After the blessings came the curse of monsoon. Mother’s asthma suddenly grew worse. Father had been to the town for some commercial purpose and had not returned.
On one morning, Mother’s cough aggravated. She suffered from acute wheezing too. But, as I had witnessed such symptoms many a time, I took it lightly and went to play with my friends. It rained all day, and we children celebrated to the full. We swam in the overflowing river and rowed little canoes in shallow water. When I came back home in the evening, I saw my little sister sobbing. My little brother was upset too. Mother was wheezing violently. Heavily strangled breaths resounded in our house. I did not know what to do. I sat near my mother. She was wriggling with suffocation… No one was near for a help. I felt something ominous. Fear slowly crept into my heart. I called on a woman of our neighbourhood named Ammini, who was also mother’s friend, to my home. She came with her ten year old daughter and nursed mother for a while. I looked at the face of my mother and then Ammini’s. I saw Ammini’s face fading. She seemed aghast. Mother’s condition was worsening.
“Son, go at once and fetch the doctor…” Ammini whispered to me in a quivering voice. I was alarmed by the expression on her countenance.
Outside, it rained heavily. The lights had completely gone out, and the night was dark. Occasional lightning flashed on the coconut tree leaves, sketching some fearsome images. I ran into the rain with a shivering heart. In the dark, I stumbled on a stone or so, and got my knee wounded. As I got up and took a couple more steps ahead, I heard a scream from my home, a scream of agony louder than the roaring rain!
Mother slept in the impenetrable silence in the womb of the earth. Silence within the cemetery walls haunted me at the first night after mother’s death. I felt terribly lonely as I slept in my grandma’s house, with my aunts
and their children sleeping around me. My brother and sister had already slept, weeping. I could not sleep. I heard the strangled breath of my mother echoing in the cold breeze that blew over the dark, silent, rainless night. It seemed the heavens had poured down all the rains and gone exhausted. Unable to sleep, I stepped out of the three-roomed hut, stealthily.
Painful silence, with only a lone cricket chirping. Pale crescent moon hung from the drained out sky. Worn-out ‘Moon Uncle!’ My heart yearned for mother. My lost twilights with my mother feeding me with rice-curd balls, telling me the story of Moon Uncle…I broke into tears. Sorrow brimmed up to my throat. I felt like vomiting. I leaned on to a plantain tree and retched. There was nothing to vomit, but thick saliva and bitter bile. I had eaten nothing the whole day. I hugged the trunk of the plantain tree, like a child, frightened by thunderbolt, clinging to its mother. Then I felt an urge within. I ran to the cemetery, where my mother was buried. Barks and howls of dogs were heard randomly. Crickets chirped and frogs croaked. Rain water, the remnants of the last rain, splashed under my quick feet. I ran and ran, and reached the cemetery.
In the faint light of the pale crescent, mother’s tomb lay abandoned. Flowers had faded, yet some tiny drops of dew still lingered on the petals. I panted violently, having run all the way. When I regained my normal breath-speed, I knelt down by the tomb. With hands extended huggingly, I fell on the flowers that had enveloped the tomb. I kept my ears close to the tomb, and listened. Did a strangled breath rise from within the tomb? Did the tomb wheeze…? Listening and listening, I lost my consciousness…
(to be continued…)
by A. Fraizer