There was a storm brewing. Standing at her bedroom window and looking at the horizon, she could tell that with absolute certainty. She could see the telltale signs… the haziness, the first of the black clouds and a cold, biting wind that was entering her room now. It was the wind that made her sure of it, and made her whisper a hurried prayer of gratitude to him for bringing the storm on a Sunday. If it hurried, she could miss the morning prayers at the church, and the sermons of Fr. Matthews, which she felt were getting boring. Now, she could finish the book she had been reading the previous night before her mother snatched it away in a huff, and pushed her into bed. She gently lifted her sleeves to see the bruise, where her mother had held her.
“Why?” she thought to herself. “Why the sudden change in Mom? She’s never lost her temper before. She’s never yelled at me, never took away my books. Only this week, she seems to be uptight. Should I ask her? I should, but what if this new Mom doesn’t like it.”
A clap of thunder broke her train of thought, and she looked out the window to see the storm had arrived. Rain had started to fall, and was slowly picking up force. She quickly latched her window shut before the wind could cause damage to her room.
“Anita, you got your wish, you horrible girl. You wished for an excuse to miss church, and now you have it. Are you happy? Now God will punish me. He’s already started, he has. Why would he give me such a daughter otherwise?”
Every word her mother uttered cut through her like a warm knife through butter, and she buried her face in her pillow and began to sob.
“Why? Why does she have to blame me for that? Isn’t a storm a perfectly good reason to miss church? Is it my fault that a storm had chosen a Sunday to come? Hell, it was God’s wish that the damn storm came. Why can’t she blame God for once?”
“Does your mouth have diamonds that you can’t answer me?”
She got up from her bed, and latched the door’s three bolts tightly.
“Yes. Let Him punish you more, Mom. I hate you. Did you hear me? That’s my answer… I HATE YOU!”
The creak of bottom three steps of the old staircase told her that her mother was on the way up. A moment later, she was pounding on her door, shouting so loud that Anita was sure her neighbor could hear her even with the storm.
She lay face down on the bed, and covered her ears with the pillow, so she needn’t hear the abuses that were now being showered at her.
“Why, Mom? Why?” she thought.
“You little witch?! Open this door, NOW! How dare you talk to me like that? Who do you think you are? You are my daughter! Not some ragamuffin I picked up off the streets!”
Staring at the closed door in front of her, and hearing herself, she was shocked at what she was saying. She felt the words hit her, and she walked back downstairs, to her room. Standing in front of her mirror, she remembered that day. It wasn’t much different than it was now. Rain was pelting down, but there was no wind. It was late night when she heard the bell ring and answered the door to find no one there. Looking down, there was a baby in a basket, wrapped snugly in a blanket and fast asleep, oblivious to Nature’s noise around her. A note pinned to the basket read, “Take care of her for me.” There was no name on the note. It was like a scene from the movies.
She remembered taking her inside, frantically calling her husband and anyone else she could think of. She remembered holding the baby close and calling her Anita, and after that, she couldn’t call her anything else. It was Anita, and she didn’t allow anyone else to change it, not even the adoption agency. It took her a while, some cajoling and convincing, and a lot of paperwork, but Anita became her daughter. She had sworn to herself that day that no matter what happened, she would never let Anita know she wasn’t hers.
Sixteen years had passed. A lot had changed since then. She had lost her husband, and moved to a different city. She had not remarried, but instead chosen to take up work at her husband’s old firm. She worked her way up, and had held a steady job. She had watched Anita grow into a beautiful girl, and protected her fiercely like any mother would. They were in their own little perfect world, just the two of them, and she felt nothing would break that.
That was till the storm hit, a thunderbolt from out of nowhere… the visit of a woman not much younger than her, and her husband. It was the previous Sunday, just after Anita had left with her friends for the mall. The woman claimed to be Anita’s birth-mom and the man her father. They had traced her through the adoption agency, and wanted to take Anita back. When she protested, they had told they’d be filing a case, even for a paternity test, to prove their claim and take her back.
They had left, but through the week, their calls hadn’t let up. They wanted to avoid a scene, offered her enough money to let her retire happily from her job, even afford a better home. But she didn’t want anything. All she wanted was Anita. Their visit threw her life out of balance, and she began to worry. What if she couldn’t keep her darling? Would she be able to live past that?
Her worry began to show. She started to yell at her darling, she lost her focus at work, and she began to dread answering the phone each time it rang. But nothing… nothing compared to what she had said today. She had never called Anita anything but her name. She had tolerated and smiled at her every quirk, like trying to avoid church. And she knew Anita put up with hers too. And hearing the three words she never ever wanted to hear from Anita had hurt her that badly.
She knew. She knew it was time to tell Anita everything.
I hear a knock. There’s no thump, no screaming, no noise but the howling of the wind outside. I wipe my tears, and open the door. She’s standing there, as white as a ghost, the twinkle of her eyes lost, and her mascara blotched, like she’s been crying. Without a word, she hugs me tightly and I can feel the warmth of her tears moisten my shoulder.
