Dirgha Ayushman Bhava
I’ve put it off long enough. I pull the suitcase out from under the bed and gather the five sets of clothing I had brought with me, all freshly laundered. They look pitiful in there. On the way here, the suitcase was full of chocolates, pistachios, Tim Tams, even a box of cherries. Manna to be distributed amongst the Malaysian relatives. Amma always throws lavish dinner parties when I am home. My aunts and uncles exclaim “Wah! Chocolates! All the way from Australia!”
“What do you want for lunch today, kanna?” Amma asks me. “Rasam? Sambar? Eggplant biriyani?”
“Don’t worry, Amma, we can just finish the leftovers.”
“It’s no bother,” she says, her voice growing faint.
I don’t know how to tell her – when I eat her delicious cooking, all I taste is its absence in my adopted faraway land. Sometimes, at the shops, or at a party, I’ll hear a voice across the room, with Amma’s bell-like timbre, and I’m home again. It always takes me a moment to come back to myself, to let the emptiness settle.
“I have the murukku for you,” she says, handing me a pack of the savory crispy ribbons. They’ll get crushed on the flight, but I have hurt her already today, so I just pack it in between my t-shirts.
She sits on the bed and watches me lay out my clothes for the flight back. Tights, a long-sleeved t-shirt. I hate these last few hours. I’m always hot and sweaty in my too-warm outfit.
“What time will you land?” she says, though she knows the answer.
“Seven in the morning. I’ll just get a taxi home.”
“Do you have anything in your fridge?” she says, meaning “you look so thin.”
“I’ll get something, Amma. Don’t worry.”
“I could pack something for you?”
“It’s okay, Amma.” I reach out for her hand; the skin is now papery, delicate.
“After Appa drops you off, I’ll ask him to go to the shops. We’re out of coffee,” she says.
I nod, like she has told me a deep truth. We never know what to say to each other in these moments. The unspoken words stretch taut like a rubber band between us.
I stand. “I need the toilet.”
“Of course.” she says, leaving the room.
In the bathroom, I splash water on my face until the thickness in my throat subsides.
In the living room, the ceiling fan is stirring the soupy air. Appa reads his paper, and Amma has her legs tucked under her as she watches television. “I’m ready,” I say.
“Now? It’s still early,” Amma says.
Appa sees something in my eyes and says, “Maybe we should go now, there will be traffic.”
“Okay,” Amma says, though her face drops. “Come, let me hug you.”
I give her a tight hug, then genuflect for her blessing. It is a ritual of ours.
“Dirgha Ayushman Bhava,” she says.
May you always be happy.
Sumitra Shankar writes in Naarm/Melbourne on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. She travelled there through many other spaces, real, metaphorical, and transitional, and likes to write about those experiences pretending that it is all fiction. She works in mental health when she inhabits the real world and realises there are bills to pay.