The room had its own quality of an understatement. With furniture lined up against one side of the wall, it seemed to be in a state of excessive portrayal. The adjacent pattern of the lavender and the cream walls partitioned the room for the two of its occupants, Shweta and Shruti, almost as if it was aware of the negotiating nature of the bonds that were going to be formed in this place. The wooden flooring creaked at even a subtle movement, acting like a reminder for Shweta to not move around too much or else everyone would feel her exceptional presence. She tip toed towards the bed and unbuckled her sandals, when she stood up, her father and Mrs. Anand creaked along with the floor. “So, how do you like the room?”, her father asked, she nodded her head with approval and started stacking out the clothes on her bed. This gesture was assumed to mean that she was going to stay.
Shweta’s mother had passed away when she was thirteen. She still remembered herself, rushing to hide behind the coffee table, with a rusty red stain on her beige frock, waiting for her parents to show up, smiling at everyone who passed by, but as ten minutes passed, Shweta screamed. She could not understand what else to do. At a birthday party where she could recognize faces from her class, she was too scared of that patch of womanhood that was soon going to overtake her entire identity. Her scream attracted attention and her friends crowded around the coffee table, and Shweta sobbed incessantly. It was not like she had not been told of the menstrual cycle before, but the absence of her mother and the presence of acquaintances made the experience highly social, hinting towards the possibility of an unsettled adolescence. It was Mrs. Anand, the host, who had then taken care of Shweta, lent her a sanitary napkin, given her fresh clothes, fed her with chocolates and pep talks. Shweta had only wanted to go back home, when the telephone at Mrs. Anand’s house rang and the occasional greetings of a “Hello” began, except this time it lacked the enthusiasm of a greeting and the obligation of a birthday wish, Mrs. Anand’s tone was composed of silence and lows of “Yes” and “Okays”. Shweta’s mother had passed away in a car accident on her way home. And it was Shruti’s seventh birthday. Ever since, Shweta had blamed a life for a life. And at thirteen, it had only seemed justified to her. Back then, she hadn’t thought about Shruti’s apparent loss of a father. Mrs. Anand was divorced, and now she wondered why she was Mrs. Anand at all. But despite her growing up, Shweta could not stop blaming Shruti. Had it not been for Shruti, there wouldn’t have been a birthday party and her mother wouldn’t have been driving home in a hurry. In fact, Shweta only grew up to hate Shruti more. Every time she outgrew a dress, Shruti would begin growing in it. Every time she aced an exam, Shruti would be expected to ace it too. It exhausted Shweta, she could not bear her and Shruti as a part of the same identity, as if she was equally responsible for her mother’s death. She wanted to be as out of sync of this inflicted sisterhood as she could be. But even their names were bound to tie them as sisters, Shweta and Shruti resonated of a sibling chime.
The years following her mother’s death, Shweta had counted time in terms of the number of familiar and unfamiliar women she had come across. She remembered, Mrs. Gandhi, Mrs. Deewakar and Mrs. Basu. These were women, mothers of her fellow classmates, living in the same building as her own mother did, yet none of them made up for an unconditional sense. Her father would often leave Shweta in their care, well aware of his incapacity to make up for a parent. When her mother was alive, her father would take her out on walks, and when she thought about it now, she could never understand whether it was for an escape or if he really wanted to tell her about how their parents used to be in college. He used to go on and on about their time together, as if it was a refrain from the past meant to create an emphasis on the present. She never doubted their love for each other, but her parents were living abstract lives now. They were inside the same painting, but relevant to different patterns. The unfamiliar women she came across, they bore a peculiar similarity to each other. Neither of them was expected to be Shweta’s mother.
Shweta was sent to boarding school as soon as she turned fifteen and entered Eleventh Grade. She had somehow preferred it that way. It gave her a strained relief to know that she could take care of herself, that she would no longer have to look for a mother only an elevator floor away. But she never thought of either of the directions it could have made her father wander in. Within the first six months, her father had informed her that he was getting married to Mrs.Anand. He hadn’t offered her any explanation, neither with words nor with silence. This was the kind of communication gap that usually existed between people who did not know each other. And at that time, Shweta hadn’t cared about it. She had not thought of all the impressions of a mother’s existence this marriage would bring with it. She had not thought of anything at all and scored a 75/75 in the test next day. Academics was a coping mechanism Shweta preached. It made her a boring person in front of her peers, but boring isn’t a measurement of how interesting you are. While vacations, she preferred to stay in the hostel, spending most of her time in the school library, and at evenings playing with the warden’s little daughters. Her father would beg her to come home, to meet him. But she always had excuses. It was not difficult to come up with excuses for a man who did not really want her to come back.
She was 20 now, a graduate in Literature and well spoken in five languages but unworthy of comprehending the language of a family. There were no plans of coming back this time either. But it was Shruti’s fifteenth birthday and she had demanded a family vacation and not forgotten to include Shweta. No one would have been surprised if she wouldn’t have turned up, but there was something about Shimla Shweta couldn’t resist. It reeked of memories from her childhood, of walks and of summers with her mother, as fresh in her mind as the first pine cone her mother had shown her. But the memories weren’t the reason she had said yes, the reason, in fact was the truth that Shweta had no more memories of attachment. That the isolated lifestyle she had so bitterly chosen had rendered her wiped out from any memory at all. She did not remember the last time she was not absent in a photograph. And she was not prepared for an oblivion of her own self. She could never prepare herself for the oblivion of her mother. So, she had come back. Shimla, she had thought would mark her presence back in photographs.
Maybe, she had thought, this family needed forgiveness. Forgiveness defined by poles, and intersected with the understanding of longitudes and latitudes. Because you cannot run away from family, you cannot run away from gravity. The Earth and its force never go out of sync.