The Fragrance of Frangipani
It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
It has been the same since last one month, every morning this heavy feeling of nothingness engulfed her thoughts, a strange kind of absence within for being present in the real world.
Her world, which she knew, was about to be taken away. Well it has been slipping away for a while now anyway.
Rimu was only four when they had moved into this house, this is where she grew up. This is where she became who she was today. Defiant tears welled up in her eyes, she pushed them back. She lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Was that damp patch always there? She had not noticed it before. She had not noticed a lot of things before. How could she be such a fool? She closed her eyes for a while, maybe all of it was a mistake, maybe it was a nightmare or a hallucination, maybe she was imagining it all.
Her father had always told her she had an over-imaginative brain, maybe it was one of the stories she had written, which had slipped out of the pages of the book and taken the shape of a nightmare… was it? Could stories come alive from the pages and spread them over the writer’s life?
Rimu laughed out loud, twenty-three years’ worth of memories in this place and now she would have to leave it all behind. Life does throw some really bad jokes down the neck. With her laughter a fresh bunch of tears rolled over. She cried and she laughed, all in one.
Snippets of her childhood flashed through her eyes
Rimu is seven; she is on the terrace, it’s pouring down. She is dancing in the rain and out of nowhere her mother comes and wraps her up in a towel and drags her in laughing at her playfulness.
Rimu is fifteen; she had just lit her first cigarette when her parents return home unexpectedly from a party where they should have stayed longer. Their faces, horror-stricken, still made Rimu laugh.
She is nineteen; that was the first time she told her parent’s she wanted to quit medical school and become a writer. The hurt in their eyes, the disbelief, as if Rimu was taking away a dream from them, this particular memory still haunted her.
Her parents were both doctors and this news had devastated their hopes. Rimu had snatched their most precious dream right from their eyes.
Her mother understood her better and accepted the news, although her heart was shattered but her father had looked at her mother and exclaimed, ‘Has she gone mad?!’
Rimu knew he was different than her, he wouldn’t understand. He never did.
How Rimu wished that she could tell her father that all writers were kind of mad, without insanity they would be nothing. She wished she could tell him so much more, there were so many words unspoken, unshared. Ah! The irony of bring a writer. She could share all her thoughts with her readers but not her father.
Not just these, so many more, uncountable, unfathomable, unforgettable memories. Good ones, funny ones, some sad ones, memories nonetheless clouded her mind.
Her phone started beeping; she looked at the caller’s name and ignored the call. A call from the editor could wait. She was not in the mood.
She got up from her bed, and walked towards her window. The tiny garden was in her view, she looked around her room, did memories have their own scent? If it did, it would be the fragrance of frangipani for her. The frangipani tree was always there, even before the times they had moved in. It was one of the reasons why her father wanted this house. He was a quiet man, and he preferred living in this secluded suburbs away from the suffocating concrete jungle of Kolkata. And over the years this place had become a part of Rimu, her creations, her stories. This tiny garden was her father’s pride and joy, on Sundays he would spend hours tending to the plants and trees. It twitched her heart knowing that she would never see that darling man bent over a rose shrub in the cold January mornings… she would never ever see that again, ever.
Rimu wished, she had spent more time with her father, trying to know what went on inside his quite mind. She had always been closer to her mother, taking her side, sharing her life with her. Although she was poles apart from her father, she still loved him dearly. A nameless pain twitched in her heart, a dull numb agony, it felt as if someone had put twenty kilos worth of hurt on her shoulders.
The tree was in full bloom this year after the showers, as if mocking the dry, parched pain within her.
She looked at her desk, filled with papers, notebooks and discarded pieces of writing and a space in the middle where her laptop sat. She had not written a single line in the last one month. As if the incident had sucked out the power from her to create.
She was inside a story now herself; she was not the story teller anymore.
Rimu looked around her room, once more. She had thought of moving out of this house, so many times, getting a place for herself. She was after all a best-selling author now, she could afford to do so. But the comfort of home, the secluded solace of the place had always pulled her back.
But probably she needed this void, this loss in her life, to make her move, to take the next step out in the real world.
Rimashree Sen Verma read her name in bold letters, on the books that she had written, copies of which were stacked on the table by the window. Rimu had converted the walls of her room into a mini library; it was stacked in shelves from floor to ceiling with books. This was probably her most favourite place in the entire world. She had created magic right in this room, in her work.
All these meant so much to her, yet right now it was rendered meaningless.
A new story, a new beginning was due.
The old grandfather clock downstairs struck eight, Rimu jolted up from her reverie, eight already! The packers and movers would be here by nine. They were to vacate the house today.
In ten minutes she was downstairs, showered and ready for the task ahead. She saw her mother sitting in the dining room chair, her back towards her, nursing a cup of tea in her hand.
The image of her mother like that, pierced a hole through her heart, she would not see her sitting like this ever, this was the last time, in this home.
This vision of her mother, a woman who has lost her man, her companion would stay with Rimu forever. In every crease of her body was a signal that she had given up, she didn’t care, not any more. Dr. Mitali Sen, her mother, the best gynaecologist in town, was now a broken soul.
She inhaled deeply and went and hugged her mother from behind, Mitali gently patted her head, ‘Tea?’ she whispered.
‘You sit, I’ll make my own tea.’ Rimu replied, squeezing her mother’s shoulders
‘Make some more for me too.’
‘Sure’ Rimu replied, ‘So when are you joining back work Ma? ’
Rimu stopped in her tracks, ‘Never’ she repeated, ‘but why?’
I can’t, I simply can’t continue Rimu, not without him. Without your dad, I… I… just can’t.’
