Being Mom

Jessica is an award-winning writer, who has lived and worked in Mumbai, Dubai, Muscat and now Canada, where she is creative director at Dyversity Communications, a leading multicultural advertising agency in Toronto. Besides working at international ad agencies like McCann-Erickson and Y&R, she has also written for the Times of India, and was the editor of ‘Destination Oman’.  A B.A. Honours Graduate with a Masters in English Literature, Jessica’s short stories ‘Living Stillborn’ and ‘Being Mom’ have been published in Canadian anthologies ‘Canadian Voices’ (Vol 2) and ‘Indian Voices’ (Vol 1). Her novella ‘The Gulfie Wife’ won the ‘Montblanc/Emirates Woman Novella Writing Award’ in Dubai, and she has also been recognized at advertising award shows like the Effies, New York Festivals, Cresta, Summit, Namic, Abbies and CAG. A go-getter, Jessica’s passion for design has her writing and illustrating children’s stories, and her love for drawing won her a ‘Dancing Bird’ jewelry-designing finalist in Dubai. Her love for children also had her conducting ‘creative thinking’, ‘media literacy’, and ‘interactive storytelling’ sessions with her illustrations in three Toronto schools.

Jessica is an award-winning writer, who has lived and worked in Mumbai, Dubai, Muscat and now Canada, where she is creative director at Dyversity Communications, a leading multicultural advertising agency in Toronto.
Besides working at international ad agencies like McCann-Erickson and Y&R, she has also written for the Times of India, and was the editor of ‘Destination Oman’.
A B.A. Honours Graduate with a Masters in English Literature, Jessica’s short stories ‘Living Stillborn’ and ‘Being Mom’ have been published in Canadian anthologies ‘Canadian Voices’ (Vol 2) and ‘Indian Voices’ (Vol 1). Her novella ‘The Gulfie Wife’ won the ‘Montblanc/Emirates Woman Novella Writing Award’ in Dubai, and she has also been recognized at advertising award shows like the Effies, New York Festivals, Cresta, Summit, Namic, Abbies and CAG.
A go-getter, Jessica’s passion for design has her writing and illustrating children’s stories, and her love for drawing won her a ‘Dancing Bird’ jewelry-designing finalist in Dubai. Her love for children also had her conducting ‘creative thinking’, ‘media literacy’, and ‘interactive storytelling’ sessions with her illustrations in three Toronto schools.

