Portrait of Mother and Child

It’s a crowded train and he sits on her lap, her arms around him.  Not tight but rather soft, rounded, her hands relaxed on his lap.  So he doesn’t feel trapped. So he doesn’t feel as though there’s any danger.  So he can keep his attention on the fleeting East Anglian countryside.  “Mummy, what are

the cows doing?”

“They’re having their lunch.”

“What are they having for lunch?”

“Grass.”

“I don’t like grass.”

“It’s so green, so refreshing.  Like a salad.  Cows love it.”

 

His hair is fair and unruly, hers is dark and glossy over her shoulders, but they have the same eyebrows, rising sharply above the bridge of the same, small, delicate nose.  The same face that wonders at the world.  Hers looks barely old enough for the awareness in her eyes, the awareness that she holds a supreme gift in her arms, one she would defend with her life, though she doesn’t want him to know it.  Her slender body could not have been much older than a girl’s when it yielded this new life.  He can’t be more than four.  She must be approaching the end of her teenage years. 

 

The train brakes and she raises and spreads her fingers over his tummy, ready to link them into a safety belt.  He doesn’t notice. 

“Mummy, why has the train stopped?”

“There’s probably a red signal, you know, like the traffic lights when we cross the road.  It means we have to wait for it to turn green.”

 

The train restarts, and acquires speed smoothly.  Her fingers relax and her hands go back to rest on his lap.  He climbs down, he wants to look at the other passengers.  She lets him, but her eyes light up with new alertness, although her voice remains calm, a calm that gives him the confidence to stand, take a couple of steps, look around, and grin at the other passengers.  He doesn’t see her body tense up, her arms behind him, ready to catch him.  His face is beaming with the satisfaction of achievement, as he climbs back on her knees.  His eyelids grow heavy, and he drifts into a slumber, rocked by the train.  The change in his breath against her chest lulls her, and she places a light kiss on the top of his head.  A kiss full of gratitude.  She observes the sunlight from the window, throwing flecks of gold in his flaxen hair.  Did her body really produce this miracle? 

 

The conductor’s voice announces our impending arrival at King’s Cross.  He wakes up, rubs his eyes with his fists, then turns and kisses her cheek.  “I love you, Mummy.”

 

She looks at him, marvelling. She tries to keep her voice level, almost neutral.  “I love you, too.”

 

He stretches his arms, and yawns, then a cheeky twinkle flashes in his eyes.  “How much do you love me?”

 

She blinks and looks away.  Her voice is gentle but steady.  “I love you to the moon and back,” she says, but he is watching the other passengers take their suitcases down from the racks, and is now thinking of something else.

 

 

Scribe Doll

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
A beautiful vignette.
Monday, 21 September 2015 04:05
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Stephen.
Monday, 21 September 2015 07:24
Ken Hartke
How calm and satisfying this is... They both know they have something special. Very nice.
Monday, 21 September 2015 22:19
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6 Comments

Sumathi Mohan

We are friends on the net since 2008 but had never met face to face, though we are living in the same country but 1200 km far from each other. I in-boxed ‘Sumathi Mohan’ my old-time redroom.com writer friend about our visit to her city. To my dismay, she told me that she has been shifted to the other southern city with her husband since couple of years. But my disappointment transferred in to delight when I learned that at the same time she is supposed to come there to visit her son.

‘I will be glad if we can meet.’ She told me on the phone.’

 ‘We will meet for the sure.’ I replied, though I was not knowing if it would be possible in such a tight schedule of my five day tour.

To my shock, I learned at the ending part of my tour that she arrived in the city, but had a small accident resulting a fracture in the thumb. ‘Doctor says it will only be possible to fix it after the swelling goes away.’ She sounded pained and disappointed over the phone.

 ‘We must meet her,’ my wife said ‘you never know when you will get a chance again to meet her.’ To give a try I decided to meet her during the last four hours before my return flight. There was a heavy weekday traffic in the pick-time morning hours. After a couple of call exchanges to get true directions we reached at her son’s apartment.

‘Listen carefully, Sir, come back in 45 minutes or you will miss your flight, airport is 36 km from here.’ Cab driver warned us. I nodded to him in an affirmation.

We went upstairs by lift. As soon as I stepped onto the balcony she hurriedly emerged from the door to welcome us. She was smaller in height than I imagined. We hugged each other, there was the warmth of sisterly love in her hug. She hugged my wife and daughter too. We went inside and she introduced us with her son, and would be daughter in law. She looked stressed and fragile, but her face was glowing with high intellect and confidence. As a doctor I couldn’t resist myself by examining her thumb. I also checked X-ray which clearly showed a detached fracture of the first phalanx of the thumb. Her doctor planned to give her a flexible plaster after two days. I knew she was in pain, but was helpless to help her.

