This Empty House
Pradhan Thandra writes about dealing with loss
I was always the second person to wake up at home. My mum always beat me. She woke up at four every day to pray. After an hour, she drifted back to sleep for a few hours. Not even sickness or storms would keep her away from this discipline.
It was just the two of us at home. There was no pressure for either of us to start getting things moving quickly in the mornings. I was forced out of bed most mornings. The walls did not hold back the morning rhythms of the streets. Besides a standard sabzi wallah, the allam murabba (ginger candy) seller, there is a small cattle farm at the end of our street filled with ducks, hens and guinea fowls. (Yea, google that!) The fowls make the ugliest noise known to man. As they marched across the street for their morning stroll, their high-pitched screeching sounds pushed me out of bed. Some days I woke up early just to beat these fowls.
Every morning, I would lie awake, imagining the worst. On my way to the kitchen, I would pause outside her room and watch.
“Is she breathing?”
“Another day,” I would tell myself, thank God and proceed to the kitchen for my coffee.
I never skipped this morning routine until the 1st of March this year.
My eyes opened, and I was exhausted beyond my capacities. I knew I could have slept for another day without feeling any better. I took a few minutes and got out of bed, tip-toeing across the cousins who were asleep on the floor. The house guest filled the room with soft murmurs. I walked out of my room to comforting but helpless stares.
I paused at my mum’s room on my way to the kitchen.
She was gone.
I saw my tired sister with her two young daughters fast asleep in her place.
For the first time in more than 30 years, and for the rest of my days, I would be the first to wake up.
I was in denial. I crawled back into my bed. I went back to sleep and hoped to wake up in the original timeline with me making coffee and mum walking across the hall in the background.
Less than 24 hours ago, I had buried my mum in a beautiful ceremony filled with grief and hope. It was a beautiful sunny day surrounded by over a hundred loved ones, comforting my sister and me. They spoke highly of the unconditional Godly love she shared with many in our communities. Some of these stories surprised even me. I saw another side of my mother. Someday, we hope to see each other again.
Everyone who came up referred to her as their mother. “It was never about the money or material needs,” one old church lady said. “She was a listener and knew what someone needed. She comforted the grieving, offered advice to the struggling or babysat young ones while the parents grappled with chores.”
Every morning, I saw my mum wake up for the second time around 8 am, opening the doors and windows as the rooms filled with natural light. She loved open spaces filled with light. Early hours in Hyderabad are bask-worthy, at least when it is not raining. She sat in her usual spot on the sofa with a large window behind her back. A portable reading table barely balanced her Bible. She ran her fingers across the lines of this hefty book with thick letters mumbling in Telugu. I overheard the silent meditation during quiet mornings. She and I exchanged no words; a sense of assurance filled the room. We were at ease and just happy to be together.
After months, I still hear her breathing and the mumbling scriptures across the rooms. They are slowly fading away. I walk across the rooms to move things around. During this phase, it was essential to make it my space, and my family agreed. Their frequent visits helped, and we carefully began archiving her belongings. She had little, just some old photos, documents from back in the day, her pension books, and many clothes. She loved the presentation. It was a priority for her to dress up and show up at work looking sharp. I still remember an old rough wooden bangle container categorically arranged by colour and material. It was not much, but it was enough to match her sarees. When I was younger, I would rummage through the container in search of change for candy.
As days passed, some of our closest family members tearfully asked if they could keep some of her sarees. It was hard to say no, she was generous beyond measure, and this was just the last leg of her generosity. It did not take long to realise that a request like this meant she was important to all of us. While we gave away one saree after another, we grieved her absence in person but found her presence in these sarees.
The embroidered fabric never felt heavier. I kept a few I liked, with the rest of her belongings. These objects fill shelves, but the house never felt emptier.
Pradhan Thandra is a designer learning to write. You can view all of his work at www.pradhan.space.
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This story was written in response to the following prompt:
Empty house. That's it. That's the prompt.
Art by Simahina.
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