[Story] August | Daya Bhat
Crimson horse faces and rabbit ears were floating in the rare August sky and I wondered why it wasn’t raining cats and dogs instead, at least, as a saving grace, there had to be traces of grey. As I watched, swinging my bare feet, the horse face chose rabbit ears and moved ahead in search of a torso. Mustard grass was more than tickling my feet and the pair of shoes I had put away mocked at me. At eighteen my friends were partying, exploring the adventures of youth and I was waiting here on a stone bench inside a non-glam park to receive my father, as if we didn’t have a more personal space to meet- a home. I didn’t know where his home was and whether he even had one but I had a home and since four years I was trying to understand why and how it had ceased to be his. The day I had turned seventeen had brought along the hope that all would be well again. I thought of Ma, how she had been staggering under the weight of the additional role she had to play in my life- financially, emotionally and physically.
Ma had set aside the void he had left. I could see anticipation frozen in her eyes: that he might slide into his space once more; but too much had passed between them in those midnight brawls. One night I woke up when cold palms caressed my cheeks. It was Dad, he had kissed my forehead and left; that he had left home, Ma and I had known only in the morning. “I didn’t want this for us Kia… but… I’m sorry,” she’d said spooning sugar into milk; and while stirring, she had spilled most of it. “He will come back Ma,” I’d said resting my head on her shoulder but it had done nothing to warm the chill of her spine. Since then Ma had withdrawn into a steely silence so much so that I missed the din of noisy brawls and tear swept eyes, I had come to prefer them to our stony faces parading in the inertness that hung around us.
“She seems to be stressed out, anything bothering her?” My teacher had asked handing my performance card to Ma which clearly showed dropping grades. Ma signaled to me and I went out of the room. While I watched students flanked by their parents, I could hear Ma talking softly and it became a distant murmur when I deliberately shut out Ma’s voice by humming a tune. My teacher was trying hard not to make me feel conscious of what Ma had shared with her and that had made me more conscious.
We had learnt to somewhat cope but Dad had brought back a dream that he had snatched from me, a dream of a happy family. It was my seventeenth birthday and I was with my friends when Dad had appeared from nowhere. The time that I had planned to spend inside the cinema hall with my friends, I had spent in a cafe listening to the conversations around us. We had hardly talked, perhaps we didn’t know where and how to start. At the end of an hour and a half I had asked him “Why did you leave home?” He had looked at his coffee mug and I at his receding hairline for long; he broke into a cliche which I didn’t want to hear, “I wanted your Ma to be happy. I didn’t want you to suffer our incompatibility like a curse. I wanted to…” I had stormed out of the cafe. He was sitting like a statue when I saw him from across the street.
The next evening Dad was waiting at the jogging park. Dad was keeping track of my movements. I was so angry with him. I had walked out of the park without talking to him. The next day he came again and the third day I went and sat beside him. I wanted to shatter that myth he was carrying within himself. “Do you think you did us a favour? Ma has forgotten to laugh, to keep the house neat and tidy, to cook delicious meals. You know Ma- such a cleanliness freak. You burdened her alone with guilt and remorse and walked away. You both created a war zone, you fled and Ma is battling it out. And before I forget, your favourite yellow button-rose plant’s heart is still ticking. Ma has centered whatever is left of her on that plant.” Dad listened, each time feeling smaller than the image he had of himself. “If leaving home was any solution don’t you think Ma could have done it and maybe before you?”
“So my daughter is all grown up now. She knows how to make her Dad feel like an irresponsible teenager.”
Whatever was that expression in his eyes, it irked me. “And thanks for driving me into adulthood before time… when adults cease to behave like adults then role reversal is the only option. I pity you; you missed an important part of my growing up years. You gave up your share of privilege completely to Ma, of correcting my faults, of tolerating my teenage fickleness… it was a privilege she didn’t enjoy either and so Dad, it’s still lying orphaned.” I’d waited for him to say something but his silence said a lot more and we’d parted ways, I headed home, and he to his abode of escape.
Dad hadn’t disclosed where he lived and I hadn’t pressed him to reveal. What difference it made where he lived unless it was with us? He made me promise that I wouldn’t tell Ma he had been meeting me. That didn’t shock me as much as the fact that he found a place where he could live without guilt of having abruptly left home and family. I kept my word only because I didn’t want to hurt Ma or maybe I was selfish that if I didn’t it would all end.
It hurt like a wound inside my heart to think we would continue to be bench mates of the jogging park for the rest of our lives. I would never let that happen, I told myself. I would not let him stagnate at a convenient distance from our lives. He had to step in or move out. Today was going to be the day, I should tell him I will not lie to Ma anymore.
