Mother always told me I was the daughter of a god.
Uncle Ree always told me what a shame it was that she was a crazy whore, for mother was beautiful.
If Uncle Haputt ever heard, I was sure to hear the scrabble of their fighting on the roof. He didn’t like it when Uncle Ree said such things about mother, and it didn’t matter to him that he had half the muscle and height as his older brother. To be honest, I was never sure what I felt about it, for I didn’t know if what my mother said was the truth. Most days, especially on those when the opinion of the village and my family was particularly apparent, I didn’t believe her. Perhaps my mother was just a crazy, beautiful whore for not being able to tell anyone who really impregnated her. Not even which supposed god.
And then she turned those wide, brown eyes on me filling with tears and so unlike mine and tell me, almost begging, that I was the daughter of a god…and then I wasn’t certain again. Whoever’s daughter I was, they were most definitely not from our clan, or anything else from this area, as Uncle Ree’s wife often muttered where the whole house could hear.
“That strange hair, I’ve never seen such color,” I’d always try to tune her out at this point, before, “and those eyes! Like a demon’s, if you ask me!”
Uncle Haputt’s wife would never say anything to this. Maybe it was because she was a Hebrew and only ever believed there was one god who would never demean himself to sire a child, let alone with a mortal. Or perhaps she was just being her. She was a quiet one, Rahaab. She died in childbirth for Haputt’s first child, a little son, before I could learn much more than that, though. The little boy went along with her, and yet I remembered how the house hadn’t seemed to change much. She had been more of a ghost, even while alive.
Haputt never married again, but kept on fighting Uncle Ree on the top of the roof, cursing and swearing at either the sky or his brother, I could never tell, and lovingly watching over my broken mother.
Until the day she died, she never stopped insisting that I was the daughter of a god. It was on that day that I woke up with feathers growing from my back. It had been hurting all that week, but I hadn’t paid it mind, thinking it was just the pain of helping bring in water for my aunt as she cared for my ill mother. For a brief moment the grief of losing her was lost in horror as my fingers brushed small, downy bumps. Having to share a room with the rest of the family, I was careful to keep my distance and my whole body covered for the next two weeks, in which the fuzzy bumps painfully grew twice their length.
My behavior didn’t go unnoticed.
“She’s hitting her time,” she insisted to my uncles, “someone should give the girl her own space. It’s filthy business, becoming a woman.”
It was the first time I felt true gratitude towards her. It made me realize that even though she was tactless to the extreme, my Aunt Maie was not unkind.
Uncle Ree snorted, insisting he had his own children to take care of—two twin boys with a third on the way—so it became Uncle Haputt’s self-appointed duty to raise up a small room on the side of the house, no bigger than a closet, really. He did so as he did everything besides anger: quietly, and he gave me soft smiles as I passed him water and crackers. I remember the way his dark scalp glistened beneath the white sun.
One day near the end as Haputt perched on the finished clay walls of my room, instead of leaving I lingered as he munched on the unleavened treats.
He looked down at me and waited. He had the same eyes as mother. They weren’t like mine either.
“Am I…did you ever…was mother…?”
I was never very good at speaking. I felt like I could melt into the dusty ground as he stared at me, waiting. But I couldn’t clarify more than that.
Somehow, he understood, just as he always did.
“I don’t know.” His expression turned troubled. “I’m sorry, Sahra.”
“Did you know anyone mother knew who could have…?”
He shook his head. “She wasn’t very social, and of the men our family knew I don’t know any who would have done such a thing to her without saying anything.” Mouth thinned down into a line, he turned back to the roof boards and continued hammering. Disappointed, I went back into the house to help my aunt with the babies. I felt my back to be sure none of my growing feathers were apparent as I did so. All I felt, though, was another thrill of fear.
Weeks went on, I moved into my finished closet of a room, and the downy fluff of feathers grew. Soon I could feel out joints as well as tiny, sinewy muscles. My sweaty fingers came back flecked with tiny fluffs, white as newly cleaned linen. My aunt kept asking whether my cycle had began yet and wondered at my lack of excitement. Personally, I couldn’t see how bleeding out my privates once a month and getting shoved off to birth children for someone I barely knew was exciting, even if I hadn’t been growing into some sort of unnamable creature beneath my fingertips. I soon became thankful for my long yellow hair as the appendages on my back grew bigger, along with my legs and bust. It was as though mother’s death was the death of my childhood as well.
The gods must hate me, I remember thinking.