Sunday, July 1, 2012

The old Aunt who never speaks

She sits hunched upon her charpoy, facing the wall throughout the day. Life, for her, moves in slow motion now. Slowly, inching her fingers towards her comb, slowly, reaching for the food, slowly setting her feet on the ground, tapping around for her chappal. Walking like a shadow towards the bathroom, spending an eternity there, washing her face, watching the soapy water drain. She rarely looks at the mirror, and when she does, she shudders away from herself.

Her only family is her brother and his wife and kids. They ignore her, as she likes to be ignored. She only eats when her brother brings a tray, and she chews for the longest time. Guests are given a vacant stare, and no recognition, their presence bothers her. Sometimes she whispers softly in the night, talking about old times to the wall. There is a picture in her old trunk, forgotten by almost everyone: a laughing girl in riding boots and a hat, mounted on a horse. She has brown locks falling over her shoulders, and her face shows not a single care in the world. How different the laughing girl, from this old woman who shrinks into herself. She has forgotten how she looked, how it felt to be young, how it felt riding the horses that her family owned. She has almost forgotten that farmhouse in her native land, where she was born and lived out her good years. The brilliant mornings, the horse rides, the easy evenings spent in a luxury that few could afford. Outside, the world was at war, there were planes flying and bombing people, there were people dying, but she was safe... tucked away into a small peaceful village. She had dreams then, of always having her family around, of the eternal evening teas, and riding in the afternoons, of finally meeting the man of her dreams who would whisk her away to another pretty house, somewhere safe and happy.

Then suddenly, things changed. The world was finished with the war, but there was war in her own land. One day some people slit throats down the main street of the village, and set fire to the houses. Her family fled their village with what little they could save. She remembers vividly, the train station, the reeking seats, the shivering with fear. She does not remember how long they travelled, how many trains they changed, which direction they went. She has a vague memory about being jostled across a land far more vast than what she had imagined. She remembers the burning houses, burning people, burning grass, burning trains. Then finally, exhausted, coming to a busy town across the new border and finding shelter in a one-room rundown apartment on a street heavy with smoke and traffic. These people spoke in a rude way and a foreign accent, and looked down at them and their small luggage, their miserly living, their torn dresses. She remembers her mother and sisters succumbing to their hollow TB coughs on successive nights, she remembers the constant shivering.

Sitting on her charpoy at night, she shivers now, even though it is hot and the air conditioner is out of order. She shivers, remembering the first cold winter, remembering the deep sadness, the shock. Her father and older brother are also lost somewhere; she can not quite recall how they left this world. But she knows they no longer exist. Only her younger brother was left, and that one-room slum. Then her memory fails her, crawling this way and that across time. She opens her tired eyes and stares at her room, a bigger one in a bigger house. The brother has married, which is a good thing, and has two sons. The boys make a lot of noise, watching cricket on tv in the room next to hers. The wife is kind to her, but keeps her distance. She is happy for her brother, and the boys make her smile in wonder sometimes. Their energy catches her off guard, she sees her brothers in their faces at times. That is when she has the urge to speak. She has not spoken much in the last 30 years, so her voice is croaky and hoarse. The boys nod at her encouragingly, but they hardly have the time to hear her out. 

She rearranges herself, facing away from them, staring at the wall. Atleast the wall is empty and friendly. She stares until she remembers nothing, and everything turns white and blank. The edges of her sight blur into brilliant white, and for some time it gives her peace. 

(*This is a work of fiction, but based on a real person and real events).

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