The Homecoming [#Shortlisted]

Posted: February 8, 2018

“Come on Naina, you are not a child. How can she stay at her married daughter’s house? If she had a son, then things would have been different.”

Naina sipped her customary morning tea, slurping it in a hurry while tapping her fingers on her phone.

“Hello, ma, how are you today?” she asked as the familiar voice of her mother Krishna was heard at the other end.

“I am doing just fine beta. Don’t worry about me so much.”

Naina shifted on the couch where she sat as she struggled to know the wellbeing of her sixty year old mother.

It had become a ritual of sorts for Naina. Each day at around nine in the morning, she would call her mother to ask after her. She worried about her mother Krishna, who was diabetic and was not keeping very well for the past one year or so.

But, what agitated Naina was that her mother mostly did not divulge details about her health lest Naina might ask her to come and stay with her.

Naina was the only child of her parents. Her father was a man who had the zest for life and who seemed fit and healthy most part of his life. But, his sudden demise the previous year had left everyone shocked.

Krishna, Naina’s mother was a strong woman and she had taken this sudden trauma life had thrown at her in her stride. She continued to live alone in the same house, managing everything fairly well.

But, since her father’s death something in Naina had changed. It took her a while to come to terms with her his death. She had trouble sleeping and was restless and gloomy. Time is a great healer though, and so gradually she moved on. Also, she had her family to tend to. Her son was in the ninth grade and she had her mother in law who was mostly dependent on her as she was wheel chair bound.

Though Naina had made peace with her father’s sudden demise, she constantly worried about her mother. In the night when everyone dozed off, the thought of her mother sleeping alone in that big house, ran shivers down her spine.

She had discussed it with her husband, who fortunately for her was always there to lend her an ear. She felt that it would be best if her mother could stay with them. Her husband also echoed her thoughts, and so she decided to talk to her mom about this at the earliest. She even mentioned it to her mother- in- law who was elated that she would have someone to talk to if her mother stayed with them.

“I will go and talk to her today.” Naina made a mental note and hastened with the usual morning madness. After her son left for school and her mother-in-law had breakfast, she gave instructions to the maid and left for her mother’s house. It house was around ten kilometers away, and she left at eleven so as to avoid the cacophony and chaos of the office hour traffic.

As she reached her destination, Naina unbuckled her seat belt and sat there, still staring at the lane which was alive with vegetable vendors calling their lungs out to their prospective buyers, a group of middle aged women sat at a distant corner chatting with animated expressions while a stray dog lazed out in the glaring sunlight, which was like discovering an oasis in the desert on the cold wintry morning.

Naina had spent most of her childhood in these mundane lanes and suddenly she felt nostalgia gripping over her. She could picture herself waving out to her mom as she stepped on the school bus. She could see herself as a little curly haired girl loitering with those carefree steps holding her father’s hand.

It took a couple of loud and brazen honks to bring her back to the present. Mulling over how she would convince her mom, Naina stepped inside. As she barged in, she was welcomed by an unforeseen presence. Yes, there in the living room with her mother, sat, the effervescent, ‘never mincing her words for the world’, Mrs. Tripathi. She was the last person Naina expected to meet today.

“Oh, Naina, you came in at the right time, we were just having tea,” Mrs. Tripathi exclaimed.

“Namaste aunty, how are you?” Naina uttered trying  to sound as polite as possible.

“I am good beta, I usually come to see your mom around this time. I know you worry for her as she is all alone.”

Naina thought that this was the right moment to slip in the purpose of her visit and so she cut her in by saying, “Yes aunty. I worry for her all the time. In fact, I have decided that she should stay with us instead of being on her own in this big house.”

As Naina said these words, both the women looked at her agape.

Her mother broke the silence and said, “Naina, I cannot possibly stay with you. Stop worrying about me”.

Naina felt blood rushing through her. “Why can’t you stay with me mom? What is so bizarre about me asking you to stay with me and why do you seem to push this aside whenever I make an attempt to broach the topic?”

Before her mother could answer, Mrs. Tripathi stepped in. “Come on Naina, you are not a child. How can she stay at her married daughter’s house? And you have your mother-in-law too in the same house. What will she think? If she had a son, then things would have been different.”

Naina stood there shell shocked. She looked at her mother who stared at her almost expressing her solidarity with Mrs. Tripathi’s outrageous assumptions.

Naina could no longer hold her horses. “Aunty, I am the only child of my parents. And it is my duty to look after my parents when they are grappling with health issues and now that papa is no more, it is all the more important for me to be an emotional anchor  to mom. Isn’t it a child’s responsibility to hold their parents hands, the same hand which held on to us when we stumbled as children. What has gender to do with the love between a parent and a child?”

“But beta, this is not what normally happens in our society. What will people say?” Mrs. Tripathi uttered vehemently.

“Aunty, normal is often overrated. Who are these people, everyone is so worried about? These shapeless voices which are the harbingers of the do’s and don’ts in the society thrive because of our own weaklings. Do they come and sit next to my mother when she sleeps alone in this empty house while her own flesh and blood is merely an hour away worrying about her well being. I am sorry to say mom that we blame the society for flaming discrimination but I feel it is people like you who are so afraid to do the right thing that such assumptions are further ingrained.”

Both Mrs. Tripathi and her mom looked at Naina dumbfounded.

Naina herself was surprised by how she so blatantly voiced her opinion. She suddenly felt overwhelmed with emotions. Excusing herself she walked away.

Naina reached home and got immersed in her usual routine but she was distressed. The evening set in. Suddenly, her phone beeped and as she peered down she was surprised to see a text message from her mom.

Nervously, she opened it.

It said, “I will be shifting with you next week. You are right. I am not afraid of the shapeless voices anymore. See you soon. Love, Ma.”

Naina smiled as she read the message.

A daughter had finally brought her mother home.

Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the January 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.

Image source: pxhere

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