The engine mumbled tranquilly as we made our way through the starry night. The headlights of the passing cars illuminated the interior of ours momentarily and fuzzily outlined the heads of my parents, proved that they were still there. My Dad’s neatly combed hair with virtually no flyaways sticking out, his smooth neck vanishing in the ever present collar. My mother at his side, curled and blonde, restrained with pins. I could see the profile of her face, gradually, or as she turned to answer to something my father had said. They conversed in muffled voices, enveloped in the strange auditory setting of the mobile. Suspended in the gaffa of clean car, perfume and hairspray. For all I mattered they could have been conversing in an alien language.
To my right sat my favourite doll. Buckled up. It had taken some explanation, some insistence on my part. But, all too soon had my mother given in. A quick exasperated sigh had followed short lived sentences, flustered reasoning. “Go ahead sweety, if you think it’s necessary.” I looked over to her now that another set of blind eyes shone through the windows. A silver haired, starry icy-blue eyed, oblivious, fancy dressed, china limbed, tiny shiny shoe wearing miniature humanoid, lacking any sense of imagination. She too was facing the windscreen.
I thought about the little red and brown cat with golden eyes that I had loved dearly, who had scratched my arm once, so badly it drew blood, who – on a late November evening – had been run over by a big red truck. Not much more than three weeks ago.
The icy wall of sparkling trees that rushed by our little expedition looked like a tunnel, a tunnel of snow covered, sleeping life. Of crystallized existence, preserved, suspended until the sun returns to set off the cycle once more.
One day in school sometime in the past year, we had learned that there were more children in the city of New Deli dying of hunger each week than would fit in our classroom. Imagine that, in one city, the capital of a country at that. Children such as I and the girl next to me, in her light blue summer dress and brown curls, and the other kids around us, starved because their parents were too poor to feed them, or because their parents weren’t around anymore. And more of them than would find space in our classroom, remarkably more.
It blew my seven-year-old mind.
Our teacher brought pictures and charts into class the very next day. We collected tinned food and clothes, raised money, drew pictures and wrote letters and sent them to our teacher’s sister who was working with a charity organization in New Deli. Pictures, letters and drawings we received in return. One day, our teacher invited us to her house. The entire class. We ate Biryani and Lauki Ki Sabzi and read out some of our favourite letters from New Deli. We talked about the drawings and pictures, and were stunned by the beauty of this exotic and different culture.
Our teacher told us that she had planned a trip to the zoo a couple of miles to the west.
“We will have the entire day to meet the elephants and the tigers. We will look at the snakes and frogs that we talked about in class last week, do you remember why they are blue?”
We all remembered. We all were excited. We all, all of us, the seventeen of us looked forward to this day, in the magical distance of only a “couple of weeks”. To our minds that could have meant anything within the school year; literally believing that the period of “just one moment please” translated, meant sometime roughly spanning about three hours.
My friend’s mother drove us home after, both of us sat in the backseats, laughing, excitedly telling all about the forthcoming fieldtrip to the back of her mother’s head. Her oblivious hair swayed gently as she made her way home through the persistent traffic.
I got home that night to find a batch of boxes right next to the front door. My mother clad in navy blue yoga pants and tight length sweater and my father wearing a white dress shirt, top buttons opened, pin-striped pants, greeted me. They sat me down in the kitchen and I knew I was not going to meet the tigers and the elephants and the snakes and tiny blue frogs in their faux-natural habitat.
I took it in, nodded and smiled, as was expected from me. Look in your room, we got you a new friend to help with the packing. A life-sized dog sat on the ruffled, pale-blue bedspread. His empty eyes smiled at me, vaguely.
I sat down next to him, patting his woollen head, hugging his soft, lifeless shape tightly against my body. My eyes looked over my new furry friend, around the room, my room. Around what had been my room for the past two years. The pictures hanging on the ivory coloured walls, the white desk underneath the draped window, drapes that mirrored the bedspread, the cushions, the armchair in the corner. All these books on the shelves, all the dresses trimly lined up hidden in the closet, all the toys and dolls and utensils, neatly presented, cleanly saluting visitors.
