I woke up. I don’t know where, but it sure wasn’t my bed.
I woke up in this huge expanseness. It was a cream whiteness which spread infinitely all around me. The only limit to the infinity was the ground I was standing on. Up above, it was a multitude of textured of white, as though they mixed in that space. The plethora of textures could make it feel as though they were stars or clouds, but they weren’t.
All around me, the white and all of its textures were spread out. If I focused really hard, I could make out the silhouette of trees in the distance.
With all the whiteness around me, I couldn’t make out if it was night or day. I don’t know why it mattered, but it seemed like something imperative to think about. But on second thought, I don’t think it mattered, and I started walking.
I moved towards the tress, because it was different from the emptiness of the remaining three sides. It felt like the place for me to go. So I went.
The trees then began to fade into the whiteness. Their contours became more and more obtuse, going away into the nothingness. It didn’t matter they were going away. But soon I saw smoke going up into the space above. The greyness of the smoke wasn’t transient like everything else. It was thick and tangible. It broke the white’s supreme. It wasn’t going to go away like the trees.
I walked towards it, hoping to find a reddish orange fire fluttering fire somewhere. Hopefully as permanent as the smoke it produced.
In the distance, close to where the smoke was rising up from was a figure. Sharp, it cut through the whiteness with its physique. The figure sat hunched on a brown log, right in front of the fire, I think, because the smoke was coming right from in front of the figure.
The figure was slender, and sleek. It had a pony tail at the back of the head and was wearing a brown suede jacket.
It seemed familiar. I couldn’t however remember where it was from. Only if it stood up, I would’ve been able to guess where I knew it from. It seemed so familiar.
I must have started squinting my eyes hard and walking loudly. Because when the figure became big to my eyes, it suddenly straightened its back in attention. Then, it started to get up.
I stood there frozen. Frozen in curiosity. Every inch the figure rose, it became more and more familiar. It finally stood upright and I knew.
The figure turned around and even though I promised not to react, be completely non-reactive, a smile betrayed me.
The figure’s eyes went wide and it went into a state of surprise. In one fluid motion, the figure ran towards me and hugged me.
“Sonnnnnnn! It’s been so long.,” the figure said. The figure hadn’t lost her raspy, sweet voice. It hadn’t withered down one bit. The figure hugged me tightly. By my calculations, I should have been taller than the figure by about three inches. But I wasn’t. When the figure was hugging me, I realised I reached only to where I did ten years ago, the last time I hugged the figure. The embrace was warm. No matter how much I resisted, I was a small boy again. It made me hug her. It was involuntary. I felt safe and warm. I felt comfortable. I felt I had gained what was missing from my life since I was twelve.
The figure, is my mother.
She ended the embrace. She hadn’t aged a day since she had left. She looked exactly how I remembered her. As sleek and thin and pretty as she had always been.
I was too mesmerised by the moment I didn’t see her hand coming towards her cheek. She touched my cheek and wiped off the tears I didn’t know had come out. I let out a couple more tears. I closed my eyes to let them come out. I opened my eyes. Instead of having to raise my head a lot to look at her face, I only needed to raise it a little. Surprised, I looked at myself and saw the ground a bit farther away, little of its white showing colour. I looked around in wonder and saw some colour coming back. It was slight, but the line between the sky and the space had started to come back to life.
Then my eyes fell on my mother. She was still unchanged. The same smile, the same glow. Just like I remember it.
“Come on, let’s sit. There is so much we haven’t talked about.” The excitement in her voice was apparent. He was never the one to mince her words or emotions.
I was hesitant. I, I didn’t know if I wanted to. The resistance in me was slightly less, having flown out with my tears, but there was so much more that wouldn’t flow out with a few tears. There were some answers which I needed, some acquisitions yet to be placed on her.
She had turned around and taken a step but quickly realised I hadn’t taken budged. In one swift motion, she turned around and looked at me. I shook my head. My eyes were solemn and I wasn’t the ever smiling, always agreeing with her boy anymore. She can’t expect me to listen to her after how she went away; without so much as a word or warning.
She walked towards me. I was still tiny when compared to her. She had a knowing smile. It wasn’t the first time I was like this. I had thrown tantrums and said a lot of no’s a number of times and whined more than an infant, but she would always get me back.
She bent down on her knees and flicked my hair to one side, like she always did. Her smile said what she always said after. “My handsome young boy.” I would always squirm a little, but I never let it down easy.
But I shook my head. I told her nor this time. Not again. She motioned with her hand. “What happened?” She motioned in her usual way, with her smile and body language sweet enough to melt you down.
I resisted, looked away. I knew I couldn’t hold on any longer. I saw into the infinite with misty eyes. I felt the warm tears rolling down my cheeks. Then her hand wiping it away. Then she held my head between her hands and turned me towards her face. She shook her head no and wiped away all the tears.
She would do it, telling me it’s okay. Okay to cry. Whatever bad happened will be okay in some time. And before long, it wouldn’t even matter.
