Reliving a life is a painful journey, until it becomes a reality, writes RANI JHALA
Thirty years had gone by and each year was etched in Anita’s mind. Memories refused to fade, still haunting her days and traumatising her nights. Her every breath was a prayer and every word was a wish. All she wanted was to be able to hold her baby and tell her that she loved her. But it was too late to say anything now. Those ties had been permanently cut and her daughter was now lost.
Anita picked up the first photograph. In it, a woman stood holding a newborn. The look on her face was one of awe and the look on the child’s, was one of trust. Anita could barely recognise herself. The first bloom of motherhood had made her look radiant. Happy, proud and so very grateful for the miracle she held in her arms. A teardrop fell on the photo, which she quickly wiped away, picking up the next one.
Her daughter Tina was now three and she saw the girl’s bright and bubbly personality. Chubby cheeks with deep dimples and huge doe like eyes that were always twinkling. With her infectious laugh and clever mind, she always overshadowed other children. Those were the days when Anita was the most important person in Tina’s life and no matter what she did, she always looked around for her mother.
As Anita’s eyes moved to the next photo, an older child looked back at her. A five year old dressed in her school uniform and heading for her first day at primary school. There was joy written on her face, confidence in her gait and excitement in her demeanour. At the end of the day, she had made five friends. By the end of the week, she had fifteen ‘bestest friends’, and by the end of the month Tina knew her whole class! Those were the carefree days.
At twelve she was in high school. The photograph Anita now held was of her daughter’s first camp. Tina was laughing as she tried to balance on a floating log with her classmates while a lanky lad tried to stir them to safety with a thick branch. He failed and they all fell into the river. It was the same lad who became a hero when he rescued Tina, and years later, he proposed to her daughter.
They married and over a hundred people attended the wedding. Tina had insisted they all be included in the group photo. Now holding that photo, Anita looked at the radiant bride as another tear escaped. Everyone had said that Tina was the most beautiful bride they had seen, and Anita knew it was the truth.
She quickly flicked through the photos. Of the honeymoon, their first home and the day Tina found out that she was expecting. Happy shots that made Anita smile even now. Tina took a photo of herself every week, and twelve photos reflected her blossoming trip towards motherhood. She loved being pregnant and it showed. And in every photo she held a protective hand over her stomach protecting her little baby from everything and everyone.
Anita picked up the next photograph. It was taken by the police at the crash site. Tina’s husband did not stand a chance as an oncoming truck had swerved into his side of the car. The impact was devastating, his death instantaneous. There had been no time for goodbyes or promises. He was there one moment and gone the next. In this photo, Tina still had her hand on her stomach, but it was the look on her face that spoke of what was to come.
Shattered, Tina secluded herself, slowly growing isolated from family and friends. Even Anita could not break through the melancholy that set in. The doctors assured them that time would heal Tina, and the baby would ease that pain. Anita was not so sure, for Tina seemed truly lost.
The baby arrived four weeks early but he was healthy and did not require medical aid. The photo she now held was of Tina looking at her two day old son with love in her eyes.
Looking back, Anita realised that the photo had held a vital clue that no-one had picked up. Tina had refused to hold the baby and even though the love was reflected in her eyes, the tears on her cheek were not of happiness, but of pain and regret. It was almost as if she was saying farewell. Five days later, she walked out of the hospital and was never seen again.
In her room she had left her son with a note attached to his bib: ‘Don’t look for me. I don’t want this baby or this life. I want to be left alone.’
Anita wiped away her tears as anger replaced her sorrow. Tina had said that she wanted to be left alone. She took that right because she was an adult, but what of her son’s rights? What of her mother’s? Of course, he survived. Anita made sure of that. The court gave her legal guardianship. She showered on her grandson the same love and care that she had showered on her daughter. He even went to the same school as his mother. And in place of a smiling girl, Anita now looked at the photo of a little boy holding her hand as they stood outside his classroom. And while every other child had called out to their mother, Anita’s little grandson, had called out ‘Grandma’. Her life was now busy with him and she had no time to think of her daughter. She was glad as in the five years that followed, not once had Tina tried to contact them or sought to see her son. For a while she even feared that Tina was dead until the police assured her that as her closest kin, she would be informed if that happened. That assurance should have given her relief, instead it just added to the fear of not knowing. At times Anita thought that Tina’s death would have been better, so that the worrying could cease. In rare moments if anger she even cursed her daughter’s selfishness.
Anita put away the photographs. She never knew why she kept looking at them. Maybe because on Mother’s Day she longed to go back to the time when she had her little girl!
The phone rang and her grandson picked up the phone, politely asking, “Who’s speaking?”
Turning to Anita he said, “Grandma, it’s a woman saying she is my mum, but it can’t be because I don’t have a mum. I just have a Grandma, don’t I?”
Anita grabbed the receiver, cuddling her grandson. “Tina? Is that you?” she whispered.
“Hi Mum, yes it’s me. I had been unwell. Depression they called it. I am better now. That was my son, wasn’t it? Can I come home, Mum?”
“Darling, of course! Where are you? Your son and I will come and get you,” said Anita, elated.
Just then the doorbell rang. Anita opened the door and her daughter was standing there. She was thinner and weaker, but still beautiful. Anita could see that the recovery was not complete, but she had her daughter back. It was all that mattered.
As she hugged her daughter she heard the words, “Happy Mother Day, Mum!” And then Tina turned to her son and said, “Aren’t you going to wish your mum Happy Mother’s Day too?”
The little boy looked questioningly at his grandmother and when she nodded, he flung himself into the arms of his mother.