Just the same…Always.
A puff of dust rose up as she pushed the solid wooden door, and it fell open with a thud above her. The light in the attic was already on, she having hit the switch Peter had installed, hanging from a hook near the attic door. Mary Emmanuel, Mariakutty to her family and friends, looked around the dusty, cobweb filled room that was left alone most of the year. Had her husband known, he’d have told her off for climbing up there even today. But it was Christmas Eve, and she wasn’t able to find peace knowing there was a room in their small house that was still left to clean in the festive season.
“How dusty is this room! No wonder. Someone should clean it every month, not wait for Mariakutty to do it every Christmas.”
The ceiling was high enough for Mariakutty, all of five feet, to stand without worrying of hitting her head. She stood, tied the pallu of her old kasavu saree so it won’t come in her way, and taking a broom, began to dust the room. It smelled musty. She made a mental note to tell Peter, her son, when he came home for Christmas from Bangalore, where he studied. Had the rainwater started to seep in again?
In a corner of the room sat an old trunk. It had once been a green color, but now, it was rusted in patches, orange-brown in those places but still sturdy. The padlock on it, however, was new. The silver colored lock glinted in the light of the bulb. Dropping the broom, Mariakutty went toward it, a smile having crept onto her face. She sat on one of the smaller trunks, forgotten amidst life and by time, and took off her gold-plated necklace. On it was a tiny key, one that unlocked, for her, more than just an old trunk.
The creak of its hinges softly echoed, but she didn’t mind it, not at all. This trunk had been with her since she first moved in, with Emmanuel Ichayan. From its depths, she pulled out an old album. Turning to face the light, she opened it, releasing yet another puff of dust. The ink had faded, but the names were still clear enough. “Emmanuel Varghese weds Mary Thomas. December 25, 1989.” She looked twenty, and she was. There was a smile on her face, the same one she had now. The veil was behind her hair, which had fell to just above her hip. The white dress suited her.
“You look angelic,” she remembered her mother telling her before the ceremony.
But she had been nervous. She could see it in the picture, in the eyes of her former self. Her heart had beaten fast, and she had stammered when voicing her acceptance of Emmanuel as her life partner, her ichayan. He was 5 years older and 5 inches taller than her, looking dapper but nervous too. She had almost laughed when he stammered saying his acceptance too, but her smile seemed to ease his nervousness. She remembered him looking at her, opening her veil, and there was no anxiety there, only an eagerness to start their journey together.
The last photo of their wedding album brought her back to the present. She reached into the trunk, and pulled out a book, her old diary. She had written in it till she turned twenty two, till she had run out of pages and time to write. The ink had faded there too, but it was still fresh in her memory.
“Today was my birthday. He forgot. I wept when he went to work, silently in the kitchen, thinking he didn’t care. But when I removed my pillow during cleaning, I saw a book there. Not just any book, but my favorite one. I had told him when we first met, that a friend had borrowed it and never given it back. I didn’t think he’d remember. He had written inside, “I remember. Just don’t let anyone borrow this copy. Now I know you’re smiling through tears. Happy birthday, my dear dearest.” I had thought of fighting with him when he got back, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.”
“He’s worried for something. He won’t tell me, but I know it’s his obsession with his hair. If only he knew I’d love him no lesser even if he was bald.”
“I don’t know if I’ll write here again. Peter takes up most of my time now. And he’s fond of tearing paper. How strange. Ichayan likes to save paper, and his son likes to tear it.”
She laughed out loud reading her last entry, and her laughter felt unchanged after all these years, ringing through the room. She remembered a small boy, running around at a million miles an hour, and Ichayan chasing him, huffing and puffing and feigning anger. Peter would run into her arms, and he’d hug the two of them together, the mock anger replaced by the usual twinkle.
There were other things in the trunk. Her wedding veil, the glass she first gave him a drink of water in, his first letter to her, and her first letter to him. It had been his idea, to write them. She didn’t know how she wrote so much, but he did.
“It’s because you love me so much,” he had said.
Having dusted a few memories, she locked the trunk again, and continued to dust. She saw herself in an old mirror. Her eyes had dark circles around them, her hair tied in a bun so it didn’t fall open during cleaning. Her self-critical eyes saw specks of grey in her hair, but she smiled.
“It’s only the dust,” she told herself.
Her face had wrinkles, and she hadn’t managed to lose much weight after Peter was born twenty years back. Or maybe it was just time. She felt her muscles cramp, and sat down on the trunk again. Behind her, she heard the sound of footsteps.
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times. Don’t strain yourself cleaning this place. Ask someone to do it. You know how you tire easily.”
Even his scolding had an undertone of love. His fingers deftly massaged her shoulder and she turned to look at him. His eyes still had that smile, that eagerness of old. There were definite streaks of grey in his hair, which had receded. Maybe it was her imagination, but his voice felt deeper. He had a paunch now, larger than he liked.
“It’s because of you. You spoil me with all that delicious food that you make,” he had once told her, laughing as he teased her for asking about it.
She smiled, but didn’t reply. She felt happy then.
“Some things change, but others remain the same, even after years,” she thought to herself.
Immanuel looked at her, but her silence had to be broken. He laughed.
“How did I put up with you for 25 years? You and your silly ideas,” he teased her.
But she was ready with her reply. It was one she had always known.
“It’s because you love me so much.”
(4th January 2015)