Who are you?? She stared at me and asked. Her thin frail body lay there and her hands slowly stroked my cheeks. She repeated who are you? I said it's me, rati , it's me . A blank stare was her answer. She scanned my face, searching for some recognition, first with her lost eyes and then with her hands, when her eyes were too tired to concentrate. Still not finding any inkling, she surrendered. And so did I in some sort of way. I held her close for some time and then not getting a stirring left her to her own questions.
My own grandmother couldn't remember me. She didn't remember my voice nor could she register my touch. My grandmother, my very own grandmother. The tears that seeped the pillow were long time overdue. The hours I was away from my grandmother were uncountable. The tears were a repentance of sorts but still not enough.
My bleary eyes went back to the time when I was a kid and she used to come and live with us. Every night I used to be after her life for a story. I always wanted new stories, new tale of heroism and love to fill my story pit and she always had some, some new, some old and some manipulated to become new. I don't remember ever she said no to me for a story. I used to wake her in the middle of the night asking for a story and she always obliged. Even when sleepy she wove beautiful stories out of thin air. Of exotic lands, of princes and princesses, of love and war, what not. The greatest storyteller I ever had. My childhood is sprinkled with her stories and her childhood descriptions of her life.
Growing older I always had something or the other to do, always a lot on mind. Whenever she was around all I could respond, were unmindful grunts to her questions and nods for her talks. Life was busy for me but she was always there to stroke my hair in the night and was even ready with stories in the night and I becoming the small kid again devoured the stories in the night. I guess she never stopped telling me stories because that was the only time of the day I paid faithful attention to her.
The stories kept us together.
I remember once she come up to me and pointed to one set of bangles saying this is for pratik's wife, then she touched the other set and said this is for monty's wife and then slowly as if whispering a secret into my ears she came closer and whispered, beta you see these earrings, they are for you and only you. She had forgotten the other sisters in the division. It was always me for her. For as long as I can remember she had worn that pair. Beautiful gold chandeliers which had my attention from the time I understood the concept of decking up.
Whenever we all cousins gathered around her teasing her about being biased towards me, she would hug me tight and tell the rest, Rati is my favourite and will always remain. You can't do anything about it. How I basked in the glory of her love at that moment and beamed with pride.
I could hear my name from somewhere, someone calling me. My sleep thinned and the memories left me bringing me to the brink of reality. My cousin was calling me for lunch. I went downstairs. There again she lay. A shrivelled mass of bones and skin. Her gaunt stare followed me to the dining table and I not letting a single morsel satisfy me went to her and then she looked at me and said rati, you have come, what took you so long beta. Teri dadi to buddhi ho gai re teri yaad me. Saying that she started crying and my tears had no stopping either. I hugged her tight still she didn't fill the whole round of my arms. Her tears didn't stop and then after a long session of hugging and kissing she lay still in my arms, her frail neck drooping as if seeking support.
My heart was light again, it weighted a feather. Those tears felt like my penance for every minute I was away from her. I lay her down, touched her hollow cheeks, took her fragile fingers into mine and gave a teary grin. She returned my smile and then with a puzzled look asked "who are you??"