Asha sighed at the out-of-order elevator, as she trudged upstairs, to her fourth floor apartment, grocery bags in hand, a big tote bag weighing down on her shoulder. The elevator’s not been working for months now.
“Doesn’t anybody feel the need to use it anymore? Why don’t they fix it?”, she thought, irritated. Then again, who would take the pain! She was the only tenant on the fourth floor. The third floor flats were unoccupied, there was just one other tenant on the second floor, and two more on the first. Most of them university students, struggling to get by while balancing their classes and part-time jobs. Suffice to say, the landlord was blissfully ignorant of the pain of his tenants in this ramshackle property of his.
The rickety stairs groaned as she ploughed on. It took some time to fish out the keys from her tote and unlock the door. It was dark inside, save for a small light on the balcony. She’s out there again today…
Asha deposited the bags on the crowded tabletop and proceeded towards the balcony, grabbing a forgotten shawl from the couch on her way. “Ma, you’re out here again? It’s cold and late. Please come inside. You need to rest. Did you have something to eat in the evening? Come on, you’ll fall sick again…” She paused trying to wrap the shawl around her Mom’s frail form and help her get up from her perch at the balcony.
Mom was smiling. And it wasn’t a lost, lopsided grin either. It was full smile, completed by the light of recognition in her eyes, with a hint of relief in it. “You’ve come? Why are you so late, Ashu? I’ve been waiting for so long, dear.”
“…” The lump in her throat was getting bigger. Asha struggled to get her composure back and smiled at her Mom, eyes swimming through her tears.
“Ashu? What’s wrong, child? Tell your Ma.”
“Wrong? Absolutely nothing. Everything’s perfect. I just missed my amazing Mom a lot.” Her smile got bigger, almost reaching the tip of her cheekbones. “You’re so cold. Here, let me warm you up a little.” Asha hugged her Mom tight, sighing at the familiar smell as thin arms wrapped around her. How she misses this cocoon of safety and comfort!
“Oh! come on now. Don’t frown at me, lady. You’ll get wrinkles on your forehead.”, She tried to soothe away her Mom’s worry.
Asha led her Mom to a recliner in the living area and switched on the T.V., “What do you want to watch Mom? You know, there’s this awesome show that…”
The hospital staff had told her that there will be bad days and there will be good ones, the latter getting rarer and rarer as her Mom’s condition worsened. After all, there’s no cure, there’s no winning against Alzheimer’s. What nobody told her was that there will be worse days and better days too, the latter being the rarest of them all. Today was one of those better days. Her Mom recognized her, called her name, was waiting for her, was worried for her…. She wasn’t met with blank stares, confused questions or outright panic upon returning home. Today was a gift, a rare one.
An incoming call on her phone pulled her out of her musings. Oh good! She had almost forgotten that she was going to make tea for Mom. The light above her head flickered. Asha looked up at it and made a face; she needs to get that fixed. Hurriedly placing a kettle of water on the stove, she picked up her phone. It’s Vanessa, her manager.
“Hello?”, Asha sighed.
“Listen I’m not happy to call you at this hour either. I had almost forgotten that you’d applied for a leave tomorrow. That won’t be possible; something urgent has come up regarding that Anderson shipment. You need to come in tomorrow, a little earlier than usual, if possible.”
“Possible? Vanessa, I had applied for a leave tomorrow because I need to take my Mom for her check-up. I had mailed two weeks back. I had explained in the mail that I sent…” Asha protested.
“I know. However, the shipment needs to go out ASAP. You’ll have to reschedule your Mother’s check-up, I guess…”
“Vanessa, please try to understand. It’s not that easy. I don’t even know how much time she’s got…”, Asha was pleading by this point.
“I have made myself clear, Asha. You have to come in tomorrow. Call me when you’ve reached office.”
The incessant beeps after the disconnected call hammered on Asha’s senses. How? How can Vanessa be so inconsiderate? How can she completely disregard the situation Asha is in? After everything she’s done… after every extra mile she goes to ensure everything is on track… every time why does it have to be Asha who compromises?
The kettle whistled. The light in the kitchen flickered. She really needs to get it fixed. Sighing for what seemed like the umpteenth time that evening, she looked down at her white knuckles that were tightly gripping her phone, too tightly. Switching off the gas, she added tea leaves in the kettle.
Standing at the threshold of the kitchen, Asha looked at her Mom in the living room. She was watching some stand-up comedy show on T.V., an amused smile on her face. Asha took in the scene thoroughly; her eyes tracing every line on her Mother’s face. She needs to remember this moment forever.
“Did you make yourself a cup?”, her Mom enquired as Asha handed her the tea. Asha smiled, “Yes Ma, have yours. I’ll join you in a bit.”
Picking up her phone she hit Call on an oft-dialed contact.
“If you are calling me to say you can’t come in tomorrow, save it. I don’t think I gave you a choice…”, Vanessa sounded annoyed.
“No need. I quit.”
The pause indicated she’d been heard loud and clear.
“Quit? Don’t be ridiculous, Asha…”
“On the contrary, I’m very serious.”
“Come on. There’s no need for this. Let’s be reasonable now. I didn’t tell you to quit…” The stark change in the tone and the sheer irony in the message almost made Asha laugh out loud.
“No. I did.”
“Asha, please. You have to think this through.” Was she pleading? Really?
“I know exactly what I have to do, Vanessa.”
“But you can’t go. I can’t let you go at this point…”
“I don’t think I gave you a choice.”
Only after disconnecting the call, Asha allowed herself to exhale, a deep, long breath. Not a sigh this time.
A long forgotten song from her childhood was playing on T.V. Her Mom’s humming turned into hearty singing as Asha joined her in an impromptu duet.
We’re only here today
Love is now or never
Bring me far away
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is – be my guiding star
It’s easy take me to your heart”