Tuesday, June 27, 2006
It’s not very easy to live with the truth that your parents are dead. More so if they died because of you. I have spent my life miserably on account of their death. Perhaps the grief will reduce a bit if I share it with you.
I remember my life as a little girl in flashes. Some memories are distinctly clear. And there are some very hazy ones. Sometimes I try so hard to remember and can't recall anything and at times when I am busy doing something, a moment from years ago will just flash by in my mind like a movie scene leaving me absolutely dumbstruck.
Did that really happen? All I can do is wonder, there is no one who would settle my doubts and clarifications. Just who can say with confidence that I had mango pudding on my fourth birthday and I soiled my birthday gift with the juice except my mother? Or, my father? And they are none of them here. That is the biggest grief of my life.
We were not a very rich family. My father worked as a pharmaceutical rep and my mother was a seamstress, working from home. Our two-bedroom house was sparsely furnished and had all the basic amenities of a modern, so called “middle class”. On the other hand if my father had to take a few days off work because of any unforeseen illness, my mother had to stretch the month by mending extra clothes or by starving herself (she thought I never knew!).
When I turned seven, my father got a big promotion and I knew by the sudden and lasting happiness in the house that we will not be unhappy and stretched for money anymore. My mother also felt the same way, I think.
Suddenly, the fridge was always crammed with food and Christmas wasn’t the only day I got new clothes. I had two pairs of shoes and I saw my mother, when she wasn’t doing any household chores, twiddling her new ring with a bemused smile on her face.
It was then that papa fell ill again. The illness didn’t last long but it definitely gave my parents something to think seriously about. Like me, they didn’t want to loose their newfound lasting domestic bliss. They started saving money. Even I, following them, got them to buy me a piggy bank.
I may not be sure about what happened actually but there was some sort of a strike at papa’s company and he was involved in it. He didn’t go to work for many weeks. I would come back from school, and throw my bag on the mantelpiece and run up to him to cuddle. I was happy to find him at home most of the time even though somewhere in my child-mind something told me that it wasn’t a very good thing.
Papa was good to me. But mama wasn’t being so good to papa. They were quarrelling and arguing most of the time when they thought I couldn’t listen. I heard them fight from my bed, from behind the doors, from the bathroom, from everywhere. My heart felt very sad but I didn’t know what to do and what to say.
All I wanted to do was to grow up fast and work and earn so much money that neither my papa nor mama had to work anymore. I just wanted my family to be happy.
Papa didn’t tell us anything but I knew that he had lost his job after some sort of a company tribunal’s ruling that due to his involvement he was being retrenched. From their fights I also figured that he could file a case against the company’s ruling with his union’s support but he would have to bear all the cost himself.
That’s next to impossible, I heard mama yell at him one evening. We didn’t have enough money to eat. Again.
I was ashamed to go but at mama’s insistence, many times I would climb our neighbour’s front steps and ask for a bowl of rice, or two eggs, or a cup of milk. They were kind and never refused but it did make me feel ashamed – not of my parents but just ashamed anyway. I felt like a beggar, an outcast, but since mama would be even more ashamed to ask, I kept up with my task.
At dinner time papa would usually refuse to eat and sit alone in front of the window reading – at times vacancy advertisements in evening papers or just any old book. Mama would lie down on the living room couch with a hand pressing her forehead. I would be too scared to veer anywhere and just sit in my corner in the balcony and imagine a world of full fridge, pantry and dining table.
Then one day when I returned home from school and told mama that teacher had given me a last warning to pay the long overdue fees. And to buy some course books. Mama didn’t say a word, she just hugged me close and very tight – too tight for comfort.
That evening she didn’t scream at papa when he returned from job hunting. In fact she seemed quite loving and caring to him. Ruffling his hair and making him a cup of tea. Though unsure of how to face school the next day, I was quite pleased to see a happy picture of my parents after a long time.
Three of us had a pleasant dinner of mashed potatoes, baked broccoli and steak sent by a friend of papa. They had a glass of sherry and toasted. I felt like I didn’t exist for that moment. My spine tingled with excitement and I went to bed thinking of things other than a full fridge and pantry. I slept well and dreamt of going for a vacation to a warm beach resort.
The next day as I rushed to school I didn’t notice that papa, who was usually at home till late nowadays, had already left home and mama, who was up early everyday to prepare my breakfast, was still sleeping. I tip toed to their room to say goodbye and sneaked a kiss on her cheek before rushing off to the school bus that was about to arrive any minute.
My innocently unaware mind failed to see the bottle of sleeping pills by her bedside. Neither did I see the note fluttering under the alarm clock. Probably she had taken the pills sometime after papa left for an early morning job interview. She was still alive and responded to my touch by opening her eyes slightly.
“Be a good girl, my love,” she said.
“I will, mama,” I said as I dashed off, without realising that this was the last I would hear from my dear mother. And the last I would see her beautiful face.
In the afternoon, when Uncle Fred came to pick me up from school before time, I happily trotted off school before everyone else. He was my mama’s brother and he really loved me as much as mama did, so I didn’t ask him anything until he took me to his house for lunch. Then I asked him why were we going to his house and not mine.
“Don’t worry darling,” he said, “we’ll go there soon.”
Indeed, we did go to my house after lunch but it looked a bit strange. There was a yellow tape all around the front porch and when Uncle Fred and I walked the threshold, many neighbours popped their head out to see. I waved back to Nick, a little boy I normally didn’t like. His mother pulled him inside before he could wave.
I was about to ask Uncle Fred about the yellow tape, when a neatly dressed policeman came up to greet us.
“Hello,” he said and stepped aside.
“Mama? Mama?” I shouted and ran inside. My heart was beating faster at this disrupted routine of not meeting mama at the doorstep. Uncle Fred stopped me.
“Baby, come here. Mama is not feeling well, she is resting,” he said.
“Where is papa,” I whimpered.
“He will be home soon,” Uncle Fred replied.
“I am afraid I have some bad news for you,” the policeman faced Uncle Fred.
“What more bad news can you give me today,” said Uncle Fred. I realised, he didn’t look that happy anymore. His eyes looked so wet that I thought he was going to cry.
“I am sorry but you are the only relative of the deceased. Just an hour ago, we found the body of your brother-in-law hanging from the ceiling in a construction site. The workers found him dead just as they were going in to start the afternoon shift,” the slightly embarrassed policeman was telling Uncle Fred, who clutched me real hard.
“We found a suicide note in his pocket,” said the policeman, handing over a piece of paper to Uncle Fred, who was now crying bitterly.
“It can not be a case of murder as you had suggested. He couldn't have murdered your sister for money, because just like your sister left the insurance money to her husband, he left everything to her,” said the policeman.
And that is how I realised that both my parents killed themselves thinking the other would live comfortably with the insurance money but it’s only I who benefited. And that is why I feel guilty every moment of my life and can’t sleep without Valium. I just hope I don’t overdose someday.
it’s just begun to dip
gradually towards the heart of humility
just as the blue dawn of understanding
began to spread its light;
mind cracked and bones chuckled;
at this late blooming
not in the least.
has it not been like this for time immemorial?
youth wants to die prematurely
middle age is spent in the pursuit of artificially acquired youth
and old age, is just a resigned, prolonged wait for the end
the dip comes to all…
“the when” depends on circumstances
mine is late for me,
yours might be too soon,
hers is on the way
and his might never come at all