There were exactly nine things on her list. She put away the slip of paper she had been scribbling on. Her eyes ached.
“Naina!” She called. “Beta, come here a moment?”
Her sixteen year old daughter was in the other room watching her favourite TV soap on the tele. She trotted in with that “oh, what now?” look that children love to give their parents when they call them for chores. But she smiled when she saw her mother.
“Yes, mumma?” She asked, sliding into the bed next to Spruti.
“My head aches again.” Spruti whispered. “Could you get a drenched towel for me?”
“I don’t know why you do this to yourself.” Naina chidded her mother. “Every so many days.”
She got up and went away to drench a towel in cold water for her mother. Returning, she placed the towel across her mother’s forehead and eyes and sat down. A pillow on her lap, her face bunched in the palms of her hands. Her elbows scrunched into the pillow. She looked at her mother and felt a wave of emotions wash over her. She felt so many things in that one moment that she could not put names to any of them.
“What are you looking at?” Spruti smiled through the towel.
“What.. you are clairvoyant now?” Naina laughed. Of course her mother could not see her looking at her.
Spotting the slip of paper that Spruti had set aside, Naina quietly picked it up and started to read it. It was a list…
“Naina?” Spruti stiffened.
“Hmm?” She replied without pausing.
“Are you reading my list?”
Naina was quiet. The list made no sense. Not all of it.
“NAINA!” Spruti cried.
She had taken off the towel and had caught her daughter reading the list.
Flinging the paper at her, Naina got off the bed and returned to her television show. Her eyes wandered aimlessly across the television screen, but her mind was elsewhere.
In the land of mysteries that children often had to live alongside. Half-told, half-known, half-guessed secrets and stories. Of the real and often duplicit lives that their parents lived in.
Could she help her mother? Should she?
She was tormented.
In the other room, Spruti tore up the paper and threw the bits at the dustbin below her desk nearby. Some fell in, a few flew away in the breeze of the overhead fan.
“Aaaaah!” She sighed, flopping back on her bed and taking up her phone.
Absently, her mind wandered while her fingers mechanically pulled up WhatsApp and changed screens till she was now on the list of blocked contacts. There were a few of them.
She scrolled down. She paused.
His photograph had disappeared. She tapped on it.
Nothing. No status text, no picture.
Had he blocked her?
She looked at the clock in the living room, visible through the ajar doorway. It was only nine o’clock. He would be awake. He usually was. Opening the phone app, she found his number in the call logs and dialled it. She had deleted his contact, but they had made so many calls to each other, she had grown tired of deleting them all. A few entries remained.
“Service to the number you called has been terminated…“
She sighed, putting the phone away.
A solitary tear formed and rolled down her cheek. She missed him.
“You miss him, don’t you?” came a whisper.
Silently, Spruti nodded. It sounded like her own inner voice. Then suddenly, she looked up. It was Naina. She stood there, silent. Her face, a mask of disappointment and a strange seriousness.
“Who?” Spruti quizzed her.
Naina only stared at her. Both women knew who ‘him’ was. They both missed him. In their own ways.
“No, I don’t. Now go away.” She groaned shooing her daughter out of the room. “I want to sleep now.”
Spruti slept fitfully. She tossed and turned through much of the night.
She woke up in a cold sweat. With a hand, she touched her forehead. She was cold to the touch. But her heart was racing a million miles a minute. With great effort, she pried herself upright. Reaching for the bottle of water at her bedside, she took a sip.
Nothing. Not a drop of water. The bottle was almost full though.
She flung the bottle on the floor. Water flowed out and lay all over the floor. She sighed and trudged to the kitchen, placed a glass under the water filter and flicked its switch. There was a hum of motor and the glass filled. She put the glass to her lips. She was unable to drink the water. What was happening!
Looking out the kitchen window, she saw it was misty outside. Grabbing a shawl of the dining chair, she stepped out on the balcony. A low mist hugged the trees of the forest ahead of her.
Forest? Shawl? Chill? Mist? She lived in a city, and it was the middle of summer! What was going on!!
She saw someone. Walking. Right toward her. It was a man. She could not see his face. But he came right to her balcony and somehow passed right through. As if she didn’t exist. She shrank back involuntarily and turned around. The man continued walking. Unconsciously, she followed him. He walked out through her front door. She followed him. They walked one behind the other for about a kilometer. She felt her feet ache. She had not worn her slippers. Small stones and other rubbish on her path was biting into the soles of her feet.
Somehow, they were now walking through a city. A city from another time and place. She looked around to see where she was. Bits and pieces from her memory floated around her mind, but she could not place anything.
Finally, the man entered a building. She looked at the building’s name plate.
Her feet turned to stone and she froze. She could not move another step forward. She felt herself unable to cry out or move.
“Mumma! Mumma!” Her daughter’s voice called to her.
She felt her body shaking. Was it an earthquake?
Then she was jolted awake. She found herself on her bed. The fan was not turning around anymore. The cooler was off. And she was bathed in her own sweat. She looked to see her daughter peer at her face. She had managed to find and light a candle.
“Are you alright?” Naina asked her mother.
Spruti nodded and sat up. She found her water bottle back on the bed stand. It was half full. Tepid water flowed down her throat.
“Thank God! That was a dream.” She sighed and hugged her daughter.
“Ewww! You are all sweaty!” Her daughter laughed. “The power has gone off again. I’m going to sit in the balcony.”
Spruti trudged after her. There was a slow, light breeze blowing. It was not cool, but it helped. They fell asleep on the tiny dusty balcony.
Naina trudged home from college the next day, wondering silently about her mother. About all the things she had gone through over the years. Some through the faults of others, but many through her own follies.
Her mother was beautiful, Naina agreed to herself. Smart, intelligent, and remarkably good looking for her age. She reasoned.
Spruti had had no shortage of suitors once she had let it be known that she was back on the market.
Proposals had flooded in. From friends, relatives, matrimonial websites, various dating apps. For some reason, men found her irresistible.
Most had spoken with her for bare minutes before wanting to marry her.
Oh! So many of them had fallen by the side within a few days. On so many counts. Naina had lost count of reasons why her mother had rejected some of the men who had attempted to come in to their lives.
There had been a guy, a few years ago. Naina did not know her name, but she knew that her mother had spoken with him a lot. Once, she thought she heard her mother say those three words to him. But that relationship too had eventually died its horrible natural death.
Their troubles had started a long time ago. A few months into Spruti’s marriage. That period now seemed a lifetime ago. Things came to a head when Naina had been conceived. And eventually, her parents had separated and then divorced. In her low moments, Naina sometimes blamed her own existence as the reason for all of her mother’s troubles.
SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO….
Continue to Ivory: Chapter 2