December’s Showcases are introduced by Pen to Print Alumni and Write On! Thoughtful Tuesdays editor, Eithne Cullen.
It’s really exciting to be editing the December Showcase pages. December can be a time of joy and delight especially in the run-up to Christmas, often evoking memories of past Christmases and our younger days. It’s also a time when we remember the year is drawing to a close and there’s a new one around the corner for us to make plans and think of things getting better heading for spring.
The pieces I have chosen to share today are a mixture of sad and happy, hopeful and reflective.
The first is from Tavinder Kaur New. In Saying Goodbye, she tells the story of saying goodbye to her mother and the world she leaves behind when she comes home. I found it a moving account of the relationship between mother and daughter, as well as an insight into the different worlds the narrator inhabits.
The rays of the sun appeared in the distant sky, like a flower opening up its petals, and they floated through the doorway as I opened the latch. I held the glass of water in my hand and a beam reflected off it, creating a rainbow through the doorway, stopping by the bed where she lay. The sounds of her breathing grew heavier and heavier, echoing into the street. I wiped a tear from my face.
She lay there with her eyes closed and her body as stiff as ice.
“Bibi-Ji pani,” (mother water) I said. I tried to make her sip some drops of water and stroked her hair. She looked so tired and frail as I held her hand. I clutched it tight like a child, watching her dense exhale.
The door rattled and I saw two ladies standing in the doorway. They were both wearing Indian suits and covered their heads with their dupattas. The clothes they wore were dirty and tattered from their labours.
“Sat sri akal beti,” (God is the Ultimate Truth) they said, and asked me how she was.
I let go of her hand slowly and watched them come inside to sit with her.
“God, whose evil eye has cast this on your mother?” one of the women asked.
“I cannot believe how frail she looks. She used to be as strong as an ox, and do you remember when she carried her own mother-in-law during partition?” the other woman said.
As I made tea in the kitchen, I remembered my mother telling me the story of her journey from Pakistan to India before I got married. When the partition happened, my parents had to leave their home with all their possessions on a cart. My grandmother, who travelled with them, was blind and had been injured as a result of the transition. My mother told me how she’d carried her frail mother-in-law across the treacherous paths.
She told me it had been a difficult journey; they had lost much of their property leaving their home for India. It had been traumatising. So many people were injured, killed even. It had been a chaotic time in their lives.
I brought the tea for the ladies and they asked me how the family was doing. I wanted to tell them I missed my family back in England, I hated the heat beating down on my head, I felt too hot and that, every time a plane crossed the sky, my heart would think of home.
Looking around my mother’s home in India, Kartarpur, brought back memories of my childhood: of how my two sisters and I used to play and run down the street and pick apples from the tree. My dad would often come home after making furniture, such as tables and chairs, and we would run up to him, shouting, “Papaji” (father) and hug him. I missed him so much; I was devastated when he died, as I missed out on attending his funeral. I was so close to him.
My dad was a handsome man who was training to be a professional hockey player. He once told me that he had been injured when a car hit his leg. I remember seeing the disappointment in his eyes as he used to sew clothes and take measurements of the locals around the village to pay for our schooling. I wished he was here with me now so that I could talk to him and hear his voice.
I looked at my mother as she lay there and she did look frail, like a small baby on the munga (bed). I had called a doctor but he told me there was nothing he could do to save her. I felt so hopeless.
I had asked my sisters to visit but the elder wasn’t speaking to the second. I was always stuck as the youngest. I felt their jealousy that I had married and had a more stable life, while they were living in poverty. Not that they admitted it. I had paid for the doctors and my mother’s medicine, which they couldn’t afford. But this meant that I was alone in our old home, as they couldn’t travel.
I was unassisted and watching my mother slip away from me.
I didn’t know what to say to her as she lay there. We had hardly been that close. I felt that she hadn’t really loved me as I had wanted. I could always talk to my dad, but not with her. She never displayed affection to me when I was young. I was like a boy, always climbing trees and getting filthy and I sensed she disapproved of me. I felt that I was not as pretty as my other sisters, as I was too skinny and tall. She would tell me this on a daily basis and worry whether I would be ever be married, while my two sisters married at a young age. I remember her cursing and looking towards the heavens and then at me.
