Written by Surabhi Kaushik
She wiped her tears as she stuffed her suitcase, packing memories along with her clothes. She wished grandma was still alive. The pleasure of seeing grandma’s eyes gleaming in delight, her toothless smile spreading over her wrinkled cheeks were now merely pictures. Though grandma’s illness had given her indication of what was to come, she had always been in denial.
Within hours of grandma’s death, Rachel rushed to the small town where she was raised. She hesitated to call her mom. The last thing she wanted was to spend time alone with the woman who was never around for her. It had been like this since the beginning. a rough road, with steep curves, most often meeting a dead end where neither of them were able to get along. Rachel struggled to decipher her mom’s stinging silence and constant absence. Their thin conversations were laced with frustrated monologues from Rachel. Mom thought she was being protective, but for Rachel it translated to being overbearing. She tolerated her mom’s existence with a sourness that curdled further every time they met. Letting out a helpless sigh, she texted her mom with the fewest words possible.
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she thought of all the good times she spent with Grandma. It was grandma who would sit by her side reading stories when she was a child, baking cookies and knitting mittens together when she grew older. It was grandma who prepared her favorite soup every time she craved it. It was grandma who scraped through her savings to the last drop, so that she could fund her education. To imagine the house without the cheerful and lively old lady whom she loved more than anything else in the world, crushed her heart to pieces
Mom had always been busy working two jobs, sometimes three. On her days off, Mom would sleep all afternoon, wake up only to see Rachel’s empty room and neatly made bed. Mom barely spent time with her.
Rachel had got the news that it was grandma’s last wish had been for her to open the box. Uncle Mark and her cousins would also be present to witness this. It was no secret that she was grandma’s favorite.
Rachel touched the grainy texture of the metal box. Her hands travelled to the lock. Her mother handed her the tiny key to throw open its secret to the world. As a child, the myriad colored box was the biggest mystery in her world. Motifs of miniscule butterflies danced amidst the collage of emerald green, sapphire blue, amber dots and ruby red rectangles. Curious to know what it contained, she had made many plans, all of which failed. Grandma let no one come close to the box, let alone open it. You could only see it through the window outside her room. Always dusted clean, the box sat majestically for the full view of people inside and outside the house, but no one dared touch it. Either the fear of grandma’s fury or respect for her words kept the gorgeous beauty unopened.
With trembling hands and the gentle rush of adrenaline that grew stronger as Rachel tucked the key into the hole and turned it open. The scent of eucalyptus oil floated through the half-opened lid of the box. A sad smile singed Rachel’s face as she fondly remembered grandma’s obsession with it.
Everyone in the house peered over her shoulder to finally discover its contents. A pale green envelope greeted her. Tearing the edges of the hardened envelope, she pulled out a small note.
“Dear Rachel, my beautiful granddaughter” it said in grandma’s shaky handwriting. A silver bracelet, tiny enough to fit a new-born’s wrist dropped out of the envelope quickly. Rachel held the circular piece of blackened silver. Tiny bells on the edges tinkled as she held it in her numb fingers. It had aged but still had a strange charm to it. Placing the bracelet carefully on the bedside table, she focussed on the sealed envelope. She touched the letters Dear Rachel, trying to feel grandma’s wrinkly hands through her words.
Tearing the envelope open, she reached out to the letter lying inside, like a potent weapon. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Nobody looked at each other. You could almost hear the orchestra of heartbeats.
Dear Rachel, You are the best thing that ever happened to me. From baby steps to the fine young woman that you are today, I love everything that you have become. I’ve loved you dearly and cherished every moment of your being with me.
But now, I need to tell you a little secret. You need to know that there’s someone who loves you more than I do, someone who thinks the world of you and has sacrificed far more than you noticed. It’s your mom, Tara.
My daughter Tara is not your biological mom. You are her best friend Nancy’s daughter. Nancy and Tara were not just friends. they were soul sisters. They were two peas in a pod. Their friendship had grown and blossomed through the years and they were always there for each other.
Nancy and Tara were best friends. Nancy was excited to have you, though your father William was not supportive of her. He was not ready for fatherhood and vanished shortly after Nancy told him about you. But Nancy was overjoyed and thrilled to be a mother. Despite William abandoning her, she filled her days with good thoughts, excitement and joyful anticipation of your arrival. We were her family and she was ours.
Unfortunately, Nancy met with an accident within a few days of your birth, leaving you bundled in a soft flannel blanket and wearing the bracelet that you now see. For Tara, it was the most obvious thing to step in and raise you. You were two months old when our house became your home.
She worked many jobs and put everything else in her life on hold to raise you. As you grew into a charming young woman, she protected you from the harsh realities of your past. While your future bloomed like a flower, her present left her withered, with no time for herself. She lived through two miscarriages a bad marriage that ended in a divorce and a lot of loneliness that comes with being a single mom.
I tried my best to support her, by being around for you, while she worked more and slept less. She saves every penny, hoping to give you a better future. There were many times when she sits on your empty bed and wept aloud, because for some reason, she could never connect with you. You are a good kid, but also very stubborn and refused to allow her into your world. All you would see is her absence, not realising that she was away because she wanted to provide the best for you.
Tara is a woman of few words and has never complained to me about you or about her hardships of being unable to come closer to you. But I can read her thoughts in the sadness of her eyes. Her stony silence speaks volumes about how she feels. She never let me tell you the truth because she did not want you to feel like you were obligated. But I know that while she feels that she has been a loyal friend, she also feels that she is a disaster as a mom.
I trust you to make her feel otherwise.
Love and blessings,
Her eyes welled as she realized how it put the most important pieces of her life together. Memories fresh as spring blooms, flooded her mind. Grandma talked about the bracelet so often, but never showed it to her. She referred it to it as a unique piece that she found lying in a thrift store, but she never spoke about the baby whose wrist it adorned!
Flattening the note and placing it back carefully, she wiped her tears away from her face. “Grandma gave me her biggest treasure.” Unable to meet the knowing look in her mother’s sea green eyes, she walked towards her. Hugging Tara tightly, she sobbed wordlessly.
Words have always been my best friends, allowing me to find comfort and joy in playing the role of a copywriter, storyteller, poet or essayist, not necessarily in that order. After moving to the United States in 2015, I have been closely associated with Write Like You Mean It, a writer's group at Main library, Charlotte.
My blog https://surabhiwritersmind.blogspot.com has links to my work published in several websites in India and the United States.
Apart from being a writer, I am also a book addict, a compulsive baker, a glossophile and a musician. I love conducting writing workshops, binge watching or hiking, when I am not writing.