by Ashika Anne Antony
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Pride, they say, is closely followed by a fall. I agree with that, for not only in the lives of those around me, but in my own life, instances of pride tripping me and having me face flat on the ground are many. What brings about this pride? Vanity? Overconfidence? Independence?
Something happened to me, my eyes were opened to reveal my shallowness as a human being, my hypocrisy and my double faced ness.
Last night, on my way home in the train, I was seated next to a lady reading "The Dark Corridor" by Mrist Kalcon. My interest in books and curiosity about the content of "The Dark Corridor" along with my murderous boredom, had me catching her eye while she was on a break and gently breaking the ice with my sweet smiles and talks of 'oh how much I love books'. I came to know that the lady's name was Mrs. Angelina Smith and that she was a high school teacher in a nearby town. As we started talking, we realized that along with the passion for books, we also shared a common interest in spending time with special children and reading out stories to them. We were both so excited! We made plans and promised to make it the coming week for the St. Mary's Children's Fest, where special children would showcase their paintings, skits and just be around to meet people and fill them with their innocence and love. It was amazing to meet a person who shared such a vividly different interest. We realized that we both knew a lot of common people and had actually been to same conferences! It was so exciting, and as the train began to slow down to halt at my station, we quickly exchanged telephone numbers and email addresses and promised to make sure that we met at the Fest.
As I started walking towards my apartment, I was marveling at God's way of making people meet and become friends. I knew that though Angelina was almost a decade elder to me, she and I would make great friends!!
Life for me was in every way what I hadn’t wanted it to be. I was a cashier and the Lords Bank and I hated every moment I spent there, that was one of the main reasons for my interest in special children, I needed to meet people who would just love me the way I was, wouldn’t look at me with lust and will not ask me about work. Where better to go than to children, and special children at that, who would just jump at my very presence, would sit down and in rapt attention listen to my stories, would cry when I told them stories with sad endings and would laugh their gentle hearts out when I said funny ones and made funny faces. After the death of my father, the family had slowly drifted apart. Mother was busy with the playschool she ran and my sister was in college, supposedly studying Fine Arts. My relationship with my sister was not this i-dont-care-about-her one. We were both very close to each other, until one day I found out that she was having a live-in relationship with one of her seniors from college. It shattered my trust in her and saddened me to think that years of Christian up bringing had done her no good. After that fateful day, I have never spoken to my sister. All I knew was, that she was doing her final year at grad school and was probably still leading that sinful life. My mother's indifference to my sister's way of life angered me, and one night, after a heated argument, I stomped out of home, with minimal luggage...the clothes on my back and enough money for a ride in the bus. Neither my mother’s tears, nor the helplessness in my sister’s eyes stopped me from leaving home and taking my own narrow path in life.
The struggle for jobs, the crude remarks by men, the poverty, and the hunger, all the sooner the forgotten, the better. It was two months before I could find the cashier job at Lord’s, but by that time I had lost everything I had before, my belongings, my cheer, my joy, my family and even my faith. The emptiness was killing me, returning home every night was a torture. There was even a time when I wanted to kill myself to get rid of this loneliness and pain. But, through divine providence I guess, I saw an advertisement in the paper asking for volunteers to help out in the local Home for Special Children. Out of sheer helplessness and the selfish purpose of not being alone, I applied and became a volunteer. And since then suicidal thoughts never entered my mind. I lived for the days when I would go to the Home to help out and spend time with the children. And after such a long time, I actually felt friendly towards someone.
With positive thoughts about Angelina and my friendship, feeling like an orphan who has just been adopted, I entered the house.
The foreboding was enough to strangle me. I knew something was wrong. The blinking answering machine had never scared me so much all my life. There were three messages, one from the grocery shop owner asking me if wanted those olives I had talked about last Wednesday, the other from the Home reminding me that tomorrow is volunteer day, the third was a new, it was from my home. It was my sister’s voice, heavy with sorrow, “come home Rikki, Mom’s leaving us.”
I was too shocked to do anything. I just sat there on the sofa, playing and replaying the message. I did not know what to do. I was lost, totally lost. Thoughts just played with my heart and mind, I was fainting, but not fainted. So lost, so alone.
