She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life-the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build-begin to crumble around her.
For a brief moment, it seemed to her to be some sort of practical joke, some cheap psychotic trick of a mind so tired and troubled with age. But no, this wasn’t any illusion, no misunderstanding. Indeed the time she feared and hoped so desperately would not come in her life as it did for so many of her friends had suddenly arrived at her doorstep, and looked her right in the eye. And there was no one with her to face it. No one. For that was the essence of what was contained in those cold, black pixels which had so mercilessly formed those dreadful three lines on the computer screen.
She remembered the kiss. It seemed like yesterday. In a sepia-tone of nostalgia, the pictures flooded her memory.
‘Promise me you won’t forget your poor little mother. Promise son, promise that you will take me away from all this… all this…’
-‘Mother, how could you say it? Don’t you know your son? Your own flesh and blood? I cannot even dream of such an ungrateful act! To think that I should desert my own mother, my only shelter, to leave her to die alone in this world, to think that I…’
-‘That’s all right son, that’s all right. We mothers tend to get so worrisome sometimes, you know that. It’s part of growing old. And besides, I’m no longer your only shelter, am I? Now that you have Judith to go along…’
-‘Oh mother, now come on! She’s my wife! You’re my mother! All that I am, and all that I will be, is because of you! Now I told you, only a matter of six months. Once I’ve got these preliminary settlement issues fixed, I’ll come marching back to you and carry you in my arms all the way to Massachusetts! Mr. Goodwin’s backing me up, you know that, and he’ll surely do his best to fix me a nice cozy quarter all for the three of us! Okay? Now no more worries, and no more tears.’
Then came the touch of firm, youthful fingers on those wrinkled, crumpled patches of darkened skin underneath her filmy eyes. The same fingers ran through her grey and white hair, for one last time. And for one last time the two souls, distanced by the gulf of age and yet held so close by blood, embraced.
She couldn’t say it. Her voice was choked, her heart reluctant to let go. But like it or not, she had to. So she just nodded, a warm smile lingering on her pale lips. The shimmering black sedan grew smaller and smaller till it was no more than a child’s plaything and became invisible at the bend.
Pale green, yellow and brown leaves were strewn all over that long, wide and empty road which led from a familiar and secure place she had known to call her home, to the wide and intimidating outside world. She stood there, in a blank stare, when, as if to steal her attention, another such leaf fell on her right foot, where the bands of the sandal had met. It fell with such nonchalance, such indifference into this sorrowful little scene of separation, and yet, it appeared to have some subtle significance, some meaning. It had fallen. Like so many before it, it had lost it’s strength to escape the urge to let go… to fall…
‘Shook it away…’ she remembered. A grim smile came to her lips.
She folded the laptop and put it down on the table in front of her. Like many of her previous lonely evenings, this one also found her out on the veranda, sitting in her favorite armchair, with a laptop and photo-album bound in red velvet lying on the low cane table. Somehow, today seemed bluer than usual. The crows had almost finished their final round of cawing. The street lights started coming to life, opening up their white and yellow eyes. Those black rectangles on the wall opposite started to show their interiors swarming with life.
So it was on all those other evenings she sat there, hoping to receive some news from her son that he will indeed fulfill his promise, and take her with him. This was what she wanted all her life- to be with her son and witness his success. To see how big a figure he had cut out in the world first hand. But more than anything, to see her son, to touch him and bring back all those days when a little, helpless child knew nothing more but his mother to complete his world. This was her life.
But the weeks had turned to months, and it was now almost a year. One by one, the delicate threads of hope wore out and snapped. Then suddenly came this, the hardest, most insensitive combination of words she had ever come across:
“Sorry mother, it’s not possible now. Called Mr. Goodwin again yesterday and it seems the property is tied up in all sorts of legal disputes. It’s unlikely the entire matter can be settled even within the next couple of months. Anyways, take care, and don’t forget your medicines.”
That was all. After a lifetime of toiling, that was what she had. Not even a ghost of hope, but a world full of despair.
‘Shook it away…’ she remembered. And again she smiled. Standing up, she went up to the railing. Yes, she thought, sooner or later we all lose the strength to escape the urge to let go. To fall. And she had indeed fallen. The world had shed her, cast her away. And so, it was only necessary to accept the predicament. Admit it. And fall…
The crows had stopped cawing. The blue had turned to black. A brief cold wind brushed her face as she inched closer and closer to the railing. She closed her eyes…
‘Okay, okay cut it!’ a voice screamed out of the darkness.
And with that, the veranda turned to a small cubic enclosure of three cheap plastered wooden walls, within an enormous room the size of a basketball stadium. The darkness turned to a blinding white blob as the gigantic arc lights came on, revealing all the hidden secrecy behind the artificially crafted neighborhood. For in that light was revealed the trolley tracks hidden behind the fake hydrangea bushes, the furry, probing boom at the end of an almost ridiculously long pole maneuvered so cleverly out of sight of the camera lens all this while, flat silvery reflectors surrounding the entire scene, and a gigantic crane with a camera and it’s operator, coming down onto the porch like a mechanical brachiosaurus’ neck.
The director, a short, stout little man in a round-neck white t-shirt and khaki shorts, with a fast receding hairline jumped off the crane from behind the camera. Someone on the set promptly handed him a microphone. He turned it on, and faced everyone. The ‘mother’ was, to say the least, irked by this sudden interruption. She was so close to nailing this bit!
With a slight awkward cough, the director said- ‘Okay people, this may come as quite a bit of a surprise, but we are finally being able to keep the ending the way we had originally intended it to be. I know things haven’t been what you might call as ‘sound’ this past few weeks, but it seems that we have been able to work things out for the best. As you all know, there was a (the director cleared his throat), well…, a little clash in our team regarding creative liberty, owing to which Mr. Bose refused to work any further in this project. I tried my best to make him reconsider but he just wasn’t going to budge. So I had to get the boys to rewrite the ending.
But that was yesterday’s news. While we were rolling for this shot, I received a message on my mobile phone from our producer that he has discussed the issue with Mr. Bose, and was able to convince him to make a return. It seems that our producer has got some pretty good persuasion skills. So it’s going to be a happy ending everyone! Let’s put our differences aside and make this a film to remember!’
The entire set burst out in applause. After all, nobody wanted to see anyone die, be it in reel or real life. Miss Ghoshal, the grieving mother, gave the director a warm hug and kissed him on both cheeks. The director blushed as red as a ripe tomato. Everyone smiled and clapped in good cheer. Slightly embarrassed, the director called out- ‘Make up! Ms. Ghoshal here needs to get her nose done again!’
After their little celebration, it was decided that the re-shoot would be scheduled exactly a week from now.
‘Okay silence on the set! Start sound! Roll cameras! Clap in frame! And… action!’
She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life-the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build- turn into a beautiful and magnificent dream.
All her life she had dreamt of this. The greatest and the final wish in her life had been granted, as if by some wondrous gesture of magic by a genie from an Arabian fable. For a moment, it seemed to her too good to be true. But there it was on her computer screen, the most beautiful and most pleasant set of three lines she had ever cast her eyes upon.
And then, to make the moment even more beautiful, there came a ring on the doorbell. With great care she put down the open laptop on the table, stood up and left the veranda. ‘Must be the maid-servant’ she thought, ‘come to collect an extra bonus for the festive season… always an irritating element!’
She opened the door. She saw that she was wrong. And she was glad. For there stood a very familiar young man with a very familiar voice, which said, ‘Told you I’d come back…’