Maa,Me, and Mangoes (The Fish Head- Part 2)


My therapist feels uncomfortable about my obsessive-compulsive routine of cleaning. A month back, I survived a squeaky clean bathroom slip all because I wanted to get the last strand of cobweb out from the right-most corner of the ten feet high ceiling. My elbow suffered a hairline fracture, and I am currently on anti-inflammatory pills. It alleviates the pain; however, something in my heart continues to ache. I have found a home remedy for it- ripe mango with soaked flattened rice- aam chura- just the way you fed me from an old steel bowl for morning breakfast during summer vacation at granny’s place in the village. The first morsel is enough to palliate the suffering; however, it’s when I peel the whole mango and bite into it with juices trickling down my fingers to arms and dripping off the elbows, forming small mango juice puddle on the kitchen floor, that I finally see you. Once I even licked you off from the vinyl floor. You tasted sweet- mango sweet. Later, the demon in my head came back with a vengeance, and I brushed my teeth hard, the gums tore, and the washbasin was full of saliva and blood conflated with Colgate toothpaste. 

So, I guess I should tell you the good news; as instructed by you last year, I did purchase a separate bin for organic waste and one for compost from Costco. Thankfully, I won’t suffer retribution from mother earth for choking her life. The organic bin doesn’t have a lid; I am using a worn-out 10 inches wide skillet as the lid, and it’s serving the purpose well. A coat of painting and some design on the top would enhance its beauty. How about a mandala pattern in turquoise and white? The compost bin, full of carrot, banana, and potato peels, has now started decomposing. Soon, I will add it to your favorite jasmine plant in the earthen pot.  Once they bloom, I will pluck them and keep them next to your photo. You can tie it around your bun. You will, right? As I write, my breathing seems laborious; can you hear me wheeze? To me, it sounds like a whistle, a siren of an ambulance rushing to save someone’s life. 88% SpO2 the oximeter read when I was jolted out of sleep at 2 am by a phone ring. The news stumped me as I hurtled futilely for a plank to hold the weight of my desperation. It’s been a year, so I guess I should move on. 

The child, your grandson, I still love him. When it comes to Minecraft, he has become as stubborn as a mule, pausing it only for basic needs of the body: eat, sleep, shower, and pee. Other than that, the only thing that keeps him away from the mindless craft are the stories I share, stories of my childhood in India; stories about your mango pickles and jackfruit chopping adventures, tales of eggplant stewed in mustard oil, turmeric, garlic, and salt into a dun-colored mush that looked suspect but tasted fantastic, stories about  Holi and Diwali and sweet Malpuas and flaky Puran Poli, stories about Bhaja Govindam and my transgressions, stories about you and me, mostly you. Ummm...actually, only you.  I prefer it that way; it keeps me close to you when you are so far, far as a star in the midnight sky, far as the Gods I have worshipped but have had no physical access to, far as far is, far as far sounds, far as far means, very far. Apart from that, it is difficult to engage him in any other activity. Not that he doesn’t want to; rather, I don’t know how to. Eventually, he slipped into the sinkhole of video games, and I let him. It’s affecting his grades, but I need time. No one should expect so much out of me. The other day, he scraped his elbow while learning how to skateboard. I saw him fall; he turned back and saw me standing, he waited, holding his elbow and tears, and then he cried for his father.  I continued standing motionless as if on stilts. A six-year-old should know how to handle a slight bruise. It may prepare him for bigger ones life fusillades at you, more like being ambushed. The war that ensues is often futile, draining you of everything: hope, love, and life. Do you then have anything to give to anyone? What can you ever pour from an empty vessel? Your grandchild must learn to live with little less than the ideal dose of motherly love. I am living too. Without you.  The emotional connection I felt with this world seems to have snapped, annulled, if I may say. 

The man you married me to 11 years ago is doing well.  The one I chose, you called his skin charcoal and resented his non-Brahmin status. You whined about the offspring and finally found the milky white match for me. Then, I despised your words, your decision, and you. The child is definitely your shade of white, more like Snowhite. He has been mistaken for an American on several occasions, especially with his acquired accent and light brown hair. He could easily pass off as Alex or Adam. His father prefers Sam over Samaksh; he chooses The Accent, an American one, while conversing with Sam.  Coming back to the man, our life in 11 years has hewed to a comprehensible order; I would compare it to an assembly line- we produce identical days day after day, making the same conversation that we made yesterday, the same conversation that we will make tomorrow. Our conversation was different, your and mine- Do you remember the litany of questions we crafted every day, knowing very well what the answer would be? Is it morning? Did you make tea? What is for breakfast? Did you buy the trash bags? How to season the cast iron skillet? Is Baba awake? When will the maid come? Has the child left for school?  We never missed a call, not a single day. It was a new conversation each day. Strange, isn’t it? Now that you don’t call me anymore, the questions stare at my face as I hunt for someone to answer to. In this house, the man and I are teammates running the house; we are co-parents to Sam, partners in Merill Lynch investments, friends to the world, two bodies in bed, and two people coexisting in life. There are days when he is unusually caring towards me, an anomaly, especially after a satiating session, with my legs 180 degrees apart in a standing position. I sometimes fear my pelvic bones will break; however, the stretching exercise adds to the flexibility of muscles- I remind myself. I also remind myself that he is the breadwinner, and with that comes the authority to call the shots. Just yesterday, at a friends’ housewarming party, he took a jab at me; it was pretty obnoxious; it slashed through the epidermis and slit my heart. With complete disdain for my sensitivity, he found some cheap thrill in seeing people join the joke as I smiled through the hurt. I don’t love him. I don’t respect him. I don’t have anything for him.  I just need him to run this house and pay bills. My income cannot support life.  Do you think this is a good formula for a relationship to sustain?   Do you believe the charcoal boy would have done things differently? Would we have had a different conversation with each other and this universe? Why is marriage so irreversible? Have I forgiven you for the cracks in my heart? The grudge I bore gnawed away at me, embittering my core, and I drifted away only to be sucked back when you fell sick with breast cancer. Do you know the Jews observe something called a Yom Kippur Atonement day where they fast, pray, and ask forgiveness of one another and God? Isn’t it nice to forswear vengeance, the kind my broken heart wished for you in a moment of hatred? Sometimes, we remember life by our worst moments, and I had reduced myself to my basest element then. After your surgery, I grasped the extent of damage my despicable words had caused. 

But I must admit this man is a loving father, a role around which his life coalesces, and I am glad he has found his emotional anchor. So what if this virus twisted the knife and drowned the shore that held me together. There is a profound difference in our understanding of what constitutes a tragedy. The Salmon makes me maudlin; without the head and the tail, I bicker a lot, and he detests the fish in the house. Can he ever understand the barrage of emptiness I endure? He must learn to live with the fish. 

Read The Fish Head Part 3


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