Their relationship goes back many many years and it was one that Mariam deeply treasured. Somehow around her Mariam always felt livelier and prayed that the time would stand still. No one complained about their whereabouts except for Mrs. Angela, the grumpy neighbor. Every time Mrs. Angela caught Mariam and her together, she would complain to Mariam’s mother. “You should tell your daughter to stop this nonsense and go inside. Ridiculous!” Her mother used to give into Mariam’s games initially, but after a while Mariam realized that Mamma had begun to take Mrs. Angela’s side.
Mariam always took time to warm up to others, especially children her age. But with her, age was never an concern. Mariam remembered the first time she met her, she was wearing a frock, lilac in colour. It was also Mariam’s favourite flower. If it were not for her, Mariam would never have mastered the art of making paper boats nor discovered the joy of splashing in puddles.
It was the month of June and Mariam had been unwell and her mother had forbidden Mariam to meet her. On a Sunday afternoon, she arrived and Mariam snuck out to meet her. Only Pepper, Mrs. Angela’s cat noticed her slipping out into the open courtyard, where she waited for her, impatiently. While Mariam tiptoed outside the room, she was careful not to wake her grandfather who was comfortably settled in his arm chair, enjoying his siesta. Mariam knew that it would only be a few minutes before her Grandpa and Mamma were out looking for her. But the joy of doing something secretively overwhelmed Mariam. Later that day, Mamma was furious and ensured that Mariam went to bed early.
Every time she came to visit, she would bring along a surprise, something that was meant only for Mariam. Each time the urchins from the neighboring street befriended her, Mariam would feel a tad jealous. But somehow as the years went by, fingers were pointed at Mariam and some even called her a nut-case. Things began to get worse. A strange void started to accompany her. Once on their way back from the Doctor’s clinic, Mamma had hugged Mariam so tight that she could feel her mother’s body shaking as she sobbed. That was the last thing Mariam remembered about Mamma. Mariam never understood why suddenly everyone had become so silent and gloomy around her. Except for her, of course.
On her wedding day too, Mariam waited for her eagerly with fond memories, but somehow she never came. Her relatives were of course relieved. Even as she bade farewell to her favorite flowers, she prayed that she would visit her at her husband’s house. She missed her terribly, and somehow on that day, more than ever. Two weeks into the marriage and the husband also seemed to abhor her presence.
Many decades had passed since that day but still the memories remained etched in Mariam’s mind. But right now all Mariam could think of was meeting her again, all the more because her visits had become very rare to that side of town. She looked up at the sky from her tiny window and called to her roommate Ammu. “Ammu, come quickly.. see she has come …after so long…. I am going out to meet her….”
Mariam’s voice woke Ali, the caretaker, who had fallen asleep in his chair. The same chair which had held his weight ever since the institution was built. He scanned the verandah and the adjoining rooms. “Who could be shouting at this hour” he told himself.
Clearly it was coming from the second floor, B ward where Mariam, one of the earliest members of the Vridhalay was housed. She was pointing to the sky and talking aloud excitedly. He decided to step out to take a better look at what the manic 72 year old woman was pointing to.
The minute his eyes met the dark clouds above, Ali felt the first drop fall on his wrinkled forehead.
“Damn this wretched rain” he grumbled as he swiftly rushed inside for cover.