“Come on people, we’ll be late.”
The scream rang through both the homes simultaneously. As if in practiced unison. The two of them were outside, ready and waiting, sharing an exaggerated look of disbelief. If they looked up, they would see me sitting on the window ledge, having a great big noiseless laugh looking at them. I was sure Aniya wouldn’t bother with the silence if she was where I was. That was the great thing about her. But I could understand what was going through the two heads. Having gotten ready well in advance, they were waiting for their wives to finish. They knew how long the women took, especially readying for a picnic. What they couldn’t understand was why their children were following the footsteps of their moms. If only they knew.
“This is fucking unbelievable,” dad blew out steam. “We might as well catch some rest. Probably catch a full nap before they make it down.”
Uncle looked at dad with comparable disbelief, shaking his head in a slow, wide arc. Dad smiled in reply, nodding an equally slow wide perpendicular arc. From side to side went uncle, up and down went dad. So harmonious, it was like a dance. Walking over to the tree, dad settled under it. Laying on the grass, looking up at the shreds of blue sky through the dense leaves overhead. Uncle didn’t join dad, but sat down at the porch, leaning against the wall. I was wondering if I should join them, when Aniya walked out, smiling wide at uncle before sitting by him. She looked directly at me, giving me a smile, as if knowing what was in my head.
“Hi,” I mouthed quietly, returning her smile.
She blew me a kiss, surprising me. It was amazing how she could give such exaggerated replies, with such small actions. She had managed to embarrass me with the kiss and uncle sitting right next to her hadn’t realised a thing.
Still hung up from the previous night, I put up a finger to my temple and turned it around, telling her how crazy she was. She pouted in reply, resting on uncle’s shoulder while throwing me a look of hurt. I would have burst out laughing if mom hadn’t called me at that exact moment.
“Ani, are you ready? You dad must be going crazy downstairs.”
“If only you knew,” I said to myself, before shouting to mom, “I’m ready mom, coming down.”
Slipping back into my room, I threw my tongue out at Aniya before shutting the window and rushing down. Down the stairs, I flew into mom’s open arms. I hadn’t seen her since returning from waking, and no morning was complete without mom's hug.
“You know you’re not a kid anymore?” mom asked, hugging me with a big smile on her face.
“Yeah well, who’s complaining?”
“I believe no one.”
That was right. No one was complaining, and even if they were, it wouldn’t matter. We liked the hugs just fine, and that was all that mattered.
“Now let’s get out, and see what your dad’s up to.”
“Oh I know exactly what he’s up to,” I told her, letting go.
I led her to the door, and pointed to dad on his back, under the tree. Mom shook her head muttering something that sounded a lot like complaining, to think he was screaming about getting late only a while ago. She looked at me, and the two of us were laughing. It felt good to be finally laughing out loud. It was so much better than the noiseless laughter. We were standing over him when he finally saw us.
“Hello my dears, you’re ready?” he asked, continuing without bothering to wait for our answer. “Well then please join me. It’s going to be some more time before Vini is ready. Enjoy the grass until then, rest your back.”
“It comes so easy to you, doesn’t it? Being so bloody mean?”
It wasn’t a question, and dad made no attempt to answer. Only smiled wider, waiting for the inevitable. Unable to keep the seriousness in her face, mom went down. Lay next to dad, his shoulder pillow for her to rest her head on. She whispered in his ear, and the two of them fell into giggles. With no real concern about me standing over them. They weren’t going to give me the slightest attention, not when they were so lost in each other. Also, they knew I longed to be elsewhere. It was their way of giving me the permission unasked for.
Shaking my head with disbelief, I walked over to our neighbour’s porch. Where the dad and daughter were smiling knowingly. I joined them on the porch, in their smile and the silence. Uncle was his tranquil self, unaware of the silent conversation underway next to him.
It was a short conversation though. We had hardly broken into smiles, just ready to continue from where we left of in the nest, when aunt burst out. Grinning her apology.
All got to their feet. Headed to the car. And we were off. Three hours in the car, breakfasting with chips, tiny bottles of Yakult probiotic, coke, peppermint candy, and wads of chewing gum, reached us to our destination. The rains had been good this year, water levels demanding the opening of all twenty gates of the dam. The photographs of the water rushing through the gates were on the front pages of the newspapers, the videos on the news channels. Inspiring everyone to want to head over for the weekend. We were no different. But we were not comparable to the rest. We weren’t there on the weekend, but the Monday following the end of the weekend. Having gotten the permission to skip school, we weren’t going to squander the opportunity. Of course we had great help from dad and uncle who argued our case with mom and aunt, and won us the argument. Won us the trip. We were making a picnic of it. And the way to make the picnic all the more fun was bringing out the uniforms.
