It was past two in the morning when the call came, and by the time she had hung up and replaced the phone on the bedside table Nalini was fully awake. Arun had said it was peaceful, a blessed release. Her eyes wandered unseeing over the dark contents of her room. Apart from regret that she’d been away in Mumbai she felt oddly shorn of any emotion.
Out of the darkness an irrelevant thought floated into her mind.The flowerpots, she decided, eyes flickering in the dim half-light. I must do something about the flowerpots.
In Amma’s house, as she now called it – not my house or my parents’ house – there were always flowerpots, crowded into the tiny balcony or spilling out into the staircase of the first-floor flat much to the consternation of the neighbours. Most of them were perennials: leafy money-plants that Amma had fondly believed would bring good luck, stately tall hibiscuses that bore blood-red blossoms, marigolds that slept quietly through the unforgiving Delhi winters and raised their golden heads in February. (Amma had been a believer in perennials, even when everything around her proved ephemeral. Would her father be there? she thought, in alarm). But ever so often around Springtime her mother would erupt into a frenzy of buying “annuals” as she called them until the small balcony groaned under its burden of color: purple and yellow heartsease, pink gardenia, all punctuated by the solitary proud dahlia. But she had hated roses, for some reason. ‘They don’t last,’ she’d said to her, when Nalini expressed her own preference for them.
Amma apparently did not care whether any human being could set foot on the balcony as long as the plants were well-cared for. The family objected strenuously, of course. Ever so often they would reproach her for wasting (her own) hard-earned money, but a firm nod in the direction of Appa’s and the children’s enormous and growing collection of English novels would quickly stop all discussion on the subject. It was understood that if the flowerpots went, the books would have to go first.
And now who will look after her plants? the thought troubled Nalini’s mind, despite her efforts to still it. She opened a dusty album of photographs, hoping for a reaction, a resolution. Leafing through the plastic-covered pages would, she thought, revive old memories and allow her to grieve. But an hour passed and she stared at the pictures, dull with age, her mind still uncomprehending, her face drawn into a strange, tired expression that was neither sadness nor shock nor anger. Many of the photographs had for a background the mini-garden her mother had collected.
They were her plants. Nalini could not take them with her, where they would surely die under her indifferent eye; she had long ago learnt not to trust herself with plants or people. But some arrangements had to be made. She did not feel that Amma’s precious flowerpots could be left to Arun: men did not understand these things and his wife would probably give them away to someone.
The roads were as dirty and dust-choked as she last remembered them. Arun had come to fetch her from the airport. She had said no, but he had refused and here he was now, her baby brother all grown up, expertly picking his way through the narrow lanes as the car crawled up to Amma’s house.
She had caught him looking at her strangely once or twice and thought, it must be because of my face. But I long ago made peace with that, I know this is my normal face whether I am sad or afraid or shocked or whatever. I tried, once, to have a cupboard of faces, one for each occasion like other people, but the experiment failed.
At the door, she stopped as if confronted by a stranger. A rose-plant with a single pure pink blossom as large as the palm of her hand stood in her way, swaying a little in the cold wind.
‘She bought it just last week,’ Arun murmured.
Surprise gave way to understanding. The petals felt welcoming, warm to the touch. And suddenly, for no reason at all, something twisted inside her, and she wept.
[So, I have decided on this ambitious project wherein I write a small story every single day, for a month. Not an article, a freaking ponderous story, because I wish to alienate and frustrate the few patient readers that my blog has. In all seriousness, if anyone reads this, I would really welcome (a) encouragement, because I wonder if I can continue this and (b) criticism, which I *really* need right now. I shall probably announce the sad ending of this little idea before thirty days have passed, but let’s hope for the best ]
[Edited a little after detailed feedback]