I wanted to study, but my father could not afford to pay for college after his accident. He had always wanted me to go and finish my education, but I knew that was a dream. My mother didn’t understand it. She wanted me to get married and didn’t encourage studying. I had to watch her cook endlessly, on a daily basis, instead.
“Who’s going to marry you, if you cannot cook?” she would ask. “You have to make your husband happy; that is what matters. He is the most important person in the world.” Or: “Why don’t you try to make more of an effort with how you look? I don’t know how you are going to marry, or who is going to marry you!”
Those words rang in my ears, they stung like a snake.
“Take care of yourself.” Those had been her only words to me when I accepted the proposal to marry Baljit. I was 21; he was a shopkeeper in Wolverhampton, which was a new place to me at the time. I was trembling and my heart was beating. I felt anxiety over travelling so far away from my family and home. My dad had gleamed with pride over the marriage, but with my mother, it was just less pressure on her. “Thank god,” she would say.
I used to telephone her on a regular basis but she really didn’t say anything to me. Never “I miss you” or asking how I was. Only my dad would ask me to come back and visit.
I wiped a tear from my cheek and my heart was aching with pain from missing him so much. In my hand, I held the necklace he had given me – the only treasured article I had from him before I left.
“Cough, cough…Gulpreet…” she said. She was asking for my dad. That was his name. She lay helpless, like an animal trapped in a cage, and all I could do was watch. I held her hand again. But it just slipped through like ice and lay firm on the end of the bed.
But it just slipped through like ice and lay firm on the end of the bed.
“Bibi-JI!” I screamed. My voice echoed all around the house, like a bouncing ball, until it disappeared. All that remained with me was her body. She lay so peacefully, as though she was sleeping.
I can see the ocean slowly disappearing, like smoke from a fire, as the plane lifts into the sky. I am coming back home. I wanted to say so much to her: I wanted her to hug me, kiss me, but in the end, there was nothing. Just me and her and emptiness between us. I had scattered her ashes at Kiratpur, as she would have wanted, but my heart is desolate.
As I look through the window, I see a strange, beautiful bird, with colours of red, green and blue, flying almost side by side with the plane as I am leaving India. I feel as though it is making sure that I leave safely. But it is silly to think that, I tell myself.
The swing is creaking back and forth and I sit in the garden back home. I haven’t cried. Baljit is worried about me but thinks I have accepted how relations were between me and my mother. The sun is glowing through and between the clouds and going towards the fence. I sit with my eyes downwards and hear a cheep cheep sound. I look at the fence where the sun is gleaming, and there it is: the same mysterious bird.
I am startled as I look at it again. It has the identical colours of red, green and blue. It looks at me and flaps its wings and spreads them out to keep the sunlight at bay, shading me from its beam.
The tears start to roll from my eyes and Baljit runs out of the kitchen towards me.
“Are you OK?”
“Yes… yes, I am,” I say, as I wipe away tears of joy. “I know now that Mum really cared for me and is always here, watching over me.”
© Tavinder Kaur New, 2021
You can connect with Tavinder on their website: https://wordpress.com/post/tavindernew.wordpress.com and on Twitter: @NewTavinder
Read about her experience with the Rabbits Road Mobile Library here: https://www.rabbitsroadinstitutelibrary.uk/notices/tavinder-new-mobile-library-creative-response
His spirits were high on that late spring afternoon, as he drove through the verdant Hampshire countryside. The sky was blue and the sun shone down, although there were large white puffs of cloud-like cotton wool, which were being blown on a relatively modest breeze.
I have chosen it as a lovely contrast to the sadness of the first story, and I’m reading it as a prose poem. The writer uses the account of his journey to remind us of the importance of hope in our lives. It’s also a reminder that spring isn’t that far away, and we’ll be enjoying getting out and about more easily when the world looks brighter.
The Approach To Salisbury
His spirits were high on that late Spring afternoon as he drove through the verdant Hampshire countryside. The sky was blue and the sun shone down, although there were large white puffs of cloud-like cotton wool, which were being blown on a relatively modest breeze.
He’d taken a diversion onto a smaller road, much to the intense annoyance of the nice lady in his satnav, as he was approaching familiar territory and no longer required directions. It was hard to believe that this used to be the main artery from London to the South West, it was so quiet now. The road was as straight as an arrow, as it was built on an old Roman road.
