Colourful flowers graced her bright white nightie and she glided with an angelic aura, as she made way through the light, the brilliance of it keeping me from opening my eyes, carrying her daughter in her arms, smiling, playing, laughing, smiling again with eyes full of gratitude.
“What were you like?”
Like the morning star. She breathed between darkness and light. In light, her light merged effortlessly. In darkness, other stars outshone her.
“Don’t you miss me? We never had a chance to talk. I remember lying beside you when you were in pain. And then you were no more there.”
“What kind of a childhood did you have, mother? Did your mother love you?”
“Yes, she loved me. She loved all of us. I had many brothers and sisters. I liked to play with them. Later, I had many nephews and nieces from the marriage of my elder sisters and I used to play with them.”
She like innocence: the kind which is there in a child’s unceasing behests, in the fragrance of a rainy evening and in love.
“Did you know of love?”
She did. Didn’t she? Even as a girl she nursed people with an old hand. She let her mind weave words in a fine rhythm, in the quiet hours, fusing them in a tenor as light as a butterfly’s feathers and as tenebrous as a mausoleum on a moonless night. She nurtured the sorrow of the world in her eyes. She married a poor man.
“Yes, I knew of love. I married your father for love. He was a sculptor. I was a poet. When the carnage of reality was still weak and our spirits too strong, we loved. He was poor. I was not rich enough. But we had dreams.”
His station being on the breadline while all her elder sisters already married to well-to-do families, her folks suspected that he was marrying her only because of the wealth she was going to bring him. She deferred in her heart; for which heart in love could accept such allegations? She didn’t resist vehemently; just silently. She didn’t ask for anything. She remained silent, as always.
“When did your health started deteriorating?”
“The day I disowned my first dream.”
It was a day the Sun had chosen to glorify. However, inside the dark heaving quarters of a hut, wherein a baby boy laid clasped to his mother’s breast ardently, light couldn’t enter. Tall buildings enclosing it prevented the sunrays from entering and thus invariably, darkness was crowned at every corner of the hut; not even the chuckles of the baby could flag its resolve. Over time, some of it had made way into the occupants’ souls. The woman’s eyes had a look of finality when they reached mine as she fed her son, yet when she handled me the bundle of her writings and asked me to take care of them, her gestures resisted the finality of her eyes; her whole being crushed beneath the weight of her unfulfilled dreams. Did her eyes also carry a faint hope of seeing the light of the day? Perhaps. Her last words before I left didn’t carry any remnants of a hope.
“Yes. I had to will to live and in willing I needed to disregard your father’s wishes. I couldn’t have possibly done that.”
“Why would father wish anything that affects your health if he loved you?”
“He did love me. But he was weak.”
“Isn’t it also a weakness not to be able to decide for yourself?”
Was she weak? She loved with an unwavering faith. She swallowed every wound with an irenic acceptance of pain. She waited for some love to come her way. She prioritised responsibility over right. She chose silence over expression.
“My folks think I was not courageous enough to leave your father. They wanted me to talk about my pain.”
A tiny pair of eyes, eyes like the woman’s albeit blest with innocence, unaware of the worldly angst, riddled into hers and the tiny pair of hands smoothed her mother’s hair, as if their roles were swapped now.
“Couldn’t they have possibly seen your pain? Didn’t they look at you, mother?”
A sad smile crossed the woman’s face: the smile I had seen so often, when I visited her; when she avoided the family rows and preferred to play with the nephews and nieces instead, trying to remain oblivious to misery, yet being drawn to it because her adulthood demanded her involvement; when I resisted her warning about not leaping into a relationship without giving a careful thought about it, and she had to reveal how the love of her life mistreated her; when she told me I must not bring my fiancé to her little hut, and in many other occasions.
“Not that pain; not the one they could see. The one they couldn’t.”
The tiny hands continued to smoothen her mother’s hair softly; her eyes now only intent in listening.
“It is the pain of poverty; of desires and demons.”
“Desires and demons?”
“Do you think your mother is beautiful, sweetheart?” The woman asked her child with a brilliant smile, all sadness gone, replaced by some knowledge deeper than the knowledge of a caged soul.
The light had turned brighter, now prismatic, almost dissolving the beings for a while. Is this light blinding me, the light of liberation?
“You are most beautiful, mother. You are like these flowers on your nightie.” The daughter replied with an equally brilliant smile.
And all I could be was the spectator of a dazzle surrounding me; of happiness. Did it penetrate my conscious being? Was I happy too? I don’t know.
“Your mother didn’t know it then. She was not to live, some people say. She was to die unmarried. She was rejected by too many prospective grooms because of her dark skin, and she had stopped appreciating herself…”
“Are you talking about this mother?” The daughter pointed her tiny index finger on her mother’s chest, and riddled into her eyes again.
“But she is beautiful! And she is fearless, and happy.”
