The old man, eyesight failing, peered intently over the glasses perched at the tip of his nose. His hands were steady and gentle. He turned the tin soldier over. People no longer bought such trinkets for their children. It was all plastic in garish colours with accompanying instructions, now. Children had lost the ability to use their imaginations.
Larni’s fingers grip the steering wheel, knuckles whitening. Nanna didn’t sound well on the phone. She sounded old and tired.
A large shape on the road catches her eye. A full-grown wedge-tailed eagle picks at the bones of a mangled carcass, the latest road-kill victim of a hurtling road-train. She doesn’t have time for this.
The old woman smacks her now toothless gums. It is her anniversary today. Forty years have elapsed since that fateful day when she left her family, left all she had known, for the man she loved. He had been kind to her, and loved her in his way. He had been patient with her, holding her as she burst into wailing, keening tears, her whole body quaking, as they made love.
Was it only ten years ago that he thoughtlessly died, leaving her childless and alone?
The rain falls unceasingly. Corpulent drops, ponderous with the weight of their watery load, tumble and roll from the heavens. They pound on the roof tiles dampening all other sounds, creating an impenetrable blanketing silence. A world devoid of look-here distractions.
I sit on the stone bench surrounding the central courtyard, hugging my knees close to my chest. Delinquent droplets ricochet off the pillars and walls, and pock my face. The beads band together at the peak of my cheeks, then streak their way down my face. Tears are hidden in their tracks.
Ten perfect fingers, ten perfect toes, two liquid pools of ink black eyes, and one tiny peaked nose. I do the count mentally, checking off the list in my head.
The pregnancy had been long, arduous, and worrisome. Early cramping and later spotting blood sent everyone around me into a panic. My mother had been the first card to fall. Eyebrows knitting, hands wringing, she had sat me down and concern-voiced her fears. Then came my mother-in-law. Her usual chipper facade exchanged for this new haggard, white-haired model.
Brazen wisps of tandoori chicken snake sinously from the oven to duel with the tangy sassiness of makhani sauce on the stove. They will marry soon, overcoming the quarrels and barriers that have separated them so long, combining their finest qualities. Dressed in their wedding garb of carmine, like all good Indian brides, they will unite to the trumpet call of bubbling ghee.
I sit sweltering, legs crossed, feet bare, hands cupped in my lap, back bent. The cool black marble floor of the front room of my grandmother’s house chills my thighs through the thin fabric of my salwar kameez.
Carelessly tossed emeralds and rubies lie strewn across an ornately carved teak table, blinking their arrogance in the dawning light. A once opulent landscape, an abundance of crystal and silver pots filled to brimming with the most succulent foods, is lain waste. Bodies are scattered across the floor in various stages of undress, like dolls abandoned by a petulant toddler.
The removalists scour Mama’s house, wiping away any traces of her. It has taken me the better part of the day to pack the picked over bones of her home, and I have left her bedroom till last.
This is the most difficult room, the one in which she disappeared so frequently into her own world, and then eventually disappeared into the darkness of her illness. There are too many memories here.
“Can you guess how old I am?” she giggles, shoulders back, a few stray white hairs escaping the tight bun at the back of her head and snaking around her high cheekbones. The only lines on her face are the creases at the side of her mouth as she smiles.
“Come, tell me. Can you guess? I’m much older than you think, you know. Nobody ever guesses right.” She pats her slightly protruding stomach and rearranges her sari so it covers a little more flesh.