Friday, June 18, 2010

Tales from a long lost summer

I recall vividly the year you arrived
In the midst of an unusually hot summer,
(The hottest in twenty years, said the papers),
With just a duffel bag slung over a shoulder.
My parents jumped when they heard the doorbell, even though
They had been sitting in the drawing room since morning.
I remember thinking it was strange
That no one had told me you were coming,
But then, no one tells a twelve year old anything.
It was a summer of dusty days and windless nights.

I remember hating you the moment you stepped through the door,
Your painfully thin body, your grimy clothes, your lanky hair,
Your lopsided smile, and the bar of chocolate that you offered me.
I hated that I had to give up my room for you,
(Privacy is sacred to a twelve year old)
I hated that all day you just lazed around,
Reading books from dad's closet I was not allowed to touch,
Or watching the Godfather series endlessly on VCD,
Movies that my mother happily watched along,
(Though I'm sure she did not understand a word),
I hated that she cooked eggplants day after day,
(Which you ate off your fingers, every last morsel)
Even though it was one dish I could not abide.
I must have lost five kilos that summer.

Or the way you talked to mom deep into the night,
The screechy Sahgal records that you played,
It was the summer I discovered my mother sang well,
While you listened entranced with eyes half closed,
And my father with a smile like an orphaned child,
Hovering uncertainly on his lips, looking strangely aloof,
Unsure of the ground that he walked upon,
An air of brittle fragility around him,
As if a mere touch would break him into a thousand pieces.
He did not even take me out in the rains,
Another reason why I remember the year so well.

And then, one fine autumn morning, with leaves brushed golden,
While yet maintaining a tenuous hold on life,
You were gone,
Just like that.
Dying of cancer, the mutinous cells in your veins
Had been multiplying with reckless abandon,
For the past two years.

This I was told,
Just after you had died,
And the house had become my own again.
But that you had begun to die,
In bits and pieces,
Ever since that day twenty years ago,
When my mother got married,
This I came to know,
Only much later.

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