'Had it not been for my broken thumb I would have cooked a delicious south Indian dish for all of you.' She regretted. 'Don't feel sorry, meeting you is more valued to us.'I tried to console her.

We talked over a coffee, mainly about our redroom time, about her published book and about the progress of my novel. Time was slipping like a water of the fast flowing river. We took photographs. Exchanging multiple thoughts in so little time was impossible, but we tried to do our best possible. Her son and daughter in law were very generous and loving. I gathered that she is a brave lady living her life on her own, a loving wife and caring mother. While leaving, she came downwards up to the cab to say good-bye forgetting the pain. She shook our hands through the window of the car for the last time, a gesture only a loving friend can display. I am feeling proud meeting her, knowing her, having her as a friend. Thank you Sumathi for allowing us to be in your life to cherish those valuable moments. I wish you a fast recovery, health and happiness.

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Copyright

© Jitu Rajgor

Recent Comments
Anonymous
While I read this extremely touching note, my eyes brimmed over and relived those wonderfully blessed moments. Doctor Jitu ji, Yo... Read More
Friday, 28 August 2015 05:50
Jitu C Rajgor
Thank you Sumathi, I am really regretting not spending much time with you.But I enjoyed the every single moment of our meeting. I... Read More
Friday, 28 August 2015 10:03
Anonymous
Yes, thank you, recovering quickly.
Friday, 28 August 2015 14:01
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12 Comments

Learning to Paddle

In Antony and Cleopatra, as they confront the army of Antony and Octavian, Brutus says to Cassius:

 

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
 
I was thinking tonight that I seem to have missed the tide in my affairs (if there was one), and now  I need to learn to paddle.
 
Then it occurred to me that the tide and paddling could describe what has become my writing process. There is the tide in which things pour out onto the page, glorious and messy and all over the place. Then there is the paddling, stroke by stroke, where I figure out where I am going and once in a long while actually get there.
 
Brutus was defeated by Antony at the battle of Philippi. So maybe there is something to be said for paddling. 
 
Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Paddling is an underrated art, which often means the bigger picture is confounded altogther. Catching other tides...that's somet... Read More
Friday, 21 August 2015 16:30
Stephen Evans
I guess tides are bi-polar by nature, aren't they.
Friday, 21 August 2015 17:24
Anonymous
I would have said, "I zigged when I should have zagged." It would have been so much nicer having Shakespeare describe my life. Ma... Read More
Friday, 21 August 2015 23:07
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3 Comments

The Yellow Dress

Through a writer with whom we’ve recently formed a pleasant acquaintance, we were invited to a small dinner party given by a prince belonging to one of Italy’s oldest and most illustrious houses.  The kind that owns a collection of two millennia’s worth of fine art and one of Rome’s most stunning palaces.  The kind that, a few centuries ago, produced a Supreme Pontiff.

 

“What can we take him?” H. asked.  “We can’t afford the kind of wine he’s probably accustomed to drinking.”

Meanwhile, I was searching through our books.  “Where’s my Debrett’s?”

“Your what?”

“My Debrett’s.”

“You own a copy of Debrett’s?”

“Of course,” I replied as one who takes it as read that a copy of Debrett’s Etiquette and Modern Manners is as staple in any household as a city street map.  

My mother had given it to me on my sixteenth birthday.  “I can’t afford to throw you a coming out party but I still expect you to be polished by the time you’re seventeen,” she’d said sternly.

A coming out party.  The words evoked glossy magazine pictures of Princess Stéphanie of Monaco in a suitably demure white evening dress and pastel flowers in her hair.

For my mother, manners – like languages – constituted a key into yet another world.  In this case, one she had fallen into elegantly as a young woman, and in which she was determined I should build my future life, totally impervious to the fact that our very pronounced lack of funds might prove to be a hindrance.

 

Still, I learnt to walk, sit and even serve tea with a book on my head without so much as rocking.  “A gentleman must always light a lady’s cigarette first if he uses a lighter,” she said, “but his first if matches.  Why? (there would be the usual pause, to prompt me to answer) Because when you first strike a match it has an unpleasant smell of sulphur.”

Then, there was “If you ask someone to post a letter for you it is very impolite to seal the envelope.  It’s as though you don’t trust the person.  You must always hand it open and it’s up to the other person, as a mark of appreciation for your trust, to seal the envelope right there before you.”

