It was the first time I had seen my mother completely break down and cry. Not the welling of eyes or the gentle, lonely tear deserting it. I witnessed the violence of emotions breaking through a barrier of space and time, unseen by me and known only to her. I stood still, incapable of reacting. Was the lady sobbing uncontrollably really my mother? Where had these tears been all these years? My mother had always been cold, distant, stoic. An alien in a city she migrated into. Till that day, I had never known my mother was even capable of such strong emotions.
What was all the more surprising was that this torrent had been triggered by a place that had absolutely no resemblance to its past. Everything had changed. The homes, lanes, trees, even the smells. I realize now that the changes, drastic though they were, could not have ebbed the deluge of memories. Just the “sense” of familiarity was all that was needed. The setting “felt” similar to the one into which I was born; into which my parents were born. It was the place where they had roamed the fruit orchards together, bathed in the village well, climbed trees, played with tops and screamed from the hills. The place where their friendship gradually morphed into matrimony and matrimony into parenthood. The place where they pieced together a space they could call their own. This place had been their asylum, their identity. This place then, left its searing mark on my mother’s life and beyond, on its destruction. The earthquake had not only shaken her world, it had shaken her identity. The once happy, talkative, dreamer was left broken amongst the ruin. Although my grandmother had recounted this tale on a number of occasions earlier, the true enormity of the tragedy was revealed to me by her tears on that day.
I recollected my grandmother’s words. The catastrophe had come unannounced on a day like any other. My mother was trying to feed an adamant me, then a one-year-old, on the porch. My father was in the bedroom, mending a broken chair. Suddenly, the earth started shaking violently with the rumble of distant thunder. Terrified, overcome by a mother’s instinct, she clutched me to herself and ran outside – just in time to see the building collapse into a pile of debris, my father included. It was probably at that moment that my mother lost herself. She stood still, staring at her wrecked life as I clung to her and cried. There lay somewhere, crushed under the weight of fate, the love of her life and her soul. Covered in gray dust, matted all over, she knew she had committed the unthinkable mistake. She had run outside instead of going inside to her husband. She had lived and lost her life. If she had survived, it was as only as a punishment for the unforgivable. She cried only after three days; days she had spent as a corpse. But the tears had been brief then and rarely breached thereafter too. Perhaps, she thought deserved every predicament that came her way; accepted her punishment as a means to redemption… Soon, being too poor and too broken to revive their livelihood, we had all migrated to the city to eke out a living.
As far as my memory stretches, my mother had only struggled. I am still amazed at the courage and resilience with which she spent her life trying to provide me with a decent education, often at much cost to her health. The only thing she held back though – was love. She never loved me and didn’t feel the need to be loved. She just needed to get by with living. It was my grandmother who taught me to love and accept love. Who knows how I might have turned out if not for her anchor while my mother drifted in a sea of misery.
The drift seemed to stall about 5 months back. Perhaps she had sensed the end was near. She wanted to return to her roots, her village and thus began her journey of forgiveness. Somehow, that journey changed her. It seemed to give her a semblance of long lost peace. With each passing day, her spirits rose as her health receded. She died last week…. I can’t say that I loved her with all my heart. But I can say that I cried like a child.
Word count: 741
Requirement is to write a prose within 750 words using the optional prompt “I am amazed at her mountainous courage.”
This story runs like a personal non-fiction essay without dialogues. My modest attempt for this week.