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Saturday, April 6, 2013

MY STORY SERIES - 8




Hide & Seek


Sarojini Sahoo




(This is one of my fresh stories and has not been included in any of my collections.

It’s a story about a hypothetical relationship developed between a mother and her young son. Mother is a careerist and her son is an introverted alien soul. Son has a sense of being a right soul in a wrong body, but he can’t open his feelings to mother.

The total story is based on an online chat between mother and her son. Their relationship, the lack of warmth in feelings, and their confinement to their own world, all appear through their conversation. They always feel they were moving on two parallel linear paths and it was not possible to traverse each other. Still, whenever they felt their hearts heavy with any saddened moment, they used to call each other.)




“Dear, please listen to this song,” she wrote to her son. It was a song in English about the feelings of an eight-year-old boy who lost his parents in a plane crash. She attached the file and sent it, and waited in anticipation.

The text of the message said, “This was written and composed by one of my friends.”

“Well, let me listen to it first,” he wrote back to his mother.

The son started melting slowly as if a pain had been igniting in his heart and all his sorrows started to melt.  The image of melted candle wax flowing down over the candle holder described what happened inside him. Whoever the singer was he did not know but the tone was sufficient to make him refrain from comment.

In that song, the little boy was searching for his parents within the clouds; searching over the mountains; through the forest; beyond the waves on the beach. He was searching for his parents behind the smoke rising from burning leaves; among rushing springs; in a framed photograph; in the starry sky and from the dark night. The little boy was searching for his parents in every room of the house in which he lived.  He was even searching for them in the snow which fell from the sky.  He was searching everywhere.

Her son was getting sentimental. Unmindfully he typed, “Uf!”

“Tell me dear, I’m waiting. Did you listen?” she wrote back.

In the song, the little boy sang: “Come to me from the clouds, from herbs; come down to me in the snow. Come to my binocular. I’m waiting for you near my windows. We will go to beach if you come; we will play on the plateau.”

The chat screen remained open with half-written messages. Five minutes had passed. It seemed to her, her son had left his seat on other side but he had not signed out or turned off his computer. The song was only of three minutes duration yet five minutes had passed. What was her son doing there? Mother could not guess what was going on other side. Her patience was breaking down and after ten minutes of waiting, she chatted, “Are you there?”

He chatted back, “Yes mom! I’m still here. But I've got to go. I’ll catch you later.”

“But you haven’t told me about the song.  Did you like it?  It’s composed by...” At that point, she noticed he had signed out.

Her questions remained unreachable to her son. She got upset. Had her son become sad?  Was it proper for her to send a sad song to a boy who was living alone thousands of miles away from his parents? Why did he sign out so suddenly? Both mother and son had not met each other for one-and-a-half years. Since their separation, the mother couldn't reach him after several attempts. Her research (as part of her fellowship) still remained incomplete and she was unable to be closer to him.

She was feeling quite restless to continue her research coping with the unknown and uncomfortable customs, culture, and environment of the Western world. She wanted to complete her three-year course in only two years. She didn’t have any leisure or rest days. It was all work and no play. She wanted to be home.

Every day, when she arose from her bed and submitted to her daily busy routine life, she would remember her son. She missed her son, her home, and her family. But she couldn’t adjust her times to interact with any of them. Her time didn’t match her son’s. She was at Oxford and her son was in Bangalore. It was impossible to find one another at any common time during the day. But was the distance of thousands of kilometers the only thing keeping them so far and so away?

Mother was happy her son was self-sufficient. But still, she could not imagine him beyond a child of eight years old and she couldn’t convey her concerns for him any day. She was incapable of building a bridge between them.

Many times, she would receive her son’s phone calls when she was in a classroom or with her professors or in a library or in reading room, and she couldn't talk freely with him. He might be angry with her so when she would call her son, he didn't pick up his phone or avoided her saying “I’m busy” or “We’ll talk later.” But he wouldn't call back again and she would also fail to contact him later. 

In past days, when her son was a child, he would often be in bad temper. She would try to calm him down but would often fail. So when she was feeling helpless, her son refused to listen to her and would remark, “I’m used to this, mom. The loneliness is not new for me. I can cope with it. Now when I find myself in a crowd, I’m uncomfortable. I can’t get by the situations. I feel comfortable with my loneliness.”