She did it. She did it again. Then she continued making these funny faces. Whenever I would get upset or angry or unresponsive, she would make these funny faces. She would blow up her cheeks and then pop them. Then she should fill them up again. At times she would take my tiny little hands and hit her cheeks lightly with it. She would then slowly release the air one by one.
That would always cheer me up. It did again. I started laughing through my misty eyes. I could hear my own laughter filling the infinite with colour. Through the misty eyes, I saw some colour seeping into the whiteness. The trees which were fading away into the nothingness started to come back. I could see tiny hints of brown springing to life in the trees. The ground was mostly white, with some patches of green coming to life. The sky was assuming a faint vivid blue, as though the sun was about to set in some time.
I looked down at my mother, she was farther down an inch or two since before. I looked beyond her at the fire. What had formerly been just a sire and four brown logs in a square floating somewhere on a white landscape, seemed to have found ground.
She knew I had started laughing and she had pulled me out of my tantrum. Again, she got up and went. I followed. She sat on the wooden log she originally sat on. I sat hunched on the one next to her.
She pulled out two sticks from the ground. They both had white as the expanse marshmallows at their ends. She handed one to me and we both went forward to heat them over the fire.
There was a time when I was young when we us to camp a lot. All of us. Me, my mother, my father and my sister. But I would huddle with my mother and my sister with my father. We would warm marshmallows, bring out our packaged food, looking at the star filled sky where the smoke dispersed into. We wouldn’t ever bring clocks. That way, we never knew what time it was or how long it had been, into the dark sky started becoming blue.
“It’s been long since we did this.” I said with a smile.
She looked over at me and spoke with a smile. “This is the first time you’ve spoken since you’ve come here.”
Her words hit me. And I realised she was right. These were the first words I had spoken since I’d woken up. First words I’d spoken to my mother in over ten years. And they were perfect.
“Yeah,” I said. My smile grew even larger. I heard my voice and it was like when i as smaller. A little boy. A little boy who was growing up. A lot of the bitterness and ager in m had faded. I saw the colours in the expanse getting stronger, more vivid. The tree trunk brown had become more permanent. The grass around us started to dance in the wind. It was no longer transient. It was closer to opaque now. The smoke now flew into a better defined sky. A faint dark blue, which would soon become black. There started to be little lights here and there, slightly illuminating with their blurry, transient lights. They seemed to lie somewhere above, a place unfathomable beyond the infinite sky, which was still merged with outer space.
I came closer to the fire by about two inches. I realised this was the longest I was going to be. My hands and feet were as big as I remembered them. My chest was as large as when I fell asleep. It was my face that would change anymore now.
I rose my back about two inches, to compensate for my increase in size.
I looked at my mother. She was still looking at me, smiling.
“You’ve grown into a fine young man.”
“Yeah.” My voice had grown deeper. We sat there, looking at each other, smiling. As though we were both at ease with each other, nothing much more to say to each other. Our silence was interspersed by the crackling sounds of the marshmallow being cooked.
Then it gnawed on me. Even though I was happy, ecstatic at seeing her again, there was still so much I needed to know.
“Where did you go?” I asked her. I was still smiling, but there was sadness underneath. At being left alone without as much as a warning. Or a clue as to where she went and how to find her.
Her smile turned frown and she tilted her head to one side. She looked at me, at the sadness forming on my face. On the edge of my lips, my cheeks, my eyes. She saw it and thought of a second. Then she smiled again, and I knew she was going to speak.
That was her classic. Whenever faced with a situation, she would tilt her head to one side and think. She would do that because she said it would help her get a different perspective on things. Look at the things she missed. I never tried it after she went away. I stayed away from everything which reminded me of her.
“I came here,” she said with her usual smile.
I couldn’t fathom why she would come here. To this barren textured whiteness. To this desolate place where there was nothing.
“Why, why did you come here?” It’s barren. It’s empty. It’s fully white with fading colours. Why would anyone come here?”
She let out a laugh. She always did when I got confused and asked her questions in my fast, scared voice.
“Who said this place is empty or barren?” She spoke through laughter. “It’s such a beautiful place. It’s so lush and green all around. Look, over there,” she pointed with her finger. “Look at that beautifully raging forest of tress. Look at all those green leaves and sparse flowers. Look there,” she pointed to another place. “That beautiful blue stream flowing. The banks with that green. I strained my eyes hard, but I couldn’t see what she was talking about. “And then, there are the birds, flying high into the sky, their shadows cast on the ground. And at times, when it’s really auspicious, the fireflies come alive and brighten everything up. This place is only as full as you.”
I still couldn’t understand what she was talking about. I thought she was lying. I tilted my head to one side and saw her eyes and her smile.
Her smile was full. Even from a different angle, it was just as real. And her eyes. There was a particular gleam in her eyes. I hadn’t caught it when I looked straight at her. My mouth opened when I remembered. She had that glint in her eyes when she cradles me in her arms as an infant. When I would lie down on her knees. That gleam had always been there, just now when you looked straight at her.
I smiled, a crooked tilted smile. Her smile grew even wider, if such a thing was possible. I looked on at her smile, mesmerized by it and by how long ago it was when I last saw it. A sound then emerged in the middle of my reverie.
