“Vandhacha?” I text my sister.
The message says delivered but there is no response. I put my phone down and walk around the house. I clear the sink, I grind the coconut, green chiles, curry leaves, and cumin. I check my phone every once in a while. It is when I am tempering cumin in the hot coconut oil, my watch buzzes and the message from Amma flashes.
The anxiety that I have been carrying my shoulder eases and I visibly straighten. I set the table. It feels odd to see the chair where Amma sits empty. Her absence is not the full-blown absence of prior visits. It is slow, hits you randomly kind of missing.
I run the dishwasher, put away the leftover aviyal and give the kitchen one last glance before I turn the lights out. The door to the basement on the way to the study is shut today after having remained open all the time for the past few months.
The mood has been melancholy since last night. Work and other pressing concerns have pushed away the import of today’s travel to the recesses of my brain. With the weekend upon me, I lean back in my chair and let the thoughts simmer and bubble up.
I started work in July. Each morning I would amble down a little past five to find the coffee pot on, the dishes unloaded, the cooker steaming, vegetables cut and sometimes even the necessary pots and pans lined up on the stove for me to sauté. The children’s lunchboxes would be lined up on the island, the lunch bags next to them. The water bottles emptied, fresh water filled without my having to do anything.
Each day I drove to work, I would leave knowing full well that my children would be tended to, their bellies full and bodies clean by the time I was done work. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, random snacks all appeared magically each day. On occasion, laundry would be done, folded and stacked in baskets for me to carry upstairs and put away. Amma was a pixie who flicked her wand and magic happened.
In her absence, I can feel the weight of the world descend on me. Life will go on, we will adjust to the new routine and eventually figure out a way to make things work.
For me to be successful at work, it requires an Amma behind the screen making things happen at home. It also makes me reflect on the invisible labor we carry as women. It is in picking the stray clothes on the floor, in scheduling laundry in between work calls, in preparing for, making lists, keeping appointments, learning, reading, researching how to put out parenting fires each day. It is in the manner of how all this happens without a nagging voice reminding us to do it. We do it because if we don’t, nobody will.
The cost? Transplanted from one home to another, one country to another, years lost to baby-making and motherhood, careers rerouted, stalled and halted, forever downplaying the value we bring to the home and workplace.
It simmers and stews never really boiling over except on random tweet threads and in the confines of a sisterhood that understands. It rarely makes it to decision making tables and policies that impact all women. Even when it does, it is an uphill climb achieved by emulating men rather than being true to who we are.
It is the reason we have debates on the likability of women for everything from the front office to the President. On days like today, I feel battle-worn and weary.
If not for the women in my life, I would be nowhere.