By Jessica Borges
Illustrations:
Khadija Khadija

The clouds pursued the car down the dusty road. Aruna’s hands tightened on the wheel, the knuckles gleaming white. A trishul of lightening arched through the angry sky promising vengeance. As a deafening roar of thunder screamed down, her heart outraced the speeding car.
“Press the brakes… press the brakes,” she muttered to herself, as big celestial tears began hitting the car, the road, the trees. The rain came down even harder.
The car screeched in protest as she came to a halt at the side of the road. The noise outside was deafening. But she couldn’t hear it against the uproar of the world within.
As she sat with her head against the wheel taking big shuddering breaths, she calmed down. And then she heard it. The baby’s cry.
Raising a tear-drenched face she peered through the monsoon waterfall. And listened, hiccupping her sadness down. No cry.
Gripped by a terrible urgency she exited the car and raced towards where she thought the cry had come from.
Darkness was everywhere, embracing the ground, cascading from above… Aruna fought through it, listening hard. The cry came once again. Under the tree? Near the hedge? Besides that bush? No! No! No! A cry so weak it was more a sigh…. In the ashes from burnt firewood?
Aruna went towards it looking for the baby. Her glance skittered over half-burnt wood stumps, ash, leaves…. A wood stump moved feebly. She knelt down and lifted it up. Cold… but moving.
She tucked it under her chunni and dashed back to the car and shut the rain out. Turning on the light, she looked down at the bundle in her arms. Two black eyes stared back at her from a sooty face. Tired. Not frightened.
***
mother_love_“I’m tired of waiting up for you every night Preeti,” said Aruna.
“So don’t wait up then. I’ve told you a million times, I’m 18 years old. I can take care of myself. Just go sleep. I’m tired of seeing you there on the couch every time I get home.”
The last sentence ended on the slam of Preeti’s bedroom door.
Aruna sat back wearily on the couch. It was 2am and she had a big client presentation at 10.
She couldn’t help waiting up for Preeti. The worry was too much for her to bear. Scenes of her daughter lying unconscious on the road hit by a car, or a crazy rapist chasing her, or her getting accosted by druggies, these and more horrible scenarios kept playing in her mind. She couldn’t help it. A tear crept down her face. Why did the people in her life keep fighting her? The question hammered against her aching skull bringing with it the memories.
***
His walking stick slammed down on the floor. His words slammed into her soul. “You will marry Gaurav or you will leave this house.”
Aruna stood in front of her father not daring to look up. She had exhausted her bravado by coming into his study to express what she thought of the life partner chosen for her. Yes, Gaurav was wealthy, the only son of a landlord. Yes, he was handsome, tall and broad-shouldered. Yes, their stars matched perfectly. But how could she tie her life to a drunk and womanizer?
“Gaurav comes from a good family. It is a good match.” With that her father turned his back on her, with a finality that had her retreating and shutting his door on herself.
She went in search of her mother. And found her in her puja room in front of her gods. Her mother prayed all the time. She fasted three days a week. She showered the temples with donations. Sages from far and wide knew they would never be turned away from her door.
“What God wills, will happen Aruna. Don’t fight your father. Accept your fate.” With that her mother closed her eyes and shut out the world as she so frequently did, condemning Aruna to a life like her own.
She left her mother’s room, crying. Not with sadness, but with anger.
A cleansing anger that washed away her lethargy and self-pity. As she closed her eyes to blink away the mist, she slammed into what seemed like a hard wall. Two arms came around her to steady her, but left her more shaken.
Opening her eyes she looked into eyes she most wanted to see every day.
“Arjun,” she whispered.
“I am sorry Aruna, you were coming too fast,” he said, concern in his voice. “Are you OK? Why the tears?” And before she could stop herself, she was babbling out the whole story, punctuated by fresh sobs.
“I will not marry Gaurav. I will not throw my life away on that drunk…,” she came to a stop, breathless, panting. The anger had receded, leaving her strangely peaceful. A feeling of excitement swirled its way into her heart, staining her cheeks pink. His arms were still around her, though she was fully able to stand on her own. And this was what Gaurav saw when he chanced by with his cronies.
A moment of perfection clashed with a moment of malignancy. And life changed, as she knew it.
What followed was the worst week of her life. Her father slapped her for the first time ever. “You slut! Hugging your lover in the open. What of our family respect! You will be marrying Gaurav in five days. Thanks to your liaisons, the dowry has increased by Rs10 lakhs. Arjun is going to pay.”
She was locked in her room, helpless to warn Arjun. Her pleas that he was innocent fell on deaf ears. His house was burnt down. He vanished in the blaze, his body never found. His old mother homeless and brokenhearted, was declared mad with grief. She was locked up in the village mental asylum, screaming for her son.
***
The smells of burning from across the fields mingled with the music and laughter in Aruna’s house. The wedding preparations were on. Flowers bedecked the doors. Rangoli coloured the thresholds.
The mehendi ceremony was scheduled for the following day. Delicious aromas wafted through the house. Shimmering outfits were laid out for Aruna to wear. They remained untried.
