Living with my mother had never been easy. Barely dawn, Ma’s voice filtered through the door and somehow the pillow over my head. Pushing away the familiar boil of annoyance, I acknowledged that these two days would not be easy. The sound of her prayer bells rung across the house, almost mocking me as if to ask how I could dare to forget my life; my real life.
My mother had flown in late last night. The unearthly hour discouraging too much interaction, I felt accomplished as I made it to bed without her criticism. Something she saved for later that morning as I stepped out of my room. “It’s almost 6’o clock. Is this what I have taught you?”
I knew this drill. My mother and I had not switched to a fresh set of arguments since I turned 17. I looked back to last weekend, when I sat in front of the mirror, glass in hand sans my ritual whisky. “Nothing can drag you back there. That is not who you are.” I had made up my mind to not let her visit throw me off the tree house I made in my mind.
“Morning, Ma. Chai?” Confused, she stepped into the kitchen. “Will you be able to make it theek se?” I had been making Ma her tea since 1991, and she had asked me the same question every time. Chuckling, I made my way to the stove. “Do you want ginger in yours today?” I asked only to receive silence in response. Oddly, I often found peace in the monotony of making tea. Something about the process, almost muscle memory made it me feel as if the world had slowed down for a few minutes. As I poured the milk I planned how I could ensure this wasn’t an unpleasant weekend.
I poured two large cups with tea and prepared to face this nightmare. Making my way to the balcony where my mother sat, I grinned at the one thing my mother and I shared; our morning breakfast tea. I placed the tray on the table between our chairs and handed Ma her cup. Her first sip was chased by a grunt. “There is ginger in this. I didn’t say I wanted ginger.”
My mother never wanted ginger in her tea. My mother also never liked tea without ginger. “Did you like it?” I asked and was responded to with a short grunt, in true mom fashion. Our teas measured how long we had to catch up. Asking me about work, my friends and how many animals I was mothering in the neighbourhood, we were getting along well. But like most good moments, it was short lived.
“Have you met a good boy yet?” My mind rang sirens, warning me that my mothers infamous prodding had begun. I told her I was working towards a promotion and didn’t have the time for a distraction; a statement so practiced, it made me sick. My mother knew of my sexual orientation but chose to ignore it. It’s as if she thought if she ignored it, it wasn’t true.
Not wanting to begin my day with this, I told her to get dressed for what I had planned for today. I knew if I took her out, we would spend the little time we had together too distracted to argue with one another. Agreeing to get dressed and leave in two hours, we receded to our rooms.
As I pulled on my kurta over my wet head I wondered when I would stop looking for ways to win my mothers approval. Aware that this wasn’t a battle I was going to win today, I picked up my bag and called out for my mother to meet me at the car. Ma always took an extra 30 minutes after everyone had reached the car, not that I minded; it was nice to have some quiet before heading out to the busy streets. As she slid into the car many minutes later, she offered her approval of my appearance with a tight smile and a firm nod.
Driving through town our conversation revolved around directions and weather, small talk my mother had mastered. There was no stopping my mother once we reached the shops. She hated shopping by herself and wouldn’t dare ask her husband to take her. Several hours later we emerged from the mall, stuffing the car with bags that hardly fit; I knew it had been a successful day. Seven hours at the mall had given us plenty of conversation. Driving back, we stopped at a Natural’s ice cream and picked out our favourites. As we ate, we discussed my mother’s dinner plans and her flight details. She left early next morning, visiting only to see her friend later tonight. As we drove home, I felt relieved that we had made it through the day without a tiff.
When we reached home, I asked her to freshen up while I brought her bags up. An activity I usually wasn’t fond of but found myself appreciating today. I enjoyed testing to see how many bags I could hold in one go and wondered whether I’d have to make multiple trips. I walked up the stairs and enjoyed the burn coursing through my arms and legs. It took two trips to get all the bags and was panting by the time I set the last of them down on my mother’s bed.
