The Keeper of Time

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me a story about a cuckoo clock that she had seen when she was growing up. It was a large and imposing clock, with a little wooden house stuck on the centre where the hour and minute hands met. As the clock was about to strike the next hour, she always said, a little old man would step out of the house and slide the hour hand into perfect position before disappearing into his little wooden dwelling again. When you thought about it that way, time was always magical and within your grasp and and on most days, I would ask my mother to repeat it several times. I had so many questions.

What did the old man do if the clock stopped working? Did he ever step out of the house for anything else than changing the hours? How long did it take for him to get back into the house again after he was done with his task? I don’t remember most of the answers now.

But I do remember that there was a question that I didn’t ask my mother because I wanted to figure out the answer by myself. What did the old man do as he waited for his cue? Did he sit down? Was the house actually a proper one with chairs and windows? Or was his job to simply wait in the wings, on high alert for his cue? If he did have something else to do, how did he keep track of the hour-hand-task? Wasn’t he the keeper of time himself? And if he was, surely he could do nothing else other than just wait! Some days I told myself that the old man had an entire family with him and he was not alone. On other days, I was convinced that the clock would die the day the old man refused to step out.

I was at the shops with Miss A last week when we heard the news of the MH17 aircraft. We were in a busy mall, eating our lunch when the news flashed across screens.

Because I stopped talking, she did too, and we both watched in silence.

“Why does bad stuff happen to innocent people?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. They were showing scattered suitcases on the TV. “Perhaps that is why people believe in reincarnation because it seems so hard to make sense of everything in one lifetime.Maybe we need to blame it on the afterlife and the past lives.”

“If there was someone who wanted to turn over a new leaf the very next second, something like this would rob them of the chance,” she said. “How does reincarnation answer that?”

“I don’t know,” I said again. “We make up entire universes like that. Because so many things do not make sense.”

“Death is not the saddest thing there is,” she said, eyes still on the TV. “It is the getting left behind, the waking up everyday with such sadness. Death is easier that way. Those people that passed on, they no longer know of the chances they didn’t get. Their families will be sorry forever because they know.”

“The best thing to do is to be grateful for everyday,” I say. Though the food tastes awful by now and the pictures of those young children on that flight are setting my throat on fire and discussing shopping plans seems terribly trite and inconsiderate. “For this food and the weather and the fact that we got a car-park and all such things.”

But my words are lies and I don’t feel sure of anything.

“I suppose,” she says.

And then I realise, that she is looking for hope much more than I am.

“Even if it is not obvious, you have to believe. In the good stuff. In healing. In knowing that things will one day return to order.”

“Do you believe that?”

“With all my heart.”

“And those that are gone?”

“Especially for those that are gone. Because like you said they have no more chances left.”

“Where exactly on the map is Amsterdam?” my mother asks later. Many, many years ago, she used to point out these things to me on the atlas and quiz me later to make sure I understood.

I think of the old man in his wooden house then, I had forgotten he existed. While he was waiting indoors for the clock to run its course, my mother has forgotten her answers from another time. My daughter has questions that no longer have simple answers or even locations on a map.

“Who is to know what will happen to this world,” my mother says. “Nothing seems true on some days.”

The maps are changing.

The times are changing.

But after all these years, I think I know what the old man in the clock does while he waits.

I think he pulls up a chair and keeps an eye on everything that goes on around him. And then, no matter what, at the end of the hour, good, bad, ugly or magnificent, horrid or without hope, he walks up to the hour and advances it anyway. To signify the end, to signify the beginning. To keep things moving.

Yes!

I finally know what the old man in the clock does all day long.

He does not let the times control him. I don’t think he ever has.

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The sweetest song

On some days, my evenings are short and a mess, a puddle of things and undone tasks lying around a messy kitchen.

There is Japanese homework and Maths equations, dinner bubbling on the stovetop, questions about allegory and allusions, maps to trace and viola notes to be perfected. We walk in perfect circles around the things that make up our minutes, the music sheets, the markers, the glue sticks, the cue cards for some presentation. The phone rings several times, the clock moves in obstinate steps and my voice and hers are sometimes lost in the mad scramble. There is so much to do, there is so little time.

