It is finally time and it is going to happen. I have run this particular moment a million times in my head. I know the various scenarios and all my reactions. This is who I am — always prepared because I simply hate surprises. But, I also know deep down in my heart that I am as unprepared as any newbie because the umbilical cord has a mind of its own. I don’t know what it thinks and I am frightened to find out.
Sid, my young adult son is off to University. Going forward, he will only visit us. As he spreads his wings, the nest is all we have to hold and savour the memories. The thought clogs my brain like a thick fog and a distant memory plays itself incessantly.
The road is busy. I can hear the cars honking and the dusty smoke tingles my nose. A lone crow is cawing relentlessly right above me on a lamp post. A large tree with its bowing branch arched over the road stands a little away and the sun is scorching. I scratch my neck to rub off the crispiness of the fresh new clothes on my skin. This is how the scene unfolds in my memory and the only other detail I remember is of my mother. She is discreet and doesn’t want to draw any attention as she wipes a lone tear from the corner of her eye.
I have never really given this lone screenshot of memory any thought. I remember wondering at that moment — is she crying? Somehow, I couldn’t imagine my mother shedding tears because in my head, as a young bride living in the same city I would visit her often. “Maybe she just got some dust in her eyes”, I had told myself.
Many decades later, as I stand on a threshold of doing something similar, a startling truth shakes me. My heart gets heavy and I resolve to not get any sort of dust into my eyes. I watch Sid from the corner of the tiny pathway that leads up to his building where he is going to spend the next couple of months. Sid huffs as he hurls one big suitcase after the other and lugs it into the hallway where an older student gives Sid a set of guidelines. I can hear her say some things but nothing is making any sense to me. My brain has long died a slow death and all I can see is Sid and his lean shoulders.
We hug Sid and take leave because that’s what parents do. My husband and I walk the long way back from Sid’s dorm to our hotel room. Neither of us speak and I desperately look for some distraction when I catch a sign board to the Natural History museum. “Let’s do this”, I urge and my husband relents. “I don’t want to indulge in this emotional mishmash”, I am almost proud. We walk along many aisles of dinosaur skeletons, creepy crawlies, birds and volcanoes. I laugh, I press buttons and enjoy the interactive models and I go on till my legs ache to the bone.
“I can’t walk anymore”, I sigh and sit down in a corner and watch people go about their business. And finally, when I get up, I realise that I have still not covered the other half of the museum. “Can you believe that?”, I cry out. And, as I run through the list of things I just saw, a sudden realisation dawns. I sit down with a heavy heart and finally I look up at my husband misty eyed, “I have only seen those that interest Sid”, I say as my voice shakes a teeny bit.
Well, the umbilical cord certainly has a mind of its own. If anything, I also know now that it does manage to throw dust into mothers’ eyes from time to time. Perhaps, it is OK to get some dust in. Perhaps, it is also time to embrace the fact that no matter how many ways you prepare yourself, the nest can make the strongest of us teary. Even my mom.
Sudha Subramanian is an author and writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman