Finger Nails
Lorena Smith

There is a pain beyond words.
A hurt beyond expression.
There is a death before dying.

The fingernails pressed against the window display are outsplayed. A womanís fingernails painted blood red, beautifully manicured. When she takes her hand away though I can see the grubby handprint of a child on the glass. Five small fingers. One small palm. The remains of a chocolate smudge. The red fingernails have been trying to touch a little baby doll dressed in pink in the window.

When she lifts her eyes to mine I can see that her face too carries on this curious blend of child and woman. Her eyes are kohl rimmed. Her brown face is chocolate stained. Her lips show traces of lipstick but when she smiles I can see that she has lost her front tooth.

Does the tooth fairy come to India?

Her smile doesnít quite reach her eyes. She isnít smiling at me, she is smiling at a man sitting on the bar stool next to me. He picks her up and puts her on his lap and I feel an urge to snatch her out of his hands and run away.

Out of nowhere another man materializes and hands the child a lollipop as he negotiates with the white man. He wears a sarong and a greedy face. Her face and hands get stickier with blue and she licks happily. Savouring the sweetness.

Business concluded, I see some money change hands and the man stands to leave. He looks at the child and utters an oath.

Clean her up first he says to the man in the sarong. She is too dirty.

I see her father haul her away to wash away the chocolate and the lollipop. To wash away the sweetness. All night I can see those nails against the window display.

There are some wounds that can never be knit together.
There are some children who never see childhood.
There are some little girls who wear red nail polish with chocolate stained fingers.

First published: November 2002