It was in 1990 when I first visited Mumbai, a long vacation planned at my aunt’s place. I was a restless 4 year old kid then, walking and running on my sparkling little squeaking shoes. I was so enthralled by the funny sounds it made, no matter what I did; I would never miss wearing my shoes. Mom would often tell me about the irritating shoes that turned me in to an annoying kid. It was also the visit when a busy local train gulped in one of my shoe. The moment I got down from the train, I was seen crying loud, nonstop, as if a giant monster had taken my most prized possession. Knowing the local trains in Mumbai, my parents made no attempts to venture back in. When I was pulled away from the train, I forced myself to walk on one shoe as I wasn’t willing to let go the other.
The one that remained squeaked harder as I limped and cried for the one lost.
Years later I was in Mumbai again, but this time for my cousins wedding. I had no memories of the place and whatever I could describe about the squeaks were indeed a small chapter from what my mom could remember while teasing me in our random funny conversations.
The wedding was filled with familiar faces and the ones that would eventually end up being friends after some buzzing around as mutual friends in Facebook. Once they are added, they are either lost or found in the otherwise crowded list, and its FB’s business to bother. I ridiculed my mind for faces that greeted me with handshakes thinking about their inevitable fate. When I got past my ironic thoughts, I saw my mom with a woman in her fifties marching towards me in excitement. She seemed thrilled and mom spoke on her behalf repeatedly emphasizing and accentuating random snippets from the past. There was this momentary pause in my mind to look for some kind of familiarity, but I don’t. I don’t remember her. I kept looking at her, but every renewed gaze had turned futile. She for sure had so many things to tell me, yet she was silent and contemplated something in my eyes while I could just see real warmth in her own. Something from the past had come alive in her eyes. My mom was taken aside by her sister and I continued portraying an ordinary smile to an unknown woman. I was blank. No memories of mine had any identity to her existence. I guess she was quick to realize my state. She went past blessing me and handed over a chocolate bar.
After the wedding, her face continued to haunt me. I laughed at myself, being a 25 year old and she still thought I was a kid who liked chocolates. But that laugh wouldn’t spare me to think about what she meant to me, or rather what I meant to her.
It had to be mom who could give glimpses of her presence in my childhood. Mom told me that I would hardly stay at my aunt’s place during that vacation. No matter what distractions I would have, I would be at her place by 9 in the morning and she would ensure that I left only when I was ready for a goodnight sleep. She was my aunt’s neighbor. Though she had her own children, I had a special place in her house. Every day I would return home with something in my hand. She was fond of my curly hair and my eyes. She would at times groom me as if I were a girl child. She also gifted me a new pair of squeaking shoes when I wasn’t even aware that a memorable vacation had come to an end.
Mom tried her best to remember and I just thought how time can be so cruel wiping out memories.
Maybe she played with me the whole day. Maybe she cooked special dishes for me. Maybe she kissed me often. Maybe I took long naps in her lap. Maybe many chocolate bars blended rich stories of her love and care.
Yet, maybe there was a last time when I kissed her. Maybe I cried when I realized I could no longer go to her place. Maybe, I cried and craved for her presence when I couldn’t express what I missed. Maybe with my smile, tears, questions, curiosity, cuteness, kisses, hugs, mess, naughtiness, innocence, I had left a deep imprint in her memories.
But sadly I don’t remember any of it. Just like those squeaking shoes, memories of my childhood were either lost in the busy growing up phase or were overshadowed by riveting thoughts of being an adult. I did search for her in Facebook, but I am glad I couldn’t find her there.
In the winter of 2015, she passed away in peace. I did not get a second chance to meet her; rather it wasn’t second, only she knew the exact count. Her memories will have my existence forever, with the same wonderful feeling. I would have only the maybes.
She continues to be in my memory just like those precious squeaks from the past, the ones that relived by chance, maybe the least I could do for her.
What remained squeaked harder, but I once did cry for the one lost, but I don’t remember!