My parents clearly were pleased with the prospective move. It meant moving up. My father had probably been promoted to a position higher than his current employer could provide. Not as if they had taken very much time off their busy schedules to dive into the details for me. The new house is just as nice as this one, sweety, but your room is a lot bigger, and the yard is much, much bigger, so that you and all your little friends have a lot more freedom, more space to run around and play. And there is a big oak tree as well, that you and your friends can climb up on. Daddy might even build a little tree house for you. A hideout, isn’t that great?
Yes, it sounds just super. More room to play. Moving up. Climbing the invisible latter.
It was clear what moving meant to my parents.
But to me, moving meant leaving.
Leaving my bedroom to another kids dreams. Leaving the kitchen where I ate breakfast with my mom, to another set of humans to establish their daily routine in, as if ours had never existed before. Leaving my backyard for a different kind of games, a whole new world of imagination to be unfolded in it. A new set of tires wiping out any trace that was left of ours in the gravel, on the concrete, in the garage. My little friends would not be there, in the new house. They will stay here, the new kid will be their friend. They will establish new habits, new insider jokes and secret words, phrases, laughs.
I imagined that, every time I arrived at a new house, I was erasing someone else’s life-traces in return. Retaliation. With every step I took, every meal I ate, dream I had, word I spoke, I was the sponge on the blackboard of another kid’s life.
Like one mouse digging its tunnel through the ground and building its home. And after raising its young it moves on, leaves the burrow it had lived in to find a new, fresh portion of soil to excavate, burrow and live in. Then, the next year, a new mouse family comes along, tunnelling, burrowing, digging through the ground. The old burrows being buried in debris, transformed, reformed. The circle of mice.
I was the shadow mouse and the new mouse, at the same time.
Dead and erased in one sphere, alive and erasing in the other.
My mother’s sole comment was that “the moving truck just got here, sweetie, so if you want your little mice dolls to play with in the car put them in your backpack, otherwise pack them into the box by the window. Now, please “ all the while fixating some spot slightly above my left ear.
It was alright, I packed my hypothetical little mice dolls and left them in the box.
It was fine.
The trees rushing by shone in white, silver and black, the sparkling lakes, blanketed towns, powdered farms and fields, illuminated by the endless seamless stream of commuters, the headless reptile snaking its way through the world, finding even the last, the most remote spaces.
We arrived at our destination this Eve. The front yard covered in inches of sparkling, gold reflecting snow. The reflection emanating from the illuminated frosted windows. My father parked in the driveway. Barely containing my excitement I rushed out of the car as soon as the signal of my father’s hand opening his door sounded, like a gunshot at a horserace running through every fibre of my being. I stopped in mid-gallop turned on the salted gravel and reached back for my doll’s cold smooth arm, unbuckled the safety belt with the other hand, cradled her in my arms for a brief moment, kissed her lifeless forehead, turned and ran on with her. On, carefully stopping to open the gate. On, over the neatly cleaned, equally salted marble, on to the gleam of golden light expanding, a sun rising over the vertical horizon. I hopped up the steps and was welcomed by warm, soft, living arms, enveloping me. Grandma Rhoswen kissed my forehead as I beamed up to her familiar, friendly face looking straight at me.
After we had eaten supper my mother was sitting with her sisters and chat chat chattering away for hours and hours on end. Sharing their never ceasing fountain of connectedness. Of belonging. Of knowing.
They were sitting, couched in the cushions of the soft emerald sofa and the tall, matching armchair; around the cherry-wood coffee table, holding steaming mugs of herbs, in the low lit sitting room of grandma Rhoswen’s house by the icicled, frosted, glittering, sparkling, sleeping woods. The fire cracking and blazing away before them, painting their faces in colours of their own; dancing with their shadows all around them; submerging them in their world of reverie, shared dreams and secrets, laughter, gossip, long past prospect plans.