She is. She was. In between she had given in to misery. Darkness had ascended from her mother’s unceasing sighs and had crept slowly into her otherwise sprightly being, dimming the little light she had been struggling to keep aflame midst disappointments. With her father’s death, whose existence depended on her love, that little light was stolen as well. And then suddenly one day like a firefly in the dark, had come to her some love, some recognition, someone who needed her. They both needed each other. They married. He the sculptor, she the poet, they could relate, they could share a language of beauty not known to many. Only, it didn’t last: the happiness.
“Why do people say father didn’t love you, mother?”
“He did, sweetheart. His love was like a drop of dew on a leaf. I was the leaf. I was his rest; I was who he could come back to, when his demons addled him and made him suffer, but I had stopped being his rest after some time. I was too occupied fighting my own demons- those who kept telling me I am not beautiful enough to hold his love for me eternally. Like the dew which faded in strong sunlight or dropped off the leaf on the slightest touch of wind, your father’s love too disappeared on most occasions, unable to bear the ferocity of my frailties.”
“Why didn’t you hold on to your dreams, then, mother? Perhaps they could have helped you. Perhaps they could have helped you fight the disease.”
Could she afford to hold on to her dreams? She couldn’t, for what appeared a lack of self-worth for her folks, was actually a selfless act on her part to help her beloved. He didn’t want her to write, to work. His demons wouldn’t allow him. They reminded him constantly of his inability to provide adequately for the family; for her. He had to play the expected role, so that the society will recognize him as a capable man: a man virile enough to father a son, to be in command. So, it made him feel good just to be able to do what he could without having to depend on her, and with her came her dreams, so she had to disown them, to assure him she wouldn’t fail him. She disowned all of them just like the first one, except the one dearest to her.
“I had to make a choice between my dreams and my love for your father, your brother and later you.”
“Why do demons exist, mother?”
“Demons exist because people are wary of light, a light natural and imminent. People like living in dark corners, like moths, attracted to artificial lights. Have you seen moths? Are you scared of moths? They aren’t pleasant like the butterflies. People gaze at anyone who appears like a butterfly among moths. Slowly, the butterfly turns to a moth, not wishing to live alone, or maybe die alone.”
“If I wish to be a butterfly, will I have to live alone, mother?”
The child sat on her mother’s lap now; her tiny hands now folded over her white layered frilly dress, a play of curiosity and devotion twinkling in her eyes as she looked at her mother’s glowing face.
“You need not, but you must hold the courage within you to live alone should anyone with demons ask you to belong to their world; should anyone tell you, you don’t belong.”
“Why did father have those demons, mother?”
“They were always there with your father, because his childhood was not a happy one. He was given those demons by his parents, and others he had lived closely with. Then, my folks gave him more.”
He was a combination of modesty and strong-will, a frost flower, and in their suspicions of his unusual persona her family had shunned him way before he had wronged her. Initially their eyes intentionally or unintentionally belittled his presence during family gatherings, no matter how welcoming their gestures were; later the weight of indebtedness for his wife’s medical expenses went past bearing. He had seen too much of the unforgiving side of poverty; of unfulfilled dreams. While he mutely carried the brunt for some years, in helplessness, the demons kept multiplying in ways unfathomable.
“Did your family really love you, mother?”
“They cared for me, yes but they disliked him more than they loved me. They always wanted me to talk about my pain, but I couldn’t and they couldn’t see why I couldn’t.”
“They wouldn’t have understood, sweetheart, what it means to live in poverty and not lose the little pride you hold on to keep breathing.”
“Did you finally talk about your pain, mother?”
“I did.” The corner of her eyes and lips twisted into the same sad smile.
“I disowned my dearest dream.”
Unlike the day she had disowned her first dream, this day the Sun had decided to be secretive, unpredictable, as if marooned somewhere amid sadness and anger. The walls of the house she was born in, the long wooden chair where her father used to sit and spend the quietude of the twilights, the garden she and her elder brother had shaped since their teenage, witnessed the wreckage of the mast of her life: her pride, as she cried and begged for love; for understanding and when she received none, for pity. Her family brought her away from her husband against his wishes and he dragged her back to his place, and they let him; she merely acting as a pawn in a playdown of empty exploding egos.
“But you look very happy today, mother? Did you fulfil your dreams after your death, mother? Is that why you died?”
She laughed out loud at her daughter’s loud musings, and danced around with her daughter in her arms- the tiny replica of herself.
“I died because I was meant to, sweetheart, but maybe I could have lived a little longer had I willed to, and seen you grow up and play with your brother, but a will without faith is no will at all; I had lost faith and maybe I was a little too frail with my fatal disease to even will. I am happy today because I feel liberated. I was never meant for misery.”
True, she was not. She was never meant to have misery. She, too, was a frost-flower, in love with another, who melted in the flame of a solemn heartache she had willed for herself since her birth.