It is dusk, the clouds have been gathering in force all through the day, threatening rain. I am in my study after what feels like ages. For a week I have been tending to my guests, cooking, cleaning, worrying and walking. Today, the house feels quiet, calm, normal.
On Monday, the mother of my older children arrived late at night. We hugged, we stood around awkwardly, we ate Indian food and I worried she was not eating much at all. She had a long day I told myself. The next morning, we milled around the kitchen. We danced, slow, delicate steps, very mindful of each other’s space.
She played with our daughters, all three of them. They sat on the floor fishing little plastic fishes that revolved on a plastic tray with slender plastic hooks. They laughed and counted their bounty. I sat on the recliner and watched. I watched their hair catch the light in identical ways. I watched them adjust their places, careful to leave gaps between them.
Meal times were all about trying new foods, me wondering if she liked it and she emulating us. Eating with hands, mixing kootu with rice, trying homemade yogurt. Communication was limited, sparse words exchanged while the connect was apparent. She tickled our children, her hands on their bodies, natural. Like it should have been. We walked around the neat neighborhood we live in, the dark a cloak for our fears and insecurities. We talked then, freely. We exposed our vulnerable sides. We talked about collaborating. Our hands brushed as we walked, up and down the gentle slope of the roads. We walked swatting bugs and stepping over hopping frogs.
We talked about the places we have lived in. We talked of the people in our lives or the absence of them. We talked about why we share stories. We talked of the pull of the written word. We talked about everything except the children.
As the days passed, we visited the zoo, our brood between us. I left them in her care while I had my nails done. Sometimes, the two of us roamed the grocery aisles searching for exotic fruit. Sometimes we sat in our basement, on the white and red striped sofa, overhead light casting pale shadows on the walls. We mulled over the years past. We talked about the paths we took and the journey we are on.
Some mornings, I came down the stairs to see my youngest and her sitting and staring into each other’s eyes. Turns out Laddu was blowing into her eyes and she was tickling her. One afternoon, I dropped her and our daughters at the cinemas. I left without turning back, knowing this is a memory all three of them will cherish years from now. I picked them up hours later. They walked out, hand in hand, the children clutching a strip of photo booth pictures. The butter from the popcorn gleamed around their lips. They looked happy, the voices were excited as they explained all about the movie they saw.
We took pictures, a local photographer directing us to look one way and jut our hips a specific direction. We put our hands on each other, we huddled, we squinted against the sun and we trooped back into the air-conditioned home for water and respite from the forced bonding. We walked back out, the smiles plastered to our faces and mascara bleeding at the edges.
In the quiet moments, when we least expected conversation to happen, we talked about things mothers do. Our children, their school, their medication, disciplining them, what they like, what they don’t. I brought her up to speed and she told me about her history. I drew parallels between her life and my children’s. I took mental notes and reminders on my phone to update my file.
Just like she came she left this morning. Her hug warm, her presence stamped indelibly in our lives. As the car that bore her rounded the bend, I swallowed a lump and walked back into the house.