When she didn’t come
When I was just married and for several years after that, I had a daily visitor. A friend. A confidante. I looked forward to the visit. Partly because I enjoyed our brief time together, and partly because it had become a ritual—one with all sorts of superstitions attached.
She would be perched on the lower, crisp-dried brown branches of the coconut tree that bobbed its green-yellow head just outside my kitchen window. In the morning, as soon as I woke up, she would fly to the window, make her way through the grille and sit on the edge of my curry leaf pot. She would then proceed to caw incessantly, angrily, until I acknowledged her presence. This was, usually, just a cold look in her direction, but it would suffice; temporarily. She didn’t need feeding so early in the morning; just a salutation. But as I would make the morning tea and breakfast and conjure up something for my own and MK’s work lunch, she would comment intermittently, almost as if monitoring my every move—as is to say, “You’ve under-salted the bhindi, add a little more. Turn off the gas as soon as you add the tea leaves or your tea will turn bitter! Oh, I never imagined you to be capable of puffy phulkas–not bad!”
Once the lunches were packed and I was ready to leave, I would slip her a cooled phulka, a tiny one made especially for her. As I shut the door behind me, she would fly it back to her brown branch and eat it quietly, neatly. Not dropping the smallest morsel on an unsuspecting head walking below. How it amazed me, her precision, her sense of balance—literally and figuratively.
Running a house of my own, no mother or mother-in-law to supervise the mundane, I imagined her to be the wise old one, holding my hand as I dealt with the newfound responsibilities of a married woman. In times of acute emotional turmoil or in a pensive state, I always found her watching quietly from the window. Always. All I had to do was look out. She would be staring at me without a flicker of movement, her clean, soft, grey-black coat glistening in the soft afternoon sun. MK once joked that she was probably his grandma, my grandma-in-law, whose beautiful wooden cupboard and pockmarked old steel tumblers I had inherited. The steel water tumblers, phulpaatri in Marathi, are not shiny any more. They are dented in places and are almost a dull gray. But they have stories to tell–of thread ceremonies when they are gifted or at her own wedding or the birth of her first child. Miscellaneous, various sized. They carry her name etched on their sides, little connect-the-dots of Devnagri, creating her name and assigning an archival value to the utensil. When I hold them, I feel like I’m transported to another time. It is my only connect to a woman I never met and MK says I remind him of. I can’t bring myself to give them away.
When he said the crow was probably his gran visiting me, I temporarily subscribed to that Hindu superstition (reassurance?) that he was probably right. It became our little secret—an internal joke. I didn’t have to open my mouth or shed tears before her for me to understand when I was worried about something or when I was a lonely new bride waiting up late at night for her hardworking husband to come home. A 4 a.m. friend of sorts. Life moved on. Things began falling into place as I found contentment in a new profession, had a baby, and got generally too busy to notice the small things. Maybe that’s why….
It’s been at least a year since I last saw her. MK says he hasn’t seen too many crows in general, but he says these things just to comfort me. There are enough crows to wake you up in the morning; I can hear them as they fly away from their nocturnal residence on the lakeside to wires and terraces around, a sense of purpose in their collective flight. I feel certain that she’s the only one missing. Earlier this month, we gave away the cupboard after weeks of evading the subject, having sudden frustrated discussions, and consulting carpenters. It was crumbling and could not be restored. It had to go. The room it stood in gradually converted to my daughter’s room, and the aged, walnut-stained wood made way for young, bright colors.
Maybe she’ll come at least now, I thought. To reprimand, to agree, to reassure, to agitate; anything—something. But, she didn’t. The curry leaf plant is pruned, and the shiny black oil paint on the wrought iron grille is peeling off. The coconut palm is shrugging its shoulders in loneliness in the quiet of the night.