A Love for All Seasons

[Edited to add: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance completely unintentional. 🙂 ]

On every Sunday, at 3:00 PM sharp, for as long as I care to remember, I call up my mother. As the phone rings and I wait for her to pick up, I trace circles on the floor with my toe. I hear the dull reverberation of the first ring and then the second ring and then the  subsequent ringing fills me with despair as I wait for my mum to answer. It will be my father who picks up the phone now, my mother never takes this long. She actually waits for my calls because for all the things that I am not, I am very predictable. My mother says that you can set the clock by my calls.

There are many things you can set the clock by. Disappointment is one, once disappointment discerns that you can provide it with a home, it will loyally cling to you, for all it is worth. You think you can shake it off, but like a lost pup, it will get home before you do and wait patiently on the door-step till you let it in. Sadness needs a place to sleep at night, mirth is a vagabond, my mother says. My mother deeply believes in predictability. Everything in nature has a season; the world around us is cyclic. The universe repeats its acts in patterns and all random events are a part of this. Nothing is ever unpredictable, she says. If something takes you by surprise, it is because you didn’t read the clues and recognize the pattern.

My mother knows that my weekly call is my place to sleep at night, my home coming. As I wait for her to pick up the phone, but as expected my father answers instead and my heart takes a sad plummet. We run through the gamut of gruff greetings, my Dad and I. I let him tell me that I can do better, that he has dreams for me. “At least, think of your mother”, he implores. Yeah, that is right; bring in the big guns this early on. My Dad (and you wouldn’t really know this), knows the landscape when it comes to organizing guilt trips.

I refuse to take this bait. So I tell him, rather bluntly now because I am done with talking to him, that my mother equates love with acceptance. That not once during all my weekly phone calls has she ever asked me to be anyone else or do things differently. I half expect him to go ballistic but all that happens is that his voice trails off here. Normally I would have accentuated about my mother’s omnipresent brand of love but today I am past caring, I am just looking for her. “Can you pass the phone to Mum please?” I plead. The circles at my toes are now whirlpools threatening to drown me as he starts another tirade, this time punctuated by sighs. It is not his good day, I can tell. I cannot get a word in and he has started rambling about how happy we all were when I was a child – which is always a sign that I won’t get to talk to her.

I know that at this very moment, as my Dad is unspooling a sepia memory of a trip to Sea World when I was 11, my mother is standing at the back of our family room, partly hearing every word and partly leaning against the wall for support. She is looking at the back of his head where his starched collar meets his graying hair. She is pushing away her own wispy strands of hair, and fingering the filigree pendant she always wears.

I can feel her impatience and her silence pushing itself towards me. She won’t say a word though. She will wait for her turn but she will not push him aside and get on the phone to talk. He has her in the corner, with his larger than life presence, and with his black and white theories on how the world should behave. My mother has always been a frail presence when my father is around. It is only when she is alone with me that she comes into her own. She lets me be myself too, a gift that I have learnt to never take for granted. Away from the one-dimensional world that my father has thrust upon us, my mother and I find consolation in our stolen conversations when my father isn’t around to “set things right” as he normally likes to.

Last week my father was away and I spent an entire day with my mother – I do that sometimes. I cooked her favourite meal and set her plate with matching napery like she loves and even allowed her to pick the movie she wanted to watch. I sat down next to her, held her hand and talked – you know the kind of stuff mothers and daughters talk about – the shoe sale at the fashion mall, the secrets ingredients in the recipes that have always been in the family, how my eyes crinkle just like hers when I laugh. You carry the keys to entire worlds in our hearts and when you find the right person to share this piece of yourself with; our worlds suddenly expand and take on new shapes. There is this world that my mother and I share, a space that my father will never have the chance to know anything about.

“When you are comfortable in your own space, you don’t need anyone else”, my mother said that day. When I was growing up and hovering on the threshold of teenage angst, she let me do whatever I wanted. She lingered on the fringe, watching and waiting and tending to my hurts, but any attempt of hers to get closer had me backing off even as she took tentative steps closer to me to bridge the gaps.  That is when we learnt to deal in silences because if there are enough silences, words can acquire meaning too. My mother has taught me this lesson and I now live my life by it.