I looked around the room, finding Grandma Wendy’s face smiling at me from the windowed side of the room, sitting on the little dark bench in front of the piano, facing our group of four. She was looking straight at me. I, the mute observer, the neatly dressed doll, the odd member, the ghost in the circle of three; she nodded her head and patted the leather cushion on the bench next to her. I got up, crossed the low lit room, past the tall mirror in which I never looked and sat down right next to her.
We were sitting in front of the black and white keys. Her big, jade eyes, gently resting upon their admiring image. Their adoring mirror. Whites the colour of fresh milk, irises like polished marbles. Framed by long, black lashes. Her fair, ivory skin elegantly lined like the wings on an origami swan. Flawless regardless of flaw. Seven honey coloured freckles which, if ever connected, would sketch a rose on her right temple, slightly above her smiling eye. The endless silken once ebony-like hair adorning her fragile frame, reflecting the maroon and golden glow spreading wherever it could reach out of the hearth. Her gracefully delicate snow-white hand would reach over and sound three or four subsequent notes on my side of the keys, one after the other, slow at first, her eyes fixed on mine, gradually connecting the individual, the unique sounds into a melody of their own. A melody they shaped for the moment. Eternally transient.
She nodded at me and I imitated what she had done, repeating the simple tune once, twice, three times until she nodded once more, smilingly fixating me through her long, shut lashes and she started playing.
She played the song, I accompanied her. We played together, me sitting right next to her.
So close I could smell her perfume, sandalwood, roses, a cooling fresh summer rain or the morning of the first snow. As distinct as the quiver of a bird’s wing in the morning and as inimitable as a fingerprint.
I was sitting there, repeating the melody she had taught me until she ran out of notes for the song. And when she did, she would teach me another melody, play another song. For some of them she knew words. Native words in a foreign language. She would sing of distant countries, of fields and hills and oceans and coasts. Of love found and love lost. Of flowers in the rain. Of pain and of joy. Of mothers and daughters. Of sons and husbands lost on the fields of wars that were never their own. She would sing about coming home and being on the road. Of the ancient times and of progress, the relentlessness of time and moving on.
And for this moment everything made sense. She made sense of everything. She untangled the seemingly infinite number of possible notes by teaching me how to understand them, how to tame them and how to let them flow freely, naturally again. She made sense of everything. It made sense because she knew the notes, her fingers found the right keys out of all 97, knew the right time to play them. It made sense because her voice knew the melody, her mouth the words. Her songs had known the world. Seen days and seen nights.
It has been 3 years to the day now, that on a bright blue day grandma Wendy passed away. Someone else moved into her house 4 months after the funeral. Some family. Three children, one for each of the big bedrooms, and a dog, more on the ugly than the endearingly-silly side of looks. The dog, that is, not the children. They are perfectly normal children, neither silly nor ugly. As far as I can tell. Although I never knew them beyond greety hello’s and farewell goodbyes myself.
I resent them all the same.
Their volatile gaits erase the gracefully floating paths Wendy had left. Their paces rush hers out the cracks of the windows, the doors, scatter them in the wind, blown away, lost. Their sweaty trainers and dirty shirts, thoughtlessly dumped on the floor after soccer practice, fill the air, overwhelm her scent, conquer the floral, defeat the charm. Their flat stories rewrite the fairy tales that used to fill the air around my grandmother, glowing in every corner of her house, like fireflies on a July evening, twinkling, sparkling, humming. Their radios bounce hectic and unnecessarily repetitive chart music off of the walls, the screeches and yells, the hey girls and uh boys, the melody-less mediocrity, driving what is left of her out of live and lifeless aural memory.
There is a big-screen TV now where the old mahogany piano used to stand.
Daily Prompt: Unexpected