Mother said, “You are a mad. Loneliness is only a state of mind. There are billions of people, uncountable different species of animals, birds, and insects; so many rivers, mountains, and forests. And there are also sounds, lights and air. How can anyone feel alone?”

“You don’t understand, mom.”

“Why can’t I understand?”

“You go outside to share your loneliness and I go home to share my loneliness.”

“Oh my son!” She seemed to be more worried.

She now returned from her memories and found herself lying on her bed waiting for her son’s appearance on the chat application. She didn’t know why but her heart told that it was not proper to send the audio file to him. In her son’s childhood, he had a strange habit of drawing moustaches and beards under the nose of every picture of a female -- from models to Bollywood heroines. First she was thinking this attempt to make all females males by pen was his stupidity. Sometime she even rebuked him, “Do you think you’re doing justice to those photos? Don’t you think you’re making them vulgar and ruining them?”

“They deserved it. That was their fate,” he replied.

Mother was astonished. Had he become a misogynist? But why? She had always tried to present herself as softer, kinder, more sincere, and more motherly to her son.

But where did she have time? She had to manage both the inner and outer world of her family. She had a busy schedule and though everything day-to-day was running smoothly, there remained the usual challenges on both fronts.

One day the son told her, “I’ll create a mutant.”

“A mutant? What does that mean?”

“Don’t you know what mutant is? He is a super creature and has super energy. He can do everything which an animal can’t. I’ll create a mutant human.”

Since then, it was known to mother that God was the only super power. This was the first time she came to know a mutant is also a super power. But what does this mutant look like?

Once her son showed a mutant from a  movie in their TV.  He was fighting with Arnold, a Hollywood hero. The character neither looked human nor robotic. But no matter what it looked like, it was difficult to kill it. When its wings got separated from its body, new wings started to grow again. Its walking styles, its steps, and even its activities seemed very strange. It seemed to her that the mutant might have no heart. So she asked to her son, “Do you think these mutants have any hearts?”

“What are humans doing with their hearts? Their hearts are the weakest part of them,” he argued.

Mother was saddened with his words. Her conscience said you can’t measure all the wealth of the world with a heart. But her son would say these things knowing full well it would hurt her.

For her, it was his childish activities. He would change with age; these adolescence acts would vanish with time. But she couldn’t forget that mutant. So, when she got an opportunity, she argued God is the only super power. To her, human or Satan, mutants or aliens – all seem powerless in comparison to Him.

She wanted to her son to get rid of these thoughts of mutants from his head. And time passed.  Both were involved succeeding in their respective paths; he, with his education and she, with her career.

Her son got admitted to I.I.T, one of most prestigious engineering colleges of the country. Mother was so busy with her promotions and transfers in her job and with her refresher courses that she couldn’t have any time to make herself available to her son.  But was she alone with this?  Was she the only career woman who had the same issues? But still she felt her son resided in her heart.

It seemed both mother and son were going on two parallel paths which would never meet. Still, whenever they felt their heart heavy with any saddened moment, they would call each other. They would extend their hands to touch each other whenever they found themselves in trouble.

One day, he called his mother and said, “I need three lakhs rupees.”

“Three lakhs? What will you do with so much money?” His request came during the last year in engineering college.

“Mom, I want to help a needy person.”

“To help? Are you crazy?”

No response.

“So much of money?”

No response.

“Who are you going to help? What’s his name? Why does he need so much money?  What’s he going to use it for? Has he none to help him?” Mother could feel her words were becoming irritable to her son.

“Tell me straight if you could help me or not. I’m not forcing it on you. I will have a job after few months and I can return back all the money you lend to me,” he said in an irritated and impatient tone of voice.

Mother could not say anything for a while. He was telling her he could repay her in a few months as he would have a job. Up until now, all her efforts were meant for her son.

But it was unknown to her from which date he was starting to think himself as more of a daughter than a son to his mother. He found no words to be able to express it.  But did his mother really know?  Would she want to know?  Was it better to make up reasons for the money he so desperately wanted to make himself right?  These were all questions he would ask himself rather than his mother asking them.  She just had no way of knowing.  She would keep thinking it was another woman; another person whom he was trying to help.

Her son always showed apathy for her. He could have told her, “Mom, there is no need of your job when I could arrange some one for me. You can resign from your job. I’ll look after you.” As much as she would have liked this to happen, she ever dreamed of it or even gave it more than just a passing thought. But over time, they had developed a distance between them, much more than a geographical distance. There were so many gaps between them that now after trying, they couldn’t even touch themselves. For a whole night, mother was thinking about the person for whom her son was so soft? Was her son in love with anyone? If he had a lover, would she use him for only money and break his heart?


