Kumar has taken the birth of his baby sister in remarkable stride. He did ask me at one point, “Mama, why is she a snake and I’m not?” but he was satisfied with my answer that while sometimes the child of a nagi will be born in human form and later develop the ability to change into a snake, other times the child is born as a serpent and has to learn how to turn into a human.
I wish I could say my husband took Aditi’s birth as well, but he stared at her egg in horror when I birthed it, watched her hatching with pale apprehension, and has yet to pick her up. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still saying the right things. He acknowledges she’s his daughter and claims that he loves her just a much as our human-born child. But to say that he’s freaked out would be an understatement. Likewise, I’d be lying if I didn’t report that he asks me at least three times a day, “So when will she turn human?”
Back when we were still dating, I did tell Jamil that giving birth to a snake was something I could do, and that, in fact, I myself was born in serpent form. He’d made a thoughtful sound at that before declaring that I certainly looked mammal enough now. I’d laughed, because my human form has a bustline that really does make me look extremely mamaline. But in answer to my husband’s question, I can only say that our daughter will never turn human. She will develop a human form, but she will always be nagi. Just like her mother and her elder brother.
“Look, Mama!” Kumar calls from next to his sister’s terrarium. “She’s giving me nose kisses!”
Sure enough, as my son move his nose to press against the glass, my daughter raises her head to touch her face against his. My heart swells as I try not to die from the adorableness of it all.
“Tini loves me!” Kumar proclaims, the words filled with a level of happiness known only to young children. He has already nicknamed his sister, saying that “Tini” is the perfect shortening of her name because of how teeny she is. “And I love her! Can I hold her?”
Smiling, I cross the living room to Aditi’s enclosure. I’m currently in my between form, with a body that is half human and half snake, so the traveling is more of a slither than a walk. I revert to scales when I’m upset, but thankfully Kumar hasn’t asked me about that. “If you promise to be careful.”
“Of course I’ll be careful. She’s just a baby!”
Tears tease my eyes over his earnestness. He really does adore her, and doesn’t hold her scaley form against her in the slightest. What did I do to deserve such a sweet kid? Two kids so sweet, I correct as I watch how eagerly Aditi moves from my hand to her brother’s. The kids both smile up at me, although I suppose you have to be pretty familiar with snakes to recognize what one looks like when smiling.
The floor creaks behind us and I turn over my shoulder to see Jamil watching us. His expression is harder for me to read than Aditi’s. He’s definitely not joyful like she is. He looks a little less horrified than he has lately, though.
“See how good Kumar is with the baby?” I ask him. “Aren’t you proud of him?”
“Very,” comes the easily given answer. It’s easy for him to show affection for the human-looking offspring, something I try not to feel bitter about. I know he’s trying not to be a narrow minded git; it’s just that it’s apparently more challenging than he expected. “He is an excellent big brother. She’s lucky to have him.”
Kumar nods solemnly, but doesn’t look as pleased as he usually does over Jamil’s praise. He may only be four, but he’s caught on that his dad has been acting weird about the new addition to the family. “She’s a very good little sister. I’m lucky. She doesn’t even scream like Claire’s baby brother.”
Jamil’s reaction surprises me a little. “She is a good baby, isn’t she?” He moves closer, his eyes caught on where Aditi has wrapped herself around Kumar’s little arm like a decorative bracelet. He pauses next to me and meets my eyes for a moment. Whereas there’s been a distant look in his expression for days, his face is suddenly filled with affection for me. “And she’s as gorgeous as your mother. Her scales have the same coloring.”
My breath rushes in. He’s praised my scaley forms before, always seeming to accept them without fear or repulsion. I’d never have said yes to marrying him, let alone had children with him, if he couldn’t handle all aspects of me. That’s why I was so sadly surprised over his reaction to Bitini.
“I love you,” Jamil whispers, too quietly for the children to hear. “I’m sorry I’ve been an ass.”
My eyebrows go up. “Who told you?”
With a chuckle and a shake of his head, Jamil puts an arm around me. “My mum called. Demanded to know why I’d married a snake if I was afraid of baby snakes. Then compared me to my dad.”
Together, we wince. Jamil’s dad had taken one look at his infant son, packed a bag, and moved out. He always sent his child support payments on time, but otherwise would have had to try really hard to be a worse parent.
“I’m not him,” Jamil says firmly.
“No, you’re not.” I reach up and grab his hand where it rests on my shoulder. “You’d never abandon either of your children.”
He gives my fingers a squeeze before moving away. “Hey, Big Brother, can I have a turn holding Little Bit?”
Kumar grins. “Ask nicely.”
“Alright. But her name is Tini, not Little Bit.” Our son turns his face to address his sister. “Tini, this our dad. He’s pretty cool most of the time.”
Maybe it’s the postpartum hormones or maybe it’s all the stress of the last few weeks suddenly breaking through, but I find myself having to cover my mouth to hold back the sounds of sobs as my son gently transfers his sister to his dad. Jamil takes the child with two hands, holding her like she’s made of glass but watching her with a wonder that’s definitely tinged with love rather than horror.
Jamil holds Bitini up to his face and tenderly rubs her tiny little head with a finger. “Hey, there, pretty girl. I’m your daddy. I’m sorry I haven’t been doing a very good job of it yet, but I’m going to do better from now on.”
“Dad,” Kumar interrupts, “she doesn’t understand all of that. She’s a baby.”
“I know.” Jamil smiles and lays a kiss against our daughter’s scales. “But I think she understands that I love her.”
Even as tears continue to torrent down my cheeks and goo fills my nose, causing me to sniffle, I smile. For the first time since I realized my second child would be born in snake form, I’m confident my little family is going to be alright. Maybe even more than alright.
My son quietly hands me a box of tissues and I wrap my tail around his waist while he leans into my side.
Yeah, we’re going to be better than alright. We’re going to be amazing.
The above image is called Look Mama! and is by Raissa Figueroa, who also goes by the name Rizzyfig. You can buy a copy of it on Etsy.
It was given as a writing prompt by my Wording Wednesday project. Other responses can be found in the comments on that site.