Kids and backpacks
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“That was tiring”, I told my cousin as I held my hand to my chest to calm myself. My cousin handed me a glass of cold water and I downed it in one gulp. It took me more than a couple of seconds to compose myself and when I finally looked up, I saw my cousin’s questioning looks.

“I have been driving”, I sighed.

“Wow. Congratulations”, she beamed.

“No. We were three of us driving one car”, I explained, “Sid, his father and I, with no access to the wheel”.

The whole group burst out laughing — more so because, I cannot drive and nobody understood, how, with no sense of the basics could I remotely know what it means to steer the vehicle on the roads.

I have never driven a vehicle. A few years ago, I mustered up the courage to set the car in motion, after which, I decided that it wasn’t meant for me. But, when Sid decided to learn this skill, I yielded albeit cautiously because my own fears and anxieties threw up numerous scenarios from movies and soap operas. I struggled a bit and put up a straight face every time Sid headed out to driving school. I knew then, that at some point, I would have to make peace with Sid’s ability to move the car. But then, again, I had forgotten that Time has way of sneaking up from behind when you are least aware.

“Even the authorities think I can drive ma. You shouldn’t hesitate”, Sid smiled mischievously as he flashed the little card with his name and picture.

I chuckled under my breath even as I struggled to make peace with the change of person behind the wheel. I followed Sid to the car dutifully and I settled behind him while his father sat next to him. I watched Sid — his small shoulders barely visible from where I sat. I wanted to hold him, feel him but I sat still as the engine purred to life. A strange sense of pride swept over my face that gave way to a weak smile. “I am going to cherish this”, I rubbed my hands and took a deep breath in.

At first, the drive was smooth. It felt great — Sid’s deft hands on the wheel had me grin from ear to ear but nothing in the world had prepared me for what would happen in the next couple of minutes. As the roads widened and many vehicles whizzed past, my eyes were fixed on the road. I winced, I fumbled with my fingers, tightened my whole self and I pressed on imaginary brakes. When a large truck zoomed past us, I stopped myself from grabbing Sid and holding him close to myself. Every time, Sid navigated deftly through a maze of other vehicles, I either chewed my lips or simply found my throat dry. Naturally, when we reached my cousin’s place, I sank into the couch to calm myself. But, Sid was thrilled. He chatted happily about his driving experience. As I watched him, something inside me softened. I could see the little man Sid was fast becoming — confident with a spark in his eyes.

“Brave enough to ride back with me?” Sid’s eyes twinkled at the end of the evening. I fumbled with my fingers and dusted the lint off my dress and I simply nodded.

As we drove back home, I realised for the first time that I was never driving from behind. I was simply Sid’s mum. My heart tugged hard and I longed for the little boy he used to be — happy talking to imaginary friends and driving cars on the kitchen floor. I wanted to hold him, protect him, keep him safe in my arms always but then, I also realised I have to do the hardest job of letting him go — to believe in him, his ability, his instincts.

As Sid turned the car towards home, I decided to not “drive”. I took a deep breath and decided to fix my eyes on the phone because that is all I could do. Perhaps, that is all I have to do for now because letting go needs time and I don’t know how to do that. Not yet.

Sudha Subramanian is an author and writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman