Suja got acquainted with the fact that pain was personal very early in life. She learnt it first when the nurse poked around her tummy until she found out where exactly it hurt the most. The nurse kept jabbing her finger around asking her if it hurt, like she had to search the place out – like she didn’t know where it hurt the most. But how could the nurse not know where the pain was? Especially when it ached so much, surely it was horrible enough for the nurse to see it, if not feel it. Surely pain like this loomed over the world like a black cloud, so that the whole world would know that she, Suja was in Pain! But no such thing! Why, the nurse even seemed mildly irritated at the pain.
That was the first time Suja realized that when something really hurt, only she could feel the pain. The other people didn’t even know where the pain was, forget feel her pain. Suja quickly learnt the parts of her anatomy so that she could tell the world about her pain. “Amma, my stomach is paining.” “Amma, my leg is paining.” Stomach pain worked well when she wanted to stay home from school and leg pain worked best when she wanted appa or amma to carry her.
But when amma scolded her and when Tinky died, even Suja couldn’t tell where the pain was either. She hurt all over. Nor did she want to share the whereabouts of her pain with the world, though she did tell amma why she couldn’t eat when Tinky died. “Amma, I can’t eat amma. The top part of my thamuck is paining.” “Amma why did Tinky die, amma?” “Because God called Tinky, molle.” “But why did God call Tinky if he knew Tinky would die if he called Tinky. And Tinky was my dog.”
Amma picked her up and held her close. Amma never poked around for the place where it hurt, but she always helped make the pain somehow bearable. That night as she made her peace with God regarding Tinky issue, she asked him to take the pain away and asked him never to call Amma like he called Tinky. But the next morning the pain didn’t go away, unlike her leg aches and stomach aches. Two fat teardrops rolled off her nose as she thought about her dead dog and the way he used to smile his ridiculous smile at her. That was the first time she made her acquaintance with the kind of pain that remained. The kind of pain that the night didn’t and couldn’t steal away from your body as you slept. The kind of pain that sometimes stole your sleep. The kind of pain, that sometimes, nothing could heal.
As she bounced between the opposite sides of consciousness and unconsciousness, the pain was a disturbing droning that didn’t let Suja collect her thoughts. She was supposed to be worrying about something, so worried that she could feel it rolling about in her mouth, like a taste you tried to remember long after you’ve swallowed what it belonged to. “The baby”, she remembered and her hands struggled to feel the familiar bump. But they didn’t cooperate with her intentions and one of them had the definite weight of humanness in them. Someone was holding her hands. “Ravi…?”, she wanted to ask about the baby, ‘Was he safe? Did I kill him by being so careless?’ But she couldn’t, her tongue wouldn’t budge from its heavy stupor. Even Ravi kept moving around in the spectrum of her vision like she was looking at him through a kaleidoscope. “How did I fall? Where did I fall? Did I kill him?” At this, the pain stopped being a dull droning but turned into a very evident jagged edge that slit somewhere deep inside her being. “Is the baby coming?” she wondered and made yet another failed attempt at feeling for the bump.
Ravi’s lips moved, like he was telling her something. “Must pay attention, he’s probably telling me something about the baby”, thought Suja as she wrestled with the heaviness in her eyelids. The droning and the humming again. For the briefest second, like a revelation, clarity cleared the smoke in her disjointed senses and she caught on what Ravi’s moving lips were saying. They weren’t saying anything at all. Ravi was singing to her. Ravi always sang to her when she couldn’t sleep. And sleep was especially hard during the course of her pregnancy. That one moment of clarity was a wet towel to her feverish delirium. “The baby is fine”, and she let the pain drone on and stopped worrying about the taste in her mouth. But she would have, if she realized that it was blood that left its metallic taste in her mouth. And that Ravi was singing to keep himself from crying.
It was well into the morning when Suja gained consciousness and instinctively her hands flew to her stomach. It was empty, she knew that before she even touched the place where her beloved bump used to be. The emptiness in her was like a broken pane on which scraps of hopes and dreams clung on to with the desperation and tenacity of patches of moss. “I killed him”, a sob got stuck somewhere on its way out and her body shuddered from the impact. Strong hands of hopelessness had her pinned down to her bed and they poked and probed, jabbing her where it hurt the most. Jab, jab, poke, poke. Warm human hands pulled her away from the smothering blackness. Saving her.
A summer’s night, so many summers ago, the warm touch of humanness. “The up part of my stomach hurts” “Amma why did Tinky die?”Amma’s soft, cool hand on her cheek. Amma’s soft, cool hand that had long withered away to dust in the heat of the furnace fifteen years ago. “I killed him.” Ravi’s firm, warm hand touched her cheek; no less gentle, no less kind, no less loving. “I killed him.” “No, you did not. The accident did”, Ravi half sighed, half gasped, like his lungs couldn’t decide whether to contract or expand, exhale or inhale. His hand travelled down the bed like a blind five-legged spider, seeking for hers just by the sense of touch. They were both blind spiders, seeking each other in the darkness, groping around, reaching out for each other – through the sense of touch. Each seeking each other’s pain. Trying to find it, to compare wounds and heal somehow. Seeking the sorry comfort of empathy.
Suja, numb, traced shapes on her husband’s head as he sought respite in her warmth. Each repeated movement of her finger was like carefully flicking back the pages of time. Behind her eyes that stared fixedly into space, she replayed the events of the last evening.
Vishnu was a handsome boy and when he smiled, his eyes crinkled so small but one could still see the warmth they emanated like the rays of sunlight that stole in through the gaps in her roof on summer evenings. He had just stepped out to meet some friends. And he’d kissed her before he left for letting him take the car. “Amma you’re such a dear!” Suja heart tore. Strange how the sweetest memories develop jagged edges just by the altering of circumstance. A dirty, mean trick like stealing from a blind beggar; like a thorn in a rose. Suja was the one who answered the phone. She heard it first, but she didn’t tell anyone. She couldn’t. She had passed out, clutching at her stomach.
Ravi’s tears made a wet patch just beneath which her heart unwillingly pounded on. Her own tears slipped down silently mixing with the wound on her lip. Bitter and sweet. She wrapped her arms around Ravi and he tightened his embrace. Suja knew that pain was very personal and no amount of prodding and poking would help determine the exact point of the origin of their pain, nor would it help to feel or partake of each other’s pain. Suja also knew that this pain would not go away. But for now she would hold Ravi close and try and bear it.
(i wrote this story a long time ago when my aunt had a miscarriage. and she had been longing for a baby. she still is. somehow losing a child seemed significant then, though many good women i knew attended their children's funeral. call it a prayer, call it a requiem - this is my little something for all the mothers who have had to bury their babies.)