Amma first met her husband as a sixteen year old on the day of her wedding. She had a surreal memory of him sitting through jocular jibes of friends and family with a smile on his face that made her fall in in irrevocable love. The same people and laughter accompanied her through decades of marriage, birth of two sons, innocent childhoods, the pain of watching them move away for greener pastures, their respective weddings and her husband’s death (twelve years, two months and three days ago). Thereafter, she was alone.
One person living in a house with five rooms seems like a waste to most. But Amma never considered altering lodgement after her husband’s death because she failed to appreciate how pieces of paper could be more valuable than memory laden crevices. On being suggested to do so, she would start on a rant about her repugnance for the younger generation’s callous culling of people and places they once professed love for (and to). Her entire life had played out in those halls and she wasn’t about to discard them just as they became old, wrinkled and superfluous.
The downside of singular loyalty was that as everybody else moved on, her existence became blanketed by a dank silence. It is unclear if it was nostalgia, stubbornness or pure senility but Amma somehow remained unaffected as the bursts of laughter were substituted by the frail creaking of a wispy haired woman’s rocking chair.
Her years gave her the benefit of wisdom and sharp perception. Both only contributed to the painful awareness of becoming increasingly irrelevant; even to her own sons who were embroiled in their careers and families (which she wasn’t considered a part of). She was treated to sparse phone calls or visits reeking of afterthought that she recognised easily from years of raising them. The last time she felt indispensable was the evening before her husband died. A tear escaped her eye each time she thought about this.
She spent most days sitting in the verandah looking at the traffic rush by like a noisy river and ruefully reminisced about how tranquility was struck down by civilisation. The cacophony of horns took her back to when there were no roads around her home; only dense trees providing shelter to birds that played a kaleidoscope of melodies in gratitude. The ubiquitous pedlars of urbanisation carried their destruction so ruthlessly and meticulously that her dead husband was now survived by just one neem tree he planted in front of their house. It protected her from harsh rays of summer sunlight that mistakenly remembered she still existed.
So Amma was one of the few people who could say that they had literally seen the world and people change before their eyes (Unfortunately, according to her, both for the worse ).
But lately the downbeat feeling was replaced by one of anticipation. Every few years her grandchildren would come for a weekend visit and Amma was expecting them tomorrow after a hiatus of two years. During the interval, three of them had entered late teens and the youngest one had turned ten. She couldn’t wait to see all of them again and feel the recurring marvel at the speed they grew up with.
They were the only ones in her sprawling family who seemed to foster unpretentious and unconditional affection for her. Each time they came, they took immense care to ensure her comfort while simultaneously enjoying each second of her fond pampering. They even took her rare comments of disapproval with mild abashment and a sense of humour, just how she intended them.
Her youngest grandchild (also her favorite) had picked up a habit of reading since her last visit and loved comic books. Amma had therefore enrolled for a subscription that delivered a book to her house each week. She had been collecting these in the interlude since the last visit and was planning to bestow the treats all at once to a gleeful ten year old. The little girl’s (anticipated) reaction would be ample reward for the old lady’s months of patient accumulation. She often wished her husband had a chance to meet the beautiful, young child. She knew he would be proud of her. He too was a voracious reader and possessed a vast book collection that Amma intended to hand down to her when she was old enough.
For the other children, she prepared delicacies she knew they loved and would gorge upon. It was the only time she cooked anymore. She spent the entire week digging up old recipes, dusting them in her memory, revisiting, readying and working on them until they were just perfect. The last two days had been consumed in fixing a lavish breakfast for their arrival. She disregarded the terrible pain in her joints in her excitement and made a mental note to see a doctor after the weekend.
As the day wore on, shadows lengthened and darkness descended. She realised she had a long day tomorrow and should go to bed early. The pain otherwise became too much to bear. She laboured her way to the room with a walker and fumbled with smarting fingers in the drawer for her medicines. She then switched the lights off, said her prayers and fell into a peaceful sleep.
The next morning, her grandchildren waited outside her front door for fifteen minutes. The eldest decided to halt the long wait and climbed through the balcony. She opened the door for her siblings and made their way to the back room. When they couldn’t wake Amma she called her parents.
In the clamour that followed, the calmest person was a ten year old sitting in a corner reading a comic book her grandmother saved for her. She didn’t entirely understand everything that was going on but wished she had come a day early. She knew her grandmother would have liked to say goodbye.