Short story: The answers

A short piece I wrote, loosely based on the story of a remarkable woman I had the privilege of knowing many moons ago. She led me to reflect on the intricacy and incredulity of our emotions and the effect they have in shaping our relation with self and with others. And a valuable lesson- about developing the beautiful ability to let go.                                                  As she lay on the bed, she drifted in and out of consciousness. She could hear the beeps of machines on the background of constant humming sound. What was this sound? Suddenly she was back in her childhood, and the humming sound was made by the drone flying out in the otherwise quiet and dark skies. Four people were sitting in the darkened basement awaiting sudden spray of bullets that had become the norm now that the Great War was drawing close to its end and just like a beast doing a final heart wrenching roar before its imminent demise, the war seemed to have become more deadly as it drew closer to its long awaited end.Even at the tender age, when the hardest task a child should be having to comprehend is how to read alphabets and count basic numbers, she understood that there were bad things happening around her and she could understand that these things should normally not happen. Otherwise why would mother keep cursing the wretched war and bemoaning her bad luck to be stuck with a husband at the war front and three young children to look after all on her own. She thought it was awfully nice of uncle Jack to be looking after their mum and comfort her when she was tired and sad. Just as the war had become a familiar noise and chaos in the background, having uncle Jack around the house became a way of life.

She couldn’t be too sure when uncle Jack metamorphed into dad but it remained a blur throughout the times when she was growing up. The toddler had craved a father so much that it was finally nice to have one and it didn’t really matter who or where he came from . She grew up to be a young lady and then a doting wife and then a proud mum and then a loving grandmother. She had a clean and comfortable town house with well-tended gardens and had her tea parties in the garden. She became a part of her local community, doing regular work as lollipop lady for the local school and also volunteering as part time canteen worker there. She loved being at school partly because, amongst many other things missed by her peers, regular school was a luxury denied to her generation. She would have loved to be a librarian but that would have required her to read fluently and it would have shamed her deeply if others could see that behind her carefully kept exterior she was just an illiterate person. She took great pride in her children’s literacy achievements and made it a point to display each and every certificate on display cupboard.

But then as her own old age crept on her, she found her mind playing games with her. Where was her real dad? Why did he never come back home? Had he died or had he simply abandoned her as it was the easier thing to do? Or perhaps the war messed his brain up and he couldn’t remember that he even had a family and especially a little girl who really wanted him to come back? Maybe he lived for many years trying to remember through the war riddled haze in his brain and had died, having met an agonizing end, tormented by these unanswered questions? Would things have been different if she had made some effort to connect with him? And then why had mother never spoken about this? Was she ashamed to have her little kids on her own? Was she not enough for her? Why did uncle Jack have to come into their lives and then become dad which he really wasn’t? She suddenly started feeling increasing more resentment towards her mother for putting her through this agony in her own old age and also rage against her father for not coming back home and not making any efforts to find her and explain things to her.

Day after day, simple things in life, which she took for granted like getting up in the morning, taking a shower, dressing up, preparing food, cleaning the house, became increasingly difficult. Her husband started showing concerns that she has become more forgetful and seems weak and tired all the time. Slowly she started losing the joy she found in loving her family and tending to the well-kept home she had created. As the layers of her comfort fell away, she became increasingly withdrawn and the demons in her head kept soaring higher and higher asking the same questions until she could actually see these horrible thoughts in shapes of monsters sitting by her bedside and mocking her.

As she tried to fight them with words and her feeble body, her family decided that she she was going mad and tried to make her comfortable by doing things for her and asking her not to move as she was making herself prone to falls with sudden lunging movements as if in the motion of hitting or pushing someone away. These restrictions made her more uncomfortable because now these demonous thoughts, which had by now taken familiar shapes and facial expressions, could just get their own way of laughing in her face, making fun of seemingly full life she created for herself but which in fact was hollow because the very creator of her person had chosen to abandon her and the other one had kept her in dark without any explanation as to why this had happened. She felt inexplicable pain and agitation that they could just make these judgements about her and brush her whole life away as if she was inconsequential all along. She felt outraged that they could just mock her whole life as if it was all make believe act that she lived throughout her life to mask the hollowness of her existence.

Any further attempts on her part to fight these demons were met by the assessments done by cold stethoscopes and blood tests by her family doctor and giving her some sedatives to calm her down. Could they not see that there was no calming for her now that demons had taken hold of her and were mocking her whole life? As she made final attempt to fight these, the family decided that mum was too sick and bundled her to the big hospital in ambulance. She was too weak to protest. Her attempts to communicate her position in her fight with the demons of the past were labelled delirious babble by her loved ones as well as by the authoritative figures at hospital in their white coats.

And then her family was told that she had a rare brain condition which had caused her to have a stroke and hence this delirium. As she lay there with her eyes closed and her chest rising and falling in shallow tired breaths, she finally understood that there are are some questions in life which are beyond our comprehension and sometimes we don’t get answers even where they are well deserved. She understood now that as a two year old little girl she had no control over the decisions her father or mother made and she could finally see the difficulties her mother went through to raise her and the siblings in those hard times and she could comprehend the fright his father must have felt fighting from a disease and dead bodies ridden trench. She could finally forgive them. She could finally see that she actually had a very full life with a loving husband who stood by her through thick and thin and together they had beautiful children who still rallied around her and loved her for what she was and not for what she had been or where she came from. Her past was not shameful anymore. She could see the happy faces of all the little children of neighbourhood she had helped on the crossing and in the canteen and the lack of any judgement in their joyful faces. She could hear the laughter in her tea parties. There was joy and contentment all around and she had created that by being who she was. She understood that life is very complicated and yet very simple because you don’t need to have all the questions answered and things don’t always have to be correct. As long as you have joy, love and peacefulness around you, it’s enough. As if in a movie, she saw all the demons fall in front of her and then evaporate in thin smoke to be gone forever and she felt lighter and free. She longed more than ever to share this contentment with her husband and family. It was at this point that nurse in charge of ward noted that beeping sound on bed 5 had stopped and she said a silent prayer for bed 5 as she made emergency call for cardiac arrest team to attend.

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