I have a very vivid memory from my childhood.
I was travelling on the school bus when a storm hit my hometown. I wouldn't necessarily term it as dangerous, but the winds were strong enough to make a few banners fly off the metal posts.
Which made my mother inexplicably anxious. With no means to reach out to me, she stood at one spot on the balcony for almost an hour as my brother nicely sat inside watching cartoons. In his defense, it was obvious that I will be fine.
But try telling that to a worried mother.
I still remember how she came to receive me, dishevelled. It wasn't one of your life-changing moments - but in some ways, it was.
Cut to, 2021: Two years of isolation and two thousand phone calls.
Just to hear my voice, and to guage if I am doing okay through the pitch in which I talk.
Because she knows I will not tell her even if I am stressed.
And she is correct about that.
As she is about most things.
She is correct when she says I skip meals when I get too involved in work, she is correct to think I don't sleep on time and she is correct when she points out that I am too set in my ways for my own good.
But trust her to never give up. Which makes me think that no one will really care about me this much.
Not that I ever contested that idea, but it has become more evident to me as days pass, and the pandemic becomes more dangerous with each new mutation of the virus.
Every day, she tells me to eat fruits.
Sometimes directly, sometimes through a painfully loud WhatsApp poster that lists out the benefits of oranges.
Sometimes I reply, sometimes I don't.
Whatever I choose to do, though, she never holds it against me. A few minutes later, inevitably, there is another call – this one about the advantages of doing yoga.
I say, “Okay mom, will do that”.
And she says:
Tum bas ghar aa jao. (You just come back home).
To which I want to reply, “I wish I could”, but I settle for “soon”.
Which also feels like a lie. Because it is. The meaning of the word 'soon' has changed during the course of the last few 12 months.
Earlier, 'soon' was the next big festival or the upcoming long weekend. Now, 'soon' can be next year.
And that breaks my heart, because how many nights is my mother going to go to bed, worried about her kid?
How much helplessness is she yet to feel in the midst of all this trauma?
How many days she will have to fake calmness, just to comfort me?
She does that, you know? Out of nowhere, she will crack a joke, or try to change the topic to something more cheery.
She will ask me about the missing dupatta of a certain pink suit or tell me about a school friend who stayed back in the city as I moved out of it.
Usne B-Ed kiya tha, ab woh teacher hai. (She did B-Ed, she now teaches in a school).
And then, we talk about a forgotten classmate of mine and make up the details of their life, even as we both know reality could be very different.
I suppose at this point, it's about escaping our reality, and the overwhelming sense of separation.
The efforts my mother puts, I wouldn't even dare to expect from anyone else.
She can now video call me without asking for instructions on phone call before (not something I ever found bothersome, but anyway).
She can also send voice notes, and claims that she can order things to my place.
One sneeze and I can feel her physically resisting the desire to send medicines over.
No one does stuff like this. No one can.
And it is as painful as it is comforting. Because if I told my mother today that I am coming home, I know she will keep standing on one spot on the balcony as she did all those years ago.
I know she will come out to receive me, disheveled, and I am not sure “thank you” is what you say to someone for these gestures. This is where language fails me.