The old independent house reeked of memories, as did the only living member of it. Ages had passed, black had turned to gray and photographs had only been added to the peeling walls. But this was home and this was all she knew. As she limped through the house, every corner held a special place for her. Here, her late husband sat reading, there her only son used to study and this was all she had left, memories and a house to store them in.
As he glanced up at the alarm clock on the polished bedstand, he sat up with a start. Goddamnit, he was late. Cursing to himself, he reached over to the other side of the bed to wake up his sleeping wife. She only groaned and barely budged, he gave up and hurriedly pulled on a T-shirt as he rushed into the spacious bathroom. Somewhere between shaving and showering, he glanced outside and realized that a fresh layer of snow had fallen. Goddamnit, why did Toronto have to be so cold.
The Audi SUV responded beautifully with his needs, as he sped down the street in a desperate attempt to attend that meeting.
The rains had finally given the scorching city some amount of respite. Sitting by her window and drinking her cup of filter coffee that Bala had made her, she looked out and was lost in her thoughts. She set her cup down and turned to Bala. “You know, on an evening like this many years ago, I had introduced Vinay to carnatic music” Bala nodded, he had heard this before, the same way he had heard every story of Vinay’s in all the years he had been serving and looking after her. He was nearing thirty and had looked after Amma for the past twelve years. He had developed a kind of liking for her and treated her as though she was his own mother. Vinay, of course, was her only son who was settled in Canada with his wife. Amma’s husband had passed away years ago, while Vinay was still in school.
Amma’s mood was relatively uplifted that evening, Bala thought. Vinay and his wife would be coming to visit soon, within the next two days and the old woman’s eyes shone with excitement.
As the couple trudged out of the airport, the old dusty air of Delhi made them cough more than it brought back childhood memories. They soon spotted Bala amidst the thronging crowd, waving at them with arms as outstretched as possible.
As the car sped into the bylanes, Vinay was filled with some amount of nostalgia. Of course, things looked a lot more different than they had the last time he had been here. He rested his head against the glass window and thought over what his wife had proposed in the plane earlier and although it made him uneasy, he thought it was alright to do it.
On entering the gates, he saw Amma at the door, beaming. He touched her feet and noticed how frail she looked. Amma almost looked like a school girl, having shrunk that much and most of her skin hung in loose folds now. But her smile was undeniable as was the shine in her eyes that suddenly made her look so young. She ushered them in and instructed Bala to take their suitcases inside.
A couple of days had passed and she could not have been happier. As Amma limped around the house now, she hummed and periodically smiled to herself. The house felt alive to her, as if the memories were suddenly given a leash of life and she herself was dancing with them. It was all going wonderfully until one night, over dinner, his son spoke.
“Amma, we, uh, want to tell you something”, he said, barely making eye contact with her.
“Amma, we noticed the old pooja items kept in the storeroom while cleaning the other day and…”, he hesitated, seemingly too ashamed to finish that sentence.
His wife barged in rather impatiently and said, “We want to take them back with us, that kind of silver is extremely rare in Canada and we decided to melt them and make wine glasses for when we have important guests over.”
Amma said nothing at first and thought this over. Those silver items had been passed on to her from her mother, it had been a kind of heirloom. It made her a little sad but she knew she would have to give it to them eventually so when she finally spoke, she agreed.
This time, Bala barged into the conversation, “Amma, are you sure?” but quickly quietened down when the wife shot him a look. Amma chuckled dryly to herself, and nodded.
“Amma, there’s one more thing”, Vinay said.
“We want to sell the house, this house”, said his wife.
At this, Amma froze while Bala looked on with some kind of bated breath. Her voice trembled a little now, “But where would I go?”
“We’ve looked up an old age home for you back in Coimbatore and that’s where you’ll be going in a few weeks. This house is worth millions now, Amma. And the money would be good for us to invest with”
Sure, the house was worth millions. Not rupees to Amma, but millions in terms of things one could never buy. This was the house she had lived in for the past fifty years. It had witnessed her marriage, her relationship with her husband, the birth of her son, a death and so much more. This was home, in every sense of the word. And they wanted to sell it?
“Can’t you wait until I’m gone?”, she feebly said.
“No, we need the money now”
Amma quietly said, “I’m not going to leave this house” and left the table.
Two weeks later, Amma woke up to a house full of people who were fishing through her belongings. And that’s when she realized that it was happening. As the day proceeded, she saw strange men taking away her husband’s favorite shirts at almost free of cost. Some other women took her old paintings away. Some took furniture, others took clothes and by the end of the day, the house was almost entirely empty. The rising sense of heartbreak in her only made her quieter as she sat on one of the stools his son and daughter-in-law couldn’t sell. Her whole life had just vanished in a day and as she looked around the empty house, she wanted to scream but no words came out.
“The flight is at 9:40 in the morning so be ready by then”, his son said coldly while she touched the walls and traced the outlines of where old photographs had been.
A little more strongly this time, she said “I’m not going to leave Delhi”
Bala could barely do anything as her son physically wrenched her from the house and put her inside the waiting taxi outside the gate. Amma’s eyes that shone with joy about three weeks ago, now shone with tears that the poor woman could not control. They streamed down quietly as Amma only kept repeating the same words over and over again. “I’m not going to leave Delhi”
“Passengers, we regret to inform you that this flight will be delayed by fifteen minutes as one of the passengers on board has developed a critical health condition”, droned out the speakers on board the flight as most of the other passengers let out a groan or rolled their eyes. Back on the ground, Amma was transferred to a wheel chair and her son was immediately contacted.
“You just had to make up some sort of crap for not going, didn’t you? Causing all these people inconvenience!”, her son said angrily.
She reached out for his hand, held it tightly and within seconds, the grip had vanished and her hand hung loosely.
True, Amma never did leave the old city of Delhi.