He drove along between the high hedgerows, which were bursting with white hawthorn blossom, stark against the green of the leaves. He’d spent many years in this area and memories came flooding back unbidden. Most were pleasant, but some of the recollections made him shudder. He gave himself a mental shake.
He watched the miles roll by on the odometer; it shouldn’t be far now. With his window down, he could smell rapeseed and, looking around, saw the gaudy bright yellow slashes in the distant fields. He could hear snatches of birdsong; his mood was getting lighter with every mile that passed.
Then, as he crested a hill, there it was! The spire of Salisbury Cathedral loomed large on the horizon, like a beacon guiding him. His heart leapt for joy as, suddenly, the intervening years melted away, taking him back to his childhood. This was immediately followed by a burst of intense sadness as he realised that he no longer had anyone to share this with and he had to fight back the tears.
The end of his trek was close and it felt as though he belonged once more, albeit on a temporary basis. He regained control of his emotions and, as he approached the city limits, the weight began to slowly slip from his shoulders. He found that he could breathe again and it was good to be alive.
© Ray Miles, 2021
I love the ending, the way the character can breathe, the relief of reaching his goal and relaxing, again.
The third and final piece I’m sharing is from Pen to Print Alumni, Write On! Deputy Editor, poet and author Claire Buss. I’m including this as, once we’ve thought about how hope can follow sadness, we can express ourselves as freely and as fiercely as the mood demands. In this piece, the writer is asserting herself and what that means to her, however the world chooses to look at her. This is a great lesson for us all and reminds us to end this strange year of 2021 with our heads held high and ready to face the next year boldly.
I’m tired of trying to see the good in people. No one ever wants to look closer at me. They see overweight, middle-aged, bad hair, bad clothes, no tan. Guilty of practically every crime a woman in Essex can be guilty of. I don’t talk like they talk. I’ve never seen a single episode of TOWIE. I don’t walk like they walk; in fact, I don’t currently own a pair of heels. I’m not interested in dressing my children up as miniature Z-list wannabes and I have no idea whether Celebrity Get Me A Big Brother Love Island is currently on air or not.
I’m tired of trying to see the good in people who clearly don’t care about the world, country, town – hell, even street they live in. Litterbugs everywhere. Hawking and spitting and spilling and urinating and defecating the paths they have to walk, never mind the ones everyone else has to use as well. Children, still heartbreakingly young, toughing it out as they walk along swearing madly, loudly, blindly. Everything prefaced with F. I didn’t vote, they say. No point, they say. No one listens to me, they say. That’s nearly 15 million people. I think we’d probably listen to that many voices.
I’m tired of trying to see the good in people who think I have no value because I work from home. Because I’m self-employed. Because I am a housewife and a mother. Dirty words, in today’s society. You’ll join the rest of us one day, they say, do a real job, they say, earn a proper living, they say. I have worth, I whisper. I work hard, I stammer. I pull 16 hour days, I object. I exist on 24-hour call.
I’m tired of trying to see the good in people who measure by material wealth and not by the things that truly matter. You may have the latest games console, two cars, seven credit cards, designer clothes and go abroad every year, but I have happiness and love and a family that talks to each other.
I’m tired of trying to see the good in people who dismiss others based on the limbs they have lost and the wheelchair they exist in. Being disabled does not mean you are less. My mother’s brain is just as sharp and just as active as it was when she stood six feet tall and you respected her legs. Why must we judge by the cover so harshly?
I’m tired. I tried. I looked. I couldn’t find it in the unknown neighbours in my block of flats. In the surly shopkeeper who serves me regularly. In the gaggle of mums at the playground. Among the people I walk past every single day.
And then, the old man in the motorised scooter. We pass regularly – he going his way, me going mine – but now we smile and we connect for the briefest of moments. Perhaps, one day, we will grow into Good Morning and Afternoon. A brief light in both of our days and the faint possibility that maybe, just maybe there is a speck of goodness left in the world today.
And then, perhaps, I will keep trying to see the good in people. And they will see the good in me.
© Claire Buss, 2021
I’m so pleased that Claire has also ended her piece on a note of hope. There are so many good things in the world to enjoy and celebrate. It’s a shame, as Claire says, that we often judge others by the wrong standards.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these pieces and have a little lift in your step and hope in your heart as we begin this midwinter month.
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue of Write On! Issue 10 of Write On! is available now. You can see it here.