Papa had planned a long walk today. He had never invested so much time mulling over an evening activity, which was why his single minded involvement made me curious. We had never been a good example of a father- son duo, but lately both of us were trying to change that. Nevertheless, even during this period of silent yet deliberate reconcilement, I knew his evenings were sacred. They were reserved for Mumma, and not even his own children were allowed to take those away from him. He sat for hours at length holding her pictures, paintings, clothes, books, embroidered scarves; breathing life into those exanimate objects. In the 8 long years after her departure, his almost obsessive love for her was the only thing that kept this family together. That, and our occasional lukewarm efforts towards mutual respect and acceptance.
But today... today Papa had planned a long walk.
"Come with me. We're going out."
I was startled by his voice, shaken back to the moment, only to realise that I had been staring at him.
"Are you sure? Wouldn't you rather be alone... right now...?"
"Wear the right shoes. It was raining all morning."
The walk was definitely going to be a disaster. It was the wrong place, the wrong ground with the wrong person. But I didn't have a choice.
"This ground must be their sky."
"Do you think they'd feel the thud of our loftiness crushing their sky as they struggle with their days?"
"No. We don't feel it either do we?"
"You mean there's someone above our skies too?"
I smiled. "It's funny how we start and stop believing our own stories. You always said that's where Mumma is."
He laughed. "You're too old for those lies now."
"Yeah, but I never really got over that tale. That's how I see her everyday: above the skies, watching over just like she used to look out of that window at the rear of the house. On drowsy, half lit mornings in some conflicting time and space, I see her watching herself from the skies down to the window."
My voice had trailed off by the end of the sentence, my energies transferred to a funny thought: this was probably the longest I had ever spoken to my father at once. He seemed uncomfortable too. We were on the muddy, highly precarious and demanding path of conversation. Conversation, governed by an acute understanding of mutual loss, complicated by the burden of pending words and postponed feelings. His foot slipped a little on the mud. I steadied him by holding his hand and smiled. "You're wearing the wrong shoes. The carrot must be really upset."
"Yeah, we mustn't disturb anyone’s sky. Who knows how many of them are living with dreams of departure- the flight to end all falls?"
I smiled. "You've allowed mom's things to become your sky."
He did not respond. I could not even decipher any movement in his facial expressions to base my presumptuous inferences on. For the next half an hour, we walked on a straight, unyielding road covered with tar. There were no homes on its sides. It was that break in the path which could force a short sighted passer-by to wonder why they had built a road there at all. For whom?
"I don't think I chose this life. She went too early."
"We miss her too."
"Miss her? You really think that's what it is? I don't miss her. I live with the thought of her, scattered in everything I knew to be home. If she isn't here, nothing is. She wasn't my wife, she was everything I ever had. The only thing I had won, one thing I deserved."
"You talk of her like a rusted, once loved trophy."
"Sure. That's how poorly you think of me."
"You just said it yourself."
He just glared at the tarred road with his face slightly bent. I imagined looking at him, straight in the eyes: shaming his invincible male pride by the sheer act of impolite disclosure. But I looked straight ahead instead, wondering at the distance that had flourished right under our eyes with and without Mumma. I never felt the need to talk to him when she was around; I simply couldn't when she wasn't. With a side glance, I fleetingly saw the unsteady, defeated gait of my father- a man as alien to me as a new neighbour. We were people thrown together by the congruity of spaces and estranged by the exclusiveness of experiences.
By now, we had reached the beach. It seemed to be singing in the fullness of the sea- how it loved the rains! I removed my shoes and placed them next to the spot I had chosen to sit at. My father undid the laces of his shoes but did not remove them. We sat there, looking at the sunset and then at the emptiness of the bright hues for a long time. I wondered at the sky that the sea was and smiled. Dad had led me to an interesting train of thought. I felt his eyes on me but did not explain my amusement. I let myself continue to wallow in my personal tragedy of being and not knowing. I gazed at the sky, searching for her. As far as I was concerned, she was my only family.
"I miss her too."
I looked at him and shed the first ever tear of acknowledged mutual grief. He placed his hand on my shoulder as he finally removed his shoes. He brushed them playfully against the clear water as I felt Mumma coming nearer and nearer to us, walking through the blue and white reflections of the sky- a sky we could touch with our fingers and feel on our skin. A sky we could let slip from our hands when we were strong enough to walk. I looked at dad once more that evening, trying to see through his aimless smile. For the first time that evening, I saw something I understood; something I knew. Sitting there beside mud soaked shoes under the shade of a residual sunset, gazing at two skies, I knew I had found something, someone. And just like that, in the course of an evening, our histories aligned correcting the imbalances of countless days filled with countless words- the two of us, a family built on memories, silences, shoes, and skies.