And then the phone rang. I almost didn’t hear it ring, after the sixth or probably the eighth ring I picked up the receiver. “Hello, can I speak with Patricia please?” I recognized Angelina’s voice immediately. And even before she could finish her “How are you, dear?” I was sobbing like a child.
It felt so nice to have someone make hot tea and dinner. I watched, as Angelina stood in the kitchen preparing my dinner and packing my things for me to go home and see mother, probably for the last time. A sob barely escaped me, as I remembered what happened after Angelina had called me. Totally in a state of panic and guilt, I couldn’t explain anything to her over the phone, she asked me to hang up and just sit down. Twenty minutes later, a white Pontiac firebird screeched outside my apartment building. I wasn’t as shocked to see Angelina as to see the angel holding her hand looking so lost. The face was the one I had been seeing for the past two years in the Home, the slanting eyes, the flat facial features and the lost look, symptoms of Down’s syndrome. For a moment I was confused enough to forget my sorrow, Angelina just smiled and said “Joanne, say hello to Patricia, dear” And the chubby hands of this child shyly extended to me as she said a barely audible “hello!” And then she got busy with the painting book she had brought along. As Angelina made me sit down and tell her my story, I learnt that Jo was her daughter and that she was 12 years of age. The Down’s syndrome was a result of ‘God’s will’ she said. As I sat there pouring my heart out to her, about my sister, my mother, my family, I started to realize that these two years, that I had spent like an orphan was more out of pride and ego than anger. As Angelina slowly explained to me, “I am a stranger to you Pat, but look at the love and affection you were able to shower on me in those 30 minutes in the train. So many times, we take for granted those whom we love; we think they will be there for ever, but we don’t realize that every day is a day closer to our graves. The ‘sorry’ we say when we bump into a stranger on the road, the ‘thank you’ we say to the guy at the counter, the ‘please’ we say to the waiter in the restaurant, all these small words of care and concern are said with sincerity to strangers, but though we feel it, they go unsaid at home, to our loved ones, to people who are related to us by blood. Pat, what has happened has happened, we cannot change the past, we have to learn from it, go, go home to your family, to your mother, your sister. They need you. They want you back.” I couldn’t stop crying. The guilt was killing me. Angelina quickly booked a ticket for me, packed my bag with the essentials asked me to take care and head home.
As my plane was being announced, Angelina held my hand and said “Pat, when I was pregnant with Jo, my husband deserted me. I was broken, I didn’t want to live. I tried killing myself with poison, but my neighbors saved me. A week later I went into labor, doctor said that the baby was fine, but when Jo was born, they diagnosed her with Down’s syndrome. I could keep her or give her away for adoption. But my mind was made. She was a result of those few days of love my husband and I had for each other. I kept her. Now, I don’t want to die. I almost lost her, but got her back. Cherish those who are close to you. Go, mother is waiting.”
Mother was waiting. She was clinging on to her life, just so that she could have one glimpse of me before she bid adieu. For two whole days, I was right beside her, trying to compensate for those two years of separation, for all the harsh words I had used, for the pain that she had gone through. Mother’s last vision was my sister and I holding hands, praying for her. There was a smile on her lips, a peace on her face. Mother had died happy.
It’s been ten months since mother died, I am standing in the lawn, at a distance I can see my sister Priscilla and Angelina talking, and Prissy’s husband is fixing up a broken cycle. And in the distance, there are children, some just sitting, some playing on the swings, some playing ring-a-ring-a-roses, what is common is the laughter, what is uncommon is that they are special children. My mother’s playschool is now “Anna’s Special Children- Home for God’s Favorites”. Angie, Prissy and I take care of the children. Some of them are abandoned, some like Jo have caring parents, who just want their children to learn and grow.
It’s most fulfilling to see these children shout “Rikki!!!” when I go to join them in their games. But more than that, it’s the way I cherish my loved ones, these children and the moments that God gives me, because like Angie says” So many times, we take for granted those whom we love; we think they will be there for ever but we don’t realize that every day is a day closer to our graves.”
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