She stayed when everyone else left, when the nights were inky dark and when I couldn’t bear to get out of bed in the mornings. Every failure of mine was healed by her mere presence. She was there in my room holding my hand, as I rocked myself to sleep in tears; outside the school gates where I was a failure at most things big time and where they picked on me mercilessly because I was the official class weirdo. She soothed me from outside the bathroom door as I lay on the floor pondering about life and death and that precarious state in between, and she picked me up from smoky bars as I waited for her to take me home when I had lost myself, yet again.

The easiest gift is a presence; it is also the hardest because a presence can be suffocating the minute it becomes aware of itself. My mother has never crossed that line. But today I need her because I have been feeling lost again and I am angry at her for not understanding this. The anger reaches my throat and stays stuck there till I feel a bitter taste in my mouth. The bitter taste becomes a salty one because I am now crying. Why can’t she see how much I need her, why will she not talk and just ask him to shut up with his inane tales and reprimands and tell me she will come over now to pick me up or something?

I can picture her frail face, her dark eyes and her windswept hair. I can see the blue veins that have started to show on her hands. I can smell her frangipani perfume and almost hear her soft voice. My temples are throbbing now. I start screaming for her over my father’s shoulder across the phone. She has to hear me now, she will be at the phone in a minute, she will drive over like she always does and she will pat me till I fall asleep. She will leave before I wake up, but the room will smell of frangipani and the cushions will have an indentation from where she was sitting the previous night and I will be able to go on for a while longer.

I close my eyes, tears streaming down and wait for her “Shshh, I am here” but all that happens is that my father’s tones get raspier and his voice gives away to tears as if to match mine. “Listen to me”, he cries, “Please, please listen to me. Come home because your mother cannot come and pick you up. You cannot keep waiting for her to come to you – you have to come home and we will talk about this. You have to understand that calling up to talk to her and not talking to me is not the solution to anything”.  Damn, he is having a worse day. I am in a hurry to hang up now because I know how this is going to end. He will insist I need help, and that I need to pull myself together. I mumble a quick goodbye; I will have to call up when he is not around so that I can actually talk to her. As I rush to replace the receiver, I hear his agonized whisper, “She died frigging years ago, Allie, and you still do not allow her any rest….”

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rajavel
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 16:16:19

    Oh my VJ ! You cant Ambush like that !

    All the mother daughter real life narrations and then suddenly this. It had a very strange effect – trying to figure out what is GOING on !

    Reply

  2. scarlettletters
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 18:23:11

    Fiction, my dear friend, fiction 🙂 You should have seen the tag :PP

    Reply

  3. Captain Nemo
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 20:07:02

    Whew!!! This one really kicked hard…
    Though I noticed the fiction tag before reading the blog, this one really had a very strange effect on me. I really had to resist the temptation to check the comments, just in case there was another disclaimer or explanation to this. Basically because I too have a lot of imaginary conversations with my mother, so it is not necessarily a mother-daughter support system situation all the time.

    Reply

  4. scarlettletters
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:14:00

    Glad you liked it, Captain.

    Take care,
    S

    Reply

  5. Priyamvada
    Aug 28, 2010 @ 03:56:57

    V,
    A touching story with a well-thought-out suspense. Some presences never leave us, and at a level I can understand the protagonist calling despite the reality. I have often felt the urge to call a dear departed person or text him, and had to stop myself – so it is entirely possible for someone to keep doing that.

    “She lets me be myself too, a gift that I have learnt to never take for granted.”

    Only those who have been controlled, and consistently been around someone who *doesn’t* allow one to be oneself – can realize how true this is, and how much of a gift it is to be around someone who accepts people as they are. It is the most precious gift you can give to people.

    Reply

  6. Aria
    Oct 16, 2010 @ 01:21:14

    *speechless*.. *awed*

    Reply

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