It was a small joy to the parents, seeing the clothes fit them perfectly. Told them they hadn’t grown fat over the last few months. Nearing the dam, we silenced the music, and opened the windows. Hearing the sound of the water much before we could see the dam, our anticipation started to build. And when we finally could see the dam, the delight stunned us into silence. Soundless admiration for the spectacular view. The mentions of the many times they had seen the dam in all its glory that had riddled the drive, were absent. The expressions of how it was going to something great, incomparably better than what we had seen in the news silenced.
We were on the bridge overlooking the dam, giving us a full view of the water bursting out the fully open gates, a gale of white shooting down. Filling the air with the rumbles comparable to a thousand thunders. As if the heavens had fallen to the earth and were roaring in all their might. The display of the strength of the water would shame the mighty warriors of old to tears.
We couldn’t have been more delighted spectators, in awe of the might and the beauty put on full display in front of our very eyes. The dam throwing up a mist of water that drenched us on the bridge. Setting the camera on the car, in timer mode, dad rushed over. Capturing the six of us and the mighty dam behind us in a snap.
That night, the six of us sat down in front of the fifty four inch HD tv, looking at the photographs of the day. Frozen for an impossibly long time on the photograph of the six of us with the dam. The white tees matching the gale of the water and the mist to perfection. The six pairs of blue jeans lighting up the scene, providing the absolute contrast. All six faded at the exact same places. Aniya’s additionally torn. She loved torn jeans, and would buy no other. At least, they were shaded the same as the rest of ours. That was the truce we could manage.
But the best feature of the uniform were the words inscribed on the tees. A pair of mom’s, a pair of dad’s, and a pair of me’s.
The picture of us sitting in front of the tv, looking at the photograph of us at the dam, fills my eyes. The six of us in identical tees and jeans, smiling our widest smiles, hands over each others’ shoulders, as if in one big hug. We were a family.
And here I am, standing in the cold morgue. Where lay the greater part of that family. Gone. The four of them lay together, on beds side by side. Their eyes closed shut, expressions of deceitful serenity filling their faces. If I didn’t know better, I would be at peace looking at them sleeping happy. I do know better. I can see past the deceit, and I am certain that doesn't make me happy.
The many times I broke into their bedroom, waking them with my scream as I leapt onto them asleep, brings tears to my eyes. Ever since Mr D told me they were gone, I felt the ache. On an incessant crescendo. But it didn’t feel real, not fully. Now as I stand over them, it is as real as it can be. And I realise I am not ready.
The scream erupts from the deepest depths in me, ravaging me through as it burst out to the surface, burst out of me. They are gone. No more would mom always be there for me, with her warm hugs that would in an instant make everything alright. No more would dad be there with the undeniably great arguments that won us whatever we were fighting for. No more would aunt be there to tell us the great stories, so beautiful there couldn’t have been a better storyteller anywhere. No more would uncle be there with his silent smiles, to lean on against any storm. No more would we have our dinners over endless conversations. Our parties stretching late into the night, the very reason for the party long forgotten. No more would there be the teachers’ complaints to our parents, who would then come home and break into argument, divided over the punishment and forgiving we deserved. Never again would we be in our picnic uniforms, taking photographs of the six of us together.
The four of them on the bed, next to each other, look the same. Bare under the green sheet spread over their lifeless bodies. They couldn’t have been more different from the photograph of us at the dam. Our last picnic.
It is an unbearable ache I drown in. The greatest misery one could have borne. It is not something I am capable of standing to. I am falling. I can see uncle and aunt at the door, smiling at me. The wide smile that told me of their fondness of me, telling me it was going to be okay. I see dad, jogging away, looking back at me. Waving for me to get moving, smiling so easily, as if to tell me how easy it actually was. I see mom, standing still. Smiling like an angel. Her arms stretched out in front, welcoming me into her embrace. I want to be in her arms. I long to reach for her, hold her, so tight she wouldn’t be able to leave. So none of them would be able to leave. But she is far, getting further the longer I reach. I am not sure if it is my imagination, the tear escaping her eye, sliding down her smiling face. I want to call out to her, scream out. Ask her to stay. But I can’t find my voice. The darkness grows over me, strengthened by my failing efforts.
“Mom,” I manage to call out in my weakest voice. It hardly even reaches me. And I fall into the darkness.