Memories: Portrait of a Marriage

I never believed in afternoon naps,
but there in the afternoon, I was laying on my side having draped an extra bedcover on myself.

Things had changed with time, I would say and days had started getting longer somehow.

The noon grew stronger.
Jumping out of my reverie,
I opened my eyes.
I scrambled to fold the bed cover and positioned it at the foot of the bed.
Glancing at the clock, I realised that it was almost evening.

I hurried to the other room to check up on Nani.
She was still fast asleep, her mouth slightly parted open.
I found myself marvelling at the sight of her sleeping, silently, in the foreground of the bustling city.

“Who are you?” Nani exclaimed, having taken a look at me.
“What are you doing in my room?” she thrust, and suddenly sat up.

Well today, Nani wanted to know who I was.
I had known Nani for 18 years now, yet this simple fact
never sounded enough of an answer to even me,
let alone her mind buzzing with the jolting suspicions accompanying typical Alzheimer’s.

Yes, she always remembered me when she couldn’t find her almirah keys.
It was amazing how she could swim in and out of the memory of my existence.
It would have been miraculous if it were intentional.

On that dreary August afternoon,
the skies had been painted in streaks of grey, with blinding flashes of lightning.
The scent of ink and freshly printed paper swirled invitingly in the air
as I eavesdropped on Nani mumbling under her breath.

A loud call comes from outside. In insane rapidity, it begins to list vegetables and fruits with not only their prices but also their unique sources. Informing us that it was a temporary matter: for two days, our electricity would be cut off for two hours, beginning at four pm. A line had gone down in the last night’s hailstorm and the repairmen are going to take advantage of the milder evenings to set it right.

Nani, walked slowly around Nana’s study room,
running her fingers lovingly over the spines of the books arranged on the shelves.
She knew not when last she had done so.

She mumbled, “In these books, I had found a sense of comfort and belonging.
Turning over the pages of the books, I would be transported to strange galaxies,
where I and Mira had playful childhood days and good memories.”

Something happened when the house was dark. Nani was able to talk to herself again;
recalling her fond memories.
A stray tear found its way down her cheek as Nani remembered those days.
Slowly, imperceptibly, things began to change.

Fumbled, Nani as her sobs metamorphosed to watery hiccups;
“How we would throw the गुल्लक,
on the ground, shattering it into a million pieces,
spilling coins all over.
Silver, sparkling coins,
between the unevenly shaped pieces of hard clay;
to buy aam-papad and chuski across the bazaar.”

“How we fictitiously used the kitchen utensils, to cook for us;
engraved with the names of our fathers.
How we have spent our childhood sitting cross-legged
on wooden beds, playing make-believe games.”

“How I wish,
like the same breed of flowers, and insects,
we could weave the sleeves of our families
then, our propriety didn’t abhor us.”

“How I wish,
we were little enough
till date,
to have dwelled upon our fictional family,
like we sketched along the last pages of our Baba’s kitaab.”

“How I wish
we were never forced into what we were forced into.”

“At your wedding, you were cheerfully loud and beautifully happy.
As you must, you were laughing. I know he will keep you safe.
I know he will fulfil the promises we made to each other
as naive kids before the orthodox threshold; I made once.”

“You and I, Mira,
are victims of love.
Tragic yet romantic isn’t it?”

Nani suddenly ran to the corridor, smelling the pungent odour of burnt onions and potatoes for sooji
in the kitchen, which I left unattended on the gas.

While my eyes skimmed through the book,
“Sometimes, the sindoor you see is a witness of how pain ties handcuffs
and chokes blood, for which it is red and not always love.”

Sohagni Roy is a second-year student of Hindu College, University of Delhi.
Featured image:  Danie Franco / Unsplash