Her expression was always quite the same. A serene face, almost too serene. It was as if underneath those small smiles and tipsy eyes there laid sorrow that had now become her constant companion. I’d watch her sit in front of the mirror on humid mornings, adorning herself with a mask. She’d draw borders of kohl around her puffy eyes until you could no longer read them. Her face would be powdered until the lines became invisible. And it was always the same shade of cherry-blossom pink that she would paint on her lips. A gold necklace and tinkling bangles around her delicate wrists to match the silk sari.
My mother would sit there and stare back at the doll in the mirror until the silence was broken with my grumbling stomach. At the cue, she would blink her glazed eyes, hold my hand, and we would carry on to the kitchen to break our fast.
Our house was situated on the corner of a neighborhood that was contrasting with everything outside of its borders. The houses were elegant, the trees were trimmed to perfection, and it was so quiet. As a young child I would spend the hours of the day inside accompanied only by my imagination, eventually entertaining myself with the idea of playing on the other side of the cage where the commotion of India never slept. I wonder if Mother ever wanted to do the same.
My father was The Man who went out everyday to make money. I supposed he liked doing it because that’s all he did and that’s all I knew of him. In the evenings Mother and I would be served dinner by the household staff, and sometimes he would join us. Most of the times he would not.
The memory lasts even when everything it contained has ceased to exist. The repetitious cycle of our days continued for a couple years longer. As life prepared me for school, friends, and adventure, my mother’s days remained consistent.
In the morning I came into her room with my sleepy eyes and watched as she applied her various cosmetics. It took longer now, until she was able to make it look smooth. It took more layers to make the wrinkles and swollen eyes go away. The pink lipstick began to look like clay. She lingered more today while observing herself in the mirror until I became irritated with hunger and she sent me off to eat.
That day I left the gates of our neighborhood by myself. I went to school and I played and laughed and experienced life for the first time. I felt a change, and it felt so liberating knowing loneliness wasn’t a permanent feeling. But I also knew that the house would always be waiting to suffocate me and I dreaded having to go back.
When I entered the gates that day with a reluctance spirit, I did not know another’s life had changed as well. The house was quiet and no one came to greet me, so I went looking for my mother. When I reached the entrance to her room, I saw her above me. She had her makeup done perfectly this time, or perhaps it was the tranquility in her face that made the difference. The gold bangles were shining on her wrists, and around her neck was a rope suspending her from heaven.
I wasn’t the only one who found freedom that day.