Maja’s hair was a black curtain. Like a child, she imagined it protected her as she sat on the train, her hand cupped over her stomach. For the first few months, she had spent most of her time prone on her bed, the pillow damp.
She prayed to the Virgin, muttering the words like talismans.
Once she tried to tell him at a party. He had stared at her as if she were a phantom, a figment of his imagination as he took a swig of beer.
‘It’s your baby,’ she said, her fingers intertwined in her hair, her dark eyes imploring. His image blurred as tears wedged in her throat.
‘No, it’s not. I heard you were with someone else. Leave me be.’
He had sauntered away; his brown curls haloed in the light. Maja knew he did not stay with anyone. Girls fluttered to him from all directions, and she was no different.
The rain formed glittering constellations on the window as darkness fell. Maja leaned against the wall, and her baby moved, maybe flinging out an arm or covering her eyes.
Sara would know what to do. She would look after her. Her sister had written and demanded she come. They had never been away from one another until the previous year. Maja had traced the blue loops of her handwriting, sloping away from the lines on the paper. The endearments in their language, the row of kisses at the bottom.
‘Papa is calm today. He paces the house, but he doesn’t speak. We wait for his storm, but it hasn’t arrived. Mama is embroidering a landscape, and I’ve cleaned the house and fed the chooks. Mama misses you. I know, because she touches your face on your photograph every day. Come home, Maja. A baby is a gift of life like Father Ivan says. Mama and I will care for you, but then you must give the child away.
Maja remembered the day she was late home from school. She had gone to Jenny’s house, wide-eyed at her posters of pop stars and the plate of Teddy Bear biscuits on the kitchen bench. Her mother’s nails were painted red, and she wore jeans.
Her father stood on the porch as she approached, his stance was rigid. The creases on his trousers were as sharp as knives. Maja risked a glance at his face—it was flushed purple. His shirtsleeves were rolled up his sinewy arms, the veins bulged. She knew not to defend herself with words or actions. She knew to follow him to the shed out the back and submit to his belt. She knew not to cry out and prolong the punishment. Leaning over his workbench, she unbuttoned her skirt and let it drop to the dusty ground.
Maja read the name of the station. It was the one before her home. She stood and walked to the doors. A young man yanked them open, and she stepped out, the concrete chilled beneath the soles of her shoes as she eyed the opposite platform. Fluorescent lights made her squint, and she edged, crab-like, down the stairs to the tunnel beneath.
The city would protect her with its rules and processes and anonymity. The city was her home.