At the break of dawn, I heard the soft rhythm of the clothes hitting the stone plank at a distance. I lethargically carried myself to the window and peeped out to see Ammu Maasi tirelessly trashing the clothes and then taking a moment to delicately tuck the lone strand of hair behind her ear that dared to escape her otherwise neat bun. Her only two gold bangles made this soft tune that I was so used to waking up to.
I was eight years old when my mother left me with her youngest sister. Then, a newlywed bride who was still getting used to the metti she now had to wear on her toe, Ammu Maasi didn’t hesitate even once before taking me in. She shielded me from her mother-in-law’s taunts, her brother-in-law’s lustful eyes, and her husband’s ignorance.
I wondered why she didn’t hate my mother for making her life so difficult. The answer to my questions lay in Maasi’s stories. They painted my mother as a warrior who escaped this prison of a house where she was only beaten and enslaved by her husband and also saved me from the same life. I didn’t blame mother. I loved being Maasi’s shadow, following her around as she effortlessly handled every single chore of the house. She always made sure I studied and when I told her I enjoyed writing, she would sit next to me and make me recite the stories that I wrote while she looked out the window at the clear blue sky.
But this morning felt different. I felt the need to memorize every single thing that she did. Right from running around the house, cleaning every single corner and then coming to a halt and almost in slow motion, putting that red bindi right in between her eyes with her ring finger. I always believed that no one could do things as she does. That day was the last time she would waltz around the house with her sheer elegance and beauty. She fell down in the kitchen while making chapatis. She could never move the right side of her body after that day.
The first time I saw her crying was when she tried so hard to stand and work with just her left hand but always fell onto the floor. Soon after that, I was married off to the first house Maasi’s husband could find, far away from the village, but her thoughts never left my mind. Every day, every single thing I would do, every single story I wrote had a little bit of my aunt in it.
Then one day, we got a call that her husband passed away. It was my turn now and I didn’t hesitate before bringing Maasi to my house. This time I shielded her from my new family’s taunts and told my children stories of a warrior named Ammu who always believed in herself and lived life with absolute grace. I’d turn to Maasi and see her smile as I tucked the lone strand of her behind her ear.
Photo by Rupali Neelkanth on Unsplash