 

For the most part, my mother’s strict etiquette instructions have remained at the level of theory in my life, with the rare exception of a few dinners at Cambridge, where my ex-husband was doing his PhD, in the early Nineties.  The Master of the College, formerly headmaster of Eton, would sometimes invite graduate students for dinner at the Lodge.  The first time we went, I gave my name to a man in a black morning coat.  He appeared a little ruffled.  “If you would please give your name to the under-butler, Madam,” he said, directing us to another, as far I could see identically-dressed man on the opposite side of the hall.  The latter then swung open the door into the parlour, and announced, “Mr and Mrs –” while ushering us through.

 

At dinner, the main course was accompanied by beautifully-cut, thin dry slices of salted potato, the sort commonly known as crisps, which provided a challenge even to the most skilled knife-and-fork operators.  A few, in fact, were purposefully ignored while flying across the dining room like shooting stars.  After dinner, the Master’s wife rose from the table, and invited all the ladies present to “join [her] for coffee in the drawing room upstairs,” while the men passed around a decanter of whiskey, smoked cigars, or took pinches of snuff from a lion-shaped silver tobacco holder with a head that swung open thanks to a tiny hinge.  I wondered if any lady guest in history had ever declined the invitation and stayed downstairs with the gentlemen.  I don’t suppose so. Not in a world where the only way to win is to play the rules to your advantage.

 

Our writer acquaintance had assured us that the prince was very “easy-going” but I  worried that, when applied to an individual with at least six centuries of aristocracy behind him, this adjective might refer to the invaluable skill of – there’s no other word for it – somewhat lowering your usual standards in order to make the less sophisticated or educated feel at their ease.  I wanted to be up to the occasion, whether or not I found my Debrett’s for a quick revision session.

 

While trying to recall the basic principles of what my grandmother called “good breeding”, I studied my wardrobe.  I wanted to show respect to our host with a smart outfit but, this not being London, I had to take care not to overdress inappropriately.  I settled on a pretty lemon-yellow dress with white embroidery on the front and back, which I’d bought from Laura Ashley’s a few weeks earlier but had not yet had the opportunity to wear.  The kind of dress my mother would describe as “an afternoon dress”.  Midnight-blue suede and patent sling-back shoes, and a black pashmina, should the evening turn chilly on the way home.  

 

As H. and I were walking towards the appointed address, I suddenly noticed passers-by staring at me.  For the briefest of seconds, I flattered myself that they were looks of admiration, before I realised that I was engulfed by a retinue of tiny flies.  The front and back of my dress were covered in them, and there were several dozens inside the dress, on my skin, too, all the way down, ahem, to my waist and tummy.  We walked the rest of the way with H. vainly trying to brush them off without squashing them.  We couldn’t fathom what was happening.  I often wear yellow, and have never experienced anything like this – one or two flies at the most.

 

When the prince opened the door with a welcoming smile, he was confronted by the spectacle of me trying to shake the flies down from inside my dress, and H. whipping me with my shawl, looking up and saying, “Oh, hello.  It’s not how it looks – I promise I’m not a wife beater.”

 

My entrance provided the topic of conversation during the apéritif, with the other guests engaged in earnest speculations as to what might have attracted the swarm of storm flies.  Perhaps they’d thought I was a Christmas-size helping of pollen.  I sipped my wine and smiled politely, fully aware that I need not trouble myself with providing any effervescent conversation for the rest of the evening.  The impression had been made as Enter, pursued by swarm of storm flies.

 

A few days later, I walked into the Laura Ashley shop, explained the situation, and asked for advice.  After all, I hadn’t bought the dress to wear it just the once.  Predictably, I was met by puzzled, knitted eyebrows and “Nobody else came in to say this.”  A couple of sales assistants suggested I go to the camping shop next door, and buy insect repellent.  “I’m not going to smear myself with pesticide!” I said.  One lady thought perhaps I had just been unlucky, and walked past a nest.  I left the shop without a viable solution.

 

I have worn the yellow dress several times since that evening and, oddly, only attracted one or two flies, which have been easily brushed off.  I still have no idea what happened that first time.  Perhaps the swarm of storm flies felt it had to rise to the occasion.

 

 

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Considering this post and the one from Paris, I'm beginning to sense a theme - or a Hitchcock movie.
Sunday, 09 August 2015 23:09
Katherine Gregor
Well I did live in Leytonstone for a year.
Monday, 10 August 2015 07:51
Sue Martin Glasco
I was enjoying this glimpse into another world of princely dinner parties and lovely afternoon dresses, and I thought I'd comment ... Read More
Monday, 10 August 2015 04:04
1575 Hits
4 Comments

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