There was a time when I was a mother to two young children, one aged three years and the other five months. The older, the boy; frisky, energetic, chatty, with perpetual question marks in his eyes. The girl; soft, delicate like a pile of freshly whipped cream, wooing strangers with her solemn sweetness. My boy was on the move all the time. My girl at times so still I had to graze my finger under her nostrils to ensure the steam.
The two made up my day, my night, my love, my dreams, my fatigue, my panda-eyes and my complete universe. My only universe.
Despite the apparent breathless pace of life in those years, there was an idyllic aura surrounding my days in many senses than one. I could and would snatch a read (Ayn Rand, Ashapurna Devi and then Colleen McCullough besotted my mind for a while) from time to time, participate, with gusto, in a local Moms and Tots group and indulge in my singular, most exciting passion of making cute baby clothes on an Ovaltine colour Singer-Merritt sewing machine borrowed from my mother. Yes, it was the same recalcitrant machine I might have told you about in a prior blog post.
The train of life chugged along. As I gazed out the window at the scenes passing by, I felt contentment, happiness. There were, of course, times
when the train rumbles
turned into groans and grumbles;
the usual things that unsettle a mother’s life from time to time. A coughing child, a I-don’t want-to-eat child, a bruised-knee child, a bad-mood child, a runaway child. They faded in and out and became part of the weft and warp of the entire panorama.
Now, the part-time lady who helped me with the dishes had a son called Subhas who, at the time, sat at that impossible age of twelve; careless, moody and completely intractable. In the height of summer, when he didn’t have to play truant from school, he skipped in with his mother, his shorts pockets full of kaleidoscopic marbles with which he would proceed to regale my young man, Tintin, named after the character of the comic book fame whom he resembled because of a tuft of disobedient hair on his head. For a while Subhas, with his coarse humanity and superb air of insouciance rose to the ranks of Captain Haddock, devising antics that made Tintin squeal with the high delight of a three-year-old. A child at play with another. One older and wielding a great deal of clout with the tenor of an illusionist. The other, with eyes like saucers, trusting, adoring, fanciful and completely rapt in the illusionist’s spell.
One afternoon, when the four-o’-clock sun had not quite begun its descent over the treetops, I readied my Tintin. Wiping down his sticky body, I powdered it well, combed down his unruly hair, buckled his sandals and asked Subhas, my young helper to wait with him in the stroller just outside while I dressed and readied the baby. “Wait just at the doorstep” was my clear, unambiguous instruction. “Wait just at the doorstep”. Subhas nodded gravely. My little guy smiled up at me. I turned inside.
With an unease I always felt when removed from the babies, I hastened through my chores and within minutes stepped outside to an eerily empty street. No Subhas, no stroller and of course no child. Instantly my heart sank and landed with a deafening thud on the ocean floor of my dread. Thwack!
Unbidden, terror bubbles began to rise from the very pit of my stomach. A huge stillness had swallowed up the entire enclave of condominiums and left an indifferent, orange sunshine in its place. The sunshine, stark and naked, glinted off the grass blades making them look psychedelically greener and unreal. Not a soul was in sight. The blocks of flats all around looked like they were ghost-inhabited. No housewife came out on a balcony to pluck the sun-dried laundry. Not a dog barked, not a cat mewed. Only the apathetic sunshine blazed as witness to my unfolding horror.
Not too long ago I was at the pediatrician’s for the children’s shots where, while waiting, I had picked up a magazine and read an article on a strange belief or superstition where construction workers would hunt for several human heads to place beneath the foundation of a modern structure, like a bridge being erected, in the belief that such an action would lend the edifice greater durability. Their targets were mostly children as they are easier to lure and offer the least resistance. The memory of the article rose in my mind darkly like an ominous monsoon cloud obliterating every sensible thought, and try as hard as possible, I could not come up with the country where such a practice occurred, was it Indonesia, India, Iceland? Nor could I think if I had read or heard about any new local construction that was underway. One thing I was sure about was that I had to start the search for my child as soon as I could. How far could the kidnappers have gone within the short minutes I was inside? How exactly do kidnappers ‘nap’ kids? Imagine, they napped two kids at one go. I shivered under the sun.
My bewildered mind could not fathom which way to start. Should I go right towards the roundabout, the bus terminal, and hopefully people? Or, should I go left, deeper into the housing enclave? Without wasting too much time on directional semantics I turned and ran left clutching my perplexed baby girl close to my heart. I felt somehow reduced, truncated as if a limb, which was there a second ago, had been lopped off and I could not endure the searing pain. I was suddenly one baby short, my lap half filled. One less cheek to kiss, one less body to hug, one laughter less. One love less. One whole joy and life less. Tears streamed down my face, blinding me so that the sunshine seemed grey and stone-washed.
I ran and ran and ran. And, all the while, there was my terror, on a bicycle, just behind me pedalling furiously and my heart thud-thudding in my ears like a crazy beast. Just when I thought I could no longer do this alone, I had to get help, two men, youth really, ambled into my line of vision. They gaped at me as if I were a lost planet, dislodged from my natural orbit, skittering around for a return to sanity and equilibrium. Haltingly, I asked them if they had seen a baby and another young child. One of them said, yes, he had seen a small child in a pram but could not recall who was pushing it. It was a few minutes ago and the pair was headed towards the bogs that surrounded the urban area.
I now had something to work with. Some direction, some clue. Trembling, I turned the next block and immediately, in the far distance, against the horizon refracted by my tears, I saw the diminutive figure of Subhas rapidly disappearing into the sunlight. I summoned all the power that I could into my lungs and screamed “Subhaaaaaaaaaaaaaas”.
At first, it seemed he had not heard me. He kept racing ahead pushing the pram flippantly, childishly and at a ridiculous speed. I kept screaming his name. Finally, my frenzied cries halted Subhas in his tracks. He stopped and turned, wheeling the pram around, the entire pantomime a dark silhouette against the scintillating blueness. My eyes dropped into the contents of the pram.
Too gloomy, too against-the-light, too unclear. I couldn’t tell if it held my precious bundle.
I flew forward, my mind in the clutch of an excruciating confusion.
There was my boy, cool like the proverbial cucumber, gazing up at me, unperturbed by my enormous agitation, my tears. He blinked his deep, dark, baby eyes, a little watery from the stinging as his pusher raced into the wind, his cheeks rosy, his eyelashes curled up against the onslaught of the breeze. That he was still unscathed, travelling at such high speed, unbelted, was a sure sign to me that his guardian angel had not taken the day off.
I deposited my baby girl, who was a sheer victim of circumstances, on the sidewalk grass and scooped up my boy into my arms. He hung back in the circle of my embrace and inspected my face with solemn curiosity. In his infant heart he sensed something was not right with his mother. Perplexed, he placed his arms around my neck, puckered his tender lips and planted a warm, sweet kiss on my cheek.
My world was whole again. Everything that was snatched away minutes ago, was returned to me.
I glared at Subhas. Looking at me he must have got the drift of what he had subjected me to. I looked so utterly gross, so dishevelled, so insane. He looked duly chastened though, I doubt, he ever clearly understood the full impact of his action. I merely asked him, “You will never do this again, will you?” He nodded. Ruefully.
I made sure he didn’t.
I never let anyone fly into the sunshine with my babies ever again.