We work on autopilot, ticking off invisible lists, my mother’s words echoing in my ears as my instructions perhaps echo in Miss A’s.

“It all passes far too soon,” my mother often says. “They grow up too soon, they leave home when you are not ready and time is rarely on our side.”

On most bustling evenings, I don’t think of the future. I think of the next hour or the next day or the next task before we go to bed. The future is out there, a moody apparition at the end of street, an unknown presence hiding in the nooks of our days, half hazy and half clear, half dream and half reality.

But on some nights like yesterday, time stops rushing and works with me – the kitchen is clean, the homework is packed away and Miss A practices her music in her room and there is no other sound on this wintry night. I can only hear half the notes from where I am.  I don’t always know all her pieces now, sometimes she plays music that is a complete surprise, her fingers scaling the viola, coaxing it to sing.

Most days I knock on her door and go in to listen. I sit at the edge of her bed and nod when she explains her notes. Today, I hover outisde the closed door and hear her play – the troughs, the crescendos, the pauses, the missed notes, all of it in all its  raw glory. I don’t knock. I don’t ask her what she is playing. I wait till she moves to another piece, yet another piece of music that is perhaps familiar and perhaps not.

Because in the chaos of these busy evenings, there are too many knowns and not enough surprises.

And as she grows up and finds her own words, I am learning that the sweetest songs are in languages that I don’t always understand.

The Seasons

It has been so long since I posted here that the words almost didn’t come at first. They are not always adorable children now, the words, they are sometimes firm almost-teenagers with a mind of their own, they come when they want to and they mostly don’t.

So much has Miss A grown since I last wrote about her. She is no longer in Junior School. She plays for one of the city’s elite music groups – a hand-picked selection of kids her age who spend hours on the perfect note. She doesn’t always write as much, she wants to bake instead. She does the dishes and she serves herself breakfast when I am busy. She is loud and cheerful, shy and quiet, at once the best of friends and the quiet child at the dining room table who teaches herself maths and hiragana script and all these things that I watch from a distance. I don’t deal well with distance though and therefore I am always a step behind or ahead or next to her, offering her tea, asking about her day, insisting that days are not just “good or yeah ok” but always so much more.

Her friends mail and text often and as the rule goes in my house, I read all her texts and mails and sometimes laugh at her wit, her humour, her dryness. Sometimes she says a thing that I could have said or have most certainly already said in another lifetime. She laughs at the slightest thing and she flares at the slightest thing too. She is so much like me that I understand my mother better than ever.

But she is not me. She tries even when there is a chance of failure. She is braver than I was at that age and she is open and wondrous. She sings. With the voice of an angel. With notes that scale heights so easily and flawlessly. She pushes herself off that ledge of music and her voice soars and fills up the forgotten corners of my house.

“I want to sing the graduation song when I am in Year 6,” she had said to me when she was in Year 3, little and eager, her voice soft and full of light.

“ÖK,”I said. Absent-mindedly.

“And win the prize for excellence,”.  So little and eager, like I said. And so many dreams and big words.

“And I want to be house captain too. Okay?”

“Ókay.”

She did all these things last year. Every single one. My heart just grew and grew and it started to cry a little bit because all it takes is one look in the mirror to realise how quickly these children grow up.

I had a box of tissues ready for graduation night.

“No sniffing out loud please, this is my night and I worked really hard for this,” she says just before disappearing backstage, her eyes a-twinkle, her humour as sharp as ever.

”So did I. I earned the right to that box of tissues,” I say.

The stage is dark like it always is. The piano awakens in the corner and the opening notes of Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Circle Game’ fill the auditorium. And then she walks out to the centre, she of the sticky fingers and play-doh days, mike in hand and she sings.

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar

Her voice, the piano, her classmates walking in with candles.

Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Still that voice, still the piano. The teachers who taught her to read and write and fall and play and tended to scraped knees and lunch time fights walk in.

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down

More people on stage. A collage of the years of primary school. Old photos and some new ones. Laughter. No tears yet.

We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game

The tears start to form in my throat first, a hot and stifling pain almost that won’t go away. There are so many of us in the audience, mothers and fathers and grandparents, teary eyed and stoic as we watch the ceremony, as Miss A sings.

