Every morning, she quietly peeks in and offers me black tea. Then she lets me be; doesn’t make much inquiries. Sometimes she makes tiny announcements regarding lunch, names the vegetables of the day. My mother, she shows her love in these little ways – refilling my water bottle, replacing my old toothbrush, reminding me to talk to father.
“For many months, I tried to answer the questions that floated on her face whenever she looked at me, questions she did not know how to ask. For many months, living across the river from my mother, I attempted to navigate the distance that separated us.”
Oh what will she think? What will she do? Is my secret going to destroy her? Aren’t these the questions that haunt us so? Those were my thoughts a decade ago. My mother, simple, gentle, never prone to excesses or shows, never one to make lavish demands; not even interested in gold, or fancy clothes; not a complainer, never asks for more. Only one wish she nursed – something I have always known – to see her sons married and settled. But that was not meant to be.
When I sat her down a decade ago, when I tried to explain, she curled into herself on the old sofa, hiding behind her clothes, becoming even smaller, even more shriveled, uttering no more than a few words, producing sounds from the depths of her ignorance, looking like heartbreak. That year, I left her to her devices, relishing my new-found freedom, relieved to be released from the chains of untruth and obligations.
I left my mother in her own world. I briefly deserted her in order to lay my own foundations. She must have felt helpless. She must have been confused, not knowing how to handle this new, alien fact. She must have cried. But far and away I had to go.
When I returned, when I returned without any explanations, my mother quietly welcomed me home, the way only she could, making no inquiries, no demands, asking for nothing. All she wanted was to offer some warm rice and dal, to see me eating inside her house. Later, all she wanted was to sip some strong tea on the terrace with me, right after the four o’clock afternoon hour. For many months, I tried to answer the questions that floated on her face whenever she looked at me, questions she did not know how to ask. For many months, living across the river from my mother, I attempted to navigate the distance that separated us. This evening, I will go, I would tell myself. I will show, my love to her; I will stay overnight, maybe even a few more days there. For I too longed to see her, to see her early morning face and wild hair at the door. I longed to hear her soft voice offering black tea. But for many months and more, I did not know how. For many months, I merely dropped in and out.
There has been a shift this winter, an unfolding of events, numerous conspiracies that brought me home, to her door. After many years, many seasons, after so many summers and winters, I am close to my mother’s grace, blessed. Two nights turned into a week and the week into a month. Perhaps it was that almost-forgotten feeling that tethered me. When I was in pain one night, stomach troubled and weak, how it felt to hear her voice in the morning, how comforting to detect that selfless care, to eat the curd and the banana sent by her, by my mother.
Here I am now, snug and happy. Here I am, waking up late, being lazy, still in bed, under a blanket at ten, face unwashed, teeth unbrushed. Here I am being a child, accepting black tea, making requests, not doing much. Here I am, with my mother, who is so simple, who doesn’t make much inquiries, demands almost nothing. And who, I realize, is so strong.
I will rise gently now. I will dress casually. I will wash my face and brush my teeth. Soon, I will go and find my mother. I will ask her when she wants to eat. Together, we will serve rice and dal, curries and pickles to each other. We will sit inside the cold room and eat together. We will make small talk; she has waited an entire decade for this. And if the inevitable questions appear uninvited on her face again, if dark clouds suddenly gather across her eyes, we will momentarily stumble. We will briefly grow quiet, both of us helplessly lost in the middle of this intractable puzzle, waiting for another thought to guide us out of our discomfort, for the phone to ring, for the puppy to bark.
My mother did not get destroyed by my secret. She rose out of her own fear and went about her life, puttering inside her rooms, cooking curries, ironing clothes, meeting friends, attending wedding parties. How did I forget her strength? Why did I doubt her endurance? That year when she entered this house, young and eager to please; all those decades of struggle, of raising children, tending to in-laws. After all, she had witnessed greater strife, broken down and shattered many times. My mother, a gentle, silent warrior, emerged from these battles with ingenious skills, learnt how to put herself together, figured out the things that truly matter.
“We have seen so much.” she once told me, unshaken by events, big and small. “Always remember the less fortunate ones,” she once advised me. That is my mother’s way of life, anchored in gratitude and prayer, never once forgetting all that she has.
That one deep wish though, perhaps that too, she has learnt to let go of; perhaps she has accepted the marriage that was not meant to be. My mother, she is now pleased just to see me smile, to see me rise every morning; pleased to see me eating and drinking, going out, making phone calls, working, and returning to her house. My mother, simple, gentle, small, doesn’t have many other wishes, doesn’t care for most things in the world. She goes about her own way, putters around, cooks curries, irons clothes. She drinks a cup of strong tea right after the four o’clock hour. My mother rises early, shuffles around, gently knocks on my door. She is happy, just to offer me a cup of black tea.