Aruna was busy packing her suitcase with her everyday clothes, gathering her savings, and planning her freedom. The last thing she put in her purse was a bottle of potent rat poison. She tried not to think of the agonized bodies of the huge field rats that died from it. If her father caught up with her, she would ensure she would be free…
***
A piercing scream brought Aruna to the present. She lifted the kettle from the stove, and poured herself a hot cup of chai. Tea always calmed her.
Carrying her cup into her studio she sipped as she looked around. The eyes looked back at her from her paintings, some tired, some shy, some laughing, all unafraid. So different from hers as she had crept into her father’s room to take his car keys.
Her father was in the bathroom. But her mother was there, sitting in her old rocking chair. As she looked in her mother’s eyes, she knew they reflected the desperation in her own. Then her mother had picked up the keys and placed them into her daughter’s hands like a blessing.
How her hands had trembled as she turned the ignition. The roar of the car starting up had almost stopped her heart. And then she had sped from the house. Her suitcase of clothes nestled in the backseat. Wrapped up in a handkerchief was the money she had saved up from selling her paintings over the years.
“Don’t waste your time with this silly colouring. Learn to cook instead.” He would glare at her and then at her mother, whose fingers would move faster on her prayer beads.
***
She did not stop. Painting was her escape into a happy world. Where people smiled and loved and dreamed. She captured the fields and streams she had grown up with, and with a stroke of her brush brought them alive on her canvas. She peopled her world with characters that caught her interest. The sages who came to their doors with their matted hair and saffron clothes. The fisherman’s wife with her flashing eyes. The village girls at the well.
And there was one image that visited her, over and over, in the privacy of her mind, but she did not dare put it down on paper. Sunlight dancing from intelligent eyes. Broad shoulders perfect for ferrying children. A kind voice that could still any storm, especially the one that was raging through her heart that day. The village school teacher. Writer of poems. Arjun. The man of her dreams.
The sad reality was, most dreams die.
***
mother_love_1Preeti sat on her bed too shaken to cry. Why did she speak to her mother that way? Why did she take out the anger she felt against her friends, on someone who loved her so much?
She got up and paced the room. Turning she bumped against her desk sending a framed picture crashing to the floor. She picked it up and looked into the eyes of the man she loved. Tarun.
Tonight she would have to choose. Tarun or her mom. Her mom wanted her to get an education. Settle down in a career which would anchor her financially. What was so wrong with that?
What was wrong was it would leave no place for Tarun. Tarun who wanted her to see the world with him. They had plans to work their way around the places they visited. They would wait on tables, work odd jobs, anything to sustain them as they explored the cities they went to. So exciting.
You only live once, said Tarun, and there is a world to see.
Tonight Tarun had given her his ultimatum. He was setting off in two days. He had waited for her for two months. No more. She had to choose.
Mom would never agree to her going. She didn’t dare even ask.
Preeti hurriedly threw T-shirts and jeans into her haversack. Her toothbrush, hairbrush, lipstick followed. As the bag got bigger, so did the lump in her throat. And then her hand closed on the scrapbook in her top drawer. She opened the first page and did not try to stop the tear that fell on it. Through a haze of tears she read, Woman Saves Baby From Being Burnt Alive.
The newspaper was yellowed with age. Eighteen years old. The story it told was Preeti’s favourite bedtime story. The story of her birth into Aruna’s life.
Aruna had always claimed that finding the baby has saved her life too. It had given her life resolve, pushing her to make a life for them both.
No one had claimed the child and Aruna had adopted her as her own.
Working as a maid in a series of houses had ensured they had a roof over their heads and food to eat. And then she started painting again. She always felt the baby brought her luck. And as luck would have it, her paintings got noticed by an important chain of hotels. Now her name was known in art circles. She had a family she loved. A family of two.
Preeti shut the book and reached for the keys she had hidden in her back pocket. Her mother’s car keys. She zipped up the haversack and swung it over her shoulder. She put off her light and stepped into the dark corridor, tip-toed down the stairs and passed her mother’s work room. There was a light under the door. As Preeti hurried past on silent feet, her steps faltered.
Her hand reached out and opened the door a crack. Her eyes reached out for that last glimpse of her mother she would remember forever.
Aruna was asleep, tired out. Her head rested on her work table, near her empty tea-cup. The easel in front of her had a new painting on it, one Preeti hadn’t seen before. But then she had been out a lot of late, ever since she had met Tarun.
Her eyes took in the woman in the painting. Young, beautiful, herself. Herself asleep peacefully in her bed. Her face, rosy with sleep, smiling, like she was dreaming happy dreams. And instead of a blanket, draped across her were her mother’s arms. Aruna, holding her child, just as she held her baby all those years ago. Sooty, dirty, cold, but precious.
Preeti dropped her haversack and reached for her mother.
“Amma, come on, let’s get you to bed.”
© Jessica Borges

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