And for a long time after that, they didn't have any contact. During the first few days, mother thought perhaps someone was trying to deceive her son for his simplicity and good-natured and childish heart. Again such thoughts also entered in her mind her son might be involved in some anti-social faction. But still, she continued her depositing money in his bank account and waited to see when he would return back to her, forgetting his old anguish. But with passing times, she was breaking down into pieces. The two leaves of hope budding out from seeds might look fresh, but does the tree look so fresh when it grows towards the sky with raising its branches?

In the meantime, her son completed his studies and arranged a job for himself. Before joining, he came to his mother but didn’t ask for those three lakhs of rupees and his mother also didn’t raise the matter either. He stayed with her for only 24 hours.  Mother had arranged cakes and pastries for him which he never took with him. Mother could mark her son was looking more serious than earlier and was remaining unmindful most of the time, as if he had a hidden world -- his own world -- where no one outside of him could enter. She tried to open his heart but failed, and the son returned back after only 24 hours, leaving mother in dismay.

After that, they tried to reside as if they were walking along two sides of a canal which had no connecting bridge. Still she was proud of her son for his genius character, which helped him to get a job just after completing his graduation in engineering. She expected her son should also feel proud for his mother but that was never forthcoming.

One day, she told him, “My son, I’ve been awarded with a fellowship from Oxford University and have to leave within a few weeks.”

“Okay,” he replied, without adding any extra warmth in his response.

“Are you not happy?” asked mother. She asked and braced herself for another harsh reply. What would she answer, if her son would ask, “Fellowship? How many days you will continue such study avoiding to your role as a mother? Is there any meaning of such study?”

She was afraid her son would blame her for running after a career and overlooking the needs of her family, though she knew she was working for the wellbeing of her family. She was afraid her son would challenge her and ask, “What have you done for me since my childhood? I agree you have spent a lot of money on me. Every parent outlays such money on their children. Does that favour everything for a child?  Remember those days when you were out of home for your job, leaving me with a crèche nurse? Did you imagine any day how that nurse would feed me? What pain I got in swallowing those dried breads with jam or jelly? When I did vomit, I searched for a hand on my back, a hand of solace, a hand of love and concern, a hand of mother. Did you give that hand to me? Have you imagined, how I would have digested those abusive languages which that nurse was chucking to me every time? You were never any day with me. How would you expect me to feel proud of you now?”

No, the son never did vomit such poison. He neither showed any interest nor responded; he even did not meet her personally. She came to Oxford with the consolation she could meet her son on webcam.  But it was not possible for her to catch him. Sometimes, their available times did not match; sometimes, the net connection was not available; sometimes, their webcams wouldn’t work.

Mother’s friend Paul once sent her an audio file. It was a song sung in English. Paul had composed its music. She got impressed with the music and the lyric was also so heartening and comforting. So she sent the audio file to her son but would he listen to it and like it? To know her son’s response, mother asked him, “You haven’t told me about the audio file I have sent. Did you like it?”

He didn’t respond, even though the chat screen showed he was still signed on and had received the message. Perhaps he had left the chat without signing out. But mother waited and waited and after a long time, suddenly he sent a welcoming chat: “Hi!”

“Hi!!” She chatted back, “I will buy a new headphone to hear your voice. I want to hear you.”

Instead of replying to her eagerness, he wrote, “Listen to this song from this link.”

It was a link to YouTube. When she clicked the link, a favourite Bollywood movie song appeared. It was a song in Hindi “Lukachhipi bahut hui” ... “we had so much of a hide and seek game”... the singer sang so there. It was a song of a child in that Hindi movie, who sang it for his mother.

Her eyes filled with tears. The song had a pathetic, sad tone. It was about a mother who was searching for her son. She was searching in lanes, by-lanes, parks, and roadsides, as if her eyes were turned to stone in waiting. “Son, where are you? Your mother is searching for you.”

But mother found her son in a coffin. There was a pyre; there was smoke. She could hear her son’s voice, “How can I say where I am? How can I?”

The movie song ended in YouTube and just then, her son chatted her, “Mummy!”

