Hold My Hand
The queue outside the clinic is long. The monsoon had taken its toll and the sounds of coughing and sneezing echoed inside. Looking at Peter near me, I can’t help but feel strong. His eyes, blue like mine, had lost some of their warmth, and he had become thinner, but he still refused to admit that he was feeling weak. When the nurse calls him inside, he gets up slowly and goes inside, telling me to wait. A clap of thunder echoes through the dark evening sky, and it shakes me.
“It’s only thunder, Malu. Don’t be afraid… hold my hand.”
The tears in my eyes blur the world around me, and I remember when I had heard that.
I loved watching the clouds. I had been on the balcony of our house when the dark clouds had rolled in. I had never seen clouds so black. A resounding clap rang around me, and I thought the sky was going to fall. Holding my doll tightly, I had run crying into the bedroom and draped the sheet over me. My mother had laughed, telling me I was being silly. He, however, came and sat next to me, and gently pried the sheet away from my hands.
“It’s only thunder, Malu. Don’t be afraid… hold my hand.”
“What is thunder, Etta?” I asked him. I only called him etta, my elder brother, when I was afraid.
“Well, you know Acchan has gone to meet God, right?”
I nodded. It had been a long time since Acchan had gone.
“Thunder is Acchan’s stomach grumbling and rumbling when he’s feeling hungry. It’ll go on till God gives him his lunch.”
I had laughed. Amma had always told how hungry my Acchan used to be.
“Don’t be afraid. After it becomes dark, the power comes and goes in God’s home too, like it does here. So you might see flashes of light in the sky too. In the place where God stays, they call it lightning.”
I had nodded solemnly.
“How do you know all this, Etta?”
“Well, God tells these things to elder brothers, so they can hold their sister’s hand when they’re afraid, and make sure they never cry. So don’t cry, Malu. You wouldn’t want me to be in trouble with God, right?”
I had taken his hand and squeezed it then.
“That’s right. Good girl. Don’t be afraid. I’ll always take care of you. Hold my hand.”
Hold my hand… hold my hand… the words tumble around me, taking me with them to another time.
There had been many chairs in that small room. They were colorful, and had been spread in a circle. A strange lady in a blue sari had been standing at the center, smiling at me, the shy girl in a pink frock who was hiding behind her brother.
“Please come, Priscilla,” she had called me, taking my real name. “I will not hurt you, child.”
But I had been too worried. There was no one there. Amma was standing behind us, giving my small tushy a push, trying to coax me inside. Then I saw Peter put his hand out, and I took it. I always took it. I knew Etta would never hurt me.
“Hold my hand, Malu. This is a nice place. Shall we sit on a chair and talk with this sweet auntie?”
He had taken me inside then. I had sat on a blue chair, while he sat on a green one, his favorite color. My mother had just watched from near the door. I had sat there for a long time, holding his hand and talking to that auntie, who I was to call “ma’am”. After some time, Peter had given my hand to her. When I had started to cry, he had bent down and squeezed my nose.
“I’ll be there outside, Malu. You talk to her okay? You’ll be meeting her every day now. She’s your friend too. You can hold my hand when we walk back home.”
I would wait every evening after that for him to take me back home from school, and I would happily hold his hand and talk nineteen to the dozen while he’d listen patiently, never letting go.
I do not know when I had fallen in love and how Peter had found out about it. When he did, he didn’t make a fuss, but just went straight to my love, his classmate Matthew and told him straight up that he’d have hell to pay if he hurt me in any way. Matt though wasn’t afraid. He knew he loved me and that I loved him, and that he’d die before he hurt me. When Peter heard that, it was enough for him. He accepted Matthew into our family. The twenty-two year old me had been surprised at how quickly the talks escalated to marriage, and before long, the day dawned when I would enter a new phase of life.
Peter had walked me down the aisle. I had been happy, but nervous too.
“Etta, what if his love reduces after we get married?”
The whisper was meant only for him to hear, and it was a doubt that had creeped up just then.
“Well, I’ll bring our watering can and pour some water on him.”
I had giggled. But no one made anything of it.
“Well, he’ll wake up and realize then that he needs to love you more. Or his love will grow again, like the flowers you care for so much in our garden.”
I had giggled again, but we had reached the end of the aisle by then.
“Hold my hand, Malu. Don’t be afraid. Even if he lets go one day, I’ll always be there to hold it again.”
I had never thought it would come to that, but it had. When I couldn’t conceive, Matthew was too saddened, and he had said the dreaded D-word – divorce. Through the court dates, and meetings, Peter had stood by me. He’d hold my hand tightly, for I had felt broken then, felt weak. Nina, my sister-in-law would be there then too.
“Hold my hand, Malu. You’ll be okay. You’ll be strong. Think of it as thunder. It’ll be over soon.”
It had been raining on the day the proceedings were finally over. A clap of thunder had echoed through the sky then…
…just as it does now, bringing me back to the clinic. I’m standing at the threshold of the clinic, leaning on a pillar, looking at the greenery and the rain fading into the black of night.
I hear his footsteps behind me and turn around to see him stand there, the nurse holding his shoulders.
“I told her I didn’t need help, but she insisted,” he smiles, walking unsteadily toward me.
“I know. You look fine to me too. What’d Dr. Nair say?” I ask, taking the umbrella out from my bag.
“He told me to continue on the tablets for another week, that’s all. I’m as healthy as a horse,” he replies, taking the umbrella from me and opening it.
I laugh, and follow him outside. He slips on the bottom step, but catches his balance just in time. When he looks at me, I feel a little anxiety creep into his eyes.
“Hold my hand, Etta,” I tell him, pushing a little anxiety into my voice as well, “I’m feeling a little afraid of the thunder again.”
When he holds my hand, I feel him squeeze it tight. As we walk back home in the rain, I squeeze his hand back too. And for a few moments, I’m that scared little girl again. The thunder has stayed the same, only my fears are different.
“Please keep my Ettan safe,” I pray, smiling for him.
(© 7th November 2015)