It was that time of the year again when the sun shone itself for more hours than required. I didn’t like this time of the year – it made me sweat and my body became sticky. But I loved that I could play for longer hours with my friends. They were sticky and sweaty too. My friends and I play many games – we play with small green balls, stones, anything we can find.
We also loved finding things. The sun shining made me happy for one other reason – I didn’t have to wear a shirt. It was also the time when I got to see Appa. He lives in a grey house with his friends. They all have their own rooms. He can’t come to see us, but we can visit him. And I see Appa every time the sun gets hot.
Running around the muddy streets of our neighbourhood, in and out of the straw houses all day long, made me very tired and breath through my mouth. Every time I did, I smelt home – the food, some water running along the tunnel dug near our house which was perennially grey. I hold my breath every time I pass through it. It made my nose feel bad.
“Oye! Come inside! I have the food ready!” came the call for eating.
That is my mother calling me. She worries if I don’t eat. My mother worries about everything. She is also loud. One time I could hear her from the place where we were looking at the cows. And that place is really far from our home. But I could hear her; she’s that loud.
I like it when she calls me for eating. I like eating food. It feels good when it enters my mouth. So I left the game that I was playing with my friends and ran back home.
“I’m home ma!”
I like the smell of home when there is hot food inside. Makes the whole room feel warm. The sun was still out. I could see it from the crack on our wall. It plays peekaboo with me every evening. The sun shone brighter now, almost as if saying goodbye to me. I liked seeing the sun through the crack on our wall.
“Go wash your hands, they’re dirty,” said Mother, with her face tight. She didn’t look at me when she said that.
“I will. But I’m hungry!”
“I won’t give you food until you wash your hands.”
“Fine”, I reluctantly walked towards the small area where we wash our bodies and everything. It was in the corner of the room right next to the cot.
There is a chair in our house. It has been in our house for as long as I can remember. I love it when my mom sits on it. She sits on it only on some days. Days when she is very sad. My mother looks very old when she is sad. My friends say she is sick. I don’t know what that means, but I know it’s not good. So, I always look at her face to know if she is okay.
My mother says never to climb on the chair. It is wrong to stand on the chair. Appa loves sitting on the chair. He always sat on it when he was here. His hairy arms rested on the armrest and his feet touched the ground even when he sat on the chair. He sat on it and his whole body filled the chair. It never did when Amma or I sat on it. Appa is bigger than us. I wish to be like him one day.
That night she didn’t look at me. She didn’t look at me when she told me to wash my hands, didn’t look at me when she gave me food. My mother always looks at me. This made me feel sweaty. I couldn’t see my mother’s face. It was as if she didn’t want to show her face to me.
My mother likes it when I dance around her. It makes her smile. My mother smiling is good. So I got up on the newly bare cot and did a dance for her.
“Ma! Look! I’m dancing!”
“Ma! Look at me! I am dancing a new dance!”
“Not now! Don’t disturb me!” mother said, her eyes drooping, making her look old.
I stopped dancing. I wish Appa had been here. He always knows what to do. He makes mother smile more. She smiles a lot when Appa is home. She also tells me I look like Appa. I only wish to look like him one day. Appa is so tall. He makes mother’s sadness go away. But he’s not here now. He went away from us. “Never speak of your Appa again! Mother said angrily one day. I stopped talking about Appa from then. I always think to myself ‘Where could Appa go? How will he have food if he doesn’t come home?’ I wish Appa was here now. He always knows what to do.
The sun had completely gone down. It was dark. When it gets dark, mother always brings light with a lamp. She has forgotten to light the lamp today. She always lights up our house. I love to look at amma when she’s lighting up the house. It makes her brown face glow. She made it look very easy to light a lamp. Today, she forgot to do it.
“Ma, here light the lamp. The sun has gone down”, I said, handing her the lamp and the matchstick. She didn’t look at me but continued doing her work, her face filled with a shadow. I have never seen my mother’s face this dark.
She took the lamp from me and placed it next to her and continued working. Mother never works after the sun goes down because it’s dark. She talks to me after it becomes dark.
“You are a good son. You are my good son. You are mine.”
Sometimes her eyes become watery, saying these words. I don’t understand why mother has to say this to me every single day. I’m right next to her. I like being right next to her. Today she needed Appa, but he isn’t here tonight. I wonder when we will go visit him next. I wish he stayed with us always.
“Ma, why are you crying?”
“I cry because your Appa is never coming back.”
“But it’s hot outside. We always go see him when it’s hot.”
“We aren’t! We cannot see him this time!”
Appa is strong. He loves me. He will come to see me. I want to run around and climb on him when he’s sitting on the chair and play with him. I want to lie on his strong arms and fall asleep. Appa would never forget to visit us.
“He has been sent away. He can’t come back. He’s not coming, Chotu. He’s left us, alone.” I didn’t know what to say. I was confused. So, I sat there next to my mother.
I can be Appa. Mother will never be alone when I’m here. She’s my mother. She’s a good mother. She’s mine.
It was a long night. My mother couldn’t stop crying. It made me very sad to look at my mother crying. Her glowing, brown face now became weary because of crying so much. I walked towards her and wiped away the tears. She hugged me and cried a little more. She put me to bed on the cot which was still bare. I wondered for a moment where the cloth covering was. I couldn’t think more as I was very tired. My eyes were sleepy and itchy.
When I lie down, there is a perfect view of the roof where the moon is. It is like magic, how the sky turns black and then the moon comes out. The moon casts a shadow into our house which is partially blocked by a tree. It’s a huge tree – mother says it’s a willow tree. I can see the moon in between the dancing branches of the tree, swaying in the wind, very restless like a lullaby trying to put me to sleep. I watched them dance as I slept.
I woke up in a few hours to the usual noises – people shouting, dogs barking, water running, children playing. I look at the crack on the wall to see the bright morning, shining its way into our house. I liked seeing the sunshine through the crack in our wall.
Ma wakes me up every morning. But I woke up without her waking me up today. Ma wasn’t inside the house. She must have gone to take water. She always does. She has to walk a long distance to get water. So I waited for Ma to come back with water. It’s difficult to get water when the sun is so hot and high up in the sky. So it will take some time for amma to come. But she’s never late. She’s always on time.
Where is the chair? I wonder aloud. It’s never gone out of the house. It’s Ma and Appa’s favourite thing in the house. The chair is ours. But the chair is gone. Where is it?
I can hear the noises outside have increased. People’s noise has increased. They keep talking. I went to lie on the cot. I liked lying on the cot and looking up at the willow tree. When the light comes out through the crack, it casts a beautiful shadow of the tree’s dancing branches, creating art.
The noise outside increased.
“Run! What happened? Oh god! Not her too! What has she done!”
“Chotu, don’t come out!”
I hear people screaming my name. I wonder why they are calling my name. I walk outside. So many people were around the willow tree. I went near the willow tree. I had to push my way into the crowd. Baba from next door came running.
“Don’t look, son! Turn around and go!” And shut my eyes with his hands.
I caught a glimpse of the willow tree with its swaying branches now still, with a rope hanging from it, Ma at the end of the rope. There I found our chair.
I told her not to climb the chair. I always did. It’s bad to climb the chair. I saw the chair fallen on the ground. I was sad that Ma didn’t listen to me. She never does.
I lay on the cot. I only like lying on the cot now. I still can see the willow tree. It makes me feel nothing now. Ma hasn’t come home yet. My stomach has been in pain. I don’t know when Ma will come. I will wait here, on the cot.
She will come home.
She has to, doesn’t she?
By Padma Murughappun