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‘Forget me not…’ The loopy writing was neat. She closed her eyes, thinking about the first time she wrote those words on a sheet of paper
Amma woke up to a shrill sound; whether it was in her head or coming from someplace else, she couldn’t decipher. She sat up and clutched her blanket to her chest. The sound stopped, only to be replaced by a scream. She couldn’t fathom what was happening. She closed her eyes tight and increased her grip on the blanket.
As her heart slowed its rhythm, she opened her eyes and sat up. Then, slowly she hobbled towards the lone window in the room. The window overlooked the small garden where she could see people like her- sitting, walking around or staring into space. It was a little foggy outside, the sunlight streaming through the fog as if deciding the exact course to reach its target.
She stared at the beam of sunlight. And willed it to reach her, penetrate the layers of her skull reaching into the deepest gyri of her brain, light it up, and blow it from within. The resulting turbulence causing some of the cobwebs to clear, enough so as to remember who she was, where she was. She stood as still as a statue for a long time.
Then, as if sensing the power of her thoughts, the fog began to clear, first outside, then within her mind. She took a deep breath and transformed into another person. Now she was a woman born with a purpose akin to that stream of sunlight who had found its target.
She looked around the room and began her search. Her search started with her looking under the bed. Aside from a thick layer of dust, which she presumed must be her reluctance to let the cleaner do their job, there wasn’t anything else.
She looked beneath her mattress- it was as heavy as a box full of books, yet she managed to lift it with her frail hands. Again, nothing. She then ambled towards the lone rocking chair near the window, lifted some bed sheets and a broom from it. Once again, she found nothing. She looked into the tiny bathroom, and finally! There it was. Above the sink, stuffed behind the mirror.
She wondered how it got there. Then, clutching the stapled, dog-eared, slightly yellowed pages, she walked towards the rocking chair. Clearing it off the mismatched stuff, she sat and ran her gnarled, arthritic fingers over the words- ‘Forget me not…’ The loopy writing was neat. She could recognise it anywhere. It was hers, after all.
She closed her eyes, thinking about the first time she wrote those words on a sheet of paper. Her hands trembled as she was about to write, but once she got over the fear, the words flowed. The words she wrote helped her to stay sane, hold onto the hope and love in her life.
Those words were a form of therapy, a slow, painful one. Yet she continued writing them, whenever she found the chance and the strength to hold a pen.
“Amma… your breakfast tray is untouched,” Bharti, her caretaker complained.
Amma opened her eyes and looked around. She hadn’t even seen the tray on the little table by the bed; she wasn’t hungry.
Getting no reply from Amma, Bharti continued, “Amma Amma, my sweet amma. Please eat something. It’s time for lunch now. What is it that you are reading?”
She came closer, but Amma angled herself such that she couldn’t see the papers in her hand. But Bharti knew. As did all the other caretakers of the home. Sighing, she replaced the breakfast tray with the lunch tray.
“Amma, here let me help you,” Bharti tried to feed her, but Amma wouldn’t open her mouth after a few morsels of food. “Oh, so you are in ‘the mood’ today,” Bharti murmured, more to herself than to Amma.
‘The moods’ were periods when the old woman preferred to be left undisturbed with her thoughts. With one last resigned look at Amma, she left, promising to come back to check on her after some time.
Amma sat unmoving, looking at the now deserted garden. All the others were indoors, the harsh winter sun making it impossible to soak its warmth. She turned the pages in her wrinkled hands and stopped at one particular sentence.
‘The shining sun was nothing compared to the beauty that lay in front of me. His face would light up even the darkest of my days, where even the sunlight couldn’t reach, no matter the season.’
Her son. The light of her life. She smiled as the neurons in her brain held on to those memories; his first smile, his first word, his first step… And then she jerked her head up.
She couldn’t protect him from that first slap, a slap for spilling milk on his father’s papers, a slap for something that wasn’t even his fault. And she swore to herself at that moment, she would never let it happen again, never.
She shielded him as much as she could during the drunken rages of her husband. Never screaming out loudly but expertly hiding the bruises on her face with makeup, attributing her limping to falling in the bathroom. The boy was small, he didn’t think much about it, but how long could she put up with the ruse?
