Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Snow Baby (a Short Story)


                                                        Snow Baby

“ This is for you,  Gramma,  in case you feel scared at night.” My granddaughter Reba handed me a heart shaped fluffy pink pillow.
 I flew from California and reached Maryland this very afternoon to help out my daughter’s family and care for Reba as Tara, my daughter was going to have a baby soon. 
I looked around the room that I’d be sharing with Reba. Stuffed animals of all kinds, a teddy bear, an owl, Ernie and Bert, Peppa Pig and Olaff were all sitting or standing, piled up on her dresser. Reba’s artwork -  several drawings of loving families with smiley faces and stick figures holding hands adorned the walls.  Even there were glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling assuring help in darkness. And Reba’s bed was just across from my futon. 
“ Why’d I be scared, Reba? You are right next to me.” I  hugged her. Reba gave a big smile. Then clutching a reedy rag doll she rolled her eyes flapping her pigtails, “You never know!” 
She pulled the blanket and cuddled next to me with a stack of books. 
“ Reba, time for just one-bed time story today. You were chatting too much with Gramma, but the clock does not stop. It’s way past your bedtime.” Her mom declared. 
Reba gave me a book to read that tells a story of a seed. It has roots under the dirt and wings up in the air. It has arm like branches and leaves that look like fingers. 
The branches sway and dance in the wind and invite the birds and bees. Birds and bees come and kiss them and flowers grow. Flowers become fruits and the children enjoy eating them. 
Then comes a day when the plant shivers in the cold as the wind blows. It can not dance anymore. Leaves fall, branches wither and drop and everybody says that the plant is dead. Indeed it looks dead. But the seed stays under the ground and when spring comes next year it shoots up again with leaves,  flowers, and fruits. 
“ What a lovely story, Reba!”
“ Do you think the peas I planted on Mothers Day will be alive again, Gramma?  Mommy said it is dead and we threw it. ”
“You never know!” I mimicked her,  rolling my eyes just like she did a little while ago. 

The following day Tara’s friends threw her a baby shower. The weather was bad, so the party had been rescheduled to our house. We hurried to clean up the apartment and make it pretty.  Joshua, Reba’s dad bought some daffodils and some yummy pastries. I learned that they were called hamantaschen. They are Jewish cookies, a specialty of Passover. Tara hurried to get ready and Reba was watching her intensely.
“ Go, Reba. Go brush your teeth and get ready. Gramma  can help you with your outfit and hair.” 
Reba rushed and slammed her door. In a short while, I heard a big commotion coming from  Reba’s room. Reba with mascara on her eyelids and coffee brown lipstick all around her mouth was caught. She tied the heart pillow on her belly under a white dress and attached little blocks on her shoes to make them look like high heels. 
Tara dragged her out of her room as it was discovered that in the process Reba had broken Tara’s favorite coffee colored lipstick.  And now Reba has ruined her pretty white dress with mascara strained tears. 
“You look like a raccoon.  Like a Dracula. Why on earth…” Tara screamed throwing her arms in the air, not sure how to vent her emotion.
Joshua rescued, yelling from the kitchen as if an immediate attention was needed for some other catastrophe.  I took my granddaughter to the bathroom and wiped her face with a face wash towelette. 
“I just wanted to be like Mommy, Gramma.” Reba looked up with raccoon eyes. I gave her a hug and tried to undo her mistakes. 
“ You will be like her, my dear. For now, let’s settle with this pink dress and a nice french braid, how about that?”  I let her share a bit of my colorless lip gloss and showed how to gently put it on the lips, not around the mouth.  Reba, now happy, skipped out of the room. 
I remembered the day when I got a slap on my face for stealing my mother’s perfume. That was fifty years ago. Yet the memory is crisp as a photograph. How beautiful Ma looked when I was a little girl and how much I wanted to be like her.  Then came a day when I did not like hearing that I looked like my mom.  And a time when I hated her mannerisms and prayed not to inherit them. 

The party went full swing. Reba and her mom both forgot and forgave each other for the morning mishap and were thoroughly enjoying the games and other activities. While I was in the kitchen, cleaning up I overheard,
“ Well Tara, if you ever need a break, … I know how much we love our moms and how useful they are…yet…you know..I have  an extra room in my basement” Rolls of laughter drowned the rest of the comments. 
I was shocked. I had never thought of this possibility.  Could I exhaust her while I thought I was helping?  Could I be that one-too-many in this family, soon one day? My heart ached. 
Later that night Tara did not feel well. There were some complications and  Tara had to go to the hospital.  The doctors were worried. She was admitted right away. 
When Joshua and Tara left with the little suitcase, Reba looked lost. She stood in front of the window waving them, though it was dark at night and nobody could see her. From the ninth floor kitchen window, we stood still until the backlights of the car illuminated; the two tiny red light flickered and slowly swerved merging to Westbard Avenue. 
Reba turned to me, eyes welling up, “Will my Mommy be okay?  When will she be back?”
“ Mommy will be okay, and she’ll be back with the baby.” I brushed her hair kissing her forehead. 
“ Will my Mommy die, Gramma?  What if my baby dies?” Reba brought her face very close to mine and looked straight into my eyes.
“Mommy will not die, Reba. There are doctors to make her feel better.” I gulped. 
Reba stirred and left. Then she brought her lanky, reedy rag doll again and told me that she had inserted a  tiny plastic baby doll that was given as a party favor earlier this afternoon,  in the rag doll’s belly. Reba cut off the rag doll’s belly with a pair of scissors and now all the stuffings were on the table. 
“Gramma, I can’t find the baby!”  She looked worried. She churned all the cotton and now the little rag doll looked really pathetic. 
“ Fix her Gramma. Fix her please.”  She pleaded sniffling.
To cut the long story short we managed to find the tiny half-inch plastic toy baby under a chair. I brought some thread and needle, put the cotton stuffing back and sewed up the doll’s belly.  “There you go. All better, see. ”
Reba wiped her cheeks that were streaming with tears and a wide smile like a rainbow beamed on her face. 
“The doctors will make Mommy all better.”  She kissed me and hurried to the kitchen bringing a couple of plastic bowls. 
“ Let’s have some ice cream, Gramma.” I knew Reba was feeling fine. 
In a short while she fell asleep on the sofa, her head on my lap, all cuddled up, while I tried to keep myself distracted with an old show of Golden Girls.
But I drifted. 
Down the memory lane, I came across a lost world. It was a stormy dark night and I entered a haunted house. Thunders clapped, the wind howled. Doors and windows flapped with loud thuds and clanks. Bolts of lightning flung brief glimpses of rooms and corners that were dark and inky. Memories were buried here. Memories that taunt and mock, whimper and moan. I was scared. I wanted to get out of here, I looked for that pink heart pillow, but I was stuck. 

