Your mother hated being photographed. She had romantic notions of how perfect her body looked at certain angles and to have them crushed by the awkward reality of a still life was simply unbearable. So I learned to capture moments using words and silences.
On this day, she sat perched on the first floor balcony’s platformed railing. Our room overlooked the magnificent Bay of Bengal – swollen & angry. We’d mistimed our vacation and landed up at Chinnakalpet in the middle of the Tamil Nadu monsoon. Swimming in the choppy sea was out of the question & even when it wasn’t raining, the weather was spectacularly wild. Earlier in the afternoon I’d run my hands through her hair and lightly kissed her neck as we looked at the stunning view afforded us by the balcony. When I’d asked her if she wanted to walk along the beach with me, she’d pushed me out of the room – “We don’t have to do everything together, do we?” And she was right. I took off with my camera.
With every step, my feet sank deeper into the golden sand. The effort it took to take the next step reminded me of how we were both getting older and how my body was beginning to express its tiredness. We had tried, your mother & I, to have children over the past two years but two miscarriages later she decided we needed to stop. “I have run out of tears, Arun,” she said. Instead, we decided to get into our tiny car and head off anywhere the wind would take us (her words, not mine).
The wind had led me here and if I wasn’t careful, it would sweep me further into the Bay. “Hold on to your hat, man!” cried a man coming at me from the opposite side. Considering he was the one wearing the hat and not me, I found him amusing.
“Nice weather we’re having, aren’t we?” I joked.
“Absolute perfection. I hope you’re bracing yourself for Cyclone Leela!”
“What? No! I mean, I haven’t even heard about it. My wife & I here on vacation.”
“Vacation?!! That’s rich, dear chap! I’d turn my ship right round and head back for shore. Nigel Forman, by the way.”
“Pleasure to bump into you, Arun. You will not be soon forgotten. Good bye & good tidings!”
And off he went, striding strongly, pushing back against the strong winds. I stood and watched the strange old man as he climbed the slippery rocks leading into the ocean. When he reached the farthest rock he opened his arms out wide, embracing the elements: the violent spray of the sea, the full force of the wind & the unending sky before him. You might say he had a few screws loose but in that moment I envied him his freedom.
I walked further, clicking photographs along the way. Perfect little seashells, fishing boats making their way back to the beach and the odd little picture that our resort’s quaint cottages made on that stormy evening. I began to miss your mother and so I turned back.
I took the cobbled stone path to our room. Along the way, I came upon the family that was staying across the hall from us. They were out on the lawn taking advantage of the few rainless hours. Two little girls played in the dirt as their parents relaxed over a cup of coffee. The younger of the two was an independent spirit. Barely 3 or 4, she wandered off repeatedly on her own, digging holes in the ground en route. Her mother would call out for her at regular intervals, but she wouldn’t listen. She would carry on on her quest; now a flower to be dissected, now a butterfly to be chased. And then there was the matter of jumping into that puddle. Eventually, the mother caught up with her little imp and hoisted her over the shoulder. Both mother & daughter, laughing, disappeared into the bushes and then out of sight.
I don’t know what made me do it, but I looked up at that very instant and caught your mother looking right at me. There she was, seated cross-legged on our balcony’s platformed railing. She had wrapped a dupatta around herself, one end of which was flying unrestrained in the wind like her uncombed hair. She had never looked more beautiful. I instinctively lifted my camera to capture her breathtaking image. But in the very next instant, I changed my mind and there I was, running up the stairs as quickly as I could. The door was open, I rushed right through it and scooped her up in my embrace. We held each other so tight that not even the cyclonic winds churning up outside could have torn us apart.
The next morning, we admitted defeat in the face of Cylcone Leela, packed our backs and returned home. Not long after that your mother announced that she was pregnant with you.
27th November 2010
Found this short story in the dungeons of my computer. It took me by surprise because I have no recollection of writing this (or even having the set of feelings that would drive me to write something like this). I sincerely hope I haven't lifted this off someone else. If I have, please mail me at notIrisMurdoch@aqstatic.com