Mother’s eyes were now more full of tears. She wished to hug her son. It’s too hard for her to imagine. Her son’s pyre? No, never. Whatever misunderstandings might have been existed between them, her son was the air she breathed, the reason for her existence. He was her soul.

A chat appeared in her son’s pane. She wiped her tears so she could see clearly.  It read: “I want to kill myself.”

As if she was falling down from heights way above her, she typed with trembling fingers, “Why you are talking like this, my son?”

He didn’t answer his mother’s question but wrote, “I had been trying to hide it from you Mom, but I couldn’t bear it anymore. I’m tired of hiding this truth. I couldn’t play this hide and seek game anymore. Mummy, I don’t like my body.”

“Are you mad? Are you conscious about what you are saying?  What happened to you? Anything wrong with you? Do you think death is the only solution for all these things?”

He wrote, “I swear, Mummy, I’ve kept everything near my laptop which will bring me to death.”

“I want to see you. Please switch on your webcam.  And watch me. I’m sure, you will get relieved. Wipe out such thoughts from your mind, my son!  Please let me see you.”

“Don’t call me as your son.” He wrote in anguish.

He had switched his mobile off. She never reached him after numerous dialing. Finally, he wrote in the chat box wall, “Your words would have no impact on me.”

Though her camera was ready, he didn’t accept her request. She tried again to send a webcam request but it was ignored. They sat in front of their computers silently, each in their own place. She felt as if her sky was dried of air. Her life was losing it luster. Why had her son written so?

After some agonizing moments, the son chatted, “The body of your son is a wrong body, mummy. Have you marked the soft heart which has been hidden in this masculine six foot body? Yes, the heart is soft.”

He continued, “Not everyone’s like you, mummy. My colleagues have no such soft heart as I have. They are strong and masculine and carefree. They are not emotional. But I can’t resist my heart from emotions. Every time I feel myself insecure, I find myself in a depressed mood every time.”

“You are that type of boy from your childhood,” the mother chatted back.

“Yes Mom, I am that type. Then, is it not a right soul in a wrong body? Tell me, how can I cope with a soul and body which aren’t matched up? I can’t kill my soul, Mummy, so I have to kill my body instead. It will only take five minutes....”

She was speechless. Her mind had gone blank. She was a student of English; she was a teacher of English yet she still couldn’t understand a single word her son was chatting. She wrote, “I can’t understand you my son.”

“Why don’t you try to understand me, Mom? Don’t you have `any idea `about gender?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Can you remember, once I asked for three lakhs rupees? Do you know, why I asked for it? So I could get a body I liked and felt comfortable in.”

“What you are telling me?”

“That it is possible.”

“No dear. You are very much perfect. Don’t go in for any crazy fashion.”

“You hadn’t any time to look at me any day.  Why should you care now?”

She remained silent.  It seemed as though a sharp object had penetrated right through her heart. Though she had not spent that much time as a mother, hadn’t she at least marked her son? Now she recalled her son from childhood to youth. No, she didn’t recollect any change. It’s false...false. It might have a false conception for her son. Why was he hypnotized with such ideas? How could she return her son back from this wrong conception and belief? She wrote: “Dear.”

Though he was online, he didn’t respond.

She typed, “My dear. Are you there?”

Her son didn’t reply. Mother could remember the song: “Lukachhipi bahut hui” ... “we had so much of hide and seek game.” She could feel she was tired of it. How had she never detected her son was melting from inside? Melting very slowly. And now, he is totally empty, empty as if there remains nothing inside him beneath the frame of his outer body -- as if the body would crash if she would touch him, like dust. Poof.  He’s gone. She kept seeing a vision of a pyre, some smoke, and a coffin.  This made her weep in despair and guilt. She couldn’t think any more.  The image was too strong.  It was taking over her very existence. She typed:

“Dear!”  And continued...

“My child!”

“My son!”

“You have played a lot. Look, your mother is tired. Please come to your mother’s arm. I want to hug you.”

“Babu!”

“Bubani.”

“Where are you, my Kuna?”

“My Lulu!”

“kuknu!”

“Butu, my Butu!”

“Are you there, Beta!”

“My Darling!”

“My Son!”

“My Sunu!”

“My Lunu!”

"Where are you, my Pupuli. Write once."

“My old guy!”

“Tiki, my Tiki!”

“Micky!”

“My dear, why are not you typing? Write something. Write my dear. Write something for me. Write for your mother, for your Dear.......”


(Edited by Paul McKenna)