I remembered my mother. I remembered her last years when she was stuck in bed as a stroke victim and the guilt I felt.   I could not be with her when she needed me most.  My father thought Ma would be the first one to go as he was in much better shape, health-wise.  But that did not happen. Ma was left alone with hired caretakers in Calcutta, while I was twelve thousand miles away in America. 
A young girl, Rani, used to take care of her at night.  I could be with my mother for only ten or twelve days each year during her last four years. 
 One time, when I went to visit her  I happened to sleep next to Ma under the same mosquito netted bed. Rani slept on the floor in a sleeping bag without the mosquito net. She believed that mosquitoes didn’t bite poor people. They only go for good, rich blood. 
“Rani, I need to go to the bathroom” Ma called her. 
“Ummm!”  Rani mumbled. A few minutes later Ma whined again, 
“ I really need to go, Rani, or I may wet the bed.”
No response.  Deep breathing and snoring sound from Rani’s deep slumber floated. 
“Seriously, Rani.  Can’t hold anymore. I’ll have an accident.”
“Yes, yes…just a little…. “Rani mumbled again turning to the other side.  At this point, I sat up and yelled
“What’s going on Rani? Is this why we hired you? Is this how you take care of her? I just happened to see it today.”  Rani startled, hurried and took Ma to the bathroom.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I thought of the day when I overheard Rani scolding Ma. Rani thought no one was around.  As soon as I entered, she straightened it like smoothing out a bed cover. 
I felt miserable thinking Ma’s helpless situation.  I felt guilty and hopeless. She shouldn’t deserve this, oh God! I had a conversation with God and prayed to let her go.  Please take her now God, I can’t see this anymore. 

The next morning the sun shone through the window. Ma woke me. 
“ Look what a beautiful day.” A kokil chirped kuhu kuhu.. and Ma said, “Look, spring is here. Check the flower pots on the rooftop. The lilies must be in bloom.”  
I took a sip of my tea and gave Ma a tight hug.
“ Ma, I can’t see all that you are going through. The way the physiotherapist pulls your arms and legs making you scream, the way Rani treats you. I decided to have a different night care for you. This is not what you deserve. Life should not be like this. “
“Life is fine, Khuku (my nickname).  God has given me enough in life.  These things happen in old age.  When the physiotherapist makes me do those exercises I feel like ants crawling all over me and pins and needles pricking…but he was only trying to make me better.  And don’t you think of firing Rani.” 
We both stayed silent for awhile until,
“ Rani loves me.  She brings cakes, though cheap ones, but with her own money to share with me.  She is like my Tara.  Remember they were born in the same year, the same month?” I did.  Rani’s mother used to work as a cook in our house. 
“ She is young like Tara, full of energy, hard working and so they sleep well at night.  Only Rani is poor, She needs the money.  She will have to take another night shift somewhere else if she loses this. Don’t fire her, please.  Only if she gets married, let her go. And if I am not there give her the gold chain that I kept in the locker. You don’t live here, Khuku. I don’t get to see you when I want.   I look forward seeing her face every morning. 
I felt a deep pang.  I knew Rani could do things that I couldn’t.  I would not be able to help her in the bathroom.  I tried that once and it was a disaster. 

Rani stayed with her all along. I was not there when Ma passed away. My heart filled with a strange emotion now and I felt ashamed of me. What did I know of life that I wished my mother’s death, who made peace with her own problems.  How selfish was I to pray like that just so that I could wash my hands and end my guilt feeling? 
Today I prayed for her forgiveness.  I was ready to show how much I can love if I had one more chance.  
But Ma’s gone.
A chime in my phone woke me up.  
It was Joshua sending me a message. 
‘Tara gave birth to a beautiful baby girl an hour ago. Her name is Eira Sabita Goldman. Eira means snowdrop, and Sabita was your mom’s name, Tara told me. Mom and baby  are doing well.’
My eyes welled up. I looked out the window. It was early morning, snowing. Treetops shimmered with icicles and dollops of snow. The Westbard Avenue was cloaked with a white blanket. The cinnamon brown buildings looked yummy like chocolate cake with frosting.  I kept on enjoying this view from the ninth floor window until the morning sun dazzled with a rainbow smile.  Now I could wake Reba to give her this big news.
A couple of months later I received a letter in the mail.  It was from Reba- a picture of a flower on a long stem that she drew with a caption. It was with all misspelled words but I could make out what it meant. 
‘The seed didn't die.’  



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