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.

Word Stains

It is a sheet of lined paper, folded and refolded many times, the questions a squiggle, the space for the answers stringent and economic.

“You need to fill it in by hand,” she tells me. “And use your best handwriting. I could get points for this.”

So, I sit down after dinner and fill in my feedback about Miss A’s learning portfolio. Half an hour later, I have a document that looks a lot like my journal entries from the engineering days. There is, on this itsy-bitsy paper, a need to say and do the right things, there is a need to dot the “i”s and leave plenty of margins. The “g”s are perfectly looped, there is a smidgen of space between the paragraphs, the capital letters are imposing and grand with their curves.

It is like my handwriting of yore,  when words were solid and pebble-like, thick entities that dug their feet into the paper and stood there with bravado, looking you in the eye. Even if you did strike them out, there was a whiff of their presence, sulky ghosts that peeped out at you from behind the lines that beheaded them. The words then were for the long term – they did not cease to exist in their entirety because of a few, fast-tapped, frivolous backspace key strokes. Things were more permanent when the world was younger, when I was a child.

“You don’t write like that, anymore,” Miss A says.

I don’t. I can retract my words now, I am an adult. I understand that words and promises can break and disappear and that there is always a clean slate around the corner. I can say what I want to because when you grow up, your vocabulary grows with you and you learn words like disclaimers and fine-print and clauses that can be summoned when it is time to shatter truths. You can say you never meant what you said, you can forget the pen-strokes and you can reach for the eraser before reaching for the pen.

And yet, here on the paper that my daughter will take to school, alive and present, a clunky yet clear truth emerges in this collection of words that came as my first choice – no edits and no corrections, no afterthoughts, just honest writing with a borrowed pen. This page, she tells me, will be filed into her portfolio and it will come home at the end of the term. I will look at it then and wonder if I should have said something differently, if I should have been more verbose in my praise or less subtle with my criticism. But this, here and now, is a time capsule. And time, that unctuous thief is the only honest one out of all of us.

“I used to write like that all the time,” I say. “Once.”

Once. In another time. A girl with ink stains on her hands and endless  reams of clean paper. Once. When words were supposedly forever.

“You should start again,” she says. And then, with a wink, “I have tonnes of cursive writing you could do for me, Mum.”

“They would be my words then,” I say. “Not yours. And you need your own pages, you cannot borrow mine. And I cannot borrow yours. We have to write our own stories.”

“You were someone else, once,” she says.

And I was.

And so were the words.

And now it is all strange and clinical and precise and there are no ink stains on my fingers.

Questions, questions…

So. Because I am wonderfully organised when it comes to looking after one blog, I figured it would be a sensible idea to set up another place to neglect. This is the thing – I need a place to list the links to my published writing. Now, if you are a friend of mine on FB, you will know how I post links the minute I get an acceptance and how I refresh the page every 10 seconds to see if anyone liked my work. What was that? You didn’t know the latter part? Oh well,ummm, you do now.

But anyhoo, I am in two minds. There is some decent stuff I have written over the years (yes, yes, I am getting old) that I would like to share with you peeps. For those that did not know this, I am not called Scarlett in real life. To give out those links here would mean outing myself. Yet, the lure of instant gratification and the need for a pat on the back is so strong that one feels recklessly tempted (is there any other kinds?). It would be nice to have one blog where I can store all my writing work (failures/acceptances/links/demented ramblings/grocery bills etc etc).

Questions, questions. What do I do, dear gentle reader? Ideas? Delurk and tell me already.

Where was I/The Novel/This and That

Aren’t you folks the nicest? You check up on me even when I go AWOL and you send me the nicest messages.

Thanks for asking Mukta, all is well 🙂 Your comment pushed me out of hibernation.

It was not an absence of words that kept me away, rather it was the crowding of them. The novel (yes, there is a novel. Did you think I was going to get a movie deal just like that?) is done. By that, I mean, I have finished the third draft, the mentor has okayed it, the beta-readers have been kind (like, really kind and incredibly generous with their time) and I am currently writing my covering letter for it etc.

I don’t know how long the process of finding a literary agent etc will take. I don’t know if I will even get a publisher to sign moi up. But. I have a novel. I achieved my goal of writing a full length work. I quite like bits of it, I cried a bit reading some stuff I had written (and they were not tears of shame or embarrassment). Maybe, just maybe, I will come good, hey? 

Should I tell you more? Not yet, the butterfly is still in the cocoon, its wings are being marked. I do not have a title yet, I am wringing my hands over this every day because I am picky and unsure like that.

But because I love you all, I will leave you with these lines from the novel. Sneak Peek etc etc.

Those that leave you owe you nothing. You build shrines and gather their memories in muslin because you want to, because you have nowhere else to go, because you do not know any other way to mourn. The departed write their own songs.

And this.

In the end, your love depends only on you. Love has nothing to do with sorrow or absence. If you are prepared to wait, to leave the lights on for someone who may never walk your way again, love will pull up a chair and wait with you, for as long as you need.

You like? I am not going to give away the story just yet, but it is a story of chasing closure and the burdens of memories. 

