Updated: Aug 11, 2020
by M.A Packman
Anime was two-years-old today, but she'll always look eight. Blonde hair in braids and a smile that doesn't quite work. Hyo is different at the cybercafé, less angry, more like a child than a father. He liked her new clothes too. Pink and purple, like there aren't any other colours in her world. I didn't mention it, but I thought I saw an angel earlier, in the road outside our squat. They don't look anything like you would imagine, just regular: taller and a bit paler. I think the other people were trying not to notice. It looked straight at me, but my bus arrived.
Anime opened her birthday present. I say opened, the contents just popped out on the computer screen, like they do: a hat, lilac and girly, with flowers on. Makes her braids stick out at odd angles.
Left the cybercafé at about eight. Place was still rammed with people laughing and smiling, cussing and slamming their keyboards. It was getting dark. Hyo went looking for work. On the way home, there was a woman on the bus with a screaming toddler: no husband and no ring, so people stared. No one would move to let her sit. I didn't see the angel this time.
Damp air in the squat, musty like old books. I tried to open the window, but the hinge screamed, so I let it be. The baby must have slept the whole time I was out, wrapped in a fur coat that Hyo found in the rubbish. It's still really small, like a rat or a doll.
Hyo had an interview this morning, but he didn't get the job. The director told him that I am an evil woman. A premature baby is my punishment.
‘Bad women have bad babies,' he said. Everyone knows that.
Hyo was furious because the man was right.
We went to the cybercafé afterwards, got on the machines, to see Anime. She still had her birthday hat on, but she looked sad.
‘Like a bastard,’ Hyo said.
Had a few Won left from our cheque, so we bought her a lamp covered in butterflies. She jumped up and down, so excited, flicking it on and off like a beacon. We stayed until dusk because Hyo didn't want to go home. Caught the bus with the last of our money and I stared through the window at the rain, watching the way it melts colours, blending lights and stars and people. I dreamed I was up there, melting into the sky.
Woke up cold in the night and thought I heard something downstairs. I nearly prodded Hyo awake. Couldn't get to sleep after that. I kept imagining what it might be. Hyo snored and I lay still, so as not to wake him.
It was my mother's birthday today. I would have gone to see her, but she says I'm the last thing she needs. No money left anyway, so Hyo went looking for work again. An old man in a bar told him that I didn't see enough beauty when I was pregnant.
‘Ugliness causes bad babies,’ he said. Everyone knows that.
Right at the second that Hyo was telling me, I saw the angel through the dirty window. Something about the way it watched. Hyo gets angry with people, so I didn’t tell him.
‘We'd get more Won in our cheque if we were married,’ I said.
He punched the wall, put his shoes on and slammed the door on his way out. I curled around the baby and cried, suckling on its powdered milk. Not much noise from it today, so I don't think it minded sharing.
Later, Hyo woke me up with flowers.
‘So you can see some beauty.’
He held them out, letting the petals cast their colours on my face. They were so bright, the pinks and yellows and reds. For a moment, I felt alone in this room, in this city. Just me, running through the rain.
No computers left at the café, so we sat by the kiosk, waiting, and I crunched orange crush until my head hurt. Hyo lost his temper. He pulled a man off a chair and security chased us away. I didn't want to run; I wanted to stay with Anime.
In the streets, I searched for Hyo. My thin summer dress was soaked and rainwater trickled into my shoes. I saw people jostling in doorways, or stooped beneath newspapers folded like party hats, holding onto the tiny, dry spaces they made for themselves. I thought of Anime behind the screen and wished I could reach in and touch her.
Back at the squat, I sat naked and trembling with my legs tucked under me and held the baby close. Its skin was cold, so I pulled the fur coat around us and sang a lullaby my mother used to sing. When Hyo came, I wouldn't let go. He pressed his palms to my face and we wept. I placed his hand on my stomach and waited for the angel.
First published in the Lightship International Prize Winners Anthology 3, by Alma Books.