When the message comes for the father of my children, I do not tell him. I do not tell the messenger that he's not home, though if anyone was to move the corrugated iron door they could see, lying on a mat, in a bundle of leaves and rags rolled in a blanket, what looks like a sleeping figure. I do not say they are leaves. I say, Shhhhh, he's asleep. And that may not have been a lie.
The messenger leans against the whitewash wall and tells me that the father of my children must paint new white lines on the road for a VIP visit. A fresh coat. A clean and unbroken line to the VIP residence. The messenger leaves me with this news and I watch his back retreat with dust, chalk and white flecks from the wall, imprinted on his shoulder blades like wings.
I know where the father of my children left the paint laying-pram. I know there's not much pigment and resin left to mix. Without enough paint, I know I must water it down. And because I have to water it down, I must wait until the night before the VIP visit to paint or it will wear away or be covered up in dust. I know I will have the full moon to see.
My children sweep the road ahead of the paint laying-pram. I push the mechanical device, hardly wider than the white line and the boy who looks like his father holds a piece of board he took from our shelter and shields the wet paint from the dust as the girl who looks like me sweeps. The metal jams. The boy lays down the board and I lift the laying pram onto it so it will not bleed onto the road. I think it's overheated, so we sit on the kerb and rest.
The moon blinks and I wake with hands around my throat and the children asleep and curled into me. I move and they stir. I say, Shhhhh. The voice of the hands round my neck says the children don't have to know. I say yes and leave them to go with this man, their father and master engineer of the paint laying-pram.
I return without him to stand by my sleeping children, my feet wide, dripping onto the road and hoping he hasn't put another child in me. Metal grinds and without me the laying-pram moves. The board must not be level. I expect it can't go far without me pushing it, but it does. It moves along the road parallel to the kerb. The white is whiter. Milk-white like corrector fluid. Bubbles appear popping into ellipses ... The letter G rises from the paint and an O, and like Grandmother's hand operated label-maker spewing its tape, the word GOOD appears embossed on the white line, then the word GIRL rises up. This was one of the red plastic labels Grandmother put on my tiffin carrier for school. How I knew which was mine. And which tiffin tin not to open because it was empty. What filled me up was the praise.
The laying-pram continues producing letters forming words like SHINING STAR and BRIGHT. I follow the words, blistering the white line until I find myself at the arch of the Gateway to India. I watch the laying-pram run out of ground and throw itself off the edge of the dock with a shhhhh and the white paint spread into a moon on the water that's no longer in the sky. The last letters left at my buoyant feet are VIP.
I have no horror left inside me; I feed it freely to my children when their bird-like faces gape open to ask again for food, so they may chew on that; I leave it, like moulted feathers in the post office queue, as I follow the pecking order to get my tidbit, when the glass-eyed man tells me he will not cash the check until tomorrow and tells me where the food bank is today as if he's pointing out which street there's roadkill to be found; I drop it off at the pawnshop with my mother's ring, eyed through a loupe, to feather another's nest, until tomorrow when the weather turns and the earthworms resurface after the rain, the rain, the rain; I cast it off in flicks of ash on the dark street corner where I smoke with those that flock together, and eye me up and down like a morsel of food but I say I have to go, maybe to return another time, when the seasons change and I'm not moulting; I make offerings to the stone statues of the church where they make me close my eyes and pray, clip my wings, clip my, wings, clip my wings and have me do a mating dance to promise my body and progeny to their god, before they let me home with a bag of groceries to feed my kids and bus ticket so I can get there faster, crossing the city as the crow flies or the number 15 drives; I try to trade my ticket for money with a mother of three kids, with eyes in the back of her head, who already has all the tickets she needs to go where she's going and I leave her in a shadow of dead sheddings, not all of my making and I spit feathers in the face of the man who grabs my ass on the number 15 bus somewhere between Whitechapel and Watney market, a preening cockerel on his way home to his roost and brood with the means for food, and at his disposal, so many hens, so many hens, so many hens and I return to my nest, and in the empty shell the horror left, I feel the hunger now creep in, and an embryonic thing I might incubate, to some day hatch, instead of horror — joy.