Daya Ma's white matty hair was scattered across her face. Her mouth was half open partly showing the lower gums and a bit of her tongue that was attempting to peak out of her toothless mouth. Her eyes were half open too, as if unwilling to close, unwilling to give up living. Her sinewy hand lay resting above her head, the ingrown nails displaying an ominous blackish blue sheen. The other hand lay on the other side, marked with obvious atrophy owing to lack of use across so many years. It was just pulp and bone now. It was the hand that Indira stroked every night for the last eleven years, before she went to bed. She knew it couldn't detect her touch, but she refused to relent. So she went on with her daily night time ritual of massaging the right arm, in hope of waking it up from the stroke that paralyzed Daya Ma. It never did. And now, it never will.
Indira slowly rose and hobbled towards the door. The creaky little wooden box that held Daya Ma's dentures stood smiling on top of the chest of drawers. She made a mental note of throwing it away at last. She was disgusted at the thought of someones teeth being outside his/her body. God knows how she put up with it till now. As she trudged along the corridor, she tripped on her pallu and lost her balance. Ushering her giddy self up she walked towards the telephone. Was she giddy due to shock or relief, she couldn't tell. And she coudnlt tell whether it was the demons within her or the demons outside that were devouring her brain with such sick thoughts.
She picked up the receiver and dialed a number.
"Hello?" Said the voice.
"Come home.." She said.
"What? Whatever happened?"
"It's... It's Daya Ma. She wouldn't talk."
"Come on. You know her tantrums. Talk her out of it!"
"This one, I cant, Bijoy. Come home. She wont wake up now... Please, come home!"
There was silence on the other end for a while. "Im coming."
Indira sat down and hugged her knees. Daya Ma had not been not the best mother in law. Indira still remembered the first holy day of shravan after her marriage, when Daya Ma had showered her with curses on for having imagined she could visit the temple with Bijoy before finishing all the chores of the house. She was distraught. And that was just the beginning of the ordeal. But she hadn't also thought for a moment that fate would have her nursing Daya Ma in a vegetative state for more than a decade. It was a dirty job alright. She doesnt remember a day when she hadn't retched at the smell of urine while washing the bedsheets. Neither does she remember going out of the house without thoughts nagging her about a helpless woman back there who may need to be attended to if need be. When was the last time she visited her own sister? Amu would fume at her for having not bought even a little toy for her boys.
"You both spend every dime on that hag!" She would retort. "Why, isn't it enough that she cursed you so you never even bear a child! I tell you, she is the Devil!"
But Indira would take care of Daya Ma. That was a part of her life she had come to accept. And it was a part of her life she could not imagine without. She would wipe her clean every day, feed her, wash her soiled clothes and read her the Ramayana. Sometimes during the sponge baths, the old eyes would well up. Then Indira would look away and wipe away the tears with the end of her pallu and pretend to focus on her work, trying to picture Daya Ma shouting at her with tiny drops of red syrupy betel leaves spraying out of her mouth mimicking her fury. She knew how it was to be left alone to fend for oneself. Hadn't her life before marriage rife with sorrows with her single mother? This was the least she could do to undo the wrath of Karma.
Indira's eyes scanned the room to fathom were the ringing was coming from. She rose from the corner and walked towards the door. Bijoy stood there, his hand resting on the wall on the side, his eyes partly red and partly wet. Indira watched Bijoy and Bijoy stared at Indira. And when she put her forehead on his chest, he sighed and held her for moments that seemed like forever.