At age nine, I am on a hospital bed, clinging to Mommy who is lying beside me, her arms intertwined with mine. The skinny nurse asks her to sleep on the couch meant for visitors.
“He’s only nine,” Mommy says, “and unwell.”
“It’s our policy,” the nurse replies, curtly.
All day, nurses and technicians have been x-raying me, puncturing my veins to diagnose my stomach ailment. On top of that, they forced a thick chalky potion—which they called barium sulfate— down my throat. I gagged; they held me down.
I hold on to Mommy until the nurse pulls her away and places a teddy bear, with ODOM written across its chest, by my side. Exhausted, I don’t protest further and fall asleep, clutching the toy.
Father comes to the hospital next morning. He pries Odom away from my arms. I bawl. The scrawny nurse shoots Mommy a piercing glance. She whispers something in Father’s ear. He packs Odom in the bag he’s brought with him.
At home, I sit Odom on the empty chair at our four-place dinette. “A boy should have nothing to do with a teddy bear,” Father gobbles his meal and leaves the table.
At age twelve, I hear, from my room, a louder-than-usual argument between my parents. “You can’t let the boy crawl into our bed, anymore,” Father screams, “I will not allow that.” Mommy says something about my tummy. Father smashes the chrome lamp into the glass-top table, drowning her voice.
My belly feels twisted that night. I want Mommy but she is nowhere. Father is sleeping, his legs crossing over to Mommy’s side of the bed.
Downstairs, her coat hanger dangles in the closet by the foyer. The glass shards are piled up in a dustpan. Mommy hates messes.
I bring Odom to my room and press him against my aching abdomen. His warmth lulls me to sleep.
At age fourteen, I ride the school bus home with Ellie, who needs help with the geometry homework. She claps her hand to her mouth when she sees Odom on my mattress, propped against the headboard, his feet covered with my plaid blanket. He has been on my bed since Mommy left and Father stopped talking to me. Ellie leaves in a rush without completing the assignment.
Next day, I find teddy bear stickers and the words “Softy” and “Baby” on my locker. I wean myself off Odom by placing him on the study table, then in the closet, and eventually in the basement. My abdomen revolts but I don’t bring him back to my room. Ellie fails geometry that year.
At age thirty, I find my wife wiping Odom with a dust-cloth. “I found this little bear inside a carton in the basement. Can I wash him?” she says. My insides hurt with a familiar, but forgotten, ache. I tell her not to bother with the washing, wonder if the toy still smells like Mommy’s blueberry muffins.
My wife calls him Om—the d and the middle o embroidered on his chest have worn out. I do not correct her. I reserve the right to Odom and his name.
She puts him in our baby daughter’s room. I slip into the nursery at night and hug Odom. He has lost the smell but is still soft like Mommy.
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee; her work has been published online in MoonPark Review, Pidgeonholes, and trampset, among other places, and also in print anthologies. You can find her work at Puny Fingers and reach her on Twitter: @PunyFingers.
Image by Alan Coon