But my eyes, they stay dry.

It is much later after she gets her prize, after the house flag has been passed on, after the candles have been lit that the music starts again.

She hold hands with her best friend. She walks down the stage and disappears in the wings, still in tune to the music. No longer singing, the largest of smiles on her now grownup face. The collage plays again and I see her in a photo from another lifetime, she the girl with the baby soft cheeks and the fringe, the eyes full of wonder. She is there for a moment and then she is gone. Backstage to where the stories, the new ones will begin. In the wings for another adventure.

The tears come then. The tissues become soggy.

For the growing up.

For the days now gone forever.

For the seasons, the past and the future ones.

Mostly because we can’t return and we can only look, like the song says.

I didn’t know this when she was little, but I do now.

You grow up twice. Once when you are a child and once when your child grows up.

The second time hurts more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit of magic

She is 11. She loves reading historical fiction and stories about the early settlers. She knows about scalene triangles and has been to the Parliament house and has strong views on the government’s migration schemes. She is quick witted, dry almost in her humour, subtly sarcastic. She writes plays and short stories and poems that make me think that she houses a deeper and significantly older soul.  She cries when her C Melodic Minor doesn’t sound the way she wants it to, when her viola does not co-operate. She tells me about characterisation in drama lessons and how she is writing some dialogue in French.

Yesterday, she rummaged in her drawers for a fairy costume because it was magical day at school. I caught her sitting cross legged by the fireside, my 11 year old with a fairy dress on, a dress that was too short and showed her scraped knees, a plastic tiara in her dark and wavy and untamed hair, a song on her lips. She looked so small and so fragile, a little person hunched up over pipe-cleaners.

‘I am making a wand,’ she said. ‘With a star and all.’

And because I know that one should be quiet when magic happens , I just nodded.

I saw a million sparks dance in her eyes when she looked up at me.

‘I made it by myself, see?’ she waved the wand about.  Pink and purple pipe-cleaners and a heart that was large, too large.

‘You are magical,’ I said, stopping to kiss her.

She kissed me back and went back to her wand.

‘So magical,’ I said again.

And she looked up at me and said, ‘Yes, Mum, I am.’

I don’t always see the old soul in her, sometimes I see a young and innocent heart and then I know that she already has enough wisdom and wonder in her for any magical day.

And the wand. There is always the wand.

There is always the magic only you can create for yourself.

 

The shows that go on..

Last week, in rather uncharacteristic behaviour, I found myself 20 minutes early to pick Miss A up from her drama lesson. It must be mentioned here that the child does 4 hours of drama per week and this is not counting the tantrums and other dramatic session she sometimes unleashes on me. Sometimes I do these pick-ups and drop-offs on auto-pilot. Sometimes I forget my sense of marvel about the whole thing, I almost forget how much I love theatre and what it means to me.

It is autumn here, you know how autumn runs – it likes to pretend to be almost-winter. And so, last week, the air was thin and cold and the evening was almost translucent with a cold but orange sky. It was only 6:30 PM but the street lights came on. People became shadows and then silouhettes, the sounds around me became a soothing muffle.

I must tell you here that the drama classes are run in a quaint little building with a creaky wooden staircase and attics and eaves and discarded cupboards full of wigs and costumes and pearls as large as plump stones. Tins of greasepaint and posters for plays that were staged in 1992 or 2005 or any other year that takes your fancy. Old rickety chairs and thick drapes, that kind of a place. Miss A and the other kids love the building, it is like a second home to them. There is an old theatre downstairs where amateur productions are staged every month, for a season or two. On Friday nights, people converge here in pearls and black dresses and scarves and mufflers and gloves that have seen younger and better days. They line up on the pavement, these people, and they buy little program booklets and they reminsce about the plays that are almost always classics and have been staged a few thousand times before in some other part of the world. It is that kind of a place, like I said, it is all about things that once were – old and crinkled and warm and speaking of other genteel times.

