The Call

His head sinks on his shoulders
the soft breath makes his shirt tremble gently
suspended between sleep and wakefulness
his hand shakes as he raises to flick a fly away
a pearl of spit at his mouth.

His wife sharp to catch his movement
moves closer
rheumy eyes oozing with tenderness
clearing her phlegm clogged voice
says, let’s get ready.

A call in the morning – her six
his seven the previous evening, voice across seas
asking her to connect the net at nine
– before I go to bed I’ll catch up with you guys,
their son said.

She searches for the guide
written by her son to use the Skype
words looped the way his father taught him,
holding his hand and taking it over alphabets,
large and bold now for his partial blind mother.

Upsetting the strips of capsules
bottles of cough syrup and antacid    
she pulls the paper that has a brown ring left by a coffee cup
taking it close to her eyes
she reads the steps to activate the computer

the way she used cookery books
splayed open on messy counters
she peers into the paper as she reaches for the switches,
adjusts the camera perched on the computer
wipes the dust to see her son better

living in the East coast
holidays captured in photos, of his wife
and son, shown to them in his last visit
when was it – two years? three years?
she asks her unresponsive husband.

The son keeps his time
the mother sits in front of the camera
then angles it so that her husband can be seen
Amma  you look good, Appa looks better
what’s happened to the house, it’s a mess

it’s raining – dampness, you know how my arthritis gets,
no servants, nurse’s on a half day break
driver has gone to his village for a marriage
tomorrow everyone’ll be back, she smiles, breathless,  
the face powder applied specially for the chat, patchy with sweat.

Why isn’t Appa talking? Appa?
the father looks up vacantly
thoughts coiled in the womb of silence
stirs, translating into a smile devoid of emotion –
rearrangement of facial muscles.

He never talks, he never answers me
I feel lonely
refuses to move around much
nothing interests him anymore
I can’t bear to see him give up totally.

It’s Parkinson’s, dopamine levels
I explained last time I was there
he‘ll get stiff (make him walk ma, it’s up to you)
he’ll withdraw, remain depressed
do Google search on Parkinson’s ma, to understand better.

When are you coming to India, this summer?
bring your son this time,
summer courses, credits you said last time.
Ma he can’t come this summer, and neither can I
he’s joining college

campus visits, preparations, we’ll come next summer
I’ll mail photos of his graduation from school
and … ma, looking at his interests now who knows
he might crack on something for  PD – pa, do you hear?
that’s many many years of hard work, let’s see…

… take care ma, take care pa.
Gloom settles like a heavy blanket as she closes the computer
she clears the table of medicines
and leaves the paper with her son’s handwriting there
she’ll need it when she Googles on Parkinson’s that afternoon

she plans to cut and paste information in a folder
her son has left a guide for that on the backside
save as word document his son had explained
set to 125 percent to read he said
when she complained of her bad eyes.

Knowing about Parkinson’s is like fighting it ma, he’d said
now her grandson too is with her, cheering a bit
she comes to sit next to her husband,
reaches for the napkin, wipes the drool from his mouth
and rests her head on his stiff shoulders.

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