Friday, May 15, 2009

"A Subtle Good-Bye," by Lalitha Jonnal


Then I stopped in front of him for a moment, not being able to say anything. He sat on the cement bench that circled a shade tree, pondering, sitting in a lotus position, eyes gazing far away. Most of the people around me were teary eyed and sniffling away their sadness as the farewell music piped through all the loudspeakers in the yard. I looked up at his face…into his eyes…

"I will be back Babu," I said softly as my sorrow shut my voice. Tears that were hiding behind my eyes poured out, drop by drop. A brief nod was his only answer…no tears or words. But as I turned away, the corner of my eye caught his wink, just a glimpse. That was our secret for many years when I was growing up. Whenever I expressed fear or sadness, he would wave his palm over my head in a wide arc and murmur, "Shoo, shoo, go away. Never come another day."

The music made everyone cry…the song was about saying goodbye to a daughter as she went to her mother-in-law's house for the first time after her wedding. My husband stood by my side…part of him feeling the melancholy and the other part feeling angry about my crying, maybe. So many complicated emotions held in that moment. My mother stood aside…happily smiling that finally I got married, but crying too.

Father's nod had so many meanings, I understand today. He had to give his oldest daughter away and send her to a place ten thousand miles away, with a stranger. Somewhere in his heart he knew this stranger would take good care of his first-born.

I listened to this assurance and trusted him, to be taken away to America not knowing anything about America or my new husband!

Father's nod…such a subtle good bye! He knew that we maybe distancing ourselves but he would always be close to me. Maybe in his silence, many promises were held. Today after thirty years of that goodbye and twenty years of his passing away, I recognize his promises in hundreds of moments. "I will always be with you"… "Think of me when you pray and I will be there giving you answers" … "I will explain the universe to you so you will feel close to god"… "Tell me what makes you sad…I will help to ease it away"

I have physically felt his comforting assurance around me. His spiritual, philosophical words ring in my ears and bring a knowing smile in my heart. Sometimes I hear him laugh at my childish thoughts.

Now I understand why his goodbye was very subtle and simple…he never intended to say it…he could not say it… his love for me was too much for that…he was always going to be close to me. Yes, that was definitely a wink.

A Year Later

Kris suggested that we go celebrate...drink, dine and dance. I was new to all of this...never drank or ever danced. As tears filled my eyes with hesitation, he hugged me and whispered, "Sweet heart, this is a new country...a new way of life." A gentle man's gentle plea. So, I picked a red saree with little black flowers. My husband 'ooh'ed and sat on the bed to watch me dress, but I walked into our huge closet as he laughed at my shyness.

I came out a few minutes later and stood in front of him.

"You are gorgeous." His eyes smiled. I looked away shyly, avoiding the sweet desire in his eyes. He looked dapper in his suit.

We drove to the restaurant and sat at a corner table, overlooking the pond.

He ordered a bottle of champagne, winking at me. We ordered our favorite South Indian Thalis. Spicy aromas wafted from many small steel bowls filled with different dishes, around a mound of fragrant basmati rice. We ate it all.

Then we shared a bowl of mango ice cream, licking our spoons and smacking our lips. After paying the bill, he led me onto the back porch and we ended up at the edge of the pond. Dropping his jacket on a small rock, he whispered, "This is where we dance, away from the others, just you and me."

I was shy, but filled with a love so sweet! Taking my hands, he twirled me around, eyes roving with desire. I just followed him. After a while, we stood together, holding hands in silent joy.

He removed his shirt and then the T-shirt underneath. Hugging me close, he whispered, "traditions' and pulled the T-shirt down over my head. Taking out the half-done bottle of Champagne from his pants' pocket, he took a few sips and handed it to my lips. I drank. Then he took my hands and twirled me around as giggles burst out into the night from a light and happy face.

We were exhausted and giddy. He removed his shirt, and holding it high above his head, he threw it into the air. I took my T-shirt off too. A giggle escaped as I lifted it up and threw it as far as I could.

He lifted my chin. I thought, for a kiss. He lifted it higher and pointed to the bright full moon, showering us in cool splendor. As I turned back to his face, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the moon wink. Yes, I am sure of it. Just like a year ago, my father winked, telling me to be happy with a good man. How did the moon know that? Probably my father told the moon ten hours ago, that it was our special night and to look out for us.

That special wink! Could I ever forget?

A Few Years Later

When she thought no one was looking, little Maya softly toddled to my open purse and emptied it all over the kitchen floor. She took out the lipstick and marked all over her face… a hit and miss game at her lips. Vermilion squiggles and dots galore, she grabbed the soft Kleenex, wiped it around. Her face now looked like the sunset in sky. She dipped her fingers deeper into the purse and pulled them up high,

brought up nickels, pennies and dimes as her pudgy little fingers counted again and again, "One," "Two'", "Seven'," "Ten," and a jubilant "Hundred."

