Tending the roses.

“There has to be an end to everything. And a new beginning to every end.”

Sourya’s life ended the day she finished graduation. Or so she exaggeratedly thought, as she read the quote on the wall at the university. End of her life as she knew it. She was going to fly the coop. She was determined she was going places, leaving behind all her baggage. She dreamed of it every day- a new job in a new place, far away from what she called home- the controlling father, a saddled mother and a brother who was handicapped.

At 23, she wondered what life was all about. If she, a young psychologist didn’t know everything there was to know about problems, what hope did she have of finding solutions to others’ myriad problems?

Bright and jovial she was but lately, had encountered in people things she struggled to find words for beyond what her Type 1 and Type 2 personalities yielded.

She had a very interesting patient by the name of Dahlia. Dahlia was a lone parent, with her kids offshore. Sometimes, it seemed that Dahlia knew much more than she would let on- why else would she take advise from someone much younger, much less experienced in the way people were- Sourya was only beginning to call some unabashed and solitary, some as hoarding their family problems into every 5 minute phone call to her. Dahlia was a reprieve from most of these people’s mundane issues. Even if Sourya would never allow herself to admit this- being professional and all- she detested some of her patients for making trivial things into big mountains.

Dahlia, on the other hand, was a gentle woman, a woman who tended to her gardens. Cooked up soups in the soup kitchen at local community gatherings, wore scarves on Wednesdays and Fridays. She was a beautiful soul, admiring beauty wherever it left an indelible mark on the surface of all the soot that we gathered, every day. She uncreased her cottons carefully; she mended missing buttons and knit socks on the weekends. Dahlia’s daughter and son lived overseas in New Jersey and in Chicago. They had decided to leave much before their mother could even get to say a decent good bye. Their father, Dahlia’s husband who had been drunk through the whole episode; disowned them- not being able to digest the ingratitude of his children- who’d grown up to become so self-sufficient in themselves that they neither cared nor fretted about their parents.

Sourya, sometimes, while listening to Dahlia, would suppress her tears. She felt inordinately moved and very challenged about how to give advice to someone who was grieving the loss of a loved one- for it was a loss, no less, when she didn’t have that experience. What did Dahlia seek? A sympathetic ear? Or someone who just listened? Sourya tried to be the best of both for her. Dahlia’s children wrote to her for Christmas and she was just supposed to make do with what little was given to her in the way of sustenance, which arrived every once in a way. It was the thoughtlessness that bothered her. As Sourya listened to her, she vouched never to end up so thoughtless and uncaring.

On occasion, Dahlia would surprise Sourya with questions about her own welfare, instead of seeking and taking advice that she had come for. She was like a godmother to Sourya although, professionally, she would never be able to admit that. Patients had to be kept at a distance, and that was the way. No two ways about it.

On Thursdays, Dahlia visited Sourya at the clinic. She kept up her appointments regularly and enjoyed meeting her. It was one of the week’s highlights for her to visit someone much younger, around the age of her daughter and son and see how the world was faring from her point of view.

“Have you ever been touched by love?” Sourya quipped to Dahlia during their session.

“What love? The love between a boy and a girl? Or the unconditional love of a mother?” Dahlia, replied, in an equivocal tone.

“Whether unconditional or bound, love is a difficult subject to talk about.” Sourya followed, with her characteristic precociousness. Although she was young, she had her share of problems too. And today, for some reason, she felt compelled to share what her world was like, with Dahlia. “ I have a brother, who is handicapped. He has an advanced form of autism, which has always meant special schools for him, special this, special that. I know I sound very brutal, but the honest disclosure that I have to make is that my own standards for success have always been too high and I’m tired of expectations that my parents have of me, that I will somehow compensate for the son they cannot have. Now it is too late. Now they are unable to see me for who I am- a fallible person who can allow herself to take risks and not be afraid to fail and learn- I long for this. Truth is, even I don’t know where I begin.”

Something about the silence that Dahlia’s reserves of loneliness brought to the table, made the whole conversation bubble up and stay, like a slow moving cloud above their heads. Dahlia gently reached out and touched Sourya’s hand. She patted it a couple of times, saying “You take care.” She got up and took leave.

Though she was perplexed by this reaction, Sourya saw Dahlia to the door, and came back to her seat. She made some notes about Dahlia’s progress as a patient who seemed to be much more embracing of new ways to engage herself and not be thwarted by the emotional undercurrents of her circumstances. When she felt the words described what she wanted to say, she closed the book and decided to call it a day.

The weekend that followed was busy, one that had Sourya up early, considering which university to attend and more significantly, how she would broach the subject of moving away from home, before the family, especially her father.

On Tuesday, Sourya returned as usual from the university and plonked her bag on the couch. She noticed that the phone was beeping. She went over to find that the receiver had not been placed back properly in its place. She wondered who could have been so careless, when she noticed that her brother’s wheelchair had been folded up. Instantly, panic arose up into her trembling hands as she reached for her cell phone to call her parents. Strangely, no one seemed to be in the house. She called her father. One ring, two rings.

“ Tell me beta,” her father responded.

“ Is everything okay baba? Vicky’s wheelchair…aap log kahaan ho?” Sourya asked.

“We are in the bazaar. Mummy and I told you yesterday, we’re going to the bazaar to get some of the things for the renovation.”

“ Acha ok. But where is Vicky?”

“ Vicky must be there only.”

“Okay, I’ll find him and check on him.”

“You have snacks on the table beta, he’ll be fine. I spoke to him just 2 hours ago. He had lunch and was playing upstairs, in his room.”

Although Vicky could walk, he needed to use the wheelchair to get around since he didn’t like it when people brushed past him. He would yawl and drool away even as people watched, as he didn’t have the usual coping mechanisms that other people would normally devise, or so his doctors had said.

Sourya went to the table and picked up some kurkure and decided to check on her brother. She mounted the stairs and behind her, she checked on the phone again. There were unanswered messages on the answering machine which left the light blinking red. She walked down to check if they were messages for her.

Her application to the job she coveted so much- it could be one of the professors getting back. She hurried to the phone, as if, that would make the message turn in her favour and pressed play.

“ Vicky, you know how much I love you. I don’t care about Diana. I know I said really harsh things to you, but baby, you and I are made for each other. Please don’t break up with me. Please answer my calls. We need to talk. We really need to talk. I love you so much.”

Sourya couldn’t believe her ears. Was this message for her brother? Who was the heaving girl on the other end of the phone? She sank back on the couch and let realization slowly sink into her — disbelieving what her sense was telling her. Her brother was dating a girl and had been in a relationship for ages now- he was going through a break up! And to think, this whole time, she thought he was dependant on everyone! The red light was still blinking when she reeled herself back to the moment. She pressed the button again.

“ Hi Sourya, this is Hannah. Your application for an MBA has been accepted at KEDGE. Please call us to arrange a time to confirm your place with a student advisor.”

The red light continued to blink.

“Sourya, Mrs. Dahlia Jacobs has passed away and her funeral was held on Sunday. She asked that you be mentioned at her service for your ‘selfless service and the smile you bought to her every day’. Thank you.’”

A smile turned up on the corner of her lips, while tears clothed her face. The quote from the university’s wall flared up in her mind-

“There has to be an end to everything. And a new beginning to every end.”
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