And then are the kids and Miss A from their class upstairs, they talk and giggle sometimes too loudly, they swing the doors with abandon as they rush through the old archways of this building which has cracks and is whitewashed and has seen so many acts. The kids drag squeaky chairs over pockmarked floors and they sometimes recite their lines to one another as they wait to be picked up. The theatre patrons smile at them but the young uns – they have so many lines to learn and they are always in a hurry to find their parts.

Last week, as I reached the theatre and waited, it was the end of the season for ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’. The props were being cleared and the posters were being taken down. There was no line of stage-goers and except for the pack-up truck, our stage was deserted – no one hangs around for an ending, you see. We all wait for the curtains to open, we are in a rush to go away once the curtains fall. The little ones, upstairs, were doing a reading and there was no giggling and no patter of footsteps. Everything was so quiet, so lacking words.

Mendelsshon played on the car radio. The tower clock sounded its gong seven times. The truck driver locked the stage door and pulled out of the parking lot. The evening got darker, the first fog of the seasons left traces on my car window.  The street was bathed in yellow and orange and the colours of the evening, everything was at once cold and looking away. The concerto reached a crescendo. More cars buzzed around me, in the dark, on an almost-winter evening.

“This is the now,” I remember, thinking to myself. “Now. It looks like this, it feels like this, it smells like this. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow and no light and no dark. The Now. It is quiet and dark and not at all sad.”

But it was, a little bit. Because dark theatres are sad. As are empty chairs and wings without anxious voices and grand pianos.

And then the doors swung open and Miss A and her friends tumbled out clutching scripts in their hand, new words and new lines to learn. The lights from the drama class windows spilled on to the orange pavement. And for beautiful and ridiculously brief moment, those lights brightened up the signboards of the silent theatre. Tangible proof of the show going on, this was it. This and Now. This and the being Here. As things change and end and mould and re-open. The Now. It is such a constant.

Outside the theatre is a bench inscribed with the Bard’s words. On summer evenings, I wait there for Miss A.

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Sometimes, life, it just lines up.  Everything just makes sense.

Words

I was fifteen and he was the same age, perhaps. Or perhaps we were both younger, or older. Who is to say after so many years? He lived nearby and he sometimes came over to deliver a message from his mother to mine because they were friends. He and I – we did not say a word to each other because we were young, like I said.

It was not that I was shy, rather it was because he was always tongue-tied and I was always loud. Or perhaps, that is how I remember myself. It took me a few months to realise that he was the one that called me everyday at the same time even though he never said a word. He played songs sometimes, and I stayed on the phone asking who it was and therefore drowning out his music.

Over time and with the shared maturity that comes with sharing such secrets with the school best friends, I learnt to identify his patterns. He called when I was alone, or when he was alone, he never said a word, he hung up when I had said Hello – he did this everyday. That is all he did. He never tried to talk to me. He did not strike up conversations if he saw me alone at the corner shop. He saw me with other male  and female friends, yet he persisted with his silence.

I got used to the phone calls over the years, my parents laughed about the situation. They were too kind to say anything to him and they pretended that they did not know it was him that called us ever so often if he came over.  I was not that kind though, sometimes I gave him a talking to on the phone, sometimes I rolled my eyes at him when he walked past.

Age gives you that kind of confidence, you feel brave and free and you can discard the attentions that come your way.

You can make fun of love when you are young. Only when you are young.

I met other people. Interesting people. People who called me at designated times and people who talked. I would take the phone off the hook on days like those when I did not want the phone lines engaged because some voices were so important to me.

He called me and played music for me for seven whole years. Every Monday. Every Friday. Every Sunday if the parents were out and about.

The song was the same too – the actual words are hazy now but it was a song about life changing forever because of love at a first glance.

It made me feel good on some days, the song, it made me feel beautiful and loved and desired on the days when high-school maths and bad hair days and perceived affairs of the hearts had reduced me to tears. I went from high-school to university, I got a degree. I packed my bags and left. He called and played the song whenever I went home for a few days.

I moved overseas and my mother gave me snippets about him over the years.

He graduated from college. He took over his father’s business. He built a new house. He got married.

Somewhere along the way, the calls stopped. I still went home once a year, I still saw him around the place. But he didn’t call. Not anymore. That thing about growing up spares none of us.

