Old Age and Eternal Wait

I can never forget those eyes — the hollowness in the gaze, the darkness that made the smile look out of place, almost sacrilegious. The eyes were of the children in the adoption centre, forever waiting. They were very well taken care of, yet the eyes reflected a piercing, bone-chilling loneliness — something one doesn’t expect to see when they belong to a three-year-old. It’s been years since we met those little ones. Quite a few of them have found their forever homes since then. Yet the pitch-black darkness remains fresh in my mind. Mostly because I see it every day, on much older faces– on the road, in the park, and on empty streets — shuffling along, forever waiting. The generation bygone — not gone yet, but written off.

In their younger days, they did everything to raise us right, give in to our whims, and get us that particular toy even if it meant an extra crease of financial worry on their forehead. They pushed us and made us what we are. As we took off, they squinted to keep an eye on us, and we soared in our skies, their smile in place watching us become a distant dot. The smile fading as the dot became too distant. And today they wait — wait for a doorbell, wait for a phone call, wait for their time to come. A mostly endless wait.

An old lady shuffles to her home down our street every day. She slows down if she sees me and hopes that I call out. I do. She eagerly stops and turns around. We talk, standing under the tree, about inane things. I can see the desperation. She just wants to talk. Her only son lives elsewhere and is too wrapped up in his life. She waits for him to turn around, pull away from his web for some time and acknowledge her presence. Till then she goes on being the ghost that waits.

At work, I hear women use vicious words for the mother-in-law. I can see insecurity in their eyes but I fail to understand the competition. There is none, most of the time. Yet, the whispers ring out all day — cursing them, scheming to keep the grand kids away, and definitely alienating the husband. They overlook the hurt they cause, and are oblivious to the fact that somewhere, someone is trying very hard to figure out her fault, hoping against hope that the door will fly open, and her family will walk in and hold her, however fleetingly, but just be with her for a few precious moments. The door never opens and the eyes get lonelier.

We are a busy lot. We do not have time to stop and see. Work, classes, exams, more work, and Saturday dinners — everything takes precedence over that one phone call, that one visit. We are a busy lot with a bag full of excuses. We are too busy raising our fledglings, not mindful that a day will come when we nudge them to take a flight into their world. We too will watch them disappear over the horizon. We too will wonder why, when the walls of alienation close in.

The older one squealed and broke the trail of thought. “Mumma! I got a bronze medal in English Olympiad! We need to celebrate with ice cream. Yes?”

I smiled. “Yes.”

A few minutes of bragging and jumping around followed.

“Did you tell Dadi?” I asked.

“I’ll do it right away. Almost forgot!”

And he launched into an excited conversation with Dada-Dadi. That is all it took — a phone call — to make them feel included, special, and a part of the tiny joys in our lives. Just a few seconds of conversation. Yet it will carry them for days. They will tell the entire neighbourhood about the medal. They will get the boys to order their choice of food when they visit us this weekend. Gifts will also be bought. All because they heard joy in his voice. All because he cared to share that moment. All because I got him to call. That is the only extent of mindfulness required from us. Taking tiny steps, opening small windows into our worlds for them to peep in and smile, just a phone call while you wait for your turn in the queue to place an order for a cup of coffee — that is all it takes to spark a twinkle in those forlorn eyes.

Yesterday, I asked the lady who passes my house by every day, “What do you do the whole day?”

She paused, let out a deep sigh, and said, “We wait.”

I can hear the silence of her wait, and each day I pray for the wait to end, for her grandkids to send her a postcard, and for her son to call, to tell her that she is, that he is.

Originally publisher here