For a second, that broke her chain of thoughts and it irritated her a little. One of the children had tripped and hurt himself, the guy sweeping the streets was now resting under the shade of a tree by the sidewalk, the birds had all flown away leaving the tree deserted and she was somehow unable to locate the ant that was carrying a tiny grain of sugar. She tried to look for that ant and felt uneasy when she couldn’t find it.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Short Story - You don't want to, but you HAVE to...
The children playing in the colony compound, the guy sweeping the streets, the birds fluttering in the tree just outside the window, even the trail of ants on the sill of her kitchen window did not miss her eye as she stood there sipping a cup of coffee that was letting off steam when she started drinking it. It had been twenty minutes since then and she wasn’t even half way through. Somehow she sensed that there was something else that she was supposed to be paying attention to; there was something else going on somewhere around her; and yet she found herself distracted, and concentrating on everything but that sound in her background.
“Ma! Are you even listening?” said a voice behind her.
She turned around to face what had distracted her only to see her daughter’s distressed look as she desperately tried to talk to her mother and she didn’t even know if her mother had been listening all this while. Revati wanted to pretend that she wasn’t listening. Not because she was angry at her daughter or because she wanted to ignore her, but plainly because she didn’t want to believe it. She thought that by not listening to it she could make it all go away. But Suchi was her daughter. She wouldn’t give up until she was sure that her message was sent across. Revati wished she could be half as persistent as her daughter was now. In her she saw a strikingly similar image of her younger self and wondered how she had turned from that to what she was now. And then she remembered and got back to staring at everything outside the window and blocking her daughter’s words out.
“Where has your mind been? I’ve been talking for almost a half hour and I’ve barely sensed that you are even listening, let alone giving me a reaction!” Suchi said.
Revati gulped the now cold coffee down her throat as fast as she could and walked towards the sink to wash the cup in such a hurry as though she had overslept and just realized that she was about an hour late for work already.
“Ma, don’t make it harder than it has to be. You knew this would happen someday. Why are you behaving as if I’m the first person on earth that’s doing this?” she continued looking at her mother’s face intently to see if it conveyed some expression. But it was still as it had been twenty minutes ago when she had first told her mother that she was moving out.
Maybe nothing had changed in the last twenty minutes, but she remembered her mother’s face as it was twenty one years ago – when it was her first day of school – radiant, beautiful and always with a broad smile from one ear to another. Then about six years later at her Annual Day function in school – six years older; nearing her mid-thirties, but just as radiant as she was in her twenties; not a gray hair and not even a sign of a wrinkle anywhere on her face, beaming with pride at her daughter being felicitated at school.
And then two years later, everything changed. The sudden and untimely death of her husband had transformed her from a young and beautiful mother to a woman who suddenly looked ten years older. Her hair was unkempt, she didn’t bother to take care of herself, it didn’t matter what she ate. As an eleven year old, Suchi who was devastated herself at the loss of her father couldn’t do much. Somehow the years had gone by and Suchi tried not to think of those early days.
A lot had changed in the last few years and it was evident on her mother’s face; who at the age of forty five looked and felt like she was sixty. Lately, Suchi felt like her mother had not only aged in her appearance, but had also given up on herself in every way possible. If only she had found a reason to go on – for the sake of her daughter, life would have been so different. Only if..., she began wondering and then with the sudden absence of the sound of running water from the tap in the kitchen, she came back to reality.
As hard as Revati tried to block the words out of her ears and her brain, she couldn’t do much about it when Suchi came and stood right next to her. Revati put the clean and wiped cup back in the cabinet where it belonged and began to think of the next chore she could do. Ignoring her daughter who was barely two feet away, she walked towards the fridge, opened it and stared at it blankly hoping that her daughter would sense that she was trying to look for something inside it. She stood there for about a minute as her daughter patiently watched her aimlessly staring inside the open fridge. She took a bottle of water from inside, took a huge swig from it and closed the door after she replaced it back in and then started walking towards something else in the kitchen, possibly looking for something else she could pretend to be looking at for a while.
Suchi caught her mother by the hand and held her at her shoulders. “What are you doing Ma? Please say something!” she said and still got no reaction. She was not expecting her mother to be overjoyed about her decision. But sadness, remorse, even anger would show that she could still feel things, because otherwise – Suchi shuddered at the thought of otherwise.
It pained her to leave her mother alone. But then this city had nothing for her except soaring high costs. She had to support herself and her mother and she couldn’t imagine living hand to mouth in a city where costs would be more than her income. The only way to have a life was to move to another city. Suchi had just been hired by a good company that paid her well, but the job was away from Mumbai, the city where she had lived twenty five years of her life. Suchi didn’t want to move either but she understood the difference between wanting to do things and having to do them and knew perfectly well that this time it was the latter.
She couldn’t take her mother along for the first few months, but was planning on getting her there eventually. She couldn’t think of leaving her mother alone – especially not the kind who had almost no interaction with anyone else in the whole world except her daughter. She was afraid to leave her mother alone even during the day when she was away at work.
“I don’t want to do this Ma. I don’t want to leave you here. Please understand this. You know I’d never do something like this with the intention of hurting you. But it has become difficult to survive here like this. Do you understand the situation we are in?” she tried explaining to her mother once again and she knew it in her gut that her mother may not even blink an eyelid at this.
She waited a moment to see if she should try once more. A second before she was about to start talking again, Revati met her gaze and Suchi saw tears forming in her mother’s eyes. She sensed that her mother was finally going to say something and so she didn’t interrupt. It took what felt like eternity for words to come out of her mother’s mouth, but Suchi was patient, now that she knew her mother was about to express her feelings.
“I can’t leave this house,” she finally said. Suchi knew why.
The tears now started flowing freely down her mother's face and she was sobbing uncontrollably. In the last so many years, Suchi had seen her mother withdrawn and disinterested in everything around her; but never even once had she seen her mother crying. Maybe because even though losing her father was the worst thing that ever happened; her mother had been content in the house that reminded her of him, that made her feel like he was there.
Her parents had lived in that house since the day they were married. She could understand her mother’s emotional attachment with the house. All the memories of her father were there. She had started her new life and gotten to know her father in that house and sometimes even felt his presence there. All that would be gone once they moved out of that house. Somewhere even she knew that she would miss him a lot more if those little things that reminded her of him weren’t around her anymore.
What was she supposed to do? Her father had been gone for almost fifteen years now and nothing or no one could ever bring him back. Holding on to memories would only make life tougher. They were barely able to survive the last few months and living in luxury was out of question.
But what about her mother? Would she be happy away from this house? Even though she wasn’t happy right now, at least she was there. Suchi was worried about what would become of her mother who but for this house would have given up on life long ago.
She realized that she was once again in a want to vs. have to sort of situation. And even though she wanted to make life better for both of them, Suchi knew what she had to do. She hugged her mother tightly, wiped her tears and kissed her cheeks.
“Don’t worry Ma. Neither of us is going anywhere. This is where we belong.”