– Continued from Part I
* * *
In 2014, as the school year came to a close at the end of May , as I walked to the bus stop, I felt dreadful at the thought of the huge summer break of 10 weeks that was upon us. We had booked our tickets to India for a few weeks, there was that to look forward to.
That day, both the boys had seen me getting down the bus and waved at me retrospectively. I said Hi and they replied “Sup”. A perfectly acceptable way to speak after you have made the transition into double digit birthdays I recalled reading in one of the periodicals I borrow from the library.
Usually, these boys zip past me and Moksh in his stroller, past mailboxes and run across side yards to beat each other to our front door. The answer to my question of how school is usually a “Good” which to their defense is the best case scenario for any mother.
“Hey mom, can you also be Drew’s mother?” I heard Ky ask from a few steps behind.
I stopped pushing the stroller and turned to look at him.
“Miss Martin said, in America, you can adopt children.” Sensing the hot silence in my eyes, he calmly nudged his case forward. “No, mom. It’s true.” He nodded eagerly oozing his boyish innocence.
I looked around trying to spot Drew. He was already walking past his house, the one he shared with his father, his stepmother and his half siblings but did not glance at it. There was no asking, just like every other day that boy was going to walk into my home until his father showed up looking for him.
“We can discuss this later Ky, come on please, we have to start on our homework.” I couldn’t say anything else and tried hard to keep walking until I reached home. And thanked the heavens secretly that Ky had not brought up the topic again in front of his father that night.
As school wrapped up and we packed and left for our vacation in June, I made a secret plan. For it to come into action, I had to make my husband happy while I would buy some more time thinking of strategies to save Drew from his home, maybe you know, even, adopt him.
After my brother moved from our hometown to Mumbai on work, my mother who lived with him and his family was feeling lonely and miserable in the new city where she did not know anyone. She was a victim of uprooting like many of us. So, I made a deal with her. She takes care of Moksh while I look for a job. In the first week of August after spending 6 sweltering weeks in India, I returned home with her.
Venkatesh picked us up at the airport and drove us home. When he saw our car come up the corner, a boy sitting on the edge of the lawn near a mail box started to get up. As our car got closer, he began to run the length of the road along our car waving at us.
“Drew! Drew! Hi!!!” When I heard screams from Ky, to my horror, I realized that it was an emaciated Drew with gawky cheek bones and thin long wavy blond hair running next to our car.
Venkatesh brought the car to an abrupt stop as I let out a scream. He looked at me while he rolled down his driver’s side window.
“Hey man, are you doing OK?” He tried to sound cheerful as Drew approached him.
“Yes Mr. Nadella. I am fine. Hey buddy, what’s up?”
Drew craned his neck into the car to catch a glimpse of his friend in the back seat next to his grandma. I turned and saw Ky separate himself away from the seat where he sat next to my mother. He replied to his friend with the cheerful smugness. “Sup?!” My mother asked me in Telugu, our mother tongue if everything was OK.
After a night of nightmares of Drew foraging in the pantry and the refrigerator for anything to eat in his home where his step mother hid food from him, I stayed in bed for most of the next two days. My mother was struggling with jet lag herself, but like any good Indian Mother-in-law, she made sure there was no dearth of food for her son-in-law and his family.
I thought of ways I could inflict the same kind of psychological pain that woman inflicted on him, the intangible pain which is so less superior than the palpable pain of a violent physical assault. This is where I like men better than women. Their ability to just rid of their pain by assaulting the other person, whether the wife or the child and be done with it. Women on the other hand, their mean, indefinable brewing rage has no parallel in the physical assault realm.
On the third day, in the evening, I got dressed and took the kids into our backyard and sat with my mom having Chai – the Indian milk tea with cardamom and ginger.
“Here’s another quote I read in a book today, Mrs. Nadella.” Drew had challenged me as he and Ky played ball.
“I will prepare and one day my chance will come!” He said confidently keeping his eye on the ball.
“Hmm. Let me see, Lincoln?” I said thoughtfully.
“You’re right!” He shouted back to me and continued playing. I stared at the back of his head smilingly as I finished Chai.
“Mom! I got stabbed by a thumb tack! Mom!” Ky screamed out suddenly and my mother and I jumped from the lawn chairs to run to his rescue.
“Oh my God, where is it, kill it, mom, kill it, give me your sandal!” I screamed frantically as I looked for a bug around the grass next to Ky. I clutched Moksh into my lap to make sure whatever was there couldn’t harm him.
