Theme : Loss.
The story of a loss can be hard to explain and harder to describe on paper.
- Jessica Handler.
There is no dearth of literature describing loss. While loss of love, particularly romantic love, takes more precedence in literature, there are kinds of loss, with myriad shades to it that offer ample scope to write about.
I have attempted one such piece of fiction, which is an all too common scenario in the world today.
So close and yet, so far.
So close and yet, so far.
Eight years, seven months and twenty two days, actually. That’s when I was officially declared as a loner, so to speak. Or a destitute, an old woman with no one to call her own. Orphaned in old age. I feel the cracked skin on my face crease sorely while I smile.
I turn my head slightly, trying not to wince at the ache this minimal movement causes me. I can hear a shallow scraping noise, stemming from somewhere near me at regular intervals. It coincides with the spurts of searing pain that shoot down my throat, down to my heaving lungs…wait, is that my own breathing?
My eyes focus on a vision, two feet away from me. Ah, wonder of wonders! Shravan is here! The same Shravan who had put me here in the first place. Here, as in, this old age home, if this godforsaken place could even be called that.
‘Ma, we can’t afford your expenses anymore, Radha has threatened to divorce me if I do not send you away…and you know how difficult it was for you to find a bride for me in the first place…and now after the twins were born, the expenses have shot through the roof…’ he had said, not meeting my unflinching gaze.
He seems…sad now, somehow. In fact he is weeping. My son has not aged a single day, I notice. My heart swells in pride, as I take in his straight jet black hair combed neatly to the right of his broad forehead. And hey, his wife is here as well, with their twins.
Ah, my grandchildren. They are as cute as they were when I last saw them all those years ago. There is something odd though. They do not seem to have grown much despite all these years. How is that? I wonder.
And what are their names now…something that rhymed with my son’s wife’s parents…I cannot recall their names. They stare at me, holding hands, confusion writ in their large eyes. They look miserable too, although the mickey mouse on their identical T-shirts look happy enough. They seem to be wearing the same clothes they used to wear when I still lived in their home. Do they still remember all the stories I used to tell them? I hope they do…I wonder.
I hear a muffled sob on my right. I turn my head slightly towards the sound. Ah, there’s Jahnvi, my daughter. When did she return from the UK? Jahnvi, my goddess. Oh, she is weeping inconsolably. Her young son clutches the ends of her red pallu, tugging it to get her attention…ah, she has worn the saree I had bought for her ten years ago, just before she had left for the UK as a new bride. She had scoffed then when she saw my gift, hadn’t she?
‘Ma!’ she’d cried in exasperation. ‘Who in their right minds wears sarees in London, ma? Rakesh has already bought me a brand new wardrobe of western clothes, all paid for in pounds you know…’ the pride of a new bride flaunting the successful husband, his enviable wealth & his amorous generosity was evident in her tone.
‘I’m leaving all these old-fashioned clothes right here with you, give them away to some…some orphanage or something…,’ she continued her instructions to me, as she shoved my Kanchivaram silk gift into the plastic bag with the said clothes. I thought of the two and a half hours I’d spent going from one shop to another, hunting for the perfect gift for her.
I’d held back my tears then and smiled at her, but she had noticed neither. Ah, the pompous, hyper-excitement of a small town girl going abroad for the first time in her life…
I smile now at the memory, the memory of my only daughter parading her elevated status, to her imbecile mother. And yet, here she is, at her mom’s deathbed, wearing the same saree. How had she gotten hold of it now, after so many years?
I try to smile more and wince as the cracks of my laugh lines break against my haggard skin. I become aware of suffocation deep in my chest. I recognize the well-known feeling.
My throat is parched, I need water.
Would Jahnvi understand that I’m terribly thirsty? If only she would stop crying and look at me once. Surely my cracked lips and dry tongue would indicate to her, how dehydrated I am.
Jahnvi, the Ganges river. If only she would pour a little water down my shriveled throat now…I continue to stare at her bent head, wordlessly willing her to look up at me.
It was Goutam who had insisted on naming our children Jahnvi and Shravan. Goutam, my dear husband, who had passed soon after the twins were born to our son. If only Goutam had lived for another few years, I lament for the millionth time since his death…
I turn my head slightly to look back at my son. He is holding the twins in his arms and whispering something to them now.
Shravan…why had Goutam named our son Shravan? Something nags my mind. Ah, yes! Because he had been born a long six years after our wedding. Shravan, the name of a son, who’s love for his parents was the stuff of mythological legends.
I smirk, as I contemplate the son fate had blessed me with, instead.
My throat issues a new protest and a volley of coughs racks my chest all of a sudden. I feel Jahnvi’s soft palm on my chest, patting me. She murmurs something soothing to me, I cannot understand a single word. She seems to be talking in another language. Oh yes, it must be the new accent she’s been practicing, the one which she said was ‘cool’. It sounds the same as it always did on the phone…when had she last called me? Was it 5 years ago? I cannot recall.
My cough subsides, more out of sheer exhaustion than relief. Water. I need water. One glass…or just half a glass shall suffice. Oh, how it would feel, how blissful it would feel, to have the languid flow of that divine liquid down my gasping mouth, my dry tongue and arid throat.
The torment is down to my belly now, the cancer that has seized my insides and ravaged my very soul…or is it a tumor? I did not understand what the doctor had diagnosed last month, he’d been more interested in flirting with the warden’s young daughter, than tend to his ancient patient, with one leg in the grave. After all, why would he bother with an old hag like me? I couldn’t even afford his consultation fees, let alone the treatment.
I close my eyes and concentrate on the grating noise, emanating from my throat. It seems a lot louder now. A cuckoo begins its song of joy, from the mango tree outside. The calculated rhythm of its tone, matches the garbled noise of my throat with unerring precision.
I open my eyes.
The wall, the same wall that I have stared at for many months now, gapes back at me. My son and his lovely family have now been replaced by the face. The grey-black face, the mocking face, that everyone else calls torn, half-peeled paint, sneers down at me, with the same cruelty, yet again.
I look away, towards where my daughter had been a little earlier. There is a wooden table that stands crookedly with one leg broken.
An unwashed plate, wearing leftover stains from this morning’s breakfast of one katori of dry upma, leans against the wall. A stainless steel lidless jug, yellowed with years of accumulated grime, stands precariously balanced in front of it, on the wrecked table.
Ah, water. Wretched water. Blessed water. So close and yet so far…
I know that the attendant assigned to me, albeit reluctantly, wouldn’t bother to look in on me until it is time for my breakfast tomorrow. After all, how would she know that the old hag in room number 8, is close to kicking the bucket tonight? Not that she’d have bothered with me, even if knew, in any case.
I smile again, heedless of the pain my despicable body assaults me with.
Loss. The inevitable price one must pay, for having bestowed love. And I had imparted love with unconditional abandon.
Love. Love that I had given to a husband, who had loved me too.
Love, that I showered on my children, without restraint.
Love, I believe I once had from the same children, but eventually lost, although I know not why.
The greater the love, the higher the torment of its loss.
But now, as I count the wheezing breaths that herald the end of my fifty nine years, I do not crave the loss of love or my loved ones.
All I desperately crave is…a last sip of water.
*****Image credits: Google.
Old woman Paintings : Artist Juan Miguel's Wounded series.