The loss of a child can be devastating, and often end life the way you knew it, leaving behind a shell of your former self. A powerful short story.
I lean on the railings. The yellow buses have left. I sit on the wooden chair and stare at the newspaper. That is just an excuse. I am here to see them. Pieces of their morning lives. My husband shouts a bye and shuts the door. Before, it used to be a delicious kiss with a hug and I would see him off from the door till the elevator.
But that was before…
The sliding door to the nanny balcony opens. I see the nanny with her mop and the bucket. A petite (they all are) Filipino lady. She took out yesterday’s laundry. Where is that chubby baby? She must be in a hurry to finish. What if the baby wakes up crying? If he rolls off the crib … do they teach how to handle all this, in the class? No, that comes later… Priya had said. I don’t need to worry about it now.
I follow no schedule after my balcony sittings. I simply lie down on the couch. There are medicines, to help me heal. Heal? The nurse had nodded. I would have smashed her tiny head against the wall in seconds. For your stitches. She explained. Of course. I am sewed up completely.
The door bell rings twice and Lakshmi enters. That is her signal. She wants me to rest, not even walk up to the door. She would start with her questions. Madam, did you eat breakfast? Shall I make dosas? Did you eat your medicines? God is there. I will pray. Where was God that day? I feel like giving her a tight slap, each time, after this dialogue. I would come back from work to see a neat home with hot dinner, next day’s lunch, breakfast all ready. I couldn’t pass a day without her. But that was before…
My mobile rings. My mom. Did you book my tickets? Let me come there. This is not the end of the world. She would sob. End of the world? Yes it is. Everything has ended. How would you know, Amma, how? You have three children. They are all alive too.
I didn’t take her call. My husband asked me too. Would you like your mom or my mom or both of them to be here? I burst out. Why … To stare at an empty crib? To tell me that I did everything wrong? To take me back to Chennai, roam around the temples and exhibit me to all? From then, words between us evaporated. My silence suffocated him.
The forest balcony door opens. I have named it so. I am getting good at these names. They have overgrown frangipanis, periwinkle of every shade, money plant strangling the trellis. The Man quickly makes a call and looks out on the road. Is he waiting for a taxi? His children must have boarded the bus. I see him with the squash rackets in the evenings. He must be playing with his children. Would he try to win or give it to them easy? My husband likes tennis. The tennis court is far away from here. How would he plan his evening with work and tennis? He would coax me to learn too. We must play as a family. He said this often. I have never understood this game. It doesn’t matter now. The Man leaves his balcony and darts into his living room. I see the taxi down.
I had left in a similar taxi. We had everything planned…
My eyes move towards the top corner brown-chair balcony. I hardly see anyone there. No plants, no clothes-line. Only a brown chair. I wonder how it would be to climb on the chair, look seven floors down and fall. Would there be smell of flesh and blood, like that day?
Lakshmi comes to me with a cup of tea. Madam, AC service man is here. Can he check? I glare at her. No. I don’t want any one in my house. I want to scream from my balcony till my throat goes raw. I want to hold all these normal people by their neck and ask them, how the hell are you doing normal things?
The landline rings. I signal Lakshmi to pick it up and not to disturb me. Would it be Priya? Let’s go to the Creek Park. Neeru wants to swing and slide. I brought cardamom tea. We can sip and watch Neeru play. Like those good old days. Oh! By the way, I was planning to give away Neeru’s push-cart to you…but now…anyway…
She would never say that. I know. She took care of me the first two days after the hospital. When I wept, she hugged me and held my hand. I don’t cry anymore. Tears dried up but the milk… and that is when I feel like hitting people and things. Maybe I should take boxing classes.
The warm morning sun of February touches me. I draw patterns on the white sand dust settled on the table. Lakshmi comes to me and says she asked them to call me back in half-an-hour. It was from the hospital. From the hospital? What could it be? Dear Mrs Iyer, there has been a mistake. You remember how we told you there was no heart beat? And we wheeled you into the Labour room? When you screamed with shock, pain and anger… you even kicked one of the nurses…we delivered the baby …and you lost your consciousness. The baby we showed your husband was the wrong one. Your baby is alive. Can we bring him to you today? We are truly sorry.
I would have run to the hospital. My husband said he was beautiful with red lips. Orphan, widow, widower and I wonder if there is a word for a mother whose child died.
There isn’t one.
The hospital calls again. Lakshmi thrusts the phone on my lap and says it is the doctor herself. I answer the phone. I hear her soft voice. It soothes me like it always did. I know you don’t want to go out anywhere. The support group got back to me. There is another woman like you. It happened four days back. Would you like to meet her? This would be just between the two of you…
Someone like me. It echoes inside my head. I take down her number on a yellow post-it. And I spend the next few hours not looking at it.
The afternoon sun dips and my balcony is a pool of golden light. I look at the post-it where I have scribbled her number and her name. Zainab.
I start dialling her number. I plan to invite her to tea.
We could sit in my balcony, talk about what we loved and lost. About what we could have been and perhaps about what we could hope to become…
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