“Write five lines about summer and draw a picture to support it”
I sit before my homework planner, and wonder what to do. I have never been to school before and I have never experienced the sudden suffocation that the concept of homework bestows upon the soul. I think about summer – and all that the season has left on my soul. After a bit of thought, I write one line on my blank paper.
‘I am in love with the sound that sea waves make when they hit the shore.’
Then, I lift my sheet and go to my mother. When I tell my mother about what I think of summer, she shakes her head and looks at me with startled eyes, and my sister reminds me that people like us have never seen sea waves and seashores. “But I have” I insist, and when my plea transforms into a high-pitched cry of desperation, both my mother and sister stand up and leave. They say that they have better things to do rather than entertain vague tall-tales about a sea and seashore. Their conversation confuses me.
How can they so conveniently claim to forget what they were a part of – what they had so closely witnessed along with me?
My grandmother once told me how like all good things in the world – memory is also a matter of choice. “It is up to you what you want to hold onto, and what you want to let go of” she had told me, as she sang me to sleep, running her powdery white fingers through my chair and doing what I called ‘counting dreams’. I look at my mother and sister trying to figure out if they had let go. But, their expressions are bland and sprinkled with the ordinary white salt of everyday life as though what had happened had never happened. But, I refuse to believe otherwise. What I had seen and what had happened was all that I’d known of summer and I wasn’t willing to let go of my fistful of season – my fistful of summer for anything in this world.
It was a wet; winter’s evening, back in the refugee camp. I had just returned to our tent after filling our pots with water. In all honesty, water was nothing short of our privilege in our locality. But, for some reason, our tent was sparse and empty. This sight surprised me as I was used to seeing my mother in the tent almost always, as she never left the tent. I moved outside, and noticed a crowd in the distance, outside Salma Appa’s tent. Salma Appa had been a doctor, or at least a medical person in her time and all of us went to her whenever we felt as though we were undergoing an ailment. She knew the perfect combination of herbs and leaves, and in her tent, she had this huge vessel where she would mix and mash the herbs she needed. The way her long, slender fingers moved and the way her fingertips seemed to converse with the herbs was absolutely intriguing. As I made my way through the crowd, I saw Salma Appa seated in the centre of the tent. On moving closer, I noticed how she was quivering – or to be more specific, she was trembling rather vigorously. Her lips were heavy with the shape of hysterical sobs that seemed to be drowned out by the conversation of people around her. Her skin was crimson – and two women – one of whom included my mother were pouring buckets of water on her. Salma Appa’s cries were increasing as the crimson hues of her skin intensified.
I sidled close to her, but was suddenly pushed back by a crowd of women, who scolded me saying that Salma Appa’s tent, at that point of time, was the not the place for little girls to be in.
There was this overbearing heat in her tent which was unusual, considering the very prevalent winter frost and infact it was pretty cozy inside.
Even though I had lived only twelve years on this planet, I felt as though the last time I had experienced such coziness was in a previous lifetime. Home seemed years away.
But at that point, all my attention was on Salma Appa. You know, there are times when you’ve loved a person for as long as you can remember, without realizing that you love that person. It is only when that person reaches a state of suffering, do you realize the intensity of your love. For some reason, my little heart was devoid of all thoughts and seemed to brim over with memories that held Salma Appa in their little, glowing hands. My ears were filled with her soft, melodious voice of the times when she’d found me in pools of mud with a bleeding knee and how she’d assured me that a little bit of bloodshed did no harm. And then, after tenderly filling my wound with herbal paste, she’d narrated a story about a flying horse with stars on its wings and the cold moon on his back. Another thing that I loved about Salma Appa was her stories. Her stories spoke on unexpected worlds that could probably never exist, but for me, they were like dewdrops with rainbows in their hearts as they spoke about a world we lived in.
