Every morning she wrung the last drops of water out of her husband’s shirt and her daughter’s ink stained bed sheet and hung them on the common clothesline. She looked around at the wet clothes of her neighbors and became wary of the intimate glimpse into their lives through faint patches of vermillion on a white kurta or the hole in the blue sock of the professor downstairs; so she took to staring at the sky instead and thinking about the clear skies of her childhood, the myriad shades of brilliant blue interspersed with cottony clouds that seemed to follow her as she walked along the narrow path that snaked through tea gardens to reach her school. Life used to be simple and full of hope that the years will be kind to her.
She was given to bouts of incessant staring. In the mornings she watched the wobbly flesh on her husband’s thighs as he walked around the house in his over-stretched and over-starched shorts with tiny threads dangling from the fraying hem. During mealtimes she stared at the hair on his knuckles curling into rings as he dipped his hand in the dal and frenziedly mixed it with rice, the turmeric staining his palm. She watched the grain of rice sticking to the corner of his lips and the revolting sight of the half-chewed morsel of food in his mouth as he told her how tasty the biryani was. At night he burped aloud as he got into her bed and she watched his greasy hair roots, the large shiny forehead and his hands with the hairy knuckles.
She stared at her son’s collection of comic books and tried to remember the exact moment when he started stringing letters to form words. She noticed his long fingers strumming his father’s old guitar and sometimes struggling to create perfect spikes in his hair. One day he had flung at her the pants she had so lovingly chosen, in a time when he still needed her, because it now showed too much ankle. She stared at his “Trainspotting” poster while dusting his desk and the discomfort on his face when she opened the door to greet his friends.
She stared at her daughter’s thick-rimmed glasses obscuring the large dewy eyes that she used to trace with a home-made kajal. She had felt a slight shiver when her daughter started braiding her own hair, shopped on her own before Durga Puja, planned her birthday menu; the slow and steady snapping of the umbilical cord remnants. She stared and involuntarily mimicked the look of painful concentration on her daughter’s face as she painted her nails black every weekend, and the wince when she dabbed antiseptic on nicks and cuts after shaving the hair on her legs. She watched her daughter potter around the house on Sunday afternoons humming unknown tunes and she tried to re-create these in her mind when she strained the pulp from the orange juice for breakfast the next day. She gazed for long at the neat rows of books in her daughter’s small library, at few of the volumes to which she had devoted hours of her youth. She stared as her children typed rapid lines on the computer or twirled the telephone wire, folding and unfolding it, as they shared their lives with faceless strangers and dropped subtle hints of impatience if she lingered a tad too long in their rooms.
Once she had waited for her daughter outside a shopping mall and an old lady in a faded green saree had stared at her from across the glass walls. She had wondered why the woman seemed vaguely familiar. It was the shadow of someone from her past; calloused hands that might have been silken soft, unruly hair wrapped in a messy bun that might have been a thick black cascade, droopy breasts resting on a paunch that might have been an ample bosom over the slender curve of a waist, and a blur of a face that might have adorned a sharp nose and full lips. She managed a half-smile and the woman’s lips curved into a half-smile too. She didn’t sleep that night and she didn’t cry.
It exhausted her that there was so much to mourn about-the small but earnest hopes, the taut flesh of her youth, the books that offered solace, the travels she never undertook, the blue skies of childhood, the laughter lost in her throat, the father that saw a spark in her and the mother that hid it like a disease, the hands that kneaded her fingers in promises that she naively believed, the hands that touch her now without permission, the disappointment and indifference in the eyes of the ones she brought to life, the lost years of her life.
The years were not kind to her.