I threw myself in front of the television set and waited for Ma to get dressed. My mind racing as I stared at the screen, I began thinking to myself how extraordinary a day it had been. We had spent the day together and were still talking to one another. I’d drop her to her friends house and grab dinner by myself. She had to be at the airport by 7 AM tomorrow which meant her trip was almost over.
Still lost in thought, I didn’t notice when my mother was ready and standing before me. She woke me from my daze with a light smack on my head. I looked up to find my mother scowling down at me. My mother was a beautiful woman with features I could never challenge. Standing before me, adorning a moss coloured saree, my mother looked so great, I felt compelled to take a picture. Walking to the car, I handed her the spare keys, so she could let herself in if need be. If there is anything I’ve learnt over the years is that my mother and her friends are more likely to have a good time together than most people my age.
As we drove through town I revelled in how well we had gotten along this weekend. Mere seconds later, I realised I may have spoken too soon. “So, Aparna…” my mother started, “You clearly don’t have anyone in your life abhi. I want you to meet this ladka but are you still doing that homo thing”
So close yet so far. We weren’t going to make it without a fight after all. Sighing I said, “Ma, I have told you before. I don’t want to meet any boys. That is not how I am.” I anticipated an argument about how it was unnatural, and she was ashamed, but what happened next caught me entirely off guard.
“Listen Aparna, I don’t want you to be alone. What will people say ki Kavita’s daughter will be a spinster through her life? Now you know I am okay with homosexuality, just not in my house. When will you listen to me?”
I could feel my anger bubbling inside me. I choked it down and said “Ma, I am no longer in your house. I am also still waiting for you to listen to me, to what I want.”
The air in the car felt stiff with tension till we reached my mothers destination. Turning to me, Ma broke the silence with daggers. “Look Aparna, I don’t want an unmarried daughter. I know you have this gay problem and I want you to be with someone who understands. Khanna uncle’s son has the same condition and is 36 like you! We want you to marry one another. What if marrying him makes you realise you were just confused? You two can help each other fix this problem. This way you will not be alone.”
Barely comprehending what I had just heard I answered. “Mom, this marriage proposal is not for me or Khanna uncle’s son. It is to make you feel better, not us. You have not accepted us and think we are sick for loving the way we do. This arrangement is so you can say I am married to a man and put all the rumours amongst your friends to rest. You hurt me, Ma. I wish you could understand instead of looking for others who could.”
Tears rolling down her face, my mother screamed, “Why are you doing this to me?”
“I think you should go to your dinner now. Please let yourself in, I will be asleep.”
Ma slid out of the car and slammed the door shut. Unsurprised, I drove away. I had anticipated every comment passed, every action, every movement my mother made. Ma hadn’t surprised me in years. Yet today, she broke my heart again.
I drove through the city feeling sick to my stomach. Repeating to myself “You know who you are. You know who you are. You know who…” as if it were a spell to make what happened go away.
I had learnt to accept my mother would never understand me but attempting an arrangement for their convenience was further than I every thought she would go.
Parking the car, I dragged myself home. My body felt heavy, the lead in my hands making it hard for me to open the door. I shut the door behind me and walked to my bed. Falling into the covers I cried into the cotton, praying for the dark to make this all seem far away.
I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I was woken by the sound of the door opening. 2:02 AM read the clock. I turned away from the red hue radiating from the clock and closed my eyes.
I woke the next morning to find my mother packed and ready to leave. Without speaking to one another, we drank our tea and stared out at the street. Drained of energy I decided against driving my mother to the airport. As a taxi pulled up to the house and I picked up Ma’s bags to put in the boot I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Aparna, I want you to respect my wishes. Think about the Khanna boy. I want you to know, if you say no to him, you also say no to me.”
“Bye Mom.” I say as I open the door for her to get in the car. As I watched the car pull away from me I felt a pit in my stomach. Like the car, our relation seemed further away with every moment.