It was the sound of a gushing stream. The sounds of water falling from one place to another, overflowing the banks, cutting through the rocks embedded in its way. I closed my eyes and let the fusion of sounds in. That smile and the flowing water. Slowly, I could imagine what my mother was talking about.
Above the water, birds started chirping, though they were transient, like the trees in the beginning.
The fresh cool air rose from the steam. I could feel it. It hit my arms, my legs, which were barely covered by the pants which had become too small for me now, my chest, and my nose. The coolness entered my body and settled in, expunging out the heat of sadness from my body.
I felt a way I hadn’t in a long time. I opened my eyes. The colours had grown fuller, more vivid. The tree trunks had become an opaque brown. I could see the leaves fluttering with their contours. The green grass felt softer and more cutting. The fire had finally reached onto solid ground. The stars shone their brightness down on us, but the sky was still incomplete. I could see now why she chose this place to wait.
“I can see now.” I told her
“See what?” She was a bit confused. This was a first. Usually it was me on the confused end.
“Whatever you described about this place. Why you came here to wait.”
Both of us turned to look at the fire, sitting in comfortable silence.
But I still felt unease in the moments in between. Whenever I caught up a look at the newly coloured expanse, the gnawing feeling came back. As though something was amiss. Whenever I looked up at my mother, all things which seemed amiss went away. Her smile, her face made it all go away.
This is the first time I’m looking at her, and the thing amiss have stayed. For the first time, I’m looking up at her and feeling there is something amiss with her as well. In the moments she thought I wasn’t looking, I felt it in her.
My smile faded every few seconds as the thoughts came. But as soon as I realised, I rapidly shook my head and brought the smile back. I didn’t want her to catch me without a smile. I wanted her to see me happy. That nothing was amiss.
“I’m sorry I hurt you son,” she said all of a sudden. I was caught off guard as I heard her say those words.
I jolted upright and looked at her face. She still had her ever present smile, but mixed with pensiveness and regret. I couldn’t remember anytime when she had anything other than a smile on her face.
I was too caught up in my thoughts to respond to her.
“I didn’t meant to. I never did. It just happened. And I never got a chance to tell you I’ll be coming here, or that I’ll be waiting for you. Or meet you one last time. I’ve hurt you so much.”
I was shocked. I’d have never thought I would see my mother like this. “No, no. It, it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do it on purpose. If you had any other way, you would’ve taken it. I know.”
I could see her smile shining through her pensiveness and regret. And I realised my voice had no heaviness, or hate or pain. It was my voice, like it used to be. The thing which was amiss seemed to dissolve away by her words.
She got up and sat next to me. She placed a hand on my cheek. I felt her touch. It had been so long. I was transported back to when I was twelve, the last time I felt such a way. The warm, homely touch. I smiled as I let the feel of it travel through my body. I smiled. Seeing me smile, she got back hers, just like it always has been. I tilted my head towards her hand to get the maximum area of her warmth. At that angle, the smile was even more different; enough to light up even the darkest of places in your heart.
“You’ve grown up so much son,” she said. Her voice was a whole gram sweeter.
“I finally did.” I smiled like the twelve year old me would have. Like an idiot, a smile covering my entire face. Happiness covering my remaining body.
She hugged me sideways and I hugged her back. I knew this could quite possible be my last hug with her. So I closed my eyes and I cherished it.
It was a long, hard, warm hug. We left our embrace and looked at each other, both smiling. My eyes went to the fire after, which had started to burn out.
She took in a deep breath. “I think our time here is about to end,” she signalled to the fire.
“I guess so,” I said heavily at the prospect.
She got up from the log and followed suit. She moved to her previous log and picked up the stick with the marshmallow. She took out the marshmallow. I did so too. We looked at each other. Like before, we smiled and ate them whole, in one big gulp.
The fire was starting to become a tiny ember now, barely able to keep alive. The sky had almost taken over. Except it was not entirely black now. Dawn had started to break. Time to finish our camp and get some sleep. The sky didn’t feel incomplete now. I looked at her and we both nodded our heads. It was time to leave. She started towards the infinite on the side from where I came. Little by little, as she kept on going farther, the entire expanseness lit up.
I looked around in surprise. Tens of millions of fireflies, came to life just as the last ember went to wait in another expanse for somebody else. The fireflies were everywhere. In between the tress, above the grass, over the water, in the infinite space everywhere. They were dancing in groups, shining amongst the stars.
I saw everything else in the expanse. The little patches of brown in between the grasses of green. The cuts in the tree trunks. The branches bereft of trees. The stream which occasionally overflowed the banks. The mud which was made around it. And then I saw my mother, lit up in the golden and white light, the way she has been throughout my life, and will always be.
It’s the New Year!!!!! And for the New Year, I had reserved probably my best post!
This is the most deep, metaphorical and emotional I’ve gotten in any writing, prose, poem or novel in the past year. The fun I had while writing this, and the satisfaction after typing it and pasting it here is indescribable. Never before have I ever tried to use so many story elements all at once. But looking at this finished piece now, it’s paid off big time.
Hope everybody loves it!