eight months into married life, Abdul burst through Jasmin’s parents’ door and announced that God had blessed them anew. Their future spread out in the sun and Jasmin’s mother hugged her so tightly, she thought this time she would definitely burst.
The boy was born on the same day Abdul’s uncle and cousin were killed in the shelling of Jasmin’s neighborhood. Jasmin and Abdul woke up around three. He at the familiar sound of airplanes circling above, she at an unfamiliar stabbing feeling through her lower body. In Abdul’s father’s car, Abdul heard the explosions. Jasmin was howling at the newfound pain.
They named the boy Bahir after Abdul’s uncle, and they mourned. They stared at the baby’s button nose. They watched him look at the world through his huge brown eyes.
Abdul finished university, started working at the hospital, and the family moved into their own little house. Bombs fell on the local fire station, life went on, and Abdul started having political meetings with his cousins in the dining room.
When the twins were due to arrive, Jasmin was taken into urgent care. Their heartbeats were weak; Jasmin’s body was fragile. Jasmin would not sleep because she heard the babies whisper “mummy” through the umbilical cord as she caressed her belly. After four days a doctor administered an anesthetic. Jasmin screamed and protested as her mind let go. Her belly was cut open and the babies pried from her.
In the morning she sat by the incubators looking at the two little pale bodies, sprawled out, but their hearts beating, their lungs breathing. “Live, live,” whispered Jasmin.
Jasmin was on the kitchen floor, watching the twins trying to navigate their arms and legs into a crawl, when everything shook from the detonations. Her mind set on pure survival, she picked up the babies and ran to the living room. Abdul rushed to his wife, as his cousins gathered up papers and items from the coffee table. Nine dead and twenty-five injured in the bakery next door. Bahir had been at his grandfather’s and was safe.
In the evening when the children were sleeping in their beds, Abdul and Jasmin thanked God for protecting them, and Jasmin begged her husband to take them all away. Abdul stroked her hair and in his soothing voice told her things would get better soon.
Abdul’s mother was taken to hospital with her arthritis and Abdul brought the children to visit her. Jasmin was preparing dinner when she heard the blasts. The sound came from far away and in the empty house she whispered, “Live, live.” Once again the balloon in her stomach felt like it would take her away, and Jasmin clung to the kitchen table.
Everything outside the hospital was chaos. There was nowhere to take the wounded and dead. Family members were crying and digging through the rubble. The police could not control the situation and Jasmin arrived just in time to watch them carry Bahir’s charred body out. Abdul was quiet, covered by a sheet, one silent baby enfolded in his arms.
Time passed. Jasmin’s mother brought casseroles that Jasmin did not eat. Abdul’s cousins came to the house and spoke quietly to her. They started having meetings in Jasmin’s dining room again.
The cleanup of the hospital site was still underway and after several weeks a neighbor came to Jasmin’s house. He told her that they had found the other baby. At the funeral her mother cried and wailed, while Jasmin remained silent.
Jasmin made tea for Abdul’s cousins. She watched them bring boxes and containers to her house. She sat in Abdul’s chair and listened to the men having loud discussions, making plans that never happened and working on the materials they brought. At night the house was quiet and Jasmin lay awake listening for the airplanes and explosions in the distance.
In August, Jasmin turned twenty-four, and Abdul’s cousin, Nassar, showed her a device that looked like a vest with several metallic canisters attached to it. Nassar asked Jasmin for tea and spoke to her about the future.
That evening Jasmin sat in Adbul’s chair in the house that was a shrine to her family. Bahir’s little shoes stood in the hallway, the dried flowers Abdul picked for her hung on the wall, and bottles of sour breast milk stood in the fridge. She got up and phoned Nassar.
That night she slept. No explosions, no children, no balloon to keep her awake.
Helle Zinck lives in the North of Denmark where she teaches English and drama in a roleplaying school. Having the travel bug, she has spent a lot of time in England, US and Germany. She writes short, dark stories and realism with a twist.