Appointments for the day:
Mr. Richard Fry and Mrs. Julia Fry – Meeting at 12:00 noon with Register no. 834, Room 23, bed 16.”,
read the bulletin board across the entrance hall of the convalescent home. My hands in hers and hers in mine, we stood there looking at the notice board and scheduled an alarm at 11:30 am in our watches to ensure we are ready thirty minutes prior to the appointment.
My wife and I sat near the reception desk with our ID tags around our neck that indicated we come from Block A of the rest home, dedicated entirely to the geriatric. We now had a solid one hour in hand. We stared at the green walls and the attendants who kept walking up and down the stairs with tablets and medical reports. In the same row that we were seated, to the extreme left, a young couple in their mid-twenties were waiting to meet their parents and immediately beside us another couple, a little older to meet theirs. This made me acknowledge the fact that at some-point in the future, it would be their children in their place.
Julia could not just take it all in and she prayed to God to help her get through the few years she had in her hand. I kissed her on the cheek in order to distract her from the environment that has jailed the both of us for more than 30 years now. Sooner or later, I triggered a conversation about her most loved topic, “The Golden Age of my Childhood” and she went on, “Oh! Those were lovely days. I still remember the days I used to wait for Pappa to come home with biscuits every Sunday. Back in the 1920’s, he was a top class Professor of English in a small town in South Madras, and you could not see a much humbler person ever. My mother, on the other hand was a traditional home-maker and she loved us all too much, that we failed to acknowledge as young kids”. Listening to this story for the zillionth time, I was once again happy to give her the opportunity to revisit her hometown in the form of words. “We had a simple life back then. After all, the concept of television, cars, mobiles and movies that govern us today were all far-fetched ideas. All through the day, we played Lock-n-Key and read the popular vernacular comics.” As she reminisced about the good old days before she met me, I cast my mind to the merry moments with the love of my life standing right beside me.
With joy gushing over her face, she said, “The temple bells would start ringing by 4:30AM, and we would be up and about by 5:00AM to welcome the milk-man. As soon as we hear the knock on the door, all of us under the roof would excitedly line-up with our glass bottles to make the abstract idea of filter-coffee a perceptible reality.”
I smiled and admired her laugh, her enthusiasm and the aura of placidity around her. She made me fall in love with her all over again. With a twinkle in her eyes she said, “We were 10 of us at home and were all always responsible, united and loving. We would pack our morning meals, and take a stroll down the avenue to cycle our way to school. We had minimal needs and we had to help Mumma when she needed it.” With her volume increasing, she voiced, “No way could you escape, because she would just hand over the cotton bags to you and you had to rush to the grocery store!”
Pushing her smooth silver coloured hair behind, she cheerfully made note of the times when she and friends used to collect newspapers as a competition. The newspaper- collector for the month would be awarded with a vanilla ice-cream from the Ice-cream truck near the temple tank. That vanilla ice-cream was enough to keep the children smiling for the next thirty days. As she spoke of the times of her life seven decades ago, I kept looking at her and thought to myself, “I have the most beautiful wife in the whole world.”
Just when my mind voice ended, she resumed about the green gardens outside of their homes where she used to play hide and seek with friends from the neighbourhood. She rummaged through her memory file, and filled mine with her pet-life. Her family owned a Goshala which was home to more than 50 cows and 60 care-takers. From drawing water from the wells to feeding the cows with food waste from the previous night to collecting the cow-dung to put in the soil, she relished being one of them.
Her first love to this day are the cows she grew up with, and second probably, me. She still talks to the chokras who helped her back then, to tend to her loved ones. This was fun for Julia and she laments about the lost days when social-life was never materialistic and stressful. By now, her eyes were full of tears as she deeply missed all of it. She fell on my shoulders and I secured her in my arms to comfort her.
Just then, our beloved fifty-year-old-son, register no. 834, room 23 and bed 16, rushed down the marbled stairs. In addition to the scheduled appointment to greet us, our son had another visitor after all. His twenty-three year-old son had come down from two streets away to visit his parents before he set out on a so-called ‘family vacation’. Now, there were two fathers in the room and two sons in the same room, but still could not be called a family. The fathers loved their sons, but it was tremendously hard to express them in the form of letters and sentences. At present, trivial appointments and trifling schedules, once in two months determined how much one gets to talk to their dear ones. The world today is no more than an asocial cage. Are we as colleagues, neighbours, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, afraid to face the reality?
With this short welcoming and cold-byes coming to an end, everybody went back to what they were doing and I reverted to where we stopped in Julia’s story. Julia refreshed her face and taking a huge breath rhetorically asked, “So, where did I stop, honey?” and she continued. She went on about the times, when she and her six siblings just had three clothes each in their cupboard and how happy she was with such modest lifestyle. She told me how everybody embraced the notion of living together in harmony. In the good old days, people didn’t revolve around the clock and hence, life had a purpose and was a pleasant adventure.
With this, she concluded her narration and both of us looked at each other and we exactly knew what the other was thinking. It was about how our lives had become so intertwined with the complexities of the rapacious world. Back then, friends and family mattered. We have had everything in life, before walking into this place as solitary old-people. But nothing gave us happiness, expect those few minutes, when we got to see our son and grandson. That is the mere value to which the definition of family has cascaded to. With Julia’s long-drawn history about her simple living with cows, cycles, greenery in the temple-town, glass bottles of coffee, and the times with her comrades, I told her with a smile, “Come on honey, we have got to take our tablets and get back to our rooms. The attendants will be at our wards any time now for the regular social therapy.”