Overwhelmed by a sudden rush of emotion, I swiveled around and headed straight to Salma Appa’s tent. The ladies tried to stop me again, but I ensured that I was too fast for them. All this while, Appa had been the one who was holding my hand and leading me through life but I knew that this time Appa needed her hand to be held. As I rushed towards her and tightened my fingers around her crimson hand, she screamed and pushed me away. It was almost as though my touch had exerted an excruciating pain upon her being. As I lay on the ground, with a bruised knee since my legs had grazed themselves against a piece of sharp stone, I couldn’t help crying.
I was not crying because of the bruise that the stone had bestowed upon me. I was crying because Salma Appa was crying. I was crying because there was something about me – there was something about my touch that made Salma Appa ache with such intensity.
My mother saw me partly sprawled on the ground, and hurried over to me. Gathering me in her arms, she bustled me out of the tent. As she pushed through the throng of women, I heard them whispering about love. But, they did not praise love – they did not praise love the way love deserved to be praised. They spoke about love in short, sharp whispers, coming to some kind of a conclusion about how men will be men and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
“Ammi, why did you bring me out?” I wailed, as my mother wiped my tear stained cheeks with the ends of her headscarf. “I got you out to tell you a story” said my mother, reaching for my hand. “But Ammi, you never tell me stories. That is Salma Appa’s job” I countered. “What if I tell you” spoke my mother; her face alit with what was supposed to be a smile but definitely was not one. “That Salma Appa herself has transformed into a story?”
“Into a story?” I echoed, my eyebrows raised in bewilderment. “I think you once told me about how Salma Appa had told you a story about a magical land where people transform into stories!” exclaimed my mother, as my eyes sparkled with excitement. The other worlds that Salma Appa put forth before me were symbols of hope and assurance, that there existed a world beyond the world we lived in. “Have you heard of the story of summer?” asked my mother, as I silently shook my head.
“Alright. Come here” she said, hoisting me onto her lap.
“So, in a land far, far, far away from here – the sun, the snow and the crimson-colored wind decided to meet. They wanted to come down to Earth. The snow decided that it will thread itself into a little girl’s hair and come down to Earth. The crimson colored wind thought of filling itself into a little boy’s fists. But, the sun wanted to do something different. It decided to step into a bottle. Then, that bottle went into the hands of a boy – of a man. That boy chose a girl, a very special, specific girl and hurled the sun at her. Now you know, the sun is very, very, very hot. So, when the sun fell on the girl, the girl became very, very hot too. And, she became all red and crimson. So, whenever someone touched her, she winced in pain. Because, the sun was within her and was burning every bit of her being” narrated mother.
“So, that girl is Salma Appa?” I asked, as mother nodded.
“Oh! So, Salma Appa holds all of the sun – all of summer within her being!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, she does” spoke mother again.
“But, why were you pouring water on her?” I inquired again, as mother looked away. It seemed as though she was looking for an answer around her, before turning to smile at me again.
“Oh, you could say that we were pouring a bit of the sea on her. You know the sound of sea waves against a sun-crusted seashore in the peak of summer?” she answered, as I nodded.
“Can I see the bottle?” I put in again.
“Which bottle?” asked my mother.
“Oh, the one that the sun came in” I explained.
“We don’t keep the bottle. But, it is like any other bottle. Tall, thin, slender waisted. With the letters A-C-I-D written on it” she replied.
“A-C-I-D” I repeated.
Today, in this new land, we have something that we can call a home. It is supposed to be a home, but in our hearts, we know that it isn’t one yet. I go to school too, in a crisp, white uniform and sit at a desk and try to read from a thick book. But, I continue to carry this fistful of season with me. I continue to carry this fistful of summer with me wherever I go.
I smile at my blank paper and draw a sun. I cut the sun into two. I decide to put one half of the sun in the bottle, and the other half in the sky. A little bit of the sun must be where suns are supposed to be. And then, I sketch a slender waisted bottle. I fill it with yellow-red color. I think my coloring is a little too dark. The red borders on black. It is almost black, actually.
A-C-I-D, I write on the bottle.
Written by Praniti Gulyani