I felt this immense, overwhelming yet somehow soothing urge to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. Not with life in general, that would be too long and tedious a process. I just felt this need to create a huge space within myself and fill it with everything that I could see around me. As I began to stroll down the new yet somehow familiar paths, I was in for a visual treat. So much beauty, the splendour of nature, modest yet all encompassing! I felt it form a sort of aegis or maybe even a shelter all around me. It felt remarkably refreshing to feel this soothing shelter around me instead of the usual brick walls that had somehow become my sheath of protection. Too many invisible bricks and blocks around me that needed to be broken down. Work of years, no decades really!
As I made my way to the most enticingly spawned-out tree and cleared a little space to sit down to admire it face to face, I was amazed at how majestic yet extremely human the tree looked. I am no green monster to know the name of so rare a tree but I am a creature of nature nevertheless. The majestic, large green leaves akin to a large half closed palm, holding something in and letting something else loose. Nature very benevolently yet very strategically placed a few uneven and irregular holes in no certain pattern on the smooth, shiny green surface. What were they letting in and what were they letting go?
And just below the magnificent spread of leaves that gave a look of a green thatched roof, peeped out a small, slightly withered old leaf, its original work done perhaps but by no means redundant. From one angle, as I bent down to observe it not so passively, it had the profile of someone I knew in my long gone past. Yet when I leaned in a little closer, my head full of curls falling over my eyes, to see if the sense of déjà vu was real, it took on an altogether new shape. The half hooded old leaf looked like a tired old king cobra, regaining a bit of its lost glory, poised and ready to strike again.
A little uncomfortable with the memories that were awakening within me, I moved in a hurry, tripping over the small branch that held that misshapen little leaf. I picked myself up just as quickly and moved in search of not greener pastures but something that could pacify my racing thoughts.
Small footsteps echoed in the corridor as they marched furiously from room to room in search of the solace giver. Little rivulets of unending blood flowed from the tiny little right thumb and the sad little owner of the aforesaid thumb looked at the blood as she ran from room to room looking for her mother. The furious pitter-patter of her tiny feet slowed down a little outside the closed door. The usual noises resonated from inside but that did not prevent her from banging on the door saying, “Amma, amma come out and see. I hurted my little phinger. I scared. Everything red. Come out. Come out. Fast. I want you. Ammmaaaa…..” the little one pleaded piteously.
Amma could hear every word her little one was saying. Oddly enough, it felt like the words were coming in waves. As if there was some sort of a giant filter that was filtering out the pain from the voice of the little one and sending in only the words to her mother. How comforting that would be she thought rather vaguely as she writhed in pain. And this pain was nowhere near the tiny threshold that her daughter was on the verge of. This was a pain that had become a part of her. It was something that she now felt lost without. It had become a fifth limb that could not be cut off and cast away. She would be lost without it now. If her world hung on a single hinge then this limb was needed to hold on tight. Pain there might be, but she did not want to fall off for sure.
He finished. Got up without a backward glance and in the usual very familiar motions he dressed up, washed his blood stained fingers on the back of her dress, told her to hurry up with the tea and walked out of the room in no particular hurry.
The door was now open and the little one ran in, jumped on the bed with the blood stained sheets, cast them away with one quick movement of her tiny hand, as if this was something she had done this many times in her little life. She jumped on her mother who sat there motionless as usual, leaning weakly against the hard surface of the old bed with the beautiful carvings.
The intricate design of the bedstead did nothing to entice her the way they first did when she saw them tucked away in the corner of an old antique shop in Jaani Jahan Khan Road in Royapettah. She had been bewitched by it then, paid a pittance for something the shop owner had written off as an old piece of shit and walked home in pride. The rickshawwala had followed her trying to keep pace with her quick strides as she ran home excited that she had bought her first piece of furniture for the home that she was setting up with love and the excitement of a first time home maker. And what a deal it had been she had thought excitedly. Watching the bed being put together had been equally exciting but the entire euphoria melted out when he came home. The bed that had once been a part of her childish fancies only had associations of pain now. The first night was on that bed, followed by many many more and now she knew neither night nor day. Just pain.
But somewhere in all that pain had come a moment of joy and untold enchantment. She had a beautiful little baby girl. She had often looked, as the little girl blossomed in her care, and wondered how pain could beget a thing of such beauty. The little girls antics, the way she ran to her mother for everything, whether she had hurt herself or whether she had something to say, the way she threw up her head full of curls and laughed that amazing little laugh! It was just so enchanting to sit and watch her like a silent spectator at times, with an attachment that her constant pain did not allow her to feel completely. Almost a detached enchantment for something that was a part of her once. Was it possible to feel so cut off, so isolated, so remarkably out of things.
It was not that beautiful peals of laughter that she heard now. The little one did not throw back her head of curls to sound just like the chimes of a melodious doorbell that their reticent neighbours had. Once extremely friendly with her, the neighbours had slowly backed away when they saw things the way they were across the corridor. No one wants to be party to pain, neither as a giver, nor as a victim, nor as a silent spectator. Perhaps the role of the silent spectator is the toughest yet. You see the pain in all its processes, before, during and after. You see it from the eyes of the giver and the tightly shut eyes of the taker. Not a pleasant sight to watch. Which was why she heard only the chimes of the melodious doorbell nowadays and nothing more from across the corridor.
