Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hands and Wrinkles

She walks into the front porch at a slow, yet even pace. Her eyes squint in the gorgeous sun. After decades of living midst the wet, green trees and paddy fields, she is oblivious to the Eden that surrounds her. She has tread the floors of this house for more than half a century. Mottled, old floors that creak when the rains are heavy. Her freckled cheeks part with a smile. Every line in her face is deeply etched into her skin and her feet are swollen and pale, but the glow that emanates from her eyes, lighter with age, hint of a youthfulness hidden within.

They hide secrets, too. Secrets her son and daughter have never heard. Secrets she kept from her husband. Secrets that have been made invisible by a strength she draws from some unknown source. As if a veil covers her feelings, displaying only a translucent hint of what lies behind. She is some sort of Athena, I think to myself as she walks towards me. Her gait shows no signs of strength, wobbly knees and a back that bends slightly. But as she her wrinkled arms wrap me into a hug, I get the impression that she will be able to protect me come what may.

She is not always gentle. She can make biting remarks that sting harder than a scorpion. She can rebuke me so that even a small error raises a considerable amount of guilt (especially when it comes to my not going to church). But she will also buy me a small bar of dairy milk when she comes to visit. She will also cook the most delicious meals I will ever have in my life. 

And she worries like a mother does. About everything. Least of all, her own health, which she meticulously tends to. She worries about the children, the grandchildren, the sisters and brothers. Amma. That word couldn't hold more meaning than when used to address her; because she fits that role as if she was born for it. Do we all eventually mould ourselves into that form? She is sentimental, too, I think. Because she keeps those old diaries to read through. She saves sweaters preserved from some bygone era. She gives me a gold bangle from her wrist as a coming-of-age gift.

And I see myself in her; that uncanny way that we bottle things up. The way we sift through old letters to find meanings lost in time. The way we care so much our hearts burst but we are too proud to ever admit it. It makes me wonder, almost obsessively, what she was like at my age. Was she vibrant and ebullient or quiet and reserved? In seventy years, a person can change so much. I wonder if the Amma I know is unrecognisable to her 20-year-old self. I wonder if she was as efficient and matter-of-fact as she is today, or was she impulsive and free? I wonder what kind of mother she would have been. And I sit for hours just dreaming up a life for her, because I dare not ask her.

Oh but when she laughs, it is as if my whole world just melts into nothing. I see that effervescent spirit of hers glint; just barely in sight. I want to hold her and never let go in those moments. It is as if all the heaviness she holds in her heart has, only for a few seconds, evaporated. As if all those stern words of advice she gives me can be thrown to the wind like paddy husk just so that we can share that tiny little joke together.

She is my inspiration.