As the bell rings, all that spirit and energy that I and the others seemed to lack, returns. I pack my belongings and bail myself out of school, as fast as I could.
Ah…..September. Evening time. The sky is lit orange, as so are the leaves in almost every tree that I could see. Warm and fuzzy, as will the supper that’ll be awaiting me with impatience. What will it be today? Pie, pizza, cookies? Regardless….I am starving.
I walk briskly to my home, barely a mile away from here. In the next street, in the middle of it, lies a lush park. A place where people from all walks of life come to seek refuge away from their mundane, hyper-competitive reality. A place where people end up as couples and plant seeds of relationships and kinship. And, a place where the most recluse and withdrawn, for a change, draw themselves closer to the world around them. Not a sight out there is as wholesome and comforting as that of the sight of this park, under the warm, soft shade of the evening sun.
I feel tempted to take a stroll along the park but…not today, I suppose. That fresh, uplifting blueberry pie that my mom was so keen on baking this week, ought to be awaiting me, straight out of the oven.
And so, I pass by it and take a right towards what is a long, seemingly endless lane. Mostly residential with a typical family of parents and two or three kids. My place of stay lies almost at the tail end of this lane. A walk of around five to seven minutes, from the beginning.
I’ve finally reached home and opposite, I see an old woman standing near my house, looking at the houses around her.
“Jimmy! You’ve seemed to have arrived here a bit earlier than usual?”
“I feel famished. Hope I get to cut and eat the first slice of that pie!”
“Oh, hon….”, she comes to embrace and kiss me on my head. “I am so sorry. Mommy had some work today. Couldn't bake that pie, as much as I wanted to. But, I’ve bought take-away from your favorite sandwich joint!”
“Something’s better than nothing. “
“Great! I’ll be waiting for you in the dining room, then.”
And so, I reach to my bedroom, unpack my belongings, freshen myself up and change clothes and galloped my way to the dining room.
I sit on the opposite side, facing mom and I unwrap to look at a Tofu sandwich. In the middle of the table were some fries, large I’d wager and beside them, were two slices of chocolate brownie.
“Ooh, I forgot. There’s still some leftover ice cream that we bought a few days back. You can top it on your slice if you feel like it.”
I was busy gorging on the sandwich and only partly understood what she was telling me.
“So…Jim, hope you had a good day today. But, why did you feel famished? Was lunch not that filling for you?
“Oh no, lunch was fine. Had gym class today. Intense physical stuff, ya know.”
“Right, right…. you know what to do. Don’t strain yourself too much. And stay hydrated.”
“Yes, yes, I know. Hey mom….hope you have that pie baked for sure tomorrow. I mean, if you are held up, I’ll try baking it, instead.”
“What? No, no!! Jim, I appreciate it but, I want to bake this myself. This is going to be my first attempt at a blueberry pie. Besides, you’ll be held up with your school life and work, won’t you? Maybe during the weekends. I’ll tag along and help you too if you feel like it.
“Fair enough.” After supper, went back to my room, had a chat and shared memes with my classmates in our class group, did homework simultaneously, as I also finished that assignment that I was pardoned for not submitting today and after that tuned in for some quality prime-time TV with mom before deciding to hit the bed.
It has been a good day, a bit boring….but good.
A new day has dawned, I go to school and by the last hour, lost almost all my energy and concentration. All I could think of was that pie mom wanted to bake so badly. It’s her first time though, will she pull off a great pie? Or will she make a terrible blunder out of it? Can’t wait to find what it’ll be!
Again…pleasant evening. Orange skies. Blissful park. Seems like a good day…like yesterday! A boy can’t ask more than this!
As I reach home, I see that granny again. In the same spot, looking over the houses around her but fixating on ours with such intense gaze…..huh.
I couldn’t make my sight focus elsewhere but she barely paid any attention towards me. As her focus was fixated on my house behind me.
“Jimmy dear! Come in….I’m baking that pie, at last!! Would you like to help me? Or are you feeling tired?”
“No, no. If I get to have pie for supper, I could gather up some energy….will be in a minute.”
And so, I freshen myself up and reach downstairs to help out. While, I was fetching things she was asking me, from the window that was in the living room, facing the front entrance, all of which I could see from the kitchen’s entrance….that old lady hasn’t moved an inch!! Standing in the exact same place when I saw her previously, looking at our house like with that same puppy dog expression, prior!
“Mom…..have you been paying attention to this old lady outside checking out our house? I saw her yesterday too, when I returned home, in that exact same spot, no less.
“Must be an elderly belonging to some good folks here. Well, you know old folks, they can become strange over time. She probably must had felt bored and decided to sight-see the locality, maybe.
