Sunday, November 13, 2016

Receding images

Since this place in the World Wide Web is a repository for anything and everything I write, here is a short story I put forth for a contest.

Uma was the one to leave. Sitting in the rickshaw drawing away from her grandmother's home. Such wonderful memories - the afternoons filled with games, delicious mangoes, scrumptious food - over and over again. A summer vacation that should not end. Those beautiful times overridden by a single image - the lonely figure of her grandmother belittled against the grand arcade, waving her hand. And Uma, waving hers, till the rickshaw bent round the corner and she could not see her beloved grandmother any more. Maybe she kept waving her hand beyond that.... she could still visualise the frail figure in the white sari still waving. As she made the overnight journey back home, routine would take over. How Uma wished, the idyllic vacation carried on. But reality consisted of school, tuitions and exams. One day she would be a grown up and then she would not leave any one. She would always be around the ones she loved, she would do whatever she wanted to do. Isn't that what grown ups did?

But before Uma got there, she had to go through college. A small price to pay for a life of independence. The best college was in another city. Just four years of staying away from family and then everything would be a lot right. Her parents came to drop her at her hostel. She was scared of the strange surroundings. She was petrified. How Uma wished to lie on her mother's lap and keep listening to her father regale them with stories of the day at the university. But she had to get ready and bid them adieu. She went to the bus station. She held on to her mother's outstretched hand till the bus started moving. Then she waved. Kept waving. The bus receded to the size of a match box. She kept waving. She was not sure if she was waving to the bus or to two random rear lights. A sudden breeze brought her back. Four years would pass within the blink of an eye. But the four years would consist of many trips home. Trips to savour her mother's cooking, her father's stories, even see her grandmother who had become even more frail in built. 

Though she missed her parents, through college, she made priceless friends. Friends with whom she could open up. Tell her secrets, share her fears, show her anger and cry her tears. Friends with whom there was no pretence, with whom there was no vested interest. Four years was not long enough to have all the chats, go for all the fun trips, eat in all the roadside stalls. Four years ago with tear filled eyes she had said goodbye to her parents. She was again on the threshold of saying goodbye. Her head out of the window of the bus, she waved. Waved till the friends merged with the trees, till her hands went numb, till her eyes hurt and fell asleep. She would see her parents the next morning. 

College was over. A job beckoned. A bigger separation. A bigger city. Isn't being in a fast city on your own what being grown up is all about? Earning  a living, having fun with new friends, meeting those crucial deadlines and partying till the morning hours. But what about her real dream? Of being close to those few people she really loved. Having those friends around her, with whom she could open up - not people she would just 'hang' out with. Maybe once she had enough money she could have this dream. For then she would not need to work. She could just be - with her parents, her friends, her simple wishes of tea and conversations. 

Though it was naive of her to think so. Of course she had to go on and build a family of her own. She had to get married to the most capable man - qualified, cultured and caring. Just that he did not even live in the same country. The distances seemed to have a way of their own. They kept expanding. Earlier she could touch and see her family as she moved on. Standing in the departure lounge of the massive airport, she was separated by ropes from her parents. She held on to their finger tips. She kept looking back, to what seemed like her mother's vermilion streaked head, her father's spectacles. She lost balance on the escalator since she was more interested in spotting the pieces of her heart she was leaving behind. She sat in the plane and looked out, she did not have the luxury of waving them goodbye one last time. She had no clue what her parents were doing? Were they crying? Or were they happy that she was going towards a good life? Or was their heart also split in the middle - trying to catch a glimpse of any plane that flew over head and imagining their child in it.

She made a life in a country that was not her own. She made acquaintances, not friends. She had people to talk to, people to listen - but not her parents. Her children grew in a whirlwind of school runs, swimming classes, music lessons and holiday clubs. She wished she could keep them close to her. But she was wiser. She hugged them a bit tighter when they came back home, she stayed a bit longer after they had drifted off to sleep, she cooked them special dishes even if they said they were fine. She stayed up when they studied, she sat through their sports classes, she lathered them with every bit of love her body could summon. She knew one day they would go, leaving the house silent but echoing with their voices, clean but with a halo of a sock there of a bag here, empty but full of memories. She knew time would time would play spoil sport. She had prepared long. But was any amount of preparation enough to steel ones heart to separation? Her little ones were ready to leave the nest. They hugged and cried. Uma bit her lips and stroked their hair and asked them to be strong till the next time they met. As they walked away, she stood waving, weeping silent tears. She wanted to shout, to scream, to run and hug them once more, to smother them with kisses. But she stood, waving, as she saw her children become one with the melee.

Uma knew life would be an endless waiting game. Waiting for her children to call, waiting for their homecomings during term breaks. They were shackled by assignments, projects, courses. At least  she had time for elaborate conversations with her people. She had technology too. Till the letter arrived. A letter in a company letterhead. A company she had never heard of. She did not understand when she read it the first time. She read it again.... something to do with her being appointed as the chief translator of a firm that would sell handloom products from a small town in India. The town seemed familiar. The name of the signatories looked familiar. She collected herself. Her children had given her the gift of going back to her dream by giving her a job. 

After two decades she sat on a flight clutching her husband's hand. Seemed like yesterday when she dug her fingernails into his palms to stop her sorrow filled heart from choking her. She sat again feeling bubbles in her stomach as she made the trip back home - for good. Her parents were there to receive her. Coming down the escalator, she saw them as mirages through her tear filled eyes. Slowly like a lens adjusting itself, they came into focus. She wailed when she hugged them. She was back... not to go leave, but for good. The ornate door of her grandmother's house welcomed her. She was back....not for a vacation... but for good.


Renu said...

Beautiful comes in a circle..

Ashma said...

Beautiful!! Waiting to read more of your stories👍👍

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