We went to his new place for a house-warming party when I visited my parents last year. My daughter sat next to his children. His wife and I discussed the weather. His brothers spoke to me, his mother insisted that I eat some more.

He was in the room all along. I saw him and he saw me as we mingled but there had been too many phone calls and silent hours to let words ruin anything now.

My mother disappeared into the crowds with Miss A in tow after lunch. So did his family.

After twenty odd years of the silent communication, there we were – two grown-ups, finally face to face, without a telephone in between.

“Your mother,” he said, looking at me, “did she eat? Did she like the food?”

That was all he said.

His eyes did not leave my face. Not once. Twenty years of looking away now bundled into one gaze.

I had never once acknowledged his feelings. He had never once said anything. He was young and so was I. And yet here we were. And now there was no music and there were no songs and so much of life and living had happened since.

Yes,” I said.

That was all I said.

He smiled. I think I smiled back.

Then we finally ran out of things to say and it ended that day, the little one-sided love story that began many summers ago.

Words, man.

They end everything.

When We Were Young

I was convinced I would grow stronger and invincible as an adult. I believed the little things would not hurt me so much, not any more. I thought I would learn to separate the big battles from the small ones and the small battles from the ‘not-battles’. I thought fear would fade like a sketchy nightmare – strong and unpleasant and then grey and wispy and then just a memory.

And yet when Miss A announced her intentions to run for house captain at school, I was a child again. Eager and trusting and full of impudent hope. Oscillating between those wretched twins of victory and failure. Not knowing and at once knowing. Sure and unsure. Proud and scared.

I helped her with the speech. I got a teeny bit carried away when I asked her to stress on some of the words. I talked strategies (like how the Year 3s were too little and probably would not understand nor care about her plans for house meetings, how the Year 5s would vote honestly, how all good speeches needed humour) and I talked dreams with her, her the little child that once said “Tupsember” instead of September.

When she said in her speech that everyone had something to contribute, I nodded. When she said that a house needed athletic people and painters and singers and maths wizards and good friends and great listeners, I cheered.

“I was Captain of the Blue House too,” I said to her. A million times over. Another country and another time but it felt like I was passing the baton on. That like recipes and family stories, this was yet another thing we could share.

And then at night, a sleepy face turned to me and said “Mum, I have butterflies in my tummy and I may not even win.”

“You will,” I said. And that all-knowing adult inside of me, said “Umm, actually there is a chance she won’t.”

“What if no one votes for me?” she asked.

“They will,” I said. And the adult laughed and whispered that children can be cruel and children can be whimsical and that children do not follow norms when it comes to choices.

“What if I don’t get even a single vote?” she asked again.

“Of course, you will,” I said. Glad for the dark in the room because adults become children too when there is no light around.

And that voice inside me, cold and clever, reminded me that children fail. Oh yes, they do. Because everyone does. That is how life works. That is how we grow and fall and walk and stumble and eventually get somewhere.

“If you lose,” I said, the words bitter and sharp in my mouth, “you just congratulate the people who do.  And get on with the hurt because nothing hurts forever. And you will win so many other things. Sometimes it is okay to just try because only ridiculously, brave people try even when they know there is failure involved.”

I believed myself then, I really did. You have to be a grown-up to understand some things. I wouldn’t have said these words as a child because I knew words like forever then. Now, I know how transient everything is and it makes things easier, as sad as that is.

“You will dream a million dreams,” I told her after she had fallen asleep. “And so many of them will come true and so many of them won’t. But it won’t matter Miss A. Because you will dream a million dreams.”

I did the dishes then and I went through her speech again. And this song  came on and my bubble burst and I sobbed for the little person who had a speech ready and a house chant and who did not think to ask anyone to vote for her because “that would be like forcing them, Mum.”

You do not see your children growing, you miss the way their limbs grow and their faces change, the way their baby lisp disappears overnight. You get to see their horizons change though, you see the scraped knees and the broken hearts and their stash of hopes and you know that they will open the door soon and go chasing things in the clouds, that growing up and adulthood is here and that there are lessons around the corner.

I kissed her and told her that she was wonderful and brave and awesome the next day when we arrived at school. I told her she would do so well, oh so well and that I was so, so proud of her. And then, I tried not to tear up as I waited in the car while she walked to her classroom, her speech cue cards in her hand.