“How long was she standing there yesterday? You paid any attention to it? I don’t remember seeing her this morning, however.”
“Me neither. As for yesterday, afraid wasn’t paying attention, dear…..We can call the cops if you feel something’s wrong with all this?”
“Maybe we can…..but, it’ll be quite dramatic, especially if it ends up being nothing.”
“Yes, that’s there, I agree.”
As I kept looking at her, I got this inexplicable but, irresistible urge to approach her and figure out what exactly is going on within her.
Nah……maybe mom’s right.
But, I will keep my eye out. Nothing wrong with having a little dose of paranoia within one, after all.
“Hey mom, I’ll be watching the TV for the rest of the evening. Hope you don’t mind. I don’t have much homework to do either, for the night.”
“Fine….I guess. Evening’s program for the day is quite underwhelming for me, anyway.”
Yes! Glad I was able to reason with her.
“Umm.…. Jim, I think we forgot all about the pie being in the oven. Dear me, let’s hope our lack of attention hasn’t ruined the pie or anything.”
She opens the oven, and as expected, black smoke began to emerge, engulfing the entire kitchen.
“My, not a good start to our evening.…. Hon, turn on the exhaust and dispose of this pie once the smoke clears out, can you do that? I am so sorry, guess, we don’t get to eat any pie today, again.”
“That’s alright. Lost my appetite, anyway.” Don’t know if it was due to the sight of all this smoke, or the sight of that old lady. “I am sorry too, I shouldn’t have interrupted the process with my paranoia.”
“Guess, we’ll have to make up for this some other day, huh? How about weekends? Tomorrow is Friday night, you did say you too wanted to learn baking this?”
“Sounds good….either tomorrow or Saturday evening.”
The smoke gradually left the kitchen, the stench naturally lingering. And it was overpowering. But, I ought to take care of it since well….it was my fault for the pie getting burnt, partly at least.
As I go out to dispose of this, I see her, standing there and looking at our house. She barely noticed my presence. In turn, I did my best to pretend to not be paying any attention to her.
I go in, tune into the TV, and boy…does the schedule suck. Well, it has been a while since I saw documentaries. Ya, that’ll keep me occupied.
I watch one. An hour has passed. I look outside and thank goodness, she’s nowhere to be seen! So, she probably started doing this every evening? I don’t remember seeing her prior to yesterday’s sighting. Still, all that info overload has made me feel tired. Probably will go to sleep tonight early.
It has been a good day today, a bit….interesting than usual, even.
Friday morning, I get dressed up for school, no sight of granny outside. Bid adieu to mommy dearest and be on my way to school. Everyone’s eager for the weekends, students and teachers alike. No one is keen on taking any classes or listening to one, by the end of today’s working day. Bell rings, and I’m off.
I reach my house and there she is, again. I wonder whether this is some glitch in my life. Because, she is standing there doing the exact same thing as she’s been doing, for the past two days since I’d been paying attention to her.
Okay….I’ve had enough of this. The suspense and this inexplicable and irresistible curiosity brewing within me. I’ve decided to approach her, what’s the worst that could happen? She’s old and seems frail, not like she will kill or overpower me or anyone around here, really.
“Ma’am. How do you do? Hope you aren’t lost? Would you like me to take you back to your place of stay, if so?”
“Janet….”, her voice weak and waning yet, determined. “My Janet, I’ve come here humbled and wizened. I need to speak with my Janet, just once. Before my time comes.”
Janet? I don’t know of any Janets here? Jane, yes. Jennifer, guess so. Juliet, probably not. Janice, my mom….
Hold up, she’s been waiting here for the past two evenings so as to meet my mom? How does she know her name? Who is this woman!?
I better reach mom, asap. And I have so many questions to ask her.
“Jim, what happened? You seem…out of the ordinary, this evening.”
“Mom…that old lady outside…”
“She’s outside standing there, again?”
“Yes but, she seeks a certain Janet.”
Mom’s eyes contract and her gaze focusing on me with laser-sharp precision.
“Let’s call the cops. I sense this woman to be nothing but a nuisance.”
“Wait, this Janet seems dear to her. At least, we shall try granting her request before doing anything like that.”
“And the cops will help her find this ‘Janet’, it’s pretty much their job.”
“She probably wants to do all this discrete. Bringing the cops into the picture might ruin all of that.”
“Well, there are more socially acceptable ways to do such things!”
What has gotten into Mom? She doesn’t tend to be this jittery, usually. Is she trying to hide something?
