Store Full of Stories: Our Silent Conversations has been edited by Sheeba Mammen.
Every morning at five, I sat on the bench opposite the jasmine bush. The bush grew beside other wild flowers, and bequeathed a serene sight to sooth my eyes. Nature is at its best in the morning. The breeze gently stroking the plants allowing them to rise lazily from their sleep. The birds chirping away mellow notes as they fly towards the sky. Letting in just the right amount of sunlight, and making the dewy grass sparkle. Mornings have never disappointed me. Usually it’s only me sitting or strolling around. However the past few days, Shobha has been coming for a stroll with me as well. Always carrying this piece of paper, she plucks jasmine flowers, wanders around the garden seeking for any other flowers to offer the gods and before she returns to her room we exchange smiles. She hardly interacts with others.
We do not have much to do living in an old age home. But one thing we are thankful to the NGO for, is the library. Our after-breakfast periods are the best. We all meet and discuss about anything that one may have caught up from the texts and newspapers.
Yes, some talked about their ungrateful children and their brutal behaviour but rarely do such outbursts occur. It is one of the reasons one goes to an old age home, but not the only one. Sometimes, some come on their own while in other cases, there is a mutual understanding with the children. These people were lucky to be visited by their children and grandkids. I came here when I realised that my son Ashok, had a lot on his plate. Even though he never complained, I knew he had his own family issues to deal with and I was a hindrance in some way for him. I lost my wife in an accident when Ashok was 16 years old. It was tough without her, but somehow, we managed.
Weeks passed. And it was the same every morning. She arrived exactly at five, plucked the flowers and returned. However, today she was late. “Where was she?” I wondered. “What was taking her so long?” I felt the urge to get up and check when I saw her walking with the support of a stick. She looked pale, the walk was weaker than usual, her face had a sort of dejection like the withered flowers lying on the ground unnoticed for several days.
Where was the piece of paper?
To my surprise, she came and sat beside me placing her hand on one knee and another hand tightly clutching the walking stick shifting her weight on it. For a while, she sat still, then turned towards me and gave a hazy smile. Moving her hands simultaneously and fingers running in all directions she gestured in the air. I could hardly fathom what she wanted to express. But whatever it was, seemed to be miserable. The movements were becoming vague and the expression on her face gloomier. I desperately wanted to tell her that whatever it was, I was there to support her. But all I did was remain stiff as a statue.
Eventually, she stopped the signs and got up laboriously, placing her fingers near her lips and moved forward a bit towards me, and walked away. I got up immediately and went to the library tried to find a book on sign language. Luckily there was one and I began to read. It took me weeks to learn, I did stumble somewhere though.
After I was confident enough to talk with her, I approached her the next morning and signed her good morning. Her eyes widened with surprise and a smile grew on her face, she moved her finger and replied. It was still difficult for me to process her hand gestures but somehow, we ended up having a sketchy conversation.
This went on for weeks. Every morning, we would have these silent conversations. It was surreal. I found out, within these conversations, that her husband had left her when she was pregnant. She had struggled to raise her daughter. Her daughter got married last year. But her in-laws demanded dowry and so, she sold her house. “When my daughter demanded to take care of me”, she continued, “they refused and so, I had to come here. A few weeks back they demanded dowry again, but we had nothing to offer. So she ran away. Where? I don’t know.
All I know is I received a jasmine garland that I always wear in my hair, wrapped in a piece of paper where she mentioned she was safe and she would visit me soon”. I could see the anguish and concern reflected in the movements of her hands as they got heavier. “She will come, keep hope”, I signed.
Diwali approached. Some of our children visited us. Ashok called me and told me he could not visit this year too. I met Shobha in the morning and handed her a jasmine garland to wear in her hair. “Happy Diwali”, I signed. Her eyes sparked up like a child, she wore it immediately and let out innocent laugh. “Thank you for being a great friend”, she gestured. I said to her, “like the fragrance that never distances itself from a flower I will always be your silent admirer.” And we stood up to stroll around the garden with the jasmine rustling and the beaming with the gentle breeze playing around.
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