I had butterflies in my stomach when I went to pick her up at 4:00 PM. I only looked at the clock a few thousand times throughout the day. I practiced my “Well done, I bet you were great” and “I love you and it does not matter” in a daisy chain all the way in the car.

And then when she shrieked and said “I got it Mum, I won,” I forgot to hold my breath and I started to breathe again.

I did not cry this time though there was a knot in my throat. I wiped my eyes when she said she had walked over to the others and given them hugs and said they had done a great job too.

And later that night, still in the dark, just before falling asleep, she said “I was not afraid, Mum. I saw the big girls with their Head of the School speeches and I realised that this was just one milestone out of many. I knew that if I lost today, I could win other things.”

That is when my voice gave away. There was no use pretending anymore. Her childhood and mine were both getting wispy, there was so much to do and so many bends in the road and so many horizons ahead.

You don’t cry because your child is growing up. You cry on days like this because you realise that once your child grows up, the last links to your own childhood become obsolete too. You cry because you realise time does rush by. That it changes, all of it, life and age and everything you knew. And there is not a damned thing you can do.And yet, there is much wonder in the years ahead.

So many milestones.

Some which we will meet, some which we will miss.

A million dreams. Missed and not missed. But most importantly, a million dreams.The things time cannot steal from us.

Hope

I didn’t know her, neither did most of us. And now we never will.

She could have been my friend or yours. She could have been your neighbour or your aunt’s neighbour, the girl you saw on the bus one busy morning. She could have been the friend of the bride at a wedding next year. She could have been the person behind you in the queue at the markets, the person who ordered ice-cream at the restaurant while you placed your order. She could have been so many things. She could have been alive.

Every mundane choice that we have the luxury of today and tomorrow and perhaps after that, every damned thing we will do or not do will be an obscene opulence from now on. Because, that nameless girl has finally run out of them. I wondered what to eat for dinner and I tidied up my kitchen and I made a folder for school slips. Because I have a million choices. Because it is mostly a safe country here and the law listens and the law is alive and cases are resolved and there is a body that protects.

The law loses its battle the day it starts blaming the victim. A firefighter attitude is what we have when things fail. Only a calamity brings us together, only a blaze keeps us together.

But. A nation needs a sharp and spiteful memory. A nation should not always forget and forgive.  A nation should hold on to old wounds and guard its battle scars so that it always remember how to protect itself.

RIP dear friend, sister, daughter. I cannot promise that you will be the last. You need mountains of faith for those kinds of statements. I don’t have that belief in mankind at this moment. I cannot promise that no other girl will meet your fate because other girls probably will – it took millions of years for the neanderthals to morph into Homo sapiens. Perhaps that metamorphosis is still in progress, perhaps a million years down the line, there is hope.

I promise though that I shall do what I can to save a sister, a daughter, a woman if I see them being harmed.

I promise to listen, to make a noise.

Mostly though, I promise, that I will not give up hope so that your death is not in vain. I am not going to say that the situation won’t change in India or elsewhere. I am not going to pretend it doesn’t exist. I am not going to sigh and say my prayers and wait for peace.

I am going to live with hope from this moment because you deserved it.

Because, hope, my dear, departed friend is what kept you going.

So, sleep well tonight. Our battles have just begun.

There is hope. There is always hope. On the days, there is nothing else, there is damned and thriving and pulsating hope and the promise of a sunrise.

RIP.

A Whole New World

Dear Miss A,

On some days like yesterday, I forget what life ever was like before I started loving, worrying and living for you. That is not supposed to be corny but truth and love are ridiculously corny and hence we must not make excuses for either. Here is the thing – time is a wretched, wretched sieve. There is so much I remember about the last 11 years and so much else that I don’t.

Time, again, the thief. We forget bit by bit, every single day – sunsets and sunrises, meals and laughter, names and faces, dreams and places. This is how life changes – we do it, it is all us –  we move on, we leave things behind and then we claim that we were robbed by the passage of age and time and life. So, this is what you and I need to remember about the year that was. I picked a memory that I suspect will never age. It is okay to forget some things. But this particular one, it defines the year for me. It is a harbinger of the things to be, I want to believe this.