Her well-wishers asked her to leave, but how could she? She had no family, here she was well-provided for – had enough food, good clothes, her son went to a good school. If she left, what would she do? And she didn’t want anything less for her son. His father was a good man when sober, he loved them both. She liked to believe that.
So one day, she packed her son off to a boarding school. It broke her heart, but she didn’t have a choice. He would know the truth about his father as he grew older, but now he needed a happy childhood.
She told him it wasn’t because he was a naughty boy she was sending him, it was because he was the best and he deserved the best. While he came home during the vacations, she also visited him as often as she could.
She knew she was consoling herself more than him. And so he went, taking the little light in her life away, leaving her in the shadows, making her a shadow of herself.
Amma stood up from the chair and wiped the lone tear from her bleary eyes. Time passed faster when her mind was clear and now it was almost sunset. She ambled out towards the garden and sat on a chair on the porch.
There, she saw young men and women who were there to meet their parents and grandparents. Her eyes had stopped searching for her own son, long ago. Everyone greeted her, and she replied as if on autopilot. Her attention was on the setting sun.
Twilight came and went quickly, for some it meant the best part of the day, the sky streaked in different colours. She felt that way too. The tangerine sky looked like an ice-cream topping – a mixture of flavours and colours. Each bite inimitable and tasting different for each different person. Twilight was dim, a comfortable dim, yet peaceful and magical. And it was this peace and magic she sought in the twilight of her life.
As she stood there, the memories came flooding in. The constant abuses and the ache in her heart for her son who she couldn’t see that often. She thought of the sleepless nights of fear and silent screams which made her pop sleeping pills to numb herself.
At some point, she seemed to welcome the beatings as a punishment for sending her son away, it kind of soothed her. But she also knew her body wouldn’t be able to bear the brunt much longer. Concerned neighbours encouraged her to leave, but she couldn’t.
Then came a tipping point. She hadn’t thought much about it when she mixed a few of her sleeping pills in her husband’s drink. She wanted some peace, if only for a night.
But then, one should be careful what one wishes for; she wanted peace for a night and she got it for a lifetime. Her husband never woke up. They thought it was because of alcohol intoxication and choking on his own vomit.
She was relieved. Through her tears, she laughed. She didn’t want such an end for him. So, she convinced herself it was an accident and decided to move on. But as it is known, after the dim yet peaceful twilight comes an inky blackness. Darkness.
“Amma, wake up…” Bharti was shaking a dozing Amma in the chair. “It’s dark, and you haven’t eaten much since morning. Enough of your tantrums now!” Her voice was jovial and Amma almost smiled through her haze. Yes, it was dark indeed.
She let Bharti walk her to her room, bathe her, change her clothes and she also let herself be fed some soup. With her mind someplace else, she was only going through the motions. Bharti tucked her into bed, left a dim bulb on before shutting the door.
Amma lifted the papers from the bed and turned the pages towards the end. She knew what was written even without seeing it. The light she wanted in her life after her husband’s death never returned. Her son was back in the house, but there was no connection between them.
He seemed distant, happy with his own friends and busy in his life and he never acknowledged her presence. She couldn’t take it anymore and when she confronted him, he blamed her for abandoning him when he was young. He blamed her for taking his father’s love from him. But he didn’t blame her for the abuses she bore, how could he if he didn’t know that?
She wrote all those naked truths for him to read. But he never read them. He turned his back on her when her memories began to fade when her own screams haunted her in her dreams.
Left her in this old age home with a small garden. She was lost, devastated. The sun shone through different seasons, the twilight came and went just as quick, but what remained in her world was only darkness.
She closed her eyes and held on to the memory of her first glimpse of her son, the only light in her dark life. And in the darkness, she held on to the day when she was born a mother. Then, she felt it – darkness.
Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the bannisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud.
The next morning, Bharti found an unmoving Amma on the bed. There was a peaceful smile on her face. Beside her, lay the papers titled – Forget Me Not.
Whether those were for her estranged son, who she wished had read it. Or they were for herself to give a glimpse of her life on her clear days, Bharti would never know.
Picture credits: Still from Dominos ad on YouTube
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