It was his refuge from his wife’s constant monologue.
‘I’d told you not to encourage the maid…she’s taken off for two days. Now, I have to do all the chores. But, of course, you are much more concerned about them. So what if I have to slog. I am not getting any younger. Let me warn you, I can’t be expected to do everything and entertain your friends, too.……’
‘Solankis have acquired yet another car, the third one in the family while we are stuck with our old faithful that lets off disgruntled farts each time I accelerate....’
‘By the way, Arun’s daughter is getting married next month. Everyone’s children are getting married. It is time you begin looking for a suitable match for Soma....’
Thirty years of marriage had taught him to crawl into his armour and draw the cover over his head. He reminded Soma of her pet tortoise, Tilly. Like Tilly, dad had the ability to withdraw totally into his shell, shutting off all external disturbances. She wished she had borrowed his skill for a while. It was a necessity in order to exist in a world full of unwanted distractions and disturbances.
Her mother would still be perched on her ornate seat in front of the dressing table, applying the cleanser on a pad of cotton wool and rubbing her face with it, clearing it of the day’s debris. The monologue would continue for another thirty minutes while she dabbed toner on her face – tightening and closing the pores that had opened up to throw out the grime. Finally, the anti-wrinkle night cream would emerge from its niche and be slathered in generous dollops; her mother’s armour in a losing war against ageing. The fine wrinkles around the eyes and mouth, forehead and neck had tomes of experiences to narrate. Yet, mother wanted to erase those wonderful testimonies.
On some days, it would be the face pack ritual. Those were the nights father loved best since mother was forced to observe silence while the face pack hardened and crusted and her skin stretched to accommodate the benefits of the pack. All she could do was send angry looks his way; her silent invectives attempting to invade the armour father had drawn over himself.
Had it always been like this, Soma wondered. Her mind whittled the years away and she saw the family as it was fifteen years back. She was four and Mimi was eight. Mother, a flustered wife and devoted mother, had no time for herself. Mimi’s homework required assistance, the curry needed stirring, the school uniforms had to be ironed, the next morning’s tiffin had to be planned, and her own office tasks remained to be handled. Her job as executive - Human Relations was not something to be laughed at…..a hundred odd chores kept her running from room to room like an out of control automaton.
Soma couldn’t remember any variation as far as father’s routine was concerned. He returned from work, demanded his cup of tea after a bath and sprawled himself on the bed with his newspaper. Mother’s tirade about her inability to handle everything evoked no reactions apart from a solitary grunt or two. Everyone took mother for granted. Yet, she was the fulcrum of the family. No decision was taken without her concurrence. Everything was referred to her for approval. Whether it was the family vacation or bank loan, her sanction was paramount.
That she was a perfectionist was not her fault. Mother had been brought up to believe that failures have no right to exist. It is a world of successful people, she often told her daughters. Nothing, but the best was acceptable. In a way, she was responsible for all the achievements her family had attained. Without mom goading them on, Soma knew, Mimi wouldn’t have been a successful RJ, dad wouldn’t have got his promotions and she wouldn’t have made it to the medical college. Mother had held each one’s hand and led them through the dark maze of struggle, always encouraging and egging them on.
It was nice of mom to spend so much time on them, ignoring her successful career but in the end she made them all impotent; unable to take decisions. They sought her hand each time they had to walk the rough tracks of life. They reached out for her strength at all major intersections. Crossroads frightened them. Failure depressed them. Only the best would do, they knew.
Soma couldn’t recall a single occasion when she had not consulted her mother for the smallest step in her life. Mother was a strong woman; everyone knew that. Even father, despite all his escapist policies, depended on the woman he had wedded. She was the anchor in everyone’s life. Yet, we treated her shabbily, Soma sighed…
Theirs was a beautiful family; her beautiful mother, superbly talented sister, successful father - everyone an achiever in the opted field.
‘Helloooo,’ the long drawn ending of her mother’s greeting floated across the miles separating them. A lump lodged itself in Soma’s throat.
‘Sorry for what?’ then the antenna picked up the unsaid words. ‘Soma, Soma,’ mom was screaming over the phone. She could hear her father in the background. He was also shouting something inaudible. Sounds, more sounds assaulted her senses; each note fighting to register in her dulled brain.
The sounds escaped from Soma’s cell phone and floated around the girls’ hostel of the medical college, ringing through the vacant corridor…
But no one could hear. The chattering girls were seated at the loaded dining tables, far away, in the hostel dining room.
Soma hesitated for a moment. ‘I love you, Ma,’ she whispered.
‘No…….’ The scream rang out as Soma kicked the table she was standing on and allowed her weight to dangle on the knotted bedsheet that was tied to the ceiling fan…
Then there was the sound of the sighing in the breeze and the macabre whisper of the dangling body. The cell-phone lay close by, punctuating the silence with the faint screams in the distance. Mother was still on the line.