“It’s okay, Mom. I didn’t mean what I said. I can never hate you,” I tell her. But she doesn’t let me go.
“Honey, I have to tell you something, okay? It’s a long story, but I want you to promise me something.”
She’s never been that nervous to talk, and I know something is up. I nod my head.
“Promise me… promise me you won’t hate me for what I did. I can take anything, but I can’t take you hating me.”
Her words strike me. Her voice is heavy, and she’s trying to keep it steady. I nod again. She sits on my bed and starts her tale, and with her every revelation, I become even more shocked. When she’s done, I pull away from her and stand at the window, staring at the storm outside, unable to say anything.
I hear the doorbell ring, and hear Mom heading down. It’s a lot to take, and I can’t imagine anyone but her as my Mom.
“Anita, come down please.”
Heading down, I see a lady standing near the door. She’s in a beautiful dress, quite regal like the ones I’ve window-shopped for at the mall. Her eyes are warm, but missing the twinkle that’s there in my Mom’s. She has a big box in her hand, and I can see the logo of my favorite chocolatier on it.
“Hi darling, I’ve missed you,” she tells me.
She walks toward me and pushes the box into my hands, and holds them gently.
“My name is Katherine. I’m your mom… your real mom,” she smiles.
I can see mom behind her, looking on silently. I can see her eyes brimming with rage, but I shake my head to tell her not to say anything.
“Why are you so silent, sweetheart?” she asks me. “You can talk with me. I won’t hurt you.”
I pull my hands away from hers, and keep the box on the table.
“If you really are my mom, why’d you leave me? If you didn’t want to hurt me, you could have kept me and not thrown me away.”
She starts some story, about how she was young and she didn’t think she could support me, about how her husband… my father… had not been willing to jump into fatherhood then. That it took her these many years to find her feet, and get settled in life.
“Ma’am, I’m sure you are a great lady. But think of me. What if mom hadn’t held on to me that night? What if no one was home and I was left to freeze in that storm? You may have loved me then, and wanted someone very nice to be my mom, when you were my mom. If you really wanted me, you wouldn’t have waited sixteen years to come get me.”
“In these sixteen years, not once have you known me. You don’t know the things that matter, like how I hate going to Fr. Matthew’s sermons, or how I love reading classics. You don’t know where my birthmark is, or what my allergies are. You’ve never seen me dance on stage, or attended every one of my rehearsals, no matter how uninterested you were in drama. You don’t know that I’m allergic to one particular chocolate from Tuddles’, the one you have bought for me.”
“I can learn…”
“How can you learn to love your daughter, ma’am? It should come from your heart. It should be there every day. My mom does love me. I see it in her eyes when she worries, in her food that she cooks for me with care, in small things like when she pulls the blanket over me if I fall asleep while reading or when she sews a button on my jacket and bites off the thread with her teeth. She didn’t learn to love me. She just does. And your love, it has been missing for sixteen years, ma’am. I won’t feel it at all.”
She looks at me like I’ve gone crazy. In the silence that follows, I realize with awe that I’ve never… never spoken so much before. Tears are flowing out of mom’s eyes, and she walks into the living room and sits on the couch, holding her head.
“But I will have you soon, you know. You’ll have to learn to love me.”
“Ma’am, if that happens, it’ll be the end of me. You might get a child, but not your daughter. I’ll never be able to call you mom, or accept you as one. I’ll be… I’ll be like a servant at your house, which I’m sure is a big one. Nothing you do, nothing you say or offer me, will be able to change that.”
I surprise myself with what I say, and I see Katherine shake her head as she opens the door. I smile as I see her open an umbrella and walk toward her car, and wave goodbye just as a loud clap of thunder echoes through the air. As the car moves away, I feel mom’s hands around me and that gentleness I’ve known her to have is back.
I don’t know where the next few hours go as she and I talk, about everything and anything, but our thoughts are broken by the ringing of the phone, which mom answers.
She grimaces first, but as she talks, I can see her smile return. When she keeps the phone, she’s positively beaming.
“That was Katherine. She’s not taking you away. She says what you say is true, and she can’t take my place. Oh darling, you’re still mine, and only mine,” she says, hugging me tighter than she has ever done. “She did ask if you would be friends with her though.”
I’m not sure if I can, but there’s always room for a friend I guess. Who knows, maybe it’ll work out.
The rain outside has let up, and the setting sun is at the horizon now. Mom decides today we’ll eat out, and we head to the mall. Just the two of us, like it always has been.
The night after the storm was a clear one, with the moon and the stars serenading us as we walked back. But I’ll still wish for storms to avoid church. And mom, MY mom, she’ll still chide me with a smile for that.
Que sera sera, whatever will be will be;
But some things never change, I know,
Like this love, between mom and me.
(5th January, 2014)