Bama sat by the window, watching her daily TV soap. It was another hot Sunday afternoon, a day when the family was at home. Unwinding from the stressful week that passed, planning for another one ahead.
Sundar walked in slowly, and sat on the unmade bed. ‘Yenna?’ (‘what) She looked enquiringly. From outside the four walls of their room, came the sound of cupboards being emptied, of sofas being dusted, and the house being hoovered. Bama had heard the noise all afternoon, and was eager to know what was going on.
‘Spring-cleaning’, Sundar said, as if answering her unspoken question. Fifty years of marriage had made them almost telepathic!
‘Oh…’, she nodded.
‘Yes…cleaning. You know, throwing away the old stuff, rubbish…’
‘Goooood..’ she started, but before she could complete, Sundar cradled his head in his hands and wept softly.
Bama raised her hand to caress him, but it failed her and slipped to the side of her leg, just around the brakes of her wheel-chair. Her eyes began to water too.
After a while, Sundar looked up tiredly at her. She had rarely seen him like this. He had always been her rock of Gibraltar. Bama looked anxiously at her husband. He finally spoke, through the almost-deafening noise of the vaccuum-cleaner, ‘I found the old murukku-maker. You know, the one over which you fought with my mother’ Bama smiled. He never lost a chance to take a dig at her. ‘It was thrown with the junk’.
‘Hmm..tch..Ok’ she managed to reply.
‘I miss your cooking, you know. And your presence. I mean, outside these four walls.’
Bama looked at the patterned floor, and smiled sadly. Three years of an extreme Parkinsons condition had left her confined to this room. The wheelchair was a recent addition, but didn’t quite help her.
Sundar raised her hands to his face, and kissed them gently. ‘You were always the stronger one. You know, never falling ill. Always bustling about. Dominating everything…everyone…’, he cunningly added. Bama raised her eyebrows. She couldn’t help smiling. Though, she loved the way he made her smile. And he loved the way she smiled.
‘Weeee…weee cleeeaaaan?’ she suddenly asked, her eyes shone with their familiar sparkle. He looked at her questioningly. She motioned to their old wooden cupboard. He walked towards it, and it yielded to his touch, with a noisy creak. There were small, neat piles of faded clothes. He threw his hands up in the air, and exclaimed ‘Throw them all!!’ ‘Noo’… Bama shook her head sideways. ‘Womenkind!’, he huffed.
Sundar placed the draws on the bed, where Bama could see them clearly. As they sifted through, it brought back a flood of memories. Their wedding saree. A maroon silk one, the thin gold zari almost faded into oblivion. Bama and Sundar giggled as they remembered the crowded hall in which their entire family had slept on the night of their wedding. Brothers, sisters, neices and nephews sprawled across the room. The newly-weds had enclasped tingling fingers, eagerly awaiting the honeymoon they had planned to their uncle’s place in Bombay!
From an old biscuit-tin popped a few tiny small-sized clothes. ‘Shyam’s baba-suit’, Sundar murmered. Bama blinked away a few rebellious tears and smiled. ‘Time flies’, he added. From a tattered cream-and-gold embroidered bag dropped a handful of little wooden toys. A faded blue train. A chipped yellow saucer. And various other symbols of a vibrant past that tinkled with the sound of happy children and saved up pennies.
Hidden beneath the layers was a small black book. Sundar opened the book and lovingly traced his fingers over the pages. There, was a photo of a happily married couple. Young and healthy. A modest white-washed house in the background. Two robust little children hanging by their arms. An infectious sparkle in the woman’s eyes. A grim rock-like expression in the man’s. Stolidly taking on the world, each day, as it came by.
Time stood still, as Bama and Sundar relished their past.
Until there came a knock on the door. Shyam walked in, carrying a bundle of newspapers. ‘Do you have any junk that I can throw?’
Sundar shook his head and looked towards Bama for her assent, as he always did.
‘We really need the space Amma, for Adi’s stuff’, Shyam added persuasively.
Bama nodded, and pointed to the pile of clothes. Sundar quickly hid the photo-album under a pillow.
‘Woaoow…sure you don’t want these?’, asked Shyam.
‘Its OK. Keep the toys if you like. For your baby!’, answered Sundar.
‘Huh!’ Shyam smiled, all the time, staring at his parents. They looked so different.
As Shyam walked out, Sundar gently touched Bama’s cheek, and said, ‘Let’s go for a walk, darling’. Bama nodded happily. Sundar wheeled her out of the house.
Shyam watched as they walked away into the setting sun. And suddenly realised, ‘They look happy today…well, almost young!’