Days before Anja died, Mama hit her with a glass bottle because Anja had gone overboard with her shenanigans. Perhaps she deserved it––but more than anything, Mama apologised to me for the rest of the week and asked me for forgiveness. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand. ‘You see, Marwin,’ said Mama, ‘God has gifted me with a beautiful child, and I made him go through such horror. May He forgive me, Lord…! I can’t live on like this!’
A long time ago, Anja found a grey pebble on a beach. She brushed off the sand and placed it in her pocket, then put it away in a drawer at home. A pebble worn smooth and round by the waves’ long caress, to her, seemed almost transparent. But she knew she was mistaken. Every now and then she would get it out and place it on her palm. If silence could be condensed into the smallest, most solid object, this is how it would feel.
That silence became the loudest object in a split second, when she threw it back onto Mama’s head.
Don't die, I said to myself. For God's sake, don't die.
The day after Anja died, Mama brought home a bag of basil and let the wind scatter it all over the floor. Some of the leaves caressed my jumper, my shoes, and my hair. Its smell wavered in autumnal air, and when I took a breath in, my lungs were met with the purified scent of spring.
Holding a cross, she repeatedly spread her arms as if banishing all which disturbed her, saying aloud, ‘Protect this home, high to low, fence to fence, door to door, light to dense, roof to floor.’ It was an incantation I have memorised by the time she had said it every day for a week––the final routine, as I watched her swing the cross like a madman, she turned at me and said, ‘You’re safe.’
At times when I felt unsafe or like Utterson was near, I would think of Mama and whisper, ‘Protect this home, high to low, fence to fence, door to door, light to dense, roof to floor.’ Penny would always joke about it and say I also do witchcraft. When I refused, and explained it was something I picked up from Mama, she said, Every religion has some form of witchcraft somewhere, like every apple has its tree.