Drop me a comment. Tell me if you liked the sneak peek. Maybe I will tell you more.

Scarlett

– is back in town.

For the best friend

For that time when you lived down the road from me. A best friend for all seasons. Dress-ups and sulking sessions, secrets shared on the ledge of your terrace, encounters with the boys dissected and magnified in great detail as we lay giggling in my room. Walks around the park and screams of thrill as we learnt to ride our bikes and then later those rickety scooters. Sharing make-up, lunch box treats and birthday months. Endless phone calls throughout the day, conversations that stretched over a dozen years and more. School yard loyalties and summer holiday ice-cream binges. The best friend a girl could ask for.

Do you remember the number of times we watched the same movie again and again once we liked something? Do you remember how we stayed on the terrace in the heat, with the mosquitoes biting and the sounds of the evening dying down, talking about this song, singing it endlessly? We did not understand the language but it did not matter.  Love and life and growing up seemed so easy and so effortless that evening, do you remember?

The future that day was obscenely rosy, our hopes were naive and nascent, we knew what we wanted our life to be like. 20 years down the line, some things worked out, others did not. I miss you R. I miss you tonnes.

I do not think we can ever take stabs at deciphering the script of the future. But with a friend like you, I can turn back every single time and say that my childhood was beyond wonderful and perfect. I would not have had the laughs and the fun and the joy in my heart if I did not have you to share notes and stolen candy, teach me how to to apply lipstick, cheer me on, hold my hand, hug me when I cried and followed me with sane advice when I walked away from you sulking.  Thank you for being there. For R. For my first and forever best friend, for being the sister I never had. For making my childhood worthwhile.

Like the song, with all true friendship, you do not always understand the language but it makes your world a better place. There are no better words to hum.

Not here yet

The weather is so perfect today that I should not be here. I should be outdoors with Miss A, chasing tattoos made by the sunlight on the thankful lawn. I should be driving through the backstreets of the hilly suburbs around my house, pointing out the pinks and the oranges and purples to her, I should be telling her that there is immense beauty in acts of goodbye, just like the sunset.

I should be walking across crinkly autumn foliage with her, our feet in perfect rhythm with leaves that were once brave and green and are now gentle and almost broken. I should be inhaling giant gulps of crisp mountain air, I should have her little hand in mine.

Instead, I am at work and she is at vacation care. I went for a walk during my lunch break and she must have gone to the picnic arranged by the school carers. We both shared slivers of the obscene sky, we just did not do it together. I am leaving work soon to pick her up and I hope that the sun stays put and the blueness of the sky hangs around for just another hour.

Some day, she will be a grown up person in a different country, in a different time zone perhaps – she will not be at the gum-tree lined school down the road. There will be many more perfect days in our future –  just like there will be many more cloudy nights.

One day, she will not be a few footsteps, a few traffic signals away, one day she and I will have worlds that do not easily touch.

There is a bend in the road and behind the naked trees, the sky promises to be blue. 

These are beautiful days with dark undertones of everything that will eventually not be. But, the future is not here yet. Sometimes that is such a good thing.

The things they do not tell you…

Tonight, I am reminded of the way splotches of yellow light fall from the street bulbs on to the pot-holed roads in the town that will always be home. I think of walking past faceless silouhettes in the night, sleeping buildings and nodding giants, discarded street carts and dozing vehicles that put on masks of bravado during the day. I think of a smile lost in the buzz and the static of neon hoardings and of crooked roads, the momentary recognition of seeing a known face across the road, a half  wave to a rapidly disappearing entity, the topic of conversation for another day when you can start with “I saw you the other day.” Because once there were many other days, because  once life was predictable enough and if you knew someone, there was every chance that your paths would cross again.

I see myself walking, on auto-pilot almost, crossing mud paths and side-stepping overgrown road-sides, my feet in rhythm with the late evening cyclists and the chuga-chug-chug of the 7:30 PM night train as I walked past the scanty collection of children on the steps of neighbourhood grocery shop. I can still walk that way,  my feet – they can see in the dark.  They slow down too when they arrive outside a house where someone always leaves the lights on, where someone always waits for you.

I know the streets around where I am now. I can walk in the dark like I said. But when I get home, I often have to turn the lights on by myself, the house is a petulant friend, looking the other way, not always meeting my eye.

There are things they do not tell you about growing up. There are things they do not tell you because if they did, you would want to be a child forever.

Sharing the stage

‘Mum, I went door-knocking with Cathy today,’ she says as I am driving her home from Cathy’s.

‘Door knocking? Why?’

‘Because Cathy and I had to distribute flyers for our play,’ she says.

You never know what lurks behind closed doors, your child dealing with unknowns is never a happy thought.

‘Sweetheart,’ I begin, ‘Was Cathy’s mum okay with this?’

‘Yeah, of course.’ she says. ‘They know all their neighbours. Except…’

My heart starts to trudge.

‘Except what?’

‘Except all of Cathy’s neighbours are getting so old, they are house-bound now, Mum.’

