Thursday, November 19, 2015

GHASTLINESS

Kezia was prone to spurts of joy followed by long spells of depression. When happy she was winsome. And on this day, her birthday, her happiness was conspicuous. The spangles of her birthday skirt glittered iridescently in the sunlight and her silk ribbon, enclosing her wild mane in a loose coiffure , refracted shafts of dazzling color. She jumped, danced , swooped in joy, getting in everyone's way. Her parents responded to her frequent demands for attention with smiles and pats in the head as she raced around the house . Only her grandmother, an embittered old woman, found the joy excessive.

Kezia was turning seven and had some conception of birthdays. Getting up in the morning, warming to the slant of light that filtered through the gap in the curtains she was concerned, not so much that she was now seven but that the day would be devoted wholly to her. Ever since infanthood she felt the onslaughts of solitude keenly. Her memories , though uninformed by reason , recalled a feeling of utter bafflement when her plaintive cries would make her mother rush to her, encircle her in her arms, blow hot ,wet kisses. She never felt reprieved at her mother's presence. Beset by an emptiness she discerned even then but couldn't form into words she learnt early  about how insufficient love is. She had yearned for love, a love beyond any context, vast, formless, all encompassing. A love which floated in space, anchored in its own intensity. She had learnt early enough that expressing this love would only yield frustration. At very young a stage in early childhood she learnt to withhold. And when she did lavish love, the fact  of her invererate taciturnity , enlivened by this irrepressible interlude of emotion, earned her, from adults, copious affection . Her disappointment at having her vast needfulness for love thwarted led to these pantomimes. But she never sulked, was never sullen or irascible. Her self containment was much admired.

Today she was happy because the prickings of that vast love she felt with piquant force every morning was actualized by this day being her birthday. Mother, father, neighbors, even her usually fractious grandmother beamed with goodwill. Waves of love buoyed her, held her aloft. Rushing downstairs she had scraped her knee on the banister and did not even cry at the sight of blood. Her mother kissed her , bandaged the wound . But the band aid had loosened as the day had progressed and was hanging loose when she inspected it in the afternoon. She carefully ripped off the band aid and winced at the astringent raspy scraping of her flesh. And then picked up a scab of flesh that had unloosed itself and chewed it thoughtfully before swallowing it.

There was to be a party and it filled her with unbounded happiness. Centrality to herself was what she had craved throughout these seven years but had constrained expressing with a certain reticence. She knew that love was inconstant that it could be taken away precipitately. Her grandmother , of whose loving ministrations she had such fond memories had grown distant with time. She refused to tell stories, pushed her away when hugged. Kezia discerned a sour, stale smell coming off her grandmother these last few months. She knew gran was ill. But for now, today, these misgivings were put in the back burner and that too very spontaneously, with no effort.

Dusk came and with it guests. Kezia was kissed, hugged, given many gifts. Cake was cut, food was partaken and throughout she evinced an effervescence and brightness that emanated from faith, faith that was essentially an immersion in the present moment and in absorbing the myriad feelings , emotions it engendered which would, she resolved, be lovingly reminisced.

And very soon the party was over and night had fallen. She went to kiss her grandmother and was summarily sent away with a perfunctory pat. Her mother was clearing away the mess in the dining room. Father, as he was wont to do, had ensconced himself behind John grisham. She went to say goodnight to him and he wished her a happy birthday for the last time today , with a bear hug. Her eyes pricked with tears and she felt moved by this gesture of uncomplicated emotion. And then to bed.

In bed the memories of the day , which kezia had hoped to embalm as bulwarks , failed to yield their resultant sweetness. The day had passed in a fugue, a suspension of her habitual self awareness and now, as the strokes of the clock advanced, Time, both symbolically and linearly, reasserted its inexorable hold. She remembered with pleasure all that supervened but with a concurrent wistfulness of the momentousness of it all. Like love , the day too, had been grasped with thoughtless unselfconsciousness and now revealed the insidious power of its transitoriness. Try as she might to hold on to time past, felt and experienced with such intensity, she couldn't relinquish intimations of its passing. She went downstairs to her grandmother to recapture the wholeness life was severing her from this moment. Her grandmother lay asleep , it seemed but was immovable. Kezia could smell her sour body smell as also the sweet breath from her gran's mouth, a scent redolent of timelessness. But there seemed to be no breathing. Kezia touched her grandmother's pulseless hand, the utter stillness of the body and knew that what she was witnessing was death. But her grandmother's tranquil face disallowed tears. She climbed into bed with her grandmother, laid her head on her ample bosom and drifted off to sleep , secure in the awareness that she was in the midst of the only thing permanent in life .

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