“The Birth of Samira” is a piece from a collection of personal narratives called “Autobiographical Vignettes” by Anushka Trivedi, age 10. In it, the author opens by describing her mother’s pregnancy with her sister, Samira. Anushka is so excited because she is going to be a sister any day. Each day, a rotating cast of family members pick her up from the school bus. When it is her mother, Anushka greets her and then she greets Samira by hugging and kissing her mother’s belly. One day, Anushka’s grandpa picks her up from the school bus and tells her that her mother had the baby! They go to the hospital to visit. The writer is so excited she can hardly wait. Finally, Anushka gets to hold Samira for the first time. She knows she has a friend for life.
How does this writer choose words thoughtfully?
This memoir is full of beautiful, careful descriptions. In the opening sequence, the writer tells us all of the different sizes that her sister was as she grew:
My parents told me how big she must be each month. She had grown from the size of a sesame seed to a pomegranate seed, to a pea, to a peanut, to an orange, to the size of my palm, to a baby with tiny arms and legs, to a baby with fingernails, to a soccer ball, to a watermelon, to a baby with a tail, to a baby with no tail and a head full of hair! It was such a mystery.
This sequence is so visually engaging! It’s easy to see Samira at each stage of her growth. It’s especially interesting, and kind of funny, how Samira switches to and from being a baby and being other things, like a pomegranate seed or a watermelon, and back again.
As many words as there are for the different sizes that Samira has been, the writer laments, in other parts of the story, the lack of words for things. She writes:
Is there a word for the excitement you feel when you wait for a joyous occasion? I have felt this excitement often—waiting for the airplane to land at the Ahmedabad airport so I can see my grandparents’ faces; waiting for the airplane to land at the Dulles airport to see my grandparents’ faces when they come to visit us; looking out of the train window to see my cousins’ faces in Pune; waiting in daycare for my parents to return from the university.
Though the passage is about the writer’s search for a word, she cycles through images expertly—the airport, her grandparents’ faces, a train window, names for places. Details like these fill the narrative with words—so many words that they all come together to form the word the narrator is missing about waiting.
- Before Samira is born, the writer compares her to many things, but mostly foods. After Samira is born, Anushka compares her to teacups and a small bowl. Why do you think the writer decided to change the types of images she used to describe her sister?
- What are moments in the story where the writer shows the reader her impatience through the use of details, rather than simply telling us she was impatient?
THE BIRTH OF SAMIRA
It was a lovely fall day. The leaves were beginning to turn. Some leaves fell gently to the ground in the light September breeze. I was going to be a sister any day now. I had waited so long, watching my mother’s belly grow, imagining what my sister would be like. My parents told me how big she must be each month. She had grown from the size of a sesame seed to a pomegranate seed, to a pea, to a peanut, to an orange, to the size of my palm, to a baby with tiny arms and legs, to a baby with fingernails, to a soccer ball, to a watermelon, to a baby with a tail, to a baby with no tail and a head full of hair! It was such a mystery. Ever since I saw her on the screen as the doctor checked my mother, I could not wait any longer. It looked like she was giving me a “thumbs up” on the screen that day. She knows I am watching her, I thought. She knows I am her big sister, I imagined. I can’t wait to see you, Samira.
The September breeze blew on my face as I looked outside the bus window on my way back from school that day. It was the first couple of weeks of kindergarten, and it was not what I had expected. One of the things that shocked me most about school was how much we had to sit and how little we talked or played. I was full of questions about everything, but I felt I never got the chance to ask any of them. Getting on the bus to get back home was the best part of my day. I had memorized the route from school to the bus stop. I found a window seat and knew it was my stop when I saw either my grandpa, dad, or mom waiting for me at a distance. If it was my mom, it was my routine to jump out of the bus and give her belly a big hug and kiss, and greet Samira.
The bus was noisy, as it was every day. It was one of the several things that bothered me about school. How loud the day could be! I longed to get back to my room and immerse myself in my toys for the next few hours until I had forgotten all about school.
When is Samira going to be born? I have waited and waited and waited.
I ignored the loud children and looked through the bus window. I watched the birds perched on the trees and flying through the sky and let the noises dissolve in the background.
Little did I know that today was the day I would become a sister. Samira was born a sister; I became one that day.
When my stop arrived, the kids stormed out of the bus. I walked out of the bus quietly when I got the chance and jumped into my grandpa’s arms. His face looked different that day. It looked bright and happy, maybe relieved. As we walked home, he told me that he had a surprise to share with me. My sister was born, and she and my mama and baba were in the hospital waiting for me. I could not believe it!
“When do I get to go see her?” I exclaimed. I think I flew home from the bus stop in joy that day.
At home, my grandma gave me a snack, and I waited for my dad to pick my grandparents and me up to go to the hospital. It seemed like a long wait, but it was actually only an hour or so. I remember swinging my legs from side to side with excitement when we finally got in the car to go to the hospital. Is there a word for the excitement you feel when you wait for a joyous occasion? I have felt this excitement often—waiting for the airplane to land at the Ahmedabad airport so I can see my grandparents’ faces; waiting for the airplane to land at the Dulles airport to see my grandparents’ faces when they come to visit us; looking out of the train window to see my cousins’ faces in Pune; waiting in daycare for my parents to return from the university. This feeling of waiting for that one moment of joy. I have had a lot of training in the art of waiting. Waiting patiently is a good way to be for a child.
At last! I saw my mother sitting up on the hospital bed. She looked like she had been waiting for me too. She looked the same as she had in the morning when she waved me goodbye. She looked contented. I gave her a big hug and a kiss and just rested for a few moments.
But I quickly remembered to turn my gaze to her right. There she was. How tiny she is! That was my first thought. She was wrapped tight like a mummy, complete with a little pink-and-blue-striped hat. Her eyes were tight shut. She had, and still does have, the longest, thickest, curviest eyelashes of all. Her little mouth was like a flower bud, so beautifully shaped. Her cheeks were out of this world—round and smooth. She looked just like me. I was amazed at how much she resembled me. Everyone agreed.
I did not say a word and continued to observe her until my dad lifted her and placed her in my lap as I sat down. I cannot forget the feeling of holding her for the first time. She seemed heavy for such a tiny thing. I quickly got used to it. I touched her cheeks, and they were as smooth as the porcelain teacups Mama takes out for special guests. I whispered, “Samira.” She opened her eyes! Her eyes were enormous on her little face that was smaller than a small bowl. They were the prettiest eyes I had seen. She looked straight into my eyes, and we exchanged unspoken words. I heard her say, “I am here. We are going to have a lot of fun. I am going to be so naughty. Get ready!” She opened her little mouth to yawn, and her toothless mouth made me giggle. “I am ready, Samira. I have a friend for life. Thank you for coming. I love you so much.”
And so began the years of companionship. I have watched Samira grow and change and develop over the years—from her first smile to her very first day of kindergarten. She is the only friend I need.