Pride, fear, joy and hope could be seen, possibly some dreams of turning the candy machine.

Picking up my key bunch, she ran to the door and jiggled and jaggled, cheeks puffed with such will. The door did not budge, so she came back to her till and picked a few hair things and played with her curls.

Then she opened my compact and looked at her face and the stranger in there scared the hell out of her. Tiny screams filled the air and tears ran down her cheeks.

"Mommee…" She ran blindly all over the house. I could not stop laughing and hearing my voice, my giggles and "Ohs," she ran to the curtain behind which I was hiding. I picked her up, hugging and kissing, her makeup and all.
We sat next to the window, rocking till her screams subsided and slowly smiles ran across her chubby mouth. I did not notice when she had fallen asleep and I too lazily leaned on the armrest of the couch and joined in her dreams.

The door opened and woke me up. My husband stood in front of us, looking down with much love and joy in his eyes. As a loud laugh escaped his lips, I put my finger on mine and hushed him. He bent over and kissed my lips and asked, "Mmm, which one is this?"

I pointed to my purse, where different lipsticks lay open with their creamy insides all flattened. Then I nudged my daughter's face that was hiding in my heart, toward him. He sat down and brought his arms around us.

Time passed and my daughter wiggled in my lap. Feeling daddy's hairy arms around her, she leaned over and gave a big smooch on his lips. He winked, the new thing he had been teaching her, to tease me together. She winked back with glee. I ran my tongue over my lips and 'Oooh'…the taste of all that lipstick…how could I ever forget?

And the winks! They remind me of the day I left my dad's home… of the night I threw away my shirt and danced in the moonlight as the moon winked back at me with the blessings of my father. And today's winks, of my daughter and my husband…they continue to remind me of the love that has filled my life.

Twenty Years Later

My little baby is all grown up and in her white wedding sari. My husband and I stand in front of her and my new son-in-law…ready for the big hug of the biggest moment in her life. She is happy and brimming with laughter. But her eyes are misted. The old mental image of the young me leaving my father's house, as he seat at the foot of the big banyan tree…came back to me, swift and sad.

What is it that makes this universe continue the way it does? Men and women…coming together…bringing more souls onto this earth to do the same things that they have done! I am happy too…but only for her. My sorrow is for myself…from now on, our conversations will not be only about the three of us that have been a family for the last two decades. Her husband will be the center of her heart, soul, conversations…everything. Just like it should be…for eternal love to grow into the strongest tie that will keep them together till the end of life.

I look at my husband and I see in his eyes, the pain of saying good-bye. I hold his hand tight, enough to hurt, to forget the pain.

He squeezes it back and his eyes tell me something more. They tell me that he now understands what my father felt for me…finally…his 'Aha moment'. It is funny how, all the lecturing I might have tried to do, to make him understand that I was not sad to go with him…that it was only for leaving my family of decades till then…was never enough. Only this moment was. I should have just waited. But I did not think of this till now. We all imagine only the sweet moments we all want to experience. Who really imagines the sorrows of life?

The newly weds stand in front of us and bend down to touch our feet for a blessing. The ancient Indian custom is filled with respect and love from both the giver and receiver of a blessing. My son-in-law is not from India, but somewhere deep inside in him, there is a reverence for all that is good and beautiful in this universe. He surrendered to that and to a happy future that would bring more blessings…of love, peace and joy.

My husband laughed through his tears as he picked them both up and hugged them together.

"Group hug, mom," my daughter gathered me inside…and winked. I think she remembered her grandfather doing it. I think his love has flowed into my heart once again.

I also felt that he conveyed one more message. No more winks from him. Now that has been passed on to my husband…he will be the one taking care of all my loving needs. Now that I have grown up, with a grown up daughter of my own, my husband will wink and that will mean his total and eternal love for me.

Aah…life is like this.

It passes as fast as a wink, but it brings fun and laughter.

Now, there is nothing to feel sad, I realized. She has brought all of us together, rather than walking away from the two who gave her life and helped her become the wonderful human being that she has.

3 comments:

Beryl Hall Bray said...

My heart went on a journey, I felt love, wonder, sadness, joy. . .and a little wiser. ;-D
This story makes me appreciate what our gift of writing can do for someone, making a difference in a few minutes.
Thank you,

LalithaJonnal said...

Hello Beryl,

This is a surprise! I was watching TV and heard someone say that he has been googling his name so many times...and suddenly I googled mine. And saw your sweet comment. Thank you. Writing our hearts out...brings sweetness from the readers.
So, your site...can I join? Send things like stories or poems?
Chapters of novels that I have either finished or working on?
Would love to hear from you,

Lalitha

LalithaJonnal said...

Hello Beryl,
What a surprise! After winning the competition, I was happy but did not look at this site. I googled myself and saw this a few minutes ago. Thank you for such a sweet comment. How do you help authors? can I send more of my writing samples?
Please let me know. Thanks again.
Lalitha