In which I ask my husband if we should migrate by Clare Chai

In which I ask my husband if we should migrate

It had been a good day; at night-time we were more open to each other than usual.

“Hey,” I asked, reaching over to him, as he was about to strap on the plastic mask attached to the breathing machine for his sleep apnoea. He turned the machine off. We both fell into a comfortable silence.

“Should we migrate?” The question sounded less loaded, almost naive in the dark; it was cast blind, like casting a fishing line into the darkness.

“Why?”

“Well. The usual reasons.” I didn’t bother going through them as we’d been through them, everyone had, and they were up there like glow-in-the-dark stars stuck on the ceiling.

He gazed up at them for a while then turned to look at me. “And?” he asked, waiting for the real reason. He knew me too well. 

I sighed. “Everyone’s leaving.” I felt like I was being picked last on my school tag team again, fidgeting on the field amongst the coloured cones.

“Only the people that do things make the news. The many others that stay don’t.” He said it only to provide a counter for my point; I could tell he was also trying to figure out where he belonged on that field. My child-self wanted to run over the grass to his child-self and give him a hug, the podgy, bespectacled eight-year-old boy I’d seen in photos but had never known.

“And our kids?” he asked.

“Alia and Bett are still young, 4 and 6 are such adaptable ages. They’ll grow up smart and international and have good accents.”

He sighed and put his hands behind his head. “They’ll grow up more complicated. They’ll be struggling with identity complexes way into adulthood.”

It was clear to me too. Going there, we would be not-them. It was simple. The kids would grow up to be them but not really them. Staying here, identity wouldn’t be an issue, or at least it didn’t have to be a glaringly visual one.

“I don’t know what’s better for the kids.”

“Me neither,” he said. We felt the sadness of parents, nestling neatly upon us like fallen petals.

“I’m scared of racism, too.”

“Me too.”

There had been university days abroad when I realised ladies at the counter made small talk to the people in front of and behind me in the queue but not to me, because I looked different. Everyone had smiled so I guess it wasn’t racism, but I still felt it.

“And with you and your thin ski–”

“Yes, I know, I know,” I said, annoyed, as he’d touched a nerve reading my thoughts. We let the dust of antagonism settle down for a bit.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we stayed,” I said slowly, trying out the words, seeing how sounding out the future felt to me.

He pulled me close to him, his arm around my shoulders. “I don’t know.”

Let’s wait and see, was what we both wanted to say. The answer will come, raining like truth, like fireworks in the night, like bombshells in the distance.

We made love that night, a slow, steady and deliberate process. Afterwards, he pulled his breathing mask out again, cupped it over his nose and mouth and switched on the machine. I held onto him and we rose and fell with the help of continuous positive airway pressure, two bodies drifting in a starry night ocean attached to a single tentacle of air, more intimate and alone than ever.

Clare Chai is a Malaysian writer. She has a day job and is only a writer by night, so please excuse her if sometimes her work is a bit dark. She is interested in identity, culture and the ephemeral nature of things. 

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Image (cropped): KhaoulaSharja Mona Hatoum CC4.0

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