The girl’s little sobs were ebbing away now. The little one was used to watching her mother as she kept watching nothingness. It was almost as if she ran to her mother every time not for comfort but to comfort. She hugged her mother tight almost as if she could understand or even empathise with her, ran to the bathroom to quickly wash off the tiny rivulets of blood that had long since stopped flowing and ran out just as quickly to continue her play in the kitchen with Kitchu Anna.
She got up slowly, picked up her dress that was lying on the edge of the beautiful bedstead, looked down unseeingly at the corner where he had hastily wiped off the blood and walked to the bathroom in what seemed to be the longest walk of her life. In an almost regular pattern of ablutions, she washed herself, diligently scrubbed off the blood, picked up a fresh dress that still had memories of old blood stains and hurried down to make the tea for him.
The little one was not in the kitchen with Kitchu. She looked for her once and then went back to making the tea. She filled up the cup to the brim, took out a few homemade biscuits that he always loved with his tea and carried the tray to where he sat, all the time sipping her own tea. It was a short walk to the front porch, a section of the room that was filled with plenty of brightness. The sun entered every inch of the half open room as if permission was useless and he was one trespasser who was always welcome. And welcome he was. Once the house was empty of everyone except the little one and her, she would sit on the steps of the porch and watch the magnificent trees as they seemed to spread out the wings of their greenness in a flight of fancy. The little girl almost always played on the other side by the little pond that they had created together, replete with reddish pink lotuses and a few lazy looking plastic ducks. Of course, neither the pond nor the lotuses were as real as she was. They were just a few plastic creations picked off a platform shop in the nearby market. But they added to that sense of tranquillity, to the entire picture of something that was unreal but that had the cope to become completely real, take flight and head out into the world.
She would go to the market once a week to sense what the world looked like without her particular shades of pain. Walking through the rows of colourful stalls filled with wares that did not last, she always got a sense of something too surreal. She could never handle that. She would head back quickly. Without entering the house from the front door, she would sit on the front porch and watch the leaves caught in the throes of their flight instead. Innumerable times in the day she would wonder what it would feel like to sit on those leaves and get transported elsewhere as if on a magic carpet. To an alternative universe perhaps. She knew that if she wanted to, she could go to the market on her weekly visit and never come back to the house. She knew that somewhere inside she had it in her to take flight. Not oddly enough, it was the front porch that held her back. It had comforted in her pain over the years and through all seasons. Luckily for her, Chennai had no winters. She would have missed the sun and the leaves.
“Where is my tea?” came a quiet voice that nevertheless sent shudders through her and shook her out of her reverie.
She rushed to the corner of the front porch that was shielded from the sun and the entire panorama by the old shades. That was his place. He always sat there when he was home and watched her. The little one sat on his lap. Something had changed today. She usually sat near him and never on his lap. Something about his quiet demeanour scared the little one and she always ran away when he called her. Which was why, watching the little one on his lap brought a nasty feeling of déjà vu. It reminded her of something that could be but shouldn’t. It told her to pick herself up and take flight and never look back.
She set the tea tray and the plate of homemade biscuits on the side table and drew it closer to his chair. Not so much to help him but to have a closer peek. She could not see his hands even from such close quarters, but she could see some blood on the little ones dress. For a minute she looked away. She looked at the tree that had always comforted her. She looked at the leaves that were caught in the throes of flight. She looked at the little tub of water that she and her little one called their pond. She looked at the reddish pink plastic lotuses. She looked at the lazy but colourful ducks that seemed to be bobbing up and down on the water in the tub. She looked at the front gate. It was not far to the market where she went once a week. She could go now instead of on Monday, which was her usual routine. She need not return.
She looked down again at the little one on her father’s lap. She still couldn’t see his hands but the blood stains on her daughters dress seemed a little brighter now and more vivid. For some strange reason she couldn’t bring herself to look at the little ones face. If she had, she would have missed seeing the way she always threw back her head of curls and laughed like the chimes of the melodious doorbell that her neighbours had. She did not want to miss that. That and the front porch were all that were really real.
She leaned down in one swift motion, faster than she had been in these past nine years. She snatched the little one out of his lap with one hand and pushed his hands away with the other. She looked up into his eyes. For the first time, his eyes were tightly shut, while hers were open and intimidating. Not a word passed between them, but then it never did. She turned her gaze to the little one, pulled off the skirt that had the blood stains, threw them in the general direction of the house, washed off the little blood on her thighs with the water in the pond. The ducks would not mind.
She picked up the little one in her arms with an arm of comfort thrown around her shoulder, head open to the sun and walked towards the front gate in quick strides. She need not go every Monday to the market anymore. She could go where she wanted to, when she wanted to. She no longer had to imagine herself on the leaves of the tree as they seemed to take flight. All she had to do was take flight for real this time. Not to escape, but to live again.