A mother by chance

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She picked him up, just like the first time, and walked up to the water.

By Sharon S. Aruparayil

She stood there, barefoot, with the warm sand tickling her toes, and choppy waves lapping against her calves as she whispered a silent prayer under her breath. It was as if she was frozen in time, threads of fate glistening golden as the skies exploded in brilliant shades of vermillion and lilac.

They named her Rupali, a Bengali world used to describe the delicate beauty of moonshine, as the first thing she reached for was the silver bracelet clasped on the nurse’s wrist. She was the youngest of three, her oldest sister passing away in a tragic accident when she was only fifteen.

As her family shrunk down from five to four, grief drove her away from her small village in Kolkata, a place she called home, leaving behind the familiar dusty streets and the makeshift corner shop run by the woman with hair like finely spun sugar, framing a toothless smile as sweet as her favorite biscuits stacked in rows of glass jars.

She never went back home, moving as far away as humanly possible to not hear the echoes of her mother’s woeful sobs in the middle of the night, screaming at the God who took her child away from her.

She would never be able to handle grief like that. Grief so profound that it burrows a hole in your chest and settles into a bottomless void, consuming any semblance of joy, of happiness or even love. Grief that only takes and takes and takes, leaving behind a husk of a once vibrant woman. This was when she started to whisper prayers under her breath, never daring to make a noise as she promised herself, salty tears streaming down her face; she would never be a mother.

She would never be her mother.

They say that a child’s cry is often the most beautiful thing for an expectant mother, months of discomfort, and hours of excruciating pain forgotten as the shrill mewls fill the room. She never thought that she would experience that feeling, or even understand unconditional love that began before first sight.

She found him abandoned on the side of the road, ears that were way too big for his face, and a small skeletal body that fit in the palm of her hand. As his soft mewls resonated through the corners of her mind, she felt something that she never felt before, sunshine coursing through her veins as she picked him up. She felt warm.

She took him home, slowly nursing him back to health.

She cried when he fell sick, watching over him all night as he slept, purring softly. She laughed when he was happy, tail high in the air as he sprinted across her living room. She got angry when he scratched the furniture, or took a bite out of her favorite shoes, but she also immediately melted when he looked remorseful. She would take him to the beach, chuckling when he tried to eat the sand or attack the seagulls unsuccessfully.

She picked him up, just like the first time, and walked up to the water.

She looked at him, as he nuzzled his tiny pink nose against her thumb, and his ridiculous ears against her face. She finally understood what it felt like to be a mother.

Sharon S. Aruparayil is a psychology major