Singing Eyes

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Vicasso Destiny

After expecting the hurling of a stick or a medicine box, the pain from the red purse hitting her ankle doesn’t hurt as much as it should have. She knew Grandmother’s anger but was never one to experience it. Pavithra takes the hurling of the purse as permission to enter the room and picks it up from the floor. The soft fabric of the red purse feels familiar in her fingers having carried it several times before. The memory of buying Milk Pedas with the money inside flashes across her eyes and leaves as the room comes into focus. There are people inside whose faces she remembers but names she doesn’t. She gives a slight smile to the girl who she thinks is the Granddaughter. When responded with a grimace, she knows it is her. Next to the girl who has now grown taller than expected in six years, stands the Son.

Grandmother isn’t too different from the woman in Pavithra’s memory. Everything about her was the same except for the new paleness that wafted from within her. Her body was now adorning more wrinkles than plain skin. There was a paleness in the whites and blacks of Grandmother’s eyes that were stubbornly turned away from Pavithra. A thickness fills the room with the ghost of the woman she once was hovering around.

This was the moment Pavithra had yearned for and it wasn’t anything like she had imagined it to be. She was expecting the old woman to be sitting on her plastic chair with hands crossed across her chest. It had been six years since she heard Grandmother’s voice, but it was the only sound she could hear amidst the silence.

She wants to speak, say something. Apologise. Grandmother didn’t speak anymore; she didn’t sing anymore. It felt wrong to be speaking or singing in a world where the Music Teacher didn’t sing anymore. Pavithra places a hand over the wrinkled hand that had given her sweets, gifts, books, and music. Grandmother doesn’t wrench her hand away like she expects her to and it hurts more than her anger.

I’m sorry, Pavithra wants to say. She wants to cry and then maybe Grandmother will realise how genuine the apologies for not staying in touch all these years are. She tries to bring the emotions out either through her eyes or with her mouth but neither happens.  She wants to say it wasn’t her fault that the phone number was lost, but then again, it was. She couldn’t lie to Grandmother. She never could.

Her son places a yellow-coloured plate on a stool beside the bed. It has chips, one samosa, and a few ladoos. No one asks Pavithra to eat but it is implied. Just as she was about to pick up the samosa, Grandmother moves her hands wildly motioning to her son who nods and leaves the room. Pavithra doesn’t reach for the plate again. She looks over at Grandmother whose hands having left hers now are fiddling with each other. The footsteps of her son entering the room are loud in the silence that consumes the room. Pavithra doesn’t turn to look over, her gaze never leaving Grandmother’s face. From the corner of her eye, she sees the Son remove the yellow plate only to replace it with another. Pavithra looks at the stool with the plate out of nothing to do and her heart leaps a little in her ribcage. On the plate haphazardly arranged are a few Milk Pedas.

She doesn’t reach for the Pedas and instead reaches back for Grandmother’s hands. She’s crying now, she’s crying with no tears. Grandmother senses something as she turns and for the first time that day, she looks at her. Pavithra’s apologies seem to make their way through her eyes more eloquently than words ever could have and Grandmother’s face is now kind. Forgiving.

They sit so for a while. Pavithra eats the Pedas from the plate as Grandmother simply smiles at her. It is almost like those days when she’d attend music classes. Except now, Grandmother isn’t sitting on her plastic chair that Pavithra notices has long since been cast away in the corner of the room. It looks older than Grandmother herself from bearing her weight for years.

Grandmother doesn’t speak. She doesn’t tell her stories of how she might have joined the film industry as a singer if her father had permitted it. She doesn’t tell her stories of how she might have been in London now if her son had allowed it. She moves her hands again, a good one hour later, and her Son asks Pavithra if she still learns music. Pavithra tells Grandmother that she doesn’t and the disappointment that flashes across Grandmother’s face isn’t missed and she hastens to explain that she still sings. She is met with a silence that blared with disbelief. Pavithra sings to prove her point.

Grandmother listens. She closes her eyes at the right moments and shakes her head along with the tune of the song from the black and white movie. Once the song is over, she clamps her limp hands together and taps them against each other. It takes Pavithra a second or two to realise that she was clapping and the happiness she gains from the sounds that Grandmother’s hands make is irrevocable. Grandmother smiles back, and it reaches her eyes, crinkling the corners and Pavithra decides there is nothing more beautiful than an old person smiling from their heart.

She stays smiling for a while longer and Pavithra watches as the smile from her face slowly falls and her eyes stop blinking. Her son rushes from where he stands, his face dead while people fill in the room not bothering to pretend to cry. Her chest doesn’t move and the unsaid is said. There lingers a twinkle in her eyes as they lie open until the singing of her eyes is the only sound that fills the room.