“Mom, you don’t know what a thumb tack is?” He said putting something back into his pocket. I realised what that he was smiling. “What do you call it in India, push pin or something like that right?” He teased me to which I squeezed playfully at his right ear.
When Drew was around, I never as much as tousled with Kyle’s hair. Suddenly, I felt embarrassed rushing to him like that.
As I sat back down into the grass, I let them laugh at me. Let them see my vulnerable side, let them experience that behind those iron blinds of secrecy within the chambers of my heart there was a feeling so powerful that it could squash anything and everything that came in the way of my child’s well-being.
That night we all gathered stories on our living room floor and make Moksh laugh. Drew put a paper on his head and danced trying to balance it. When it blew away, Moksh laughed so much in giggles, we all laughed with him. I laughed so hard, I cried.
There are so many reasons a mother can cry. All the weight of the salty oceans will show her children her vulnerable side. And a mother has the right to bear tears, a lot more of them at that time of the month when her “friend” visits. Or whether her Army son comes back or not. She also knows that her boy will only cry when she will die. She will even cry that she will not be there to wipe away those tears.
When I did not wipe away my laughter tears, Drew sat next to me for a very long time listening to the bed time story before he put his head gently on my lap. This is how children are, always in fear of disappointing their parents with their thoughts and actions which might be deemed as thoughtless actions. I continued reading to the kids as if nothing unusual had happened.
Drew looked into my eyes from my lap, with all those features in him that I had begun to love. How lovely must his mother have been? When you lose your mother or father at an early age, you seem to learn about them from people who knew them. Was there anyone in his life who told him what kind of a person his mother was?
Did anyone save up something of his mother, something tangible, something like a strand of her hair? Will anyone tell him that she too was once a child, she always did not know the right way of doing things, and she too had doubts about her decision to marry his father?
My husband who walked into the room at about the same time to check on what we had been up to, never said a word about Drew after that day. After that, he practically moved into our house, not going home even for a shower.
On the fourth day of our return from India, and two days before the next school year was to start, I went and knocked on her door at 10 30 in the morning, my stomach churning and feeling nauseous. A child opened the door and I saw Jennifer walking over to the front door. She smiled when she looked at me. It was the third time in my life that I was seeing this woman face to face.
She was so pale skinned and chunky that I wondered if I could spread jalapeno cream cheese so thick and creamy onto my bagel every morning. Layers and layers of fat underneath that white Irish skin. Irish or Finnish, I don’t recall exactly now, but how does it matter? Acres of milky pale skin with blots of pinks and purples along the width and breadth of her body. If she was to be cremated after her death like how we Hindus would be, her body fat would make the loudest and the longest popping noise before it burnt out entirely down to the bone. Reminds me of an uncle of mine, who would not make a single popping noise when he would burn.
“Hi, come in. Sorry the house’s a mess.” She said interrupting my silent thoughts.
“Hi. I don’t want to sit. I wanted to tell you something. I take my motherhood seriously. I think you should too! Everyone can see how you treat that boy! Shame on you!”
I was shaking violently as spoke those words and never stayed back to see the reaction on her face. I turned around slamming their front door shut and returned home and fell sick once again for the next two days.
After that special story time night, Drew never showed any personal boundaries about him. When he was at our home, he ate with his fingers like us Indians. When we went out mostly to Indian Grocery stores or the Hindu temple or the Hindu Sunday school, he went with us. When he rode in my new Honda Odyssey, he sat in the third row seat and spread his arms outstretched and sat in the middle by himself. When I watched him in the rear view mirror, I always saw him pleased with himself smiling looking out of the windows. And my mother spoke to him only in Telugu.
That continued for two months, until one night, “Hi! SWAP-na? This is Scott Corrigan, Drew’s dad. Is he there?”
“Yah, yah, here is here, Scott. How are you?” I said.
“Hey, how’s it goin? Hey, listen. I don’t know how to say this, SWAP-na. But Jen thinks that Drew might be getting influenced in a wrong way at your home. You know with the cultural differences and all. I mean,” he tried a hard chuckle and continued. “Don’t get me wrong. We don’t even eat the same food. She thinks it’s best for us to keep the kids away from each other. I have already explained it to Drew. And, he is not going to continue the school year here. Tomorrow, I am dropping him off in Blairsville with his grandmother for good. Between you and me, I see that the boy is turning out to be a replica of his mother. And it is not good for me or my family. That is where all the trouble began in my life, with that woman. Also, uhh.. my wife feels that it’s best if you keep out of our business. I hope you understand.”
With those words, the line went dead.