You were Jasmine in Aladdin for the school play. You wore a purple harem dress. You sang “A whole new world.” My heart turned and twisted, my pride spilled over. You were under a spotlight and behind you was a cardboard cut-out of a silvery moon. The audience, I swear, stopped breathing when the opening bars of the song sounded. The live orchestra soared, it reached a crescendo. So did you.

The stage, it was still dark. The piano,it still played. Your voice, it was as sweet and crystal clear. And then there was magic. Your other classmates walked on to the stage, holding candles.  Just humming, barely so. Just harmonising with your voice, a part of your song but not quite. In your eyes, danced a million flickers. You looked towards the audience then, you looked at me, you ended the song.

And the stage was flooded with lights again  and the candles departed to the wings. We clapped then, all of us. We clapped and clapped and we cried a little, all of us. The actors for the next scene had to wait because of the applause. You walked off stage when the song was done, I saw you run backstage as you reached the wings. It was done, the big moment had come and gone, the magic had wafted away. Later, the teachers and the headmistress would write us a note telling us how magical your song was. Later, I would cry again, so many times, for the enchantment of those three minutes.

Memories do not make sounds when they are born. Or perhaps they do. Perhaps they whisper in our ears and say that they are going to be around forever now, that a corner of our heart has been rented till the end of time.

A memory like that is the best gift you can give anyone. And so on your birthday, I thank you Miss A. For the gift of that evening. For the magic, for the song. For a vision that will stay with me till the end of my time.

This was a year of great grades, state honours in competitions and commendable concerts and music exams. I am proud of you for all of this, I am – but it is ordinary mothers that talk only of grades. The things you do, the songs you sing, the music you compose, the stories you write – there is no grading system for these things.

You, my dear child, you are your smile and your curly hair. You are your giggles and your fast sentences. You are your music and you are your stories. You are your friendships and you are your temper. You are your songs and your ABBA dances. You are all the things that make you laugh and cry and talk and rage because you do not do anything by half measures, You are warm and ridiculously witty and passionate about things you believe in. You are funny and brave and kind and rather too beautiful (when you brush your hair). You are all those things and so many others.

Here is another thing this year taught me. Your horizons are yours, I cannot hand you mine.  There is so much about our journey that I do not know yet, there is so much magic that will arrive unannounced in our lives, so many moments of candles in the darkness, so many spotlights, so many harmonies. This is a blessed, blessed thing.

Happy 11th birthday. Sing. Dream. Soar. Glide. Dance. Write.  Eat. Wish upon a star. Stay up late. Sleep in. Chase rainbows. Run amid sprinklers. Work.  Work Hard. Laugh. Often and Everyday. There is a whole new world awaiting us.

Wonder by Wonder.

For you and for me.

Love,

Mum

Only 11…

Here is what you need to know about Miss A. She remembers. She remembers how the sun was warm and ticklish on that day at the beach, four years ago. She remembers how her grilled corn at the fair last month had too much salt on it and too little butter but was still delicious. She remembers which one of her friends jumped into the freezing pool first to get the party started on her birthday. She remembers the little girl selling flowers by the roadside in India and wonders what the little girl does in summer when the ground is dry and cracked and the trees are droopy and poor. She remembers the old woman with sad eyes, sitting three seats away from us, on the bus last week and she wonders if the woman was just having a sad day or whether she is still travelling across some suburb in town, with a downcast face. She remembers, like I said. She is not partial to her memories. The good, the bad, the dark and the light – everything is welcome in her world. She stares every emotion in the face, she meets its unflinching gaze.

She remembers the movie trailer long after I have forgotten about it. When she says she wants to talk about the movie, I presume that she has comments on ‘The Sapphires’ which we went to see the other week. 

“The little boy,” she says, drawing invisible loops on the pillows, the way she does when she is thinking furiously. “From the trailer of that movie ‘Bully’. What happened to him Mum?”

I had thought that she would remember the movie, the songs and the laughs, instead she remembers the two minute movie clip at the start.

