This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
After the funeral, Mother’s memories haunted me as I sat silently in her room. The room was dark as the setting sun cast long shadows through the window. Every minute, I expected to hear her familiar voice say “Krishna, why are you sitting alone in the dark?”
And every minute, my sadness grew as her familiar voice would never be heard again. I always took her voice for granted but couldn’t hear it today when I longed for it.
I rose from the couch and went to open the cupboard. I opened the safe to gaze at our old photos: times spent by Mom and me. As I rummaged through the familiar albums unable to decide where to start, I saw an old little red book. I opened the book and read the first page:
My marriage has been arranged. Everyone is so happy and yet I feel no joy. Does a woman always have to leave her home after marriage? Our customs make no sense. I am told to treat a complete stranger as my God. Is it to tell us that God will always remain a stranger to us no matter how much we think we know Him?
My heart missed a beat. Mom had once told me she kept a diary noting her emotions on days of emotional upheaval. It was her way of keeping perspective. Seated on the couch, I eagerly dived into the diary.
Wedding was over a couple of days back. Life is a whirl. I cannot remember half his relatives. I can’t understand him or his ways. Despite having so much in common, it amazes me how different we are!
This was not news. Mom always wondered how people could be so different despite having the same culture, religion, language and caste.
Two years have gone by and yet I am unable to get pregnant. I overhead my mother-in-law saying she should have found a daughter-in-law who could bear children. Are we valued only by our ability to bear children? Is it only a woman’s fault that we can’t have children? Oh, how I wish I could just jump off the terrace and end this cursed life.
This was news! I had never heard my mother talk about this. This was two years before I came to the world. She had hidden her wounds quite well.
This is the worst day of my life! I caught my man in the arms of our maid. And the chap has no shame! I left the house today but my parents are keen on a patch-up. They say that men will be men! Why do you let men roam and expect women to stay! Roving men and chaste women: Will this tragedy ever end?
I never liked Dad much but I never knew the old fool had an affair with the maid. Why did Mother hide this from me?
My man is a coward! He dare not leave me nor let the maid go. Doing either would be scandalous and a blot on his family’s name. The maid has threatened to tell all if we fire her. I have moved back home at my father’s insistence but I have to tolerate the maid. My mother-in-law says this wouldn’t have happened if only we had a baby. I don’t know why I tolerate this nonsense.
I never knew the old fool could do such things. I guess that’s why I never got along well with him.
How much more do I have to bear? The maid is pregnant and she claims my man is the father. Her folks came home last night to tell us that they expect us to maintain the baby. The thing is beyond belief. Is the baby really his child or someone else’s? How do we get out of this?
My heart missed a beat. I had an illegitimate brother or sister! Where could he or she be? And how did Mother keep this under wraps for so long?
Nothing mocks me more than her belly! She walks around the house proudly like she owns the place. Her arrogant replies get into my hair and we cannot get rid of her. God save me from the monster growing in her womb.
My mind was in a whirl of growing fear. Where was the monster? Was it still alive? Would it return to ask for its share of my parents’ property?
The maid is dead. Childbirth deaths are not uncommon at such hospitals. Her folks came today to leave the baby in our care. My man is looking for an orphanage to keep the baby. He wishes to get rid of it. But the baby is no monster. He is so innocent especially in the way he smiles with his eyes closed. How can such innocence arise from such raw lust? Strange are the ways of God!
So I had a step-brother! I desperately hoped Mother had left some clue of the orphanage where they left the baby.
I have decided to keep the baby. His innocent smile has won my heart. I cannot let him go. My man wanted to send him the orphanage but I stood firm. And my mother-in-law stood by me. No man can stand the combined will of wife and mother. The baby keeps smiling at me like he knows me from another life. I have named him Krishna after his charming smile. I feel complete today.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I was never her son and yet she became my mother. Through my tears, I read on
Krishna is getting married today. For thirty years, he lit up my life and now he goes to light up another’s life. We are bound by hearts, not by blood! Krishna and I are proof of that. Not once have I regretted my decision to adopt him. I hope Krishna realizes that I wasn’t noble in adopting him. I saw my God in him!
I gazed at Mother’s photo through eyes wet with tears. I missed her more than ever now. But for her, I would have been an orphan, a street urchin, a beggar. A mother’s loving heart was all that stood between the cold heartless street and a cozy loving home. I saw God in my mother.