I am home. It is supposed to be different. I know so. But it isn’t. It feels no different from the home I woke up to the last sixteen years. Where mom and dad would wish me a good morning, smiling away the night's sleep. Where the kitchen was mom’s on the weekday mornings, and dad’s on the weekends. Where Aniya would burst in, her greetings hardly short of screams. Where we shared so many laughs, had so many fun times.
With them gone, it is should be different. But it isn’t. I know if I stay longer, and will it, I would see mom coming down the stairs, tying her hair in a bun. Dad would come following with an approving smile, heading for the newspaper. If I willed more, I would see myself coming down half asleep, the sound of my arrival lighting up mom and dad’s faces. If I willed, I would see us having breakfast, a normal morning. I know it is such a morning as I look at the familiar sunlight streaming in through the thin curtains on the windows. Mom loved the curtains. She said they were perfect, blocking out the heat of the sun but letting in enough to light up the house. And in the night, keep out the night just enough. Dad and I never really understood what she meant, but we were satisfied calling it one of the many things that only women could get.
I know if I willed, I would see the sleepy me joining dad on the sofa. Resting my head on the cushioned side, my feet in his lap, on which he would rest his hands as he held the newspaper. I would catch the last wisps of sleep, before mom would come over shaking me awake. Telling me I’d better get a move on if I wanted to make it to school on time. Never once asking me if I wanted to make it to school.
A more perfect morning there couldn’t be. As much as I would love to will it to be so, I know I cannot. I finally have a clue. And I must see it through. Who was it I saw? In the night? What was the feeling I got every time I saw him?
I know where I must go. And I know how difficult it is going to be. That only prepares me for what is inevitable. The walk up hadn’t ever been longer. I feel old as I make to their bedroom. The many times I had been in there, the many years I had spent in there, it never felt as it does now. I am reminded again of everything having changed. For the first time I am met with the thought, it never would be the same. I can feel my legs go weak, threatening to crumble under me. I can’t though. Not now. Not yet.
I head straight to the cupboard, to the bottom rack, where I know are the albums.
“Do you want to see some photos? Huh Ani? You wanna zee zome photographz?”
“Come on mom, don’t talk like that,” I said. We were both laughing.
It was afternoon. Aniya was home, sleeping. She hadn’t been keeping well the last few days, not having recovered fully from the fever that had taken her down the last week. She was sleeping a lot, and I couldn’t sleep that much. Mom was with me instead. That afternoon mom decided she wanted to show me the old photographs.
We had enjoyed the short walk up made longer by the effort we put in to make it most enjoyable. When we were in the bedroom, she sat by me, allowing me to pull out the albums. There were many, and they were all thick and heavy. The entire lower rack of the cupboard was filled with the albums.
“Pick one,” she said, smiling.
I randomly picked one, convinced for some reason that we’d be seeing through all the albums. It was the greenest of them all, one of the thicker ones, but with a thin cover making it lighter than it would otherwise have been. It was still a little much for the tiny five year old me. Readily helping me carry the album to the bed, mom lay on the bed, resting her head on her hand, as she let me open the album.
“This is me in college,” she said, pointing to the topmost photograph on the first page. It was from the first year of college, long before she met dad. The entire album was from before she met dad, so there wouldn’t be any photographs of him. That was a little disappointing, but the light in mom’s face as she told the story of each of the photographs quickly swept away the slight disappointment.
For the next few hours, we were on the bed, boring through the many albums. Walking through the many memories the photographs jogged up. I was fascinated by the stories of the photographs of mom and dad. Enthralled by the many things they had done, most stupid as she called them, and all so much fun. She told me I would have so many more adventures of my own, but I wasn’t sure. Mom and dad were amazing. Then came my photographs. Me as a baby. My very first photograph. Lying on my back, dressed in light blue. A spaced out expression on my face, unaware of the camera shooting me. My head mostly bald, far from round. Eyes watery. A toothless grin with my mouth wide open completing my look. Mom was cooing about how extraordinarily cute I was. I couldn't keep from laughing at myself. I looked stupid. I could recognise myself more as I grew older. Finally reaching the latest photographs.
It was an amazing afternoon. Knowing that it wouldn’t ever come to be again only made it so much more endearing. I know the morning isn’t going to be anything like the afternoon. Even if I am going to be on the same bed, looking through the albums the same.
I pull out the albums in the same order. Starting with photographs of mom. Then dad. Of them together. Of all of us. Lastly, of me. I can hear mom telling me the stories of each photograph as I look at them. I can feel each photograph taking so much longer than that afternoon. But that cannot be, shouldn’t be. It was mom telling the same story after all. Why then would it take longer? I couldn’t understand, but I knew it did. And I'm not complaining. Having mom’s voice in my ear, talking about her and dad and us, isn't something I would complain about. I didn’t care for time as I went through each of the albums, through every one of the photographs in there. Brushing away the tears before they could trace their way down my face and fall onto the photographs. They cannot be damaged, not even stained by my tears. I had to care that much at least.
It is forever since I opened the first album, reliving the story of mom’s first day at college. The evening party the seniors had organised for the freshers. As pretty as she was, mom was bound to be among the girls in the spotlight. It was a photograph taken as the spotlight was literally on her. Making her shine in her ocean blue dress. She looked like a real princess, exactly what the seniors had in mind when decided the theme of the party - Dresses and Tuxes.
Yet the morning doesn’t feel moved. It feels like not even a second has passed. The sunlight pouring in through the curtains is the same. The quiet is the same. I am the same. It needs some getting used to, and I have gotten it. Almost.
It tears at me, the thought that I have seen him and yet missed. I have gone through every photograph in every album. Remembered every story. Recognised every face in every photograph. Yet, I cannot deny the feeling that I have missed something. Missed him in the photographs. Like I had seen his face, his eyes, and yet didn’t see him at all. Worse, there is the feeling coursing through me that there is something else too that I have missed. Something that might not be in the photographs in the albums, might not be in the room. But something that is just as important as anything else. Something I should have noticed, but was just too blind to.
I return the albums to the cupboard, as they were. And I leave. There is no point dawdling in the room. What is there in there, I am not ready for. And what needs greater attention, I cannot yet see.
We were in the car. Uncle and dad in the front. Mom and aunt in the middle. Aniya and I in the back. The four eyes were on Aniya and me. And I met their gazes. It felt like we were floating through heaven. And then, the world turned over.
It was a mad rush of noise and colour. The glass was the first to go. Exploding into a million pieces, filling the space in the car. Filling the darkness in red as they tore through the flesh in their path. Then came the shades of multitude, as the metal roof of the car crushed into itself against the road. Throwing the night into an explosion of colour, like it was a festive night instead of what it really was.
When it had settled enough for me to be able to make any sense, the windshield was gone. Letting in the steam of the road groaning in protest. Aniya was collapsed beside me. I had to endure the indescribable pain to turn around enough to see dad. The steering wheel had crushed into him, painting him red. I couldn’t see mom. Couldn’t turn around enough.
Take a step back, I hear mom's voice tell me. An old memory that came rushing back. I hadn’t understood then, but it felt like I would now. Letting go, I took a step back, impossibly. And it was then that I saw it.
The blue around the car. Enveloping it. Caressing it carefully. It seemed like it was reaching down from the skies above. The blue that had encapsulated the car. And strangely, I felt it reaching for me.