After the funeral, Zahra kisses the old ladies and cycles to the tea shop on the far side of town. Only the most notorious people meet in the falling down shack. It is one of the few places Zahra can go without being scrutinized by prying eyes. She was the last female born in this town of 1,500 people. Since her first menses, the citizens have waited for her to conceive, everyone praying for a girl child. Seventeen years have passed since then. Patience is wearing thin.
She sits at a table by the window and thumbs through the book inherited from her Auntie J, the woman who stood between her and the mobs who want to imprison her like a breeding mare.
The sweet smell of hot chocolate fills her nostrils as she tries to separate J’s theories from her own experiences.
Theory: put horse chestnuts around your doors and windows to keep spiders away. Fact: the spiders make webs over and around the chestnuts.
Theory: carrots are good for your eyes. Fact: beta carotene reduces the risk of macular degeneration later in life.
Theory: don’t watch TV while wearing rubber-soled shoes or you’ll go blind. Fact: untested. Zahra has never worn shoes in the house.
Theory: chicken soup will cure a cold. Fact: it reduces the inflammation of the lungs.
Theory: ice cream gives you nightmares. Fact: how could ice cream be anything but good?
Here’s what Zahra is looking for:
Theory: if your skin clears during pregnancy, you’re expecting a girl. Fact: Zahra’s skin has never been clearer.
Theory: if you pee on a spoonful of baking soda and it doesn’t fizz, it’s a girl. Fact: Zahra’s baking soda did not fizzle.
Theory: if a pregnant woman is craving sweets, she is carrying a girl. Fact: Zahra has been sneaking spoonfuls of sugar out of the storage bin.
Theory: if you have morning sickness, it’s a girl. Fact: Auntie J’s funeral was postponed until the afternoon because Zahra said she had to finish her field chores before she could attend.
Theory: if the father packs on a little extra weight during the pregnancy, it’s a girl.
Zahra looks up as the dark-haired man enters the café. A smile splits his face when he sees her sitting there. He nods, a brief acknowledgement that her escape plan is safe. Today he will take her through the mountains, to the city on the far side. They will be married and he will protect her from her enemies in the valley.
As he sits across from her she notices the way his belt strains over his rounded stomach. He used to be so slender.
© Maggie Bolitho
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: the fruit of the horse-chestnut tree. They are not true nuts but rather capsules. By Solipist.