The sputtering of the old motorcycle with the broken silencer became louder, stagnated and then died abruptly. Everyone waiting in the dimly lit, dusty room gathered themselves, their eyes darting to the door as the rusted latch squeaked open.

The door opened and cold December sunlight streamed into the room. Akbar entered with a bundle in his arms and an unreadable expression on his face. Jamila stood and walked up to her husband, taking the swaddled baby from him. She looked up at him but he did not meet her gaze. He simply gave his head a small shake and looked away. Jamila’s lip quivered but she moved closer to him.

Akbar reached into the front pocket of his kurta, took out a folded piece of paper and handed it to his wife. With her free hand, Jamila shook it open and held it to the light. Words had been scribbled on it in a hasty, haphazard scrawl she could not make out. She knew that even if she had been able to read the angular left-to-right script, the long words would not have made any sense to her. She wasn’t interested in the words. Her eyes scanned the paper, quickly locating the number printed near the bottom of the prescription. She stared at it for a while and then looked at her child and then at Akbar who shook his head again.

The room became dimmer still as a large cloud slid in front of the sun. Jamila and Akbar continued to gaze wordlessly at each other, communicating solely through their blank eyes, until finally Jamila nodded – once – and then hung her head. Akbar wrapped an arm around her, firmly gripping her shoulder, and steered her into the only other room in the house.

A hush fell on the other children in the room. Even those too young to understand had stopped fidgeting and rolling on the concrete floor.


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