Her face falls. Remember the unknowns? It is not just monsters that hide behind closed doors. Old age and disease and sorrow lurk in sealed off spaces too, who knows what you will find in a discarded chest.

‘We went to Miss Gloria’s house. Miss Gloria is from Italy. She has the cutest accent.’

‘How old is Miss Gloria?’

‘She cannot remember anymore, she says 90, then she says she could easily be a 100,’ she pauses for a minute. ‘She could not hear the doorbell so Cathy and I walked around to the back of the house and knocked on her bedroom window.’

I think of Miss Gloria, alone in her little flat, not waiting for any visitors, her doorbell rusty and defunct over time because no one walks her way anymore.

‘And she was so delighted that she said she would be at the door in a minute.’ Miss A smiles a little. ‘Mum, we had to stand on tiptoe so that she could see our faces, she is so old now that she kind of curls up in bed. She is very small.’

It is a grand circle. First we see, then we do not, then no one sees us. Except on the days that some comes a-knocking.

‘Then we raced to the front door and rang the door bell again. But no one answered. So we went around to the bedroom again and she laughed and said, ‘Dear me, I am so forgetful. I will open the door now.’ We waited till she got into her wheelchair and then we got to the front door before she did.’

My heart, it does somersaults.

‘Then she opened the door and she asked us to come in and we told her all about the play. She looked like a different person when she smiled, Mum.’

The original Miss Gloria, I want to say. The one that came over from Italy on a liner ship many decades ago. The one that did not forget.

‘Honey, I am so glad you visited her, did she like hearing about the play?’

‘Uh-huh. But then she became sad again and said that she did not go to the theatre anymore.’

She looks out of the window and I catch her crumpled reflection in the mirrors.

‘Cathy and I said we were sorry to hear that. Miss Gloria said that perhaps we should not leave any flyers with her because it was not like she was going to be coming to see the play or anything.’

‘And?’

‘We said she could keep the flyers. Even if she was not coming to the play. Then Miss Gloria smiled again. She asked us to sit down and she pushed her wheelchair towards the kitchen. She gave us biscotti Mum, she said she had made it at home.’

A lump in my throat. A glimmer of tears in hers.

‘We said it was delicious. Then she asked us if we wanted some more and we said ‘No, thank you so much Miss Gloria. We should get going now.’

‘Miss Gloria’s face fell again but she gave us a dollar each. Because you are nice little girls, she said.’

‘We cannot take the money Miss Gloria,  we said. She looked sad now, real sad like when she was sitting alone in the bedroom.’

‘Give it to your drama school, she said. A little donation from me since I cannot come to see the play. Because I do not go to the theatre any more. And thank you for the flyer, girls.’

I wipe my eyes. Miss A is still not looking at me.

‘Some days, ‘ I say, my voice a tremor, ‘I bet Miss Gloria does not forget everything. Like today, she is going to remember everything about today.’

‘Yeah,’ says Miss A, smiling a little bit.

‘We asked her to shut the door behind us and she chuckled and said she would remember to do that.’

‘Hey,’ I say a few minutes later, ‘I am so glad you got to do this play.’

‘Me too, Mum,’ she says. ‘Otherwise I would never have met Miss Gloria.’

It is not so much that the curtain falls on all of us. It is that we share the stage with wondrous actors and sincere extras, with graceful dancers and acrobats that waltz across a spotlight, hands akimbo and feet keeping perfect rhythm, even if it is for the tiniest of moments. And sometimes, we learn our parts from the people who do not have the most lines. Age is a great leveller like that.

Hola

Dropping in to say Hello.  So please do say Hello back to me. Where have I been? This and that. This and that now eqautes to th the novel. Yes, I am writing one and I have been slow on some days and motivated on others. It is a lonely slog, that one, but I am not complaining.

The first draft is done and I am now going to let it rest and ferment for a while. Then I will go back with a pair of scissors and snip and chop and laugh evilly and kill off some characters and prune the remaining ones. No, this does not indicate I am violent or that I have issues. Sheesh, you folks.

Blog posts, you say? Soon. Maybe tomorrow? I am writing two stories at the moment and I have to fine tune the ending of my novel because I have OCD and even though I know that it will probably be rewritten, I need to do it anyway. But yes, I have a blog post sitting in the drafts and perhaps y’all would like to read it.

Miss A? She is great, thank you. She is busy with her school play and has discovered the iCloud. Since I am a mean, old fashioned mother that believes that kids should climb trees and read books and make jelly and swim on warm days, I have told her that she is not getting a phone or any such contraption any time soon. However, in a fit of kindness, I agreed that she could send a text on my phone. Big. Mistake. Big.

Now I get texts like “OMG, I am so hungry” or “I totally like this TV show XXXOOO” at 4:30 PM from the ‘group convos’ she is a part of. 4:30 PM folks when I am still at work and she is still at after school care. Somedays I am sorely tempted to join this ‘convo’ and add things like ‘I totally wrote a great business plan today. OMG, the client like totally liked it.’

So, on that note, I am like totally ending this post now. I will be back tomorrow. OMG.

Love you all, XXXOOOXX

PS: You rock. So do I. Like really.

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