Hiraeth (Welsh)

A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, or a home which maybe never was.

At eight, when we had to leave my childhood house in the village which had a backyard and a swing, to move into one above a restaurant in the city, I cried for an entire month. My mother, a poet herself, pacified me by teaching me new words that sounded melodious. Or maybe, she was trying to pacify herself.

Hiraeth, one such word, has stuck with me for years.

I felt the word when I was eleven and my father took my younger brother and left to earn the daily wages but both of them never returned. My mother cried uncontrollably and the sinking feeling in my heart was Hiraeth. The family I knew would never be the same and I would miss it my entire life.

At fifteen, my best friend, my only friend, moved to another city. I waved goodbye to her till she became smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see her bus anymore. Recalling the promises that we made to keep in touch, I walked back home, through the streets, we once joyously played in. The streets seemed haunted and strange, as though I’ve never walked down them before. Hiraeth, I called it, when I realized that I would never look at the road back home with the same familiarity ever again.

I felt homesick again at twenty when the boy who said he loved me was saying the same thing to another woman. When I went weak in the knees and felt like my heart would explode, I termed the feeling as Hiraeth. I would never look at love the same way. I could never go back to thinking about love as the innocent, pure, and safe space that it’s supposed to be.

At thirty-three, when my mother passed away, I was left with a house, my mother’s diamonds, and a loveless marriage. I wondered why I had everything in the world, a comfortable life and yet I didn’t feel fulfilled. I called the emptiness in my soul Hiraeth. I missed my house in the village with a backyard and the swing and wondered how feeling homesick goes beyond missing four walls. Hiraeth.

Picture by Arno Smit (Unsplash)

 

The Lost Shoe

 

When I was a child, I lost a shoe while walking through the market. It was a busy market on a hot summer day and my mother couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I remember she complained that morning about having to go all the way to the city for something so frivolous but I forgot what we went to the market for. I remember her dragging me with her because there was no one else to look after her four-year-old child. She rushed to get me ready so we could beat the afternoon crowd. I saw her running around the house, rambling about her laborious life, trying to bring everything in order before we begin our journey. I remember quietly standing in a corner, afraid of her vexed expression, knowing that I must not get in her way.

Once the house was managed to her liking, she turned to me. Suddenly, the woman who was just moving at the speed of lightning slowed down and gently brought my shoes out. She sat me down on a chair and knelt to the ground. She held the two laces in each of her hands and looped them. “This is the bunny’s left ear and this is the right ear. Now cross the ears. One goes over the other and there! All tied up!” she said in a singsong voice as she tied my lace. Back then, to me, it seemed as though my mother could do magic. With time also, just as much as with the laces. Time would just slow down every time my mother spoke to me as if to let me bask in every moment so that I would never forget a single memory spent with her.

Suddenly, getting back into her lightning avatar, she swiftly dragged me out of the house and almost ran till the bus stop. She held my hand as we boarded the bus and didn’t let go till we reached back home later that day. Once seated on the bus, she nestled me into her lap and I was as comfortable as the dew drops on the rose petals despite being in the midst of a garden full of thorns.

When we reached the city, my mother quickly brought me to my feet and braved the crowd. All I remember was getting yanked through a herd of sweaty, mindless people who didn’t bother to look where they were stepping, which was almost always, on my feet. I raised my other arm to defend me from thick bags smacking my face. It seemed to me that my mother was walking at the speed of the choo-choo train that she bought for my last birthday.

I don’t even remember stopping to buy what we came for. Before I knew it, we were back at the bus stand waiting to board the bus back home. My mother suddenly looked at me and gasped. “Where is your right shoe?” she asked me and the color of my face disappeared. I had to look down at my feet to notice that I was missing a shoe. A beautiful white-colored shoe with colorful stripes and with laces that my mother always tied for me. When I first saw that shoe from the window of another shop in the city, I immediately knew I wanted it. Even if that meant I have to let out the loudest possible cry in the middle of this busy market and embarrass my mother.

She bought that shoe for me after I wouldn’t stop crying then, but now I was crying the same way when I lost it, knowing very well that considering how my mother’s mood has been throughout the day, I am sure to get whacked anytime now. I kept repeating that I was sorry and didn’t want to add to her troubles in between my sobs. I looked at my mother so I could anticipate the intensity of trashing coming my way but instead, I saw her face soften slowly until she burst out into laughter.

We didn’t board the bus we were waiting for. Instead, my mother picked me up and took me back to the market and bought me a new pair of shoes. This one was a black shoe with purple laces that my mother would go on to teach me to tie the same way. She also bought me my favorite vanilla ice cream which I gladly shared with her. She narrated the story every time we went to the city. Only this time her face always lightened up at the mention of the city instead of dreading it.

Today, I noticed that her shoelace was untied. So, I knelt to the ground and tied them for her. Just then, she looked at me, smiled and narrated the whole story of my lost shoe all over again. She tells me how amusing she found that I didn’t even notice when my shoe came off. She laughed, thinking about how afraid I was to disappoint her. She cried remembering my innocent face. She may have forgotten how to tie her shoelace, she may have forgotten who I was on most days, but she always remembered the story of the lost shoe to its last detail.

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The Brown Belt

My father had a thick brown color belt. It was the only one he had. When it broke or wore out, he would buy the same one. He didn’t care if it matched his shoes. Probably because you could never see him wearing it. You see, he never tucked his shirt. Always roamed around town with his big paunch and oversized untucked shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbow. The unseen poor belt would lose its shape and tear from within trying to hold up his pants; and his honor.

Not only to save him from the humiliation of dropping his pants in public, but the belt also saved him from the humiliation of having a gay son. The first time he used the belt to hit me was when he saw Sameer in my room, a little closer than a seventeen-year-old boy must be to another. He whipped the belt continuously, not caring where it hit me, till I lost consciousness. The scars on my back reminded me every single day that protecting my father’s honor was more important than accepting who I am. Even after he was gone, I kept the belt in my wardrobe, right next to my brown belt. Over the years, when I thought for even a second that I cannot live a lie for my entire life, I would bring out his brown belt and whip myself with it.

So today, when my seventeen-year-old son stood in front of me wearing a white dress that stopped just above the knee and told me that he doesn’t identify as a male, I had no choice. It almost amused me how the new generation has come up with so many new ways of getting in tune with who they are. Nonetheless, my father wouldn’t have had it. His belt needed to be brought out to protect his honor yet again.

I walked up to my wardrobe, remembering every single whip, every single slang hurled at me by my father, every single tear of my mother cursing herself for not giving birth to a “normal” child, every single time my father warned me to keep my true self a secret. I remembered every single time my father opened the wardrobe and brought out his brown belt. I remembered how I would go numb with fear even before the belt touched my naked skin. So I opened my wardrobe today and took out the brown belts, both his and mine. Only this time, I threw my father’s belt into the trash can and walked over to my son. I handed over my belt to him and told him “this will look good with your white dress.”

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

 

Of my Aunt’s Bindis, Bangles, and Courage

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