It’s still dark outside. A violet shade made by the clouds and the 7 am sun.
Almost 7 am, actually – my alarm hasn’t sounded yet and as usual, I’m up two minutes short of it from the anxiety of having missed it. Some habits from the mid 20s haven’t left and one of them is what is restricting my movement, with his arm bent against my torso.
I’m smiling. Why am I smiling? This is silly.
I reach out for my phone, on the bedside table between books and a photo frame too dark to describe in this lighting and fumble to turn the alarm off before it rings and he moves and the arm’s gone. I’ve waited two decades for his retirement, too long to let this start to every morning slip away because a stupid phone rang. If it’s any better, my arm stretching away has led to him pulling me in closer and why am I being 25 again?
There’s a lick on my face. Don’t bark, I pray, don’t back and ruin this – and Cleo isn’t a trained mind-reader so she barks and he’s awake and muttering. The arm’s gone.
So am I. When a dog needs to pee, she needs to pee. Leash in hand, hair tamed and with a St Bernard leading the way, I head outside. It’s damp and cold and the overcast sky is making me smile. Cleo wants to play, but seeing me unmoved from my wooden stump she knows she’ll have to find her own occupation.
I in the meanwhile cannot distinguish if the bird on the wire is a Drongo or a Magpie. I move to make space.
“Racquet-tailed Drongo,” he says, handing me a toast. I take his glasses off his face instead and verify. Yes. But it’s flying away and I can hear a coppersmith and a lapwing at once. The toast is still being offered but I want the tea instead. There is no resistance. There is a breeze.
Cleo is gnawing at wood in the distance. I’m cursed with stupid dogs. Dogs that don’t run, chew on wood, make friends with strangers and wake me up instead of him when they know they were up to mischief that will get him to smack their face a little less softly. There is now a pair of lips on my ear and a smile on my face.
“I want some tea too.”
I hand him the mug, tuck my hair behind my ears (all that wincing when it’s interrupted interesting moments previously lets this be a conditioned move) and look for more birds. He spots the magpie and points it to me and I show him the drop of rain on my balled fist. Only Cleo moves and settles between our feet.
“Your father called,” says the magpie-spotter, holding his palm over the mug because watery tea is terrible. Cleo has trotted over to the shade of the house because she’s too heavy to run and is watching him rub his thumb on my neck. The shower grows heavier and my grey shirt is sticking to my collar bones. The lips are back at my ear and he is 29 again, we’re in every isolated place we could find again.
“’Nghyu,” is all I can manage.
We go inside the house and I call my father.
“I heard you were born today.”
“Hmm. Have a lot of food. You should learn to answer your own phone now. Your mother wants to talk to you. Manju, yeh le.”
She’s talking to me before 10.49 am?
“Your mother says she will call later. Bye.”
The rain is heavier now. You can call it rain now and not wonder if it was something else. Not a shower. I join him at the window and we look at water. He can smell the soil and I smell the bed on him. Fair exchange. The phone rings again and he reaches out to it.
No she’s here
I’m well I’m well
You girls should come up here sometimes, share my burden… I think that cancelled lunch for me
Here, talk to her.”
“Happy birthday buy me lunch.”
“Come home, I’ll cook you some.”
“No I don’t trust you.”
“I’m not spending on you.”
“Bye you’re useless.”
I hit him on the head with the phone for the chuckle and rub the spot when he winces. Before I know it my lips have reached his bald spot and his fingers are on my spine when I smell toast. I console myself that he frowned when I head to the stove and butter the breakfast.
The other two follow me.
The stone plates are piled and a Hemant Kumar song is playing between the whirring of the fan and the rain’s splatter against the roof. There is a child’s photo I’m looking at wondering if she woke up on time today and the face next to her, now 15 years older engrossed in a crossword, frowning with concentration.
I walk to the bedroom, and slump into the covers, ridding myself of all unnecessary clothing because at 55 you should have the liberty to do that.
Liberty to lie in bed, not have to pay taxes for silly meals. Liberty to stare at the ceiling and not have to submit documents. Liberty to have an all-grey all-blue room. Liberty to make your own language and unheard stories. Liberty to not tie up my hair and liberty to leave coffee cup stains even if I’m the only one they bother. At 55, liberties should be taken and taken without a second thought. I have a communist leader’s voice thinking this in my head and somewhere in the middle of this inspiring stream of thought my arms have raised themselves pointing at the fan. My ambitions get ahead of me and I find myself making gestures in the air like I used to do with my mother back at Ma’s home (the fickle concept of home.)
I’m restless now, my legs swing off the bed and I need to comb my hair. The greys have taken over and I can’t remember without thinking for a few seconds that involve pausing what I’m up to what I looked like with all black hair. At this point I thought I would be past those yearnings for youth but clearly, I’ve still got growing up to do.
The rain has ceased. The sun is out. The footsteps in the living room are light and he is now at the doorway looking behind me at the mango tree in the backyard (does saying yard give me a locked jaw? But I have just thought it, not said it.) He is thinking of the swing he wants to have there. I’m worried it will collect bird droppings so I think I will prefer one in the verandah now that we have one and the child likes watching the next mountain and the driveway.
“It’s better in the verandah.”
“Is it coming soon?”
“Aren’t you supposed to wait for her to come home?”
“It’s for my girl.”
I’m giggling again. He steps out, letting me be the 25 year old sitting in bed 30 years ago with my thoughts that he will think too. I meet the quiet with a happy sigh and twist my hair into a bun. I trace a finger on the back of my neck and wonder if I should have got that tattoo. The child wants one but she doesn’t really want one. What were my reasons? I forget.
It’s time for a shower. It’s time for my Ma’s warm voice at 10.49 am. It‘s time for lunch. It’s time for a nap, but he’s found an interesting article on the internet, so I think I will lie on his lap. His second chin is sagging now and it makes me smile because I imagined him at 60 when I was 24.
It was raining that day. We had shared silly jokes and a plate of something in a shop that smelled of sugar and had sweets stacked. He had looked into my eyes and I had felt the red spread and I had known that I was crashing. I had looked at his chin and had seen the jowl sagging 31 years later.
I wake up to a pillow under my head and voices in the verandah. They are fixing the swing and he’s listening to their instructions of how he can adjust the height from the floor on his own without having to call them 7 kilometres up the mountain. Let them. When the voices go away he walks me to the new fixture in the house.
It’s wooden and heavy and we nervously sit on it expecting the roof to collapse on us any moment, and when our sky stays intact, we know it’s okay.