Author: Mehlab Naseer
“I have taken out the books you asked for.”
“Ok mom, then send them to me if someone travels here.”
“My daughter, nowadays people don’t tell anyone when they go abroad, but I’ll ask your father to take them to the airport. He’ll send them if he comes across someone who by God’s grace is willing to take them along. But it won’t work this Monday. Maybe your father can take them there on Thursday?”
Then my mother went on to tell me how the world is changing. “There is no affection between people anymore. They don’t visit each other, nor do they care about how others are doing. In those days, there were no cell phone or other such gadgets for communication, but there was so much kindness. Today there are cell phones, Internet, WhatsApp and all that, but people’s hearts are far apart.
On the surface I was answering her, saying “yes, mom… yes,” but deep down I was thinking that mom was talking as if she was conversing with me face to face. International calls are very expensive, but I couldn’t ask her to end the call. She told me as many things as she could until there was no balance left on the phonecard. When the call was disconnected, I closed my eyes and tears rolled down my cheeks…
How long it had been since I had talked to my mother. She became so lonely after I left. I felt like screaming, like crying, but I wiped away my tears. I thought that I should not think about these things and tried to divert my attention to other issues…
“Did he deliver the things? Your father went to so much trouble to send them. Everyone he asked refused because they already had too much luggage. Also, the employees at the airport are so greedy and stingy nowadays. You can’t send anything anymore. You just have to forget about it.”
“I sneaked in some pieces of dried meat and split dates. Your father was standing over me, bless him. He kept nagging at me, saying it’s too heavy, nobody will take it. I knew he was right, but I just couldn’t help it … It’s the dried meat from the Eid festival. I saved a little for you…”
Whatever mother had said to herself in her loneliness, or to my sister or my aunt, or to anyone else who was willing to listen from Friday to Thursday, she now told me. I kept replying “yes mom” and “right mom,” and I was thinking how much trouble my father had taken in this hot weather, how many people he had had to beg in order to send me these things.
“I don’t want my books anymore.” My heart was breaking at this thought. I felt a sensation of pain run through my blood and out to my entire body. My eyes filled with tears.
The books were plastered like broken legs. I got some pieces of dried meat and pitted dates. I took out the dried meat to cook it, but memories of Eid and gatherings at home made me so uneasy and restless that I wrapped them back up in the pieces of cloth my mother had wrapped them in and put them aside. My heart sank further.
I took up the books and smiled. “Look at Mom. What care she has taken. How efficient she is!” I opened the pitted dates and began eating like a person who’s been starving for a long time. I finished half of them.
I was missing the seasons of the date harvest back home in Gurhi village. The memories of ripe and half-ripe dates saddened me deeply. I felt like dying… but how does one die like this? I went to my bedroom, lay on the bed and closed my eyes.
I thought I should unwrap the books, but I was feeling so lazy and lonesome that I couldn’t even get up.
“I thought about your new shawls… But of course you don’t wear shawls there. Our maid-servant’s daughter came to us wearing a torn shawl. I pitied her and gave them to her out of charity. They were just lying about. There was a pair of sandals as well. God will give you new ones, so I gave them away to her as an act of charity too.”
“You did the right thing, mom. Did you send my diary too?”
“I don’t know whether it was your diary or not, but I sent something that looked like a notebook with a folded paper book cover. I put it in. Well, I don’t recognize these things, but there was a booklet, I sent it.”
I knew I hadn’t put a book cover on my diary. Surely, mom had sent something else thinking that it was my diary.
A week had passed since the books arrived, but I had not yet opened them. I thought I should open them.
When I removed the plastic tape around the books, I burst into laughter.
“Look at Mom. She sent Mano’s notebook instead of my diary. Now Mano must be searching for it everywhere, and it has arrived in Muscat.”
The notebook was in my hand, and I didn’t know whether it was a pain or a pleasure. I could feel the flow of blood in my veins.
I caressed the notebook softly. It felt as if it was Mano’s soft face. I began to turn its pages. A smile was spreading on my face.
“Unit one: My family.”
The picture she had drawn of my father was that of an old man. Below it said “Granddad.”
The picture she had drawn of my mother was that of a bent, old woman wearing glasses. Below it said “Grandmother.”
This time I laughed even more.
The “Father” she had drawn was holding “Mano’s” hand.
In the arms of “Mother” she had drawn a baby.
The “Sisters” were drawn as standing side by side.
Beside the drawing of “Uncle,” under the erased drawing of a woman, I could see an erased word, “Auntie.”