“I’ve had it with this, I’m calling the cops!”. A while later, the cops show up, escort that old woman with them and are speaking with my mother. I am unable to make out their discussion but, I did hear the words ‘Mother’, ‘bother’ and ‘homeless’.
Was she my mom’s mother? But, that’s impossible! Mom told me grandma passed away a few years before I was born! If so, why has she kept this hidden away from me?
Mom returns back to me, in the kitchen. “Whew, good riddance to that. Was just some hopeless soul trying to find something she won’t. Delusional but sad, don’t you agree?”
“Mom…..I heard the cops mentioning her being your mother and her bothering you? Grandma passed away long back, did she not?”
Mom pauses for a moment, makes a sigh. “She is dead to us. The moment she became responsible for your father’s demise.”
“I thought dad caught himself in a car accident?”
“Which shouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for that vile, narcissist of a woman that was your grandma! That witch took him away from me, as she did deprive you of a father. All because she couldn’t tolerate the fact that I fell in love and married someone that she didn’t find to her liking.”
“Why was she not fond of dad?”. Social status and expectations? Or was Dad some petty crook or a charlatan? Did he do something unacceptable? “And why do you accuse her, for that accident?”
“Sweetie, you must understand. Some people will hate you for no seeming reason. Purely ego-driven, blinding hatred. Your grandma hated your father because he wasn’t the man that she had in her mind for me to be happy with. I loved your father dearly, as he did me. She had trouble accepting that I could find something remarkable in someone that she couldn't.
She has been nothing but antagonistic towards me since I was a child. Opposing me over every choice and decision that I made, every single chance that she was able to get. And my romantic life and marriage were no different to her…… Your father was every bit of the man that her husband wasn’t. He left her when I was a baby, and she had seen me as her burden, since.
Your father’s mistake was that he was overtly idealistic and naive about all this. He was hopeless in his pursuit to please that woman when he should have known better. What was the point even? I cautioned him countless times! He unreasonably felt guilty for not taking care of his own folks, who were away in some far-off town, and tried to compensate for that. She took his service for granted, being petty and unreasonable with her demands. And so, one fine day, when she demanded something that she deemed ‘important’, it cost him his life. That’s when I told her that she was dead to me. And left the town far away as I could, never wanting to do anything with her, anymore”
I…don’t know what to make of all this. I can only stare at mom unfocused, while listening to this.
“James, I did not want to make the same mistake that my mother did. And, I hope I haven’t, so far. You deserve the childhood and life that I never got to have. It is your right, as it is my duty to assure you such. Your grandma based her life off by understanding all this the other way around. And now, when she has wrecked her own life the same way she did mine, now she wishes to reconcile with me. Nothing ever good will come out of this if she still lives by such a belief. And trust me, she likely still does.”
She looks over me with a heavy gaze, her voice having cracked at places, near the end when she was telling me all this. She pauses for a few minutes to regain her composure. And, she approaches me, gently places her hands over my shoulders, kisses me in my head and taps me on my right shoulder twice.
“I had my suspicions with that woman being mom! Old age hasn’t been kind to her one single bit! How did she manage to find us? I haven’t shared our story with anyone!
Anyways Jim, I am sorry for not having told you this prior. But, I always did wanted to, only was vary of what would be the right moment. I hope you understand. And, I hope you forgive me if you feel that I had done something unspeakable here…..Well, pie’s ready, finally. Let’s hope I didn’t burn it this time.”, as she laughs trying to bring some levity after all this.
Don’t people deserve a second chance in life? The same way, while much trivial, mom got her’s with the pie? As too, I had for my assignment and for countless other times? Or, was that old woman the kind of person who doesn’t deserve second chances…... how can I be sure of this? She just wanted to speak with mom one last time, after all. I probably will understand all of this, as I grow up. Or, maybe I won’t.
“Here’s the pie. Well, it smells delicious, let’s pray that it tastes the same way too.” And she cuts it and places a large slice on a plate. “Here you go, the first slice. You earned it. A toast to this weekend that we hopefully, will enjoy and spend well.”, as she lifts the fork in her hand and reaches it out to me, trying to ‘cheers’ me, as I do the same, in return.
“Pie’s good. I’m going to my room now.”
The smile on her face wanes off. She refrains from speaking further, probably empathizing with me as to what’s going on in my mind, at the moment. She must be upset with today’s incident herself, too.
After an entire week of craving for it, I couldn’t enjoy the pie, for some reason. Imagine how much better had our life had been, had dad still been around! I mean, mom toils so hard everyday, to assure us a comfortable lifestyle. But then, would my life had been this blissful and tranquil, had he and grandma remained in our lives? Had he been with us, will mom had forsaken her still?
Today has been an interesting day.