The crimson alien had now united with his family of aliens. It was beginning to get dark. What happened to him? Has he fallen sick? Did he decide to disappear again, randomly? It scared me to think I would never see him again, I remembered the night he had left home. The dream that I was holding in my fist seemed to slip. I left for home; I knew Ma would be worrying. She was at the balcony staring down at the yellow button rose plant. She turned and looked at me and back at it. Why can’t she give up on that goddamn plant? I wanted to tell her everything. I couldn’t hold it within me anymore. I waited for her.
I flipped through TV channels. Ma came and sat beside me. She played with my fingers, “So—he didn’t come today?” she asked. She must have felt a ripple of shock dissipate at the tips of my fingers. “You don’t have to be angry with me. I knew from the very first time. I’m already guilty Kia… that little joy I didn’t want to snatch from you.” My fingers tensed under the overbearing affection of her palms. I wanted to break free… free from all ties… ties that had rid me, robbed me of even the most basic relationships.
“You were spying on me? You could have played along a little more… you know how I feel now?”
“I didn’t spy on you. On your birthday one of your friends called me up and said you didn’t go to the movie… and that a spectacle man with grey side burns, wearing a maroon plain sweater talked to you and that you looked quite disturbed. She said you left them and went away with that man barely managing to excuse yourself. I guessed; the only man of that description with whom you could walk away without a second thought could be your Dad.”
‘Superb! Great job Minnie… well done! How could I think you wouldn’t have told Ma?’
“OK that was about that day. Don’t tell me you followed me everywhere after that and that too for one whole year. God! Ma you’re impossible.”
“No, actually I came to the park to talk to you about this. I needed a place where our emotions could dilute a bit. It took me two days to decide when, how and where I should broach this with you. I wanted to tell you that you need not hide anything. But then he was there, sitting beside you. It felt so nice to see you together… I didn’t want to spoil it for you. I quietly went back. From that day you never missed your evening jog even a single day. I knew you were meeting him. I wanted you to tell me yourself, not on my asking.”
“Nice Ma… very nice! I’ll tell the whole world… hey look here, I have the most unique father and mother. But then what made you break your golden pretence? May I know please?”
“It was just… I could read your face. And today we have to deal with this and be together… be strong. I have to break this to you.” Ma looked at me, the hesitation in her voice reflected the pain she would be subjecting me to, her worried eyes made me want to hug her and tell her, ‘Tell me Ma whatever that is, have I not proved I’m a tough girl yet?’ She continued “Umm… did your Dad tell you anything? He would’ve… I had a visitor yesterday, a lady had come home, she looked younger than me. She and your Dad are getting married… she said they met a year ago and it had all happened so suddenly. With your Dad life is always on fast forward, that’s how we had met and had got married, and you see how fast he’s found someone to replace me. I don’t remember what day she said is their wedding. Why she chose to come and he chose not to come along, I don’t know Kia but I thank her for ending our fruitless wait.”
“So this is why my dear Dad came back, to say he would be gone forever. He didn’t tell me anything Ma except that once he remarked I made him feel irresponsible and yes the first question I had asked him was why he had left home. He’d said he wanted you to be happy.”
“I see now, he must’ve wanted to tell you this. I’m happy he tried. To me he never felt he was answerable at any point. Must have been hard on him… convincing himself about the righteousness of his decision to move on. It was his inner war Kia… when wars are raging inside, when you aren’t sure of yourself, you never do justice to anyone, most importantly to yourself. One whole year and he couldn’t gather his wit and nerve to tell you!”
Ma and I sat for long after that, my fingers entwined with Ma’s. I withdrew my hand and went to the balcony. So Dad had left me for the second time, first because he couldn’t accommodate a woman in his life- a woman who incidentally happens to be my mother; and once again because he wanted to accommodate another woman. I looked back at Ma; perhaps she knew what I was going to do. I took the yellow button rose plant, put it out on the roadside pavement. I whispered to it- be happy and learn to belong, Ma has let go of you. I came in and washed my hands clean.
“Ma I don’t want to see yellow roses ever again.”
“You think we need to go out for dinner?” Ma’s eyes followed me till my room. I was sure there were tears in them.
I shouted from my room, “Ma, wear my favourite sea green dress… I’ll get ready in a minute.” I was trying hard to sound normal. We both knew we had to make it easy for each other. Over dinner we toyed with food on our plates. Ma was perhaps thinking about the legal procedures that would follow and how they would leave us drained. I was thinking of ways to make Ma feel that we could handle it, we were two brave women against all odds.
About the author
Daya Bhat writes poetry and short stories. ‘A Maiden of 29’ is her first poetry collection published by Writers Workshop (India). Her short stories have featured in New Asian Writing, The Bangalore Review, eFiction India, Earthen Lamp Journal and Indian Short fiction. Her English translation- ‘The Third Ear’ of Ravindra Bhat’s Kannada book ‘Moorane kivi’ is forthcoming shortly. Painting and pencil art are her other interests. She lives in Bangalore.