The Come Back – Chapter 30
by Anita Menon
When Ash was born, it was the dead of winter. Too late to be called autumn and too early for Christmas. The Professor recalled being delirious and incapacitated. He felt happy beyond any words could express. His colleagues and his frail mother came to the hospital to wish them both luck. It was obvious that the sight of Maya would tick his mother off even in the happiest of occasions. She did not leave before lecturing them to get married and raising the child a Catholic. Maya just looked on, bemused at the old woman yapping away. James stifled plenty a yawn and was most relieved when his mother decided to take off. Maya was very uncomfortable with people pouring in to visit them.She refused to even look at them when they came over to wish her. James observed that she wasn’t even very interested in the child that had just entered the world. He then attributed it to the stress of the delivery and the hormones playing havoc. Abelhammer, his friend, sent him a telegram, congratulating the couple. James wished he could see his old friend and share this special joy with him. Ash looked exactly like him and that made him revel in happiness even more. When they bought Ash home, he showed Maya, the new baby room that he had set up entirely by himself to surprise her. She seemed perplexed and simply smiled, and took off to take rest. James felt crushed but did not show it since he knew that he that done it all for his child. Ash was the most beautiful baby in the world with raven mop of hair and sharp piercing black eyes. She could stare at things for hours it seemed, to James. He was a little concerned that temperamentally Ash might have taken after her mother.
He took a lot of time off from work to spend it with Ash and Maya. Maya seemed to not want to do anything with the child. As if, just delivering the baby in itself was the last duty she was assigned. James remembered dealing with the stress of late night bottle feeding and nappy changes. Ash was comfortable with Maya and seemed to be smiling and radiant around her. When Maya was in the best of moods, she played with Ash for hours and it filled James ‘s heart with emotions unknown to see them together like that. But then that beautiful moment would pass and the aloofness sat between the child and the mother but Ash didn’t seem to mind Maya’s absence so much. James remembered being disconcerted when he took up the issue with Maya and asked her to spend more time with her child. He had to start work soon and felt terribly uneasy about leaving the two alone at home,on their own. Only if Maya took up the charge of looking after Ash in a more responsible way, he could return to work without stressing too much. Maya seemed not too keen and told him that Ash did not need so much attention as he thought she needed. It was only after that uncomfortable conversation, did James notice that Maya was right. Ash was content playing on her own, staring at objects and cooing away to glory when nobody was around. The sight and sound of someone other than James and Maya threw her into a frenzy and she wouldn’t stop crying until the person was away from her earshot. James returned to work with great trepidation and his mind was always back at home with the two. But it seemed both mother and daughter were good for each other and days passed without much of a murmur.
Months passed and Ash was all of 1 and James threw a small party for his friends and colleagues at work. He begged Maya to atleast act cordial for his sake. Maya seemed to be in better mood those days and she took up the part of the gracious hostess with relative ease. But Ash was hysterical to see so many people at once. She wouldn’t co-operate and finally Maya had to take her up to her crib and get her to sleep before they could begin any festivity. James felt a little rattled by the experience and realized with great surety that Ash was indeed like her mother.
Those days, Maya divided her time between looking after Ash and writing. She wrote on a table next to Ash’s crib while Ash lay playing on her own. James wished that Maya should take Ash out and join Toddler-Mum groups to help Ash interact with other babies. Unfortunately he even forced them once by enrolling them in one such group without their consent. It was the most embarrassing experience with the toddler-mum coordinator coming back to him to relate the difficulty in handling the two. Since then, James did not bother sending them out for any reason until it was Ash’s turn to be vaccinated or rounds of regular medical check ups. Ash feared needles and only Maya could console her daughter during the whole vaccination episode. James observed how Maya had changed and had become more caring and loving towards Ash. She was protective about her but at the same time kept away from her, giving their daughter the space she needed. It was a strange relationship indeed.
4 years passed with much love and plenty turbulence. Each turbulent episode ended in a lot of passion and renewed feelings for each other. James felt he enjoyed the complexity and the drama that Maya threw at him every day. Her long periods of silence, her shorter spells of incessant chattering and then their chemistry with their love – child was what he had needed add that dash of colour to his otherwise mundane existence. He knew he was juggling all of it well until Anna arrived.
Anna arrived early spring when flowers were still dainty buds and the song birds perched on the trees, sang their spring welcome song. She was the most beautiful child with curly brown hair, angelic brown eyes and the most disarming of smiles. This time the Professor made sure that not many people came to disturb their new wonder. His mother had passed away without much of a fit and with her died the decades of pedagogy and lectures about being a good Catholic and getting married.
Anna was the happy baby, cooing and calling for the hospital staff’s attention to play with her. She was very different from Ash but looked exactly like her mother. The smallest corner of his heart triumphed when James realized that Anna was temperamentally like him. He knew he had someone on his side now and felt an inexplicable relief in this thought. Ash had been the toughest challenge for him since no school was ready to keep a rebellious child with them and many of them suggesting ridiculous ideas such as sending her off to a special childrens’ school. James did not entertain such authority or such preposterous ideas. He believed that his child was as normal as any other and wanting some good guidance to set her off on a good track.
Having a second child put James on a back foot, financially. He had to work overtime to be able to live comfortably. Maya suggested from time to time that she could help him by writing for magazines and such but James was adamant that she should focus only on her children and her home. He even told her in no uncertain terms to cut back on her writing time to spend more time with her children. Maya was taken aback by his suggestion but didn’t argue for once. James noticed that she gave herself away completely to the children and the home. She became obsessed with cleaning and rearranging the home every 3-4 days. It was during those days that he found that Maya seemed exhausted and frazzled. Her frail body seemed weaker and her glow amiss, and there would be days when no word was exchanged between the two. He felt compelled to ask his friend Nicole, a clinical psychologist, to intervene and see if something was wrong with Maya. After arranging for a babysitter, he took Maya to Nicole’s office. Maya seemed to be at ease in Nicole’s presence and James knew he had done the right thing. Nicole was Abelhammer’s student and assistant, and that is why James was keen for Nicole to talk to Maya. Nicole seemed to have found some success in her multiple sittings with Maya. James recalled Nicole briefing him about Post natal depression and the effects of it. It seemed Maya was suffering from it since the first birth and James had taken no clue at all. He felt terribly guilty but was glad that atleast there was some affliction that they could put their finger on. He asked Nicole to start Maya’s treatment immediately. Nicole even suggested that Maya should start writing again to relieve some of her post natal anxiety but James thought to himself about how the whole writing thing affected their family life. He kept this from Maya as he wanted the drugs to do their work and Maya to focus on the children. He knew since that day that he had made the biggest mistake of his life.
Life comes full circle. The mistakes you commit, however big or small will always come back to haunt you. For the Professor, all these memories that he didn’t want to face were now coming around filling each little gap. He realized, lying in his hospital bed that involuntarily he was finding answers to his life’s most sought after questions.