I wouldn't get to see her like this everyday. Actually happy for a change. Her demeanour as bright as the color of her clothes as she applied mascara on her eyes by the mirror, just about to head out to the Baishakhi Fair.
From the corner of her mouth she asked me to join her knowing I'd refuse. I chose not to waste my breath and she got the message, deciding it was better to just let it be rather than ruin her moment. I quietly observed my sister's intent focus on herself in the mirror. These were the days she'd take a breather. Life hadn't been easy on her since our dad passed away and once in a while she'd let life make it up to her.
Our mother slowly and weakly trudged into the living room, I got off the chair to help her find a seat. Cancer's cruel touch had reduced her to a gown-clad husk. Where once she sported waist-length black curls there was now only a grim peat. She sat by the window and watched her daughter.
“How do I look, Mother?” asked Ambreen.
Very slowly Mother's features softened and curved into a smile. “Absolutely gorgeous, dear.”
Ambreen beamed as she went back to fixing flowerbeads on her hair. Mother looked outside into the bright streets, ever so luminous as it was crowded with young people in bright clothes and painted faces, some carrying children on their shoulders, heading to the fair down the block.
“Shouldn't you be out too?” Mother slowly asked me.
“Got better things to do with my life,” I sneered turning my focus back on the video game I had been playing, ignoring glares from both Mother and Ambreen. “Okay, I just don't feel like running around in this heat, or being dragged to Westin and getting bored to death.”
Ambreen's phone rang and she ignored it. It was her boyfriend whom we knew about and were always awfully quiet about. The one person, aside from us, she found peace with, and more often than not was in pieces about. You could tell there was so much going on with her, coping with studies, a job at a school and a bunch of private tuitions as she was now the only earning member in the family since dad passed away. You'd think a love life makes things easier for people, but the times you pass by your sister's room and overhear her fighting with her boyfriend sobbing afterwards on a daily basis. It'd make you wonder why people keep flinging themselves at various distractions even when it did nothing or just simply deepened worries rather than alleviated them.
“I just don't get you kids,” Mom said. “Back in the day we'd spend weeks preparing for this day. We'd go out and have a great time, and look at you. You and that cousin of yours, you'd rather sit home on beautiful days like this. Only if I felt better, I'd spend all day at the fair.”
“Mom, it's all right!” I told her “I don't like getting out much. Besides, someone needs to be here, and look after you.”
Mother went on, “The least you can do is go out there and make memories like your sister, let there be room for some good days among the bleak.” She paused for a brief cough and said. “You don't get it all from sitting home all the day.” After a few quiet minutes she added, ”I hate how my illness is just ruining your childhood for you.”
I stopped playing the video game and watched my avatar get mauled by a dragon. I'm really bad with moments like this. Where words do nothing to change circumstances. You ask yourself how some people always know the right thing to say at the right moment, why you aren't one of them, how dumb must any listener be to buy empty consolation, and why people think such words make such a big difference. I hate feeling helpless. I was afraid Mom might start sobbing any minute. I hated being around tears I could do nothing about. Blessed are the ignorant.
Not sure of what else to say, I turned to Mom and said “Coffee Khaba? I know you like my coffee.”
I'm not sure if Mother herself was sure how to respond to my abrupt piping in. In a few seconds she gave up planning a response, and instead she gave me a weak smile and a nod.