‘Rimu came back to the table, ‘Ma, it has been over a month now, I know you are hurting, I am hurting too. But you must get back to work, it will help you ease the pain.’
‘Ease the pain…’ Mitali whispered the words… ‘Ease the pain…’
‘Ma, please, you have to move on from this loss.’
‘Loss…’ Mitali looked blankly at her, her eyes were losing focus.
It was someone else, this was not her mother. First she lost her dad and now her mother is slipping away too.
‘Ma, Ma… she shook her, ‘ the packers and movers will be here, do you understand, we have to leave this place today.
‘Today’ She repeated.
‘Yes, ma, today, we have to move, today. There is no other choice, tomorrow’s the last date mentioned in the papers.’
Mitali was slowly gaining back composure. ‘Okay’ she breathed, ‘Okay, today, yes today. ‘
Rimu poured the tea into two mugs, ‘Your tea Ma…’ She stopped midway, Mitali had gone back upstairs while her back was turned. Rimu put one of the steaming mugs on the counter and took her tea out into the garden.
The fragrance from the maddening bloom of frangipani was overwhelming, but in a good way. The heady scent comforted her inner being. It was obviously harder for her mother to accept, they had been married for over thirty two years.
It had to be a hallucination, this couldn’t be real. The numbing pain, the ever rebelling tears, the unwillingness to accept, she has created them over papers over and over. She has typed out this feelings, edited them, marked them, proofread them, these feelings were too strong to be real, it had to be a story. Was she losing it too? Like her mother?
Were the stories getting to her?
She placed her empty mug on the grass and sat down cross-legged. The garden was small but there was sign of love through all the branches, leaves and blooms. Her mother had never been too fond of the garden; it was only her father’s sanctuary. Rimu used to join the man occasionally in the garden, share awkward father-daughter moments while planting trees or weeding.
She wished she had told him, once, even with all the empty space dividing the two of them, she still loved him. He was still her dear Baba.
She lay down on the bed of fallen flowers and leaves and scooped up some dried frangipani from the ground and smelled them deep. She lay there hugging the ground, as if afraid to let go.
Someone honked from the gate, Rimu got up slowly and brushed off the frangipani flowers from her hair. The movers have arrived.
As the last piece of item was taken out of the house, Rimu felt light. This burden of memories was too heavy to carry on forward with.
Rimu looked at her mother, she seemed to have gained some composure since morning. She was silently closing the open windows.
Mitali walked out in the garden, as the truck went away towards their new flat, the women looked at their beloved house one more time, Rimu had her hands wrapped around her mother’s shoulders.
This was a deeper loss than death for her.
‘Sometimes I feel I was alone all these years anyway you know.’ Mitali suddenly said stroking her daughter’s hair, ‘He was there with me professionally, but deep down, somewhere, within, he was alone too! I never noticed he needed more from me, from us, than what I gave him.’
‘I never noticed it too Ma, I wished we both had given him some more time. But it still doesn’t justify what he did. He broke our home.’
Rimu fought back tears. It was hard for her to live without her father, but it must be a million times harder for her mother whose husband had cheated on her after thirty two years of companionship.
Dr. Nilesh Verma had fallen in love.
An affair, which had been on for almost over a year, had torn the world Rimu knew for so long.
He left them, for a woman only six years older than Rimu. That was three months ago.
Two months ago a notice arrived from court to vacate the house together with the divorce papers.
That was the final nail.
And then that night came, when Nilesh came by to see his daughter. He knew for sure his wife was out of town. Rimu was hardly able to conceal her anger. Nilesh had tried to reason, show her the signs of an already broken relationship. He had tried to justify why he had done, what he had done. But Rimu had been like a child, demanding her peace back.
Defeated Nilesh had risen from the sofa to leave.
Rimu had said, ‘I won’t let you go Baba, I won’t. You can’t do this to us, not after so many years. You can’t take away my home.’
‘I can’t be your keeper of sanity forever Rimu, you are old enough, you need to get out from your stories and face the real world. You must. There’s too much of imagination inside that head, way too much insanity.’Nilesh had turned his back on her, that was his final mistake.
One strong hard blow on his head from behind with a metal vase had knocked him unconscious. All Rimu knew at that moment was that she couldn’t let him go.
That moonless night in the infinite dark hour of madness she had dug a deep grave just next to the Frangipani tree. She had buried her own father. She didn’t let him go.
The last one month had eaten Rimu from inside, her life had turned into a horror story, a saga of disgust and decay.
She couldn’t tell her mother either.
Dr. Nilesh Verma went missing a month ago, at least that’s what the newspapers said. People claimed that he was probably murdered and disposed by his mistress. He had already given the house in her name which made the case stronger. A scandal that had been brewing for months in their small town had turned into a potboiler.
It had thrown Mitali down into further depths of depression.
Rimu had watched in despair. There was no way she could go back on her life, and edit or correct or rewrite what she had already done.
Her story would remain unedited for an eternity.
‘Chalo, time for a new home.’ Rimu squeezed her mother’s hand. ‘Just you and me.’
‘Yes, it is.’ Mitali smiled through her eyes.
As mother and daughter left hand in hand through the gate, Rimu looked back, the frangipani was still spreading fragrance.
Memories, the good ones, they hardly ever fade, do they? You kind of carry them along where ever you go.
And for the bad ones, they remain buried next to the frangipani tree.
Maybe some stories of loss are better left untold.
Please Note: This was my entry for Jaishree Mishra’s prompt for TOI Write India, Obviously this did not win, but I still feel if you have written a story it is worth sharing.