This was my first work of fiction, which got published in an online fiction mag. (Some of you may have already read it). But the mag seems to have drowned into a state of suspension, and I miss reading it ....... so here goes! (Please do remember that this was written by a younger me. Judge gently :-))
She stretched on her bed, while attempting to open her eyes against the morning sun. The movement caused her feet to tingle - her legs seemed to have developed a sleep-wake cycle of their own these days. She saw the red nail paint on her feet and suddenly remembered that she had to wear white today. She never had many clothes in white; Ma didn’t approve of young women wearing white – they were reserved for funerals. She remembered Ma insisting on colorful stoles to counter the whites in her wardrobe when she would dress for college.
But this was a funeral – the first one in her life. Ma had kept both the sisters out of funerals. But Kartika couldn’t avoid this one..
Kartika didn’t know whether she was supposed to wear the gold bangles and chain that she was wearing. Ma insisted she wear them all the time. Funny how she remembered the white outfits, but not if people wore jewelry for funerals. She decided to remove the jewelry too – better to err on the conservative side. As Ma always reminded them all the time, “You can always add more salt to the curry later…”
Kartika giggled as she remembered Ma's long dress with yellow flowers, the one that Ma wore when had run behind the school bus the day of her school picnic. Kartika was already seated in the bus, and the girls had already finished the customary “Hi Kartika” chorus. Suddenly the bus had stopped, and only then did Kartika see the bright yellow dress…
The harassed bus driver had stopped the bus, Ma convincing him that it was imperative to stop the bus while holding up traffic, so that she could give her daughter a goodbye kiss. Kartika was 5 and she hadn't been able to hide her embarrassment.
But Ma being Ma, had walked right in, hugged a wiggling Kartika, planted a moist kiss on her forehead, and given her last minute instructions. As a parting shot, she had called out a ‘bye-bye’ to all the kids in the bus……..
Kartika remembered how the sisters became young adults with hormones, emotions and egos running wild. They liked everything Ma did not; and then Ma began to adjust to the burgers meals and the party wears – sometimes even offering suggestions for both…..
Marriage took Kartika geographically away from Ma, but emotionally closer to her. Ma now stopped monitoring her clothes, her friends and her exits from home......but Kartika would call up every time she had a little detail of her life to share with Ma.
Kartika was shaken out of her reverie by the sound of crows outside. Weddings or funerals – you’d always find crows here. Large, black and impatient. She wondered why they made such a racket. She could hear the sounds of domesticity outside her room – there was some strange comfort in those sounds. She struggled to get out of bed, and change into ivory colored dress.
She went into the kitchen and saw her aunt come in carrying a tray of empty tea cups and biscuit plates. She started when she saw Kartika at the door of the kitchen. Her aunt was a tiny woman, with the birdlike delicate mannerisms that tiny people usually have. She gave Kartika a wordless hug, and turned around, continuing to keep herself busy. Everyone around seemed to be caught up in a frenzy of activity that allowed them the luxury of an unthinking, mechanical state of mind.
There were at least a hundred people out there. They had come for the funeral yesterday. Ma’s funeral……
"You could have waited for me Ma."
“What for? You are always embarrassed when I kiss you … even at your wedding; you said it spoiled your makeup.”
“But that never stopped you from doing what you wanted.… You kissed me every time you felt I needed it. You made me wear those hideous caps every time you thought it was cold. You listened in on the extension when you thought I was talking to ‘that useless fellow’. You put butter in my food in spite of my pleas – because you thought I was skinny. You bought me stuff over my protests. Why is this suddenly about what I feel?”
‘There are some things I cannot control, Kartika. You knew I was going. You and I, we were fighting this disease for a long time, weren’t we? Life needs to go on for both of you – I’ve taught you all that I know…. Now go comb your hair away from your face, so that people know you have a forehead as well. No daughter of mine is going to look like she’s been hit by a truck!’
Kartika giggled at Ma’s attempts to tame her. The somber-looking old women who had come to mourn her mother’s death were watching her with shock. She went in to comb her hair just the way Ma would have liked it. She even put on some nude lipstick. She was about ready when the nausea hit her.
She remembered she had not eaten yet; the doctor had said she must not let acidity strike her in the mornings. She had almost forgotten the iron pills too. Heck, she’d almost forgotten that she had only a couple more weeks to go before the baby would arrive. It was one of those moments when she felt she could do with a hug.
She could see Ma shaking her head in disapproval.
‘Your life is not only yours, you know….... That baby needs nutrition. What kind of a mother will you be if you don’t even remember to feed your baby on time?’
Kartika looked at the mirror, her palm gently rubbing her bulge. She smiled.
“I am waiting for you, Ma. And this time, we’ll see who gets embarrassed.”