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The Present October 9, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.

The silver wrapping paper lay like a rejected nightmare in the dustbin. What was Koli to do with it? Ma had told her, take no gifts, we are not beggars, but how could she resist? When the uncle came on his scooter and asked her to confirm the name that lay on the tag, her eyes shone with the promise of what she knew lay in there. The basket.

He lifted the lid, and gingerly drew out a cylindrical container, gift wrapped and shiny. She knew she should have said no, and then delivered the speech Maman had made her practise, but the crackle of the wrapping paper was too much. In a daze she brought the packet in. She wanted to see what lay inside, but decided to postpone the moment so she could share it with her mother.

Maman was not like other mothers, and she had not brought up Koli like other children. Her life had been a battle and she was preparing to send her daughter in as her second. Maman didn’t have long to live, which made her long to live even more fiercely. Koli knew the doctors had found a cyst in her mother’s brain, but she was as yet too young to grasp the full implication of the find.

Maman was alone in the world, physically and emotionally. No, not quite alone; she had Koli. All the same, Maman was alone.

When she came back with a daughter, hushed voices and whispered conversations followed her. When she found a job, the hushed conversations increased. She never gave an account of Koli or her past life, and eventually the whispers became a part of the background noise. Much like the drone and chug-chug of a washing machine, as you sat down to eat, or watch television.

Maman was not that old, but her youthful features stood at odds with her grave demeanour. Koli would tell the neighbours how Maman joked that she was an eighty year old stuck in the body of a twenty seven year old person. Ofcourse they never believed her; Maman couldn’t joke.

Koli wished her mother would go to school parties like other mothers, but from a very young age she understood that Maman was different. Sometimes she would ask her mother questions, but nobody ever knew the answers because Koli wouldn’t share.

Maman hated the festival season. Too many people pretending to be what they were not, spending money on unnecessary things. If there was one thing Maman hated, it was spending on unnecessary trifles. Money was hard enough to come by without blowing it up on things that often lasted only an hour.

Diwalis were the worst. Maman had no friends, she told Koli. And only gifts given by friends are worth keeping. You know then that the gifts were picked especially for you, with nothing but your happiness in mind.

Maman would pause then, her eyes lost in thought. But, she would add soon enough, I have no friends, Koli; so don’t you ever accept any gift. Koli knew Maman hated the time when the next-door aunty had wrapped her old aqua-guard and gifted it to her mother because she had upgraded to a newer system. Maman had gone deathly still. For two days she sat at home looking like someone had skinned her alive. Koli had quietly hidden the gift and slowly Maman had become her usual self.

Now Koli looked at the silver wrapping paper and trembled. Unable to bear the wait, she had ripped off the first layer to find another wrapping paper with a card on it. Koli did not dare proceed further.

When Maman came in, Koli’s eyes went involuntarily to the dustbin, but Maman’s eyes were fixed on the cylindrical package. She glanced at Koli, and slowly approached it. The card seemed to pierce her concentration; she couldn’t look away. With an uncertain hand she plucked it off the surface and began to read it. Koli’s eyes anxiously searched her mother’s face, but Maman’s eyes were un-readable. She took the package to her room, and for the first time in Koli’s memory, she locked the door to keep herself in.

Koli never found out what was in the package, but Maman took her shopping. For the first time in her life, Koli heard her mother encouraging her to buy fanciful things. Maman’s eyes no longer looked like a shop with downed shutters, and sometimes Koli was sure she saw the shadowy image of a person in there. Maman had changed, Koli knew, but it was hard to figure out how. She would still scold if Koli threw a tantrum for a toy; they would still read wonderful stories at bedtime. No, it was something else. Maman suddenly looked as if she were not alone; when she looked into the horizon, she was looking at a far-away image of herself. And Maman had a friend, Koli was pretty sure of that. The mirror image of her inside, reflected from a distance. Piercing beams of light bouncing off, creating a connection, stronger for its absence. Maman was still Maman, but one day the kitchen wall was suddenly seen to sport an old, weathered aqua-guard.

“Will you come with me, Koli?” Maman asked, smiling. “It is time I thanked aunty for her present.”



1. Jacky V. - October 14, 2009

Ah, you reeled me in yet again. Are you going to publish your short stories?

2. sporadicblogger - October 25, 2009

Someday 🙂

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