The wheelchair

I’m given a place at one end of the long corridor provided with large glass windows. It’s the quiet preserve of my mam where regularly, she is wheeled to settle in for her ‘calm-down’ time – along the foyer. A large cozy space, allowing rich daylight, copious run of breeze overlooking the family-owned, school buildings and playground spread two floors below. Behind me consists a spacious rectangular hall which was converted into a nursing room to receive doctors, nurses, and caretakers as and when the criticalness of my mam’s health condition called for.

I was brought in to help her movability. Firstly, I noticed that her each of her lower parts of legs were tightly fastened with cotton and strapped with gauze to contain the swelling: an inevitable after-effect of progressive malignancy, which has been preventing her normal movement. From then on, I stayed with mam for about eighteen months, and it has been a dutiful calling, and I have become a devoted caretaker for her. Wheeling her every day around the house, I grew fond of vibrancy on her face and gift of will to carry out, the eventuality of any inconvenience as a result of her uncooperative feet. I heard that she is the smiles beneath which an unspeakable disease is lurking and fast overwhelming her.

I’m happy at this arrangement to be a part of help given to the mam, the rides she is delighted about. I used to overhear often, she would inquire her husband: ‘can I get back my ‘walk. ‘And ‘walk’ she got it, she walked away from me, from the corridors where we shared our sunshine and sunsets, from the home she is adored dearly, from all our lives. She silently, suddenly, ‘walked’ away; passed away – forever!

I’m to stay almost close to mam’s bed where I found myself pitiably shaken to see various twists of her ordeals. It has been eight months from the day she suddenly disappeared from striding on me, from the nursing room where I used to witness she being treated, examined, consoled, and humored. Now the bed remains empty, serenely placed and neatly tucked in the corner unused and desolate. I watch over the same foyer bitterly empty, deprived of liveliness.

Counting passing days and nights, I stay put, left empty, hit by the loss; ‘untouched’ as a mere memory of frame without the lively presence of my mam. I remain in one corner looked after every day, cleaned, and set the cushions, towels, napkins used by her. They are adjusted as if she is expected to come back soon! At any moment she might return and receive the same comfort as she always pleased.

I still remember her morning words followed by a sweep of the hand and terse look, “Open all the doors and windows, let me touch the morning Sun,” her every day unmissable morning routine. And everyone around dutifully followed. Every day she with the help of nurses eased herself settling on the cushions, her bandaged feet placed on the footrest, I would roll her out to celebrate the early sunshine and slow gust running along the sunny corridor. The penetrating and ever questioning eyes, a smile on her lips gentle and refreshing, watching her, endearingly, I used to whisper a silent prayer “don’t let the smile fade away, don’t take away her from us.”

I’ m touched by the sweetness with which she tended her son when he took her around some evenings; looking out over the parapet wall delighting in, what she loved most: the twilight skies and holding the potted flowers. And watching and listening to the noisy road below; she would longingly inquire, “Will I be able to walk-around like everyone, how long have I to sit in this wheelchair.”Stifling emotions, staring in silence is the answer she would get from her son who seemed not to know how to respond to her unanswerable inquiries. Her grace, her breathe; her liveliness seemed slowly fading and melting to remain as a memory. Seeing the bustling urgency of the doctors, the tired face of her husband, I could make it and apprehend: foreshadow of ominous emptiness that would soon befall.

Her laughter was loudest, fondness the loveliest when Aradhya; the mam’s granddaughter is around. The three-year-old little sparkling is one who brings out the imperceptible resolve, her quiet strength to take head on the savage curse standing in between she and her vulnerable family members. The enjoyable little excursions, down the long well-lit corridors, hopping into adjacent rooms. Aradhya, gigglingly, would stand on my foothold gripping me with her tiny hands, beaming all her smiles, looking into her grandmothers pampering eyes. Resting her head, occasionally, in the mam’s lap as if to receive the warmth of her blessings.

Looking and enjoying the sheer peace she felt holding Aradhya and accommodating her on the wheelchair, that’s me; how I wished these pleasing frames of tenderness may eternally be frozen. However hard I try not to, these family portraits, reel before me every day. Though, I have bonded with her family for a brief period. Now, I’m considered a permanent icon, in gratefulness, that I had carefully held ma’am in her hardest situations. I reconcile myself to remain as a divine empty frame without a deity; looking at noiseless, empty rooms, I grieve myself: can I ever see the happiness bloom again in this home?

On some evenings, her husband settles on a small sofa arranged adjacent to me, where every day I ruminate myself. He, now punishably left alone, reading a book or leafing a newspaper, I notice, all at once, his face turns dull as he peers outside the large glass windows as if reviewing the descending darkness beyond or perhaps, as well within his moods!

For him, I reckon, waking up every morning listening to the sprawling silence and aloneness; I think it’s an impossible challenge and emotionally stressful to fight it every waking moment. I hope to see the mam’s husband draw in the will and resilience to overcome the bleakness of the raw reality. Perhaps, as of now, I presume, he got used to ‘I’m on my own’ sort of situation. That I find him dignifiedly confronting it when I watch at his intent face, and determined fingers hitting the keyboard late evenings, after work, jotting down the memories – of his wife – Mani.