This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
In the luminescent array of maudlin childhood memories, as I dreamt of her, I saw Radhika and me throwing stones that would splatter against the chest of the mighty Brahmaputra. On weekends when I landed up calling Mira Aunty’s House bell, Radhika would come running to answer the door, knowing it’s me. Mira Aunty would pull over her daughter, her bathing suit and let us run as fast as we could to the banks of the river. There I with my best friend would enjoy our own banal solitude by looking at the setting sun and the waves like golden gossamer strings would crawl upon our feet and leave us back again. We would make castles of sands on the banks and name it with a different name every other weekend, as waves would crash down our castle till we came next. And when all the work’s done, we would sit side by side, admiring our creation and dig up stones, to throw them over to the river. We dreamt of travelling through the river and swim across distant lands wondering of opening up treasure troves of the past and un-discover ourselves in existential reverie. Perhaps, we really would have been successful in realizing our dreams if Poseidon-the water God, would never have taken his daughter back to him.
Radhika was eight only when she left for the river in the spirit of adventure, a reckless child always, never to return. I kept shouting helplessly from the banks, as the waters devoured her. I was too young to comprehend as well as realize that my best friend left me forever. She drowned and I fainted at the banks.
Years later, now when I see Mira Aunty pulling prams in her crèche; babies that are oblivious to all her mental upshots as well as to their own physical melting pot. Cries of the babies finally break the spell almost always and that brings her back to the cast of her rational corporality, and me from my dream.
She had been having these episodes of fading into such notional limbos from quite some time and was under the care of Maa, her best friend. After Vrishav Uncle left her for another woman, more so accusing his wife of having killed their daughter (whom he seldom cared for, perhaps he just needed an excuse); Mira Aunty chose to soak her silken black hair on lonely Sundays under the sun, fondling with Radhika’s photo-frame and her platinum locket, the only thing the waves decided to return back to the banks. Maa however took the founding step of bringing her to her place and release the darkness of her past, which later I brought to completion.
After my tenth birthday, she took over her first transmogrification, the second after when I decided to change my name to Radhika, with the consent of Maa, where she too named herself as my “Second Mother”. She cuddled, showered and enriched me with her immense love and I too reciprocated in all divided forms between Maa and Her. Yet, as with every woman, her latent desire of the forbidden fruit, the lost child and a child of her own kept making its mouth all the way larger as I grew up into a girl.
On my sixteenth birthday she expressed to Maa that she had been fighting these years a virtual battle for adopting a child, but failing every time in disappointment. Maa could never empathize;
I knew it, because she never went through the same tin plague of being childless, as Mira Aunty did. In her most pretentious composure Maa patted her back and encouraged her, repeating the same old lines, “My daughter is as much yours Mira, as she is mine. Look she has even named herself Radhika and has always been attempting to fulfil your daughter’s place.”
It is not that I disliked having her as my Second Mother, but I wanted her to be The First, for someone who doesn’t have any.
One month later, Mira Aunty in her widest of smile walked into our drawing room, hugging me and whispering into my ears—“Our dream came true Radhika. We are getting a brother for You.” My happiness knew no bounds that day. I had never seen Mira Aunty smiling in such delight. Every crackle of laughter that she shared with Maa seemed to bespeak the joy of a final ataraxia. Her third moulting was on its way.
She was going to pay this huge amount of two lakhs to the local orphanage… the price for transforming her long cherished dream into a reality she had been longing to live. The orphanage was located at the Shukleshwar ghat near the Brahmaputra River. She took the road by the Nehru stadium and was amazed to see this babble of the urban sprawl crowding and making it all the messier for the passer-byes. She noticed her surroundings. It was the Ulubari slum, Guwahati.
She pushed in herself to feed her inquisitiveness. A child of around nine years had put up a banner outside an old tethered hut that read “Child for Sale”in a bid to raise fund for his mother’s liver transplant.
Mira Aunty couldn’t soak it in this time. She went near the child and asked the ugly black man standing by his side, to explain the situation. Expressionless, the ugly man gave her all the details he could.
Pinu, the small fatherless boy, had sold all the little valuables he and his mother possessed in an attempt to save her life, and his only chance of saving his mother’s life was to offer himself now.
Savita, his mother, was told at the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, that she needed a liver transplant. A doctor there said the procedure would cost up to Rs. two lacs. Since then it has been an unending race for Pinu to arrange the funds, but with all his efforts turning to be futile.
Mira Aunty felt a burning inferno about to burst into flames of intolerable pain. She had to make a decision now… either be the first for the one waiting for her at the orphanage or save the only One, the first and the last Pinu had.
The weight was unbearable now. If she wasted any more of her time juggling her way out, she would make it nowhere.
Finally she carried the piece of paper to Pinu. She caressed his hair and, knelt down to wipe off the tears of his helplessness. She looked at his torn kurta, and couldn’t contain more of herself. The inferno burst and silent tears streamlined themselves as she hugged him and closed her eyes… to see her lost child. She released him and handed Pinu the check of Rs. Two Lacs. As Pinu kept waiting for a response, she walked away with not even a single backward glance fearing the unpredictability of her mind.
She came back home and invited me and Maa for dinner. Over the table Maa asked her about the new child, to be home in a few days time. Mira Aunty smiled under slimy delectation of her own complacence, held my hands across the table and replied,
“Be it First or Second, whichever I may be, the truth is I was a mother and I have chosen to be a Mother and I need not re-incarnate myself in any other form. I have dropped the idea.”
Maa kept quiet and took a small bite of the caramel custard that tasted so very sweet, the redolence still clinging onto me. Maybe it was infused with the taste of the First and the love of the Second. This is one thing I always wonder and which I may never know—the perplexity of a Mother’s Love—First or Second.
What remained inside me were only the charred remains of my long lost friend, who had unlocked me from my ghost of loneliness for a few days and leaving me indebted always, to her mother,
My Second Mother.