He killed himself, that little boy, he couldn’t take the jeers and the taunts of his classmates anymore and he came home from school one day and he hung himself in his barn.  He was an 11 year old boy and then he was dead, just like that. Miss A, with her strawberry shampooed hair, her panda PJs and her stuffed toy, my safe and warm child under the quilts is 10.

“He died,” I say.

“How?” she says. “I gathered that but what did they mean by ‘taking his own life’?”

She knows about things like gravity and she can tell you all about Harry Potter’s horocruxes . She is reading about Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, she loves history. She knows how to tie her shoelaces and she can set the table and when I am busy, she can do odd jobs in the kitchen. She can play “Ode to Joy” on her viola and she sings like an angel. She knows so many things. And she doesn’t know so many others.

“He killed himself,” I say. Slowly, ever so slowly, every word weighed in iron. Because the truth is heavy like that and yet, sometimes the truth is the only thing that will give you a corner to hide. 

“He was 11,” she says. Her eyes glint.  “How does a 11 year old know how to kill themselves Mum?”

“He was sad, so sad,” I say. “And he probably believed he couldn’t go on, that was his only choice. Fear makes us figure out impossible things.”  It sounds feeble and flimsy but the saddest of things sometimes come with weak preludes.

“How did he  do it?”

“He hung himself,” I say.  “With a rope.” The truth needs to be a like a band-aid at times. Painful in short bursts.

She reaches for my hand beneath the sheets and we lie there like that, silent and sad, her warm palm in my clammy one.

“11,” she says again. “I will be 11 soon.”

“All the things he never got to be,” I say.

She snuggles closer and soon I cannot see her face anymore. This is thing, you can stay there and watch the dusk fall in thick slices or you can turn towards the light.

“I need you to promise me,” I say, my voice breaking up even though I am trying really hard, “that you won’t stand by if you ever see anyone being mistreated.”  Because, there are so many 11 year olds everywhere and children can be so cruel.  I think of the boy and his goofy grin and the way his parents have red eyes. I wonder if their eyes will ever dry up.

“I willl, ” she says. “Because no child should have to feel that way, Mum.”

“Not just for now, for all your life, ” I say. “At school. At university. At work. When you have your own children. Speak up, don’t walk away. ”

I know she won’t because she is fair and loyal and because she speaks up. She needs to know that she has a special gift, that I am proud of my daughter because she is never a fence sitter,  she is never afraid to stand up and say what needs to be said.

Then, this.

 “That little boy isn’t coming back,” she says. “Ever.”

“I know,” I say. “But I also want you to know that you can come to us with anything. Like, anything at all.  We will find a fix.  It is okay to ask for help if you ever need it.”

“I know,” she says.

There is a swirl of tears in my throat. I know her favourite colours, her favourite foods, the people she plays with at school. I know the names of the pets of her friends, I know about the schoolyard arguments and of the friendship groups in her class. I ask so many questions every day, I have re-created her world in my mind so that I know how to find my way around her landscape. 

And yet, I worry on some days that I have missed warning signs, hidden roads, whirlpools that I should have treated with more caution. Because she is only 10 and there are so many things she does not know yet. And as parents, a lot of our walks are stumbles in the dark as we wait for patches of momentary lighting.

“Speak up for yourself too, promise? Don’t stand by and let other treat you unfairly. No one can make you feel bad without your permission.”

She nods and falls asleep in a while, her face relaxing into a sleepy haze, her hair spread out over her garish pink pillow.

I hug her for a bit longer the next day when I drop her off at school. I stay in the car and watch her walk across the schoolyard, with her oversized blazer and her lopsided hat, her viola case.

As I watch her walk past the junior school classroom, a little person who can be no more than five years old flings herself at A and squeals in delight. I watch as A puts down her viola case and scoops her little friend up and is promptly bathed in hugs and giggles. I leave them like that, Miss A and the little one who looks safe and snug and warm in her arms.

The other thing about being a parent is that no one tells you when to expect brilliant light in your world.  No one tells you that sunlight arrives without warning or annoucements after nights full of monsters under the beds.

And yet, it is the sad stories that teach you to look for happy beginnings.  That is all we need to know.

We are so resilient that way, all we need to do is remember.

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