Not really a Goodbye
Vidya woke up to the aroma of unniappams that wafted in from her mother’s kitchen. Outside, it was raining, and the petrichor, the musty fragrance with the first rain mingled with the aroma, making her sit up in delight. She smiled. Looking down, she saw her bags packed and ready. It was the day she had to bid farewell, and return to her hostel for the new school year.
She got up, brushed her teeth, then went and stood at the entrance to the kitchen.
“You will not enter the kitchen while you’re home, Ammu,” she had said, the first day she was back for summer vacation. “You’ve lost weight, eating that tasteless hostel food. Amma is going to pamper you. No,” she said before Vidya could interrupt her, “you will not argue, and you will not help me.”
From the entrance, she could see her amma fill a big steel box with her favorite unniappams, enough to last a week, maybe more. It would ease her homesickness till she settled in at the hostel again. Her amma smiled, and taking a dark, almost burnt one, she gave it to her.
“These almost burnt ones are the most delicious,” Vidya said, taking a bite as she sat down for breakfast. Steaming idlis and hot chutney was already on the table, and she had it slowly, savoring every bite. “Can’t I stay another day? Nothing happens on the opening day, and I won’t be missing much.”
Vidya knew her mother wouldn’t agree.
“No. Every day is important, kutty. You’ll be homesick even if you leave tomorrow. And I’ll miss you just as much too. Don’t worry, Onam will be here before you know it, and you’ll be here again.”
Few hours later, the rain had died down into a drizzle. Vidya was ready, her bag slung on her shoulder. Neither she nor her mother cried, but they knew the tears would come later. Saying her goodbyes at the gate, Vidya walked to the pier, where she’d take a boat to the other bank of the river.
“Namaskaaram, chetaa,” she greeted the old boatman, who knew her well. He smiled as he took her bag; then helped her to gently step into the boat.
“Kutty veluthayi, kaeto. Pokkam vechhuttundu,” he told her, as he rowed carefully. Vidya laughed. Everyone had told her she’d grown taller. And she had.
But her eyes were only on the shore, thinking of her home, and her mother at the gate, waving goodbye. And the tears she knew would come, came and mingled with the raindrops on her face.
“Poyi pinnem varaamallo, kutty, pinnenthina vishamam,” the boatman’s words drifted across.
She looked at him again, and he wasn’t smiling either. Like he understood her sadness, though he asked her why she was sad when she would return.
“Amma chothikkyum, pakshe njan onnum parayoola tto,” he said. He’d keep Vidya’s sadness a secret when her mother asked. But it wasn’t really a secret.
“Ini eppol varum? Onathinnu avadhi undakumallo, alle?” he asked her, just as they neared the other bank. She nodded, telling him that she’d be back for the Onam vacations.
“Appo kaanam,” he said, helping her alight when they reached.
She smiled. Then she took out her steel box.
“Enne ormikkyan,” she told, surprising him, offering him an unniappam to remember her, till they met again.
When Vidya turned back to wave goodbye, she saw the boatman bite into the sweet and wave back. And in the drizzle, the bitterness of a farewell seemed lost in the sweetness of her mother’s unniappam.
(© 21st January 2015)