The Bystander.

Read.

Listen.

Understand. And love.

We’re here. And we care.

*****

It’s funny how I remember everything so vividly. It must be over 10 years now. It’s been so long that I don’t even remember how long it has been. And yet, each moment, from that day, is etched in my mind. Every now and then, I replay the events of that day as I remember them. Each time as precisely as the last. It was the first time, in my life when I had truly understood what loss meant. What life meant. What mourning meant.

It was a good enough evening, around 6pm or so. As a kid, I was obsessed with the telephone, and every time it rang I would rush to answer it. I did the same that day. On the line was my uncle, my mother’s sister’s husband.

My uncle has been a very happy man ever since I’ve known him and even today. Even at the age of 50, you see the goofy 10 year old in him, pretty clearly. He’s always going around pulling pranks on me, drawing on my face while I sleep and editing funny photos of me. It’s never a dull moment with him.

As I look back, I understand now, how that day, I almost didn’t recognize his voice. I answered very cheerfully, hoping I could hear the same from him. He asked for my mother. I wasted no time and quickly called her over to the phone, still not understanding what was going on. As she took the phone from me, in a matter of seconds I saw her face turn pale. She collapsed on the floor. I remember being so scared. Not understanding what was going on.

My father was at work and my younger sister was still a toddler. I tried to pick her up with all the life in me. She was conscious, but she just wasn’t there. Her eyes seemed lost and confused. She lay on the floor and called my father. He almost didn’t understand what was going on over my crying and screaming, so I asked him to call my uncle. Within an hour my father rushed home as my mom continued to sit there, crying agonizingly. My mother’s sister, the oldest of the five siblings, had passed away, leaving behind two beautiful daughters around the ages of 11 and 13, and a loving and devoted husband.

I remember sitting in the backseat of our Maruti 800, my mother in the passenger seat with her second baby cradled tightly in her arms, as she stared out the window, with empty and vacant eyes. I remember watching my father constantly shift his eyes between the road and my mother, not saying a word.

I still didn’t understand what was happening, somehow I just knew this was one of those moments when you don’t say a word, be a good kid and not trouble your parents. It took us an excruciating 4 hours to get there. I wonder now, what my mother was thinking about throughout the drive?

Was she replaying all the memories of her sister in her head? Was she trying to remember the last thing they spoke about? The last thing she said to my mother?
I didn’t ask any questions.

Reaching my aunt’s apartment, my father took over my baby sister, and I held my mother’s hand as we walked up the stairs. It felt like each step was a burden on her. Felt like it was eating her away and she wanted to go right back. The screeching and screaming resonating all around us made it worse. On reaching the door, I saw a body on the floor of the living room and a lit diya. She lay so oddly still.

So many unfamiliar faces all around her and then there were them. The two swollen and red eyes and their helpless and exhausted little faces. Two faces who were family. They were next to their mother, never once moving their eyes. When they finally did, they saw my mother and I enter the door, followed by my father and sister. Almost immediately the silent room was filled with painful squeals of the two little girls whose life seemed to have come to a standstill.

They cried and cried and it was so difficult to watch without crying myself.  My mother struggled to enter the house. It suddenly felt so real, as if I knew exactly what was going on, right from the beginning. Neighbors and friends cried with us. It was almost as if the pain in the room had consumed everyone.

Earlier that day, my sweet aunt, had woken up early, cooked food, got her two daughters ready for school, and kissed them goodbye. Later she laid out clothes for her husband, and watched him hurriedly finish his breakfast and leave for work. I wonder now, what did that morning feel like? For all four of them? My uncle, their two daughters and my aunt. Did they feel a hunch, like we all do sometimes, that something was going to go wrong today? Did my sisters’ feel like the moment they step out of the house today, their life was never going to be the same? As they went about their day at school and work, did their mother and wife cross their mind? As she collapsed in pain in the bathroom, how badly did she long for her family? Did she suffer? Did she wait helplessly for death as she suffered? I can’t write this without replaying the day in my mind again and hiding my tears.

When the girls came back, no one opened the door. After enquiring around, they called their father who rushed home. They broke into the house through one of the windows. The bathroom’s tap seemed to be open. As they walked through the wet floor of the house , did they think of the worst? As they struggled to open the locked bathroom door, did their hearts sink deeper with every passing second?

She was gone. Long gone. So was very thing that had meaning to their lives. He had lost his lover, his friend. The girls had lost their mother.

When the body was taken away to be cremated, I recall the most painful memory I have of that day. I can almost picture it right now, happening right in front of me. The eldest daughter sat next to the ‘diya’. She sat there for hours at a stretch, blankly staring at the ‘diya’, until she fell asleep, her eyes swollen and her face wet.

After a couple of days when the diya burned off, the mud lamp was still there. Every night she would come and lie next to it. On her stomach, hands under her head, facing sideways, staring at the diya. Continuously. It was the last place her mother lay. Did she feel closer to her on that spot ? No one questioned her or tried to move her. Apart from the moments when we tried to feed her, the rage she showed when we tried to take her away, was all the emotion we could get from her in the weeks to follow.

That image. It’s engraved somewhere deep inside me.

I miss her. Even today. Although my memory of her is blurring by the day, I still have some moments in my head, clear as day. And that’s how they’ll always be. I’ll replay each memory of her, even the one of the last time I saw her. After all the old toys we’ve given away or discarded, that one soft toy, of a baby with a fuzzy, blue, round pillow for a body and hair in the structure of a pineapple, that, that is never going away.

It’s been over 10 years, Mausi. The hole you left in our lives can never be replaced. You are cherished. I wonder now, when I look at my cousins; both in their twenties, what reminds them of their mother? As and when they remember her, how do they conjure up the courage to not just drop everything and give up on life? My uncle, who still hasn’t lost the goofy 10-year-old child in him. How do they go on? How did they, ever, move on?

****

We’re here for you, friend.  The wall will remember you.

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Author: Aitijya Sarkar

You know that bright little star next to the moon? The one you've never really noticed for some reason. That's me.

2 thoughts on “The Bystander.”

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