It was a light Sunday morning and the neighbours were just stirring mid-sleep. I was quite sleepy too but I was perched like an owl on the railing of our botanical balcony.
“Look, the plate is smiling”, said Mummy with a whimsical smile playing across her own youthful lips, as she artfully coerced the latest ‘last’ morsel of rice and sambhar into my unsympathetic mouth. I looked at the said steel plate. Devoid of any food particles, the plate caught the sun’s oblique rays and garishly reflected with a happiness that displeased me.
As a child I didn’t eat because I was hungry; I ate because I had to. Mummy used to carry me around her hips, left hand holding the plate and the right hand traveling around me to feed me morsels. Ravenous crows and perpetually hungry cows will eat my lunch if I don’t keep it locked up safe in my tummy or the gravy train is coming- “Choo! Choo! Open your mouth”, or “You want to be as strong as Popeye? Then, eat up quickly!”, or a song she used to hum which I can’t remember any more; Mummy did have some tricks up her sleeve to make me eat.
She probably learnt these tactics from her mother, her mother learnt it from her mother and her mother who, in turn, learnt it from that universe of imaginative mothers who had to find ways to feed children who just wouldn’t eat.
As I was growing older, I could feel the fire in my belly. A feeling that I was destined for bigger things; ideas, dreams, a career, my own bike. I moved out, leaving behind Mummy, home food and her maternal manipulations. One thing led to another and I blended into the routine of things that the spirit of the Great City extorts as its pound of flesh.
Mummy visited me often, in the beginning. But I didn’t have time for her and small talk. I was busy being the man, rushing through meals, half-reading newspapers and checking on important business updates on my phone. As time dragged on, Mummy’s visits got rarer than the mean rare steak she was famous for making on lazy Sunday afternoons.
Somebody once said that change is the only constant. I can only rationalize my actions as being part of this flux of change. Acceptance can give one peace and maybe Mummy accepted this and that’s why she stopped visiting me.
After a horrible day at work, I stopped by the fast food chain on my way back home. As I got out of the car, an unsettling southerly draught caught the lapels of my jacket and flipped them over. Cursing to myself, I briskly walked the steps to the counter and placed my order. The gruff looking man with glasses who took my order nodded nonchalantly toward an unoccupied table for me to wait.
Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes passed. At twenty-two minutes and fifteen seconds, I was ready to rain ketchup on the gruff looking man’s face. He seemed to sense the impending storm and soon returned with my order. I picked up the paper bag with more force than was necessary and stomped back to my car. With my precious cargo in the passenger seat, I fumbled with the seat belt mentally preparing to gun the car out of the parking lot.
“Is this for me?”, asked a high-pitched voice that seemed to echo out of a hairy cave. A thin, old man with all the missing hair of the world on his head and face, had conjured out of thin air at the passenger’s side. He was looking down at the burger in a sort of sober desperation.
“Is this for me?”, he asked again in his querulous voice.
I stared hard at him, funnelling all the malevolence of my horrible day through my eyes. I hoped he’d just wither up and die.
“Yes. This is for you.”
I gunned the car out of the parking lot, like I had mentally prepared. I know what Mummy meant when she said, ”Look, the plate is smiling.”