The alarm clock on my bed table shows 6:00 a.m. Almost time for my morning walk. I get out of the bed and make my way to the kitchen to grab myself a cup of tea before I go outside.
The kitchen is immaculate, thanks to Nida. She really is a clean freak. I quietly chuckle as I quickly put the water to boil. The tea is ready in about five minutes and I slowly drink it, savouring each sip.
It’s a cool morning. I go out and cover at least a mile before giving in to the cold and walking back home. I pick up the newspaper lying on the mat by the front door. Even with the door closed, I can hear Hamza’s screams of protest; Nida must be giving him a bath. The aroma of halwa puri hits me before I see them. It smells divine. I walk into the sitting room and see that Hassan is already awake. He doesn’t usually wake up early on Saturdays.
“Hassan, beta, why are you up so early?”
“Oh, nothing, Abu. I just had some work to do.”
“What work? I thought you were free on Saturdays.”
Hassan sighs, exasperatedly, “I’m a grown man, Abu. I don’t need to tell you everything.”
I sit down beside him. There’s a game on TV.
“Hassan, what’s the score?”
“Abu, you have no idea what’s happening, why do you even bother trying?”
I huff and straighten the newspaper still in my hand. At least reading that is easier than putting up with my son’s attitude.
At that minute, Nida walks into the room, with Hamza screaming and wriggling in her arms. They’re a sight to behold, the two of them. Nida looks frustrated, her hair unbound and falling in her eyes and Hamza, wet hair clinging to his face, trying to squirm out of Nida’s grasp.
“Dada, ask Mama to let me go!” Hamza screams.
“Nida, let my grandson go immediately!” I try to feign an angry tone.
Nida loosens her grasp on Hamza to push back her hair and Hamza jumps out of his mother’s arms and runs towards me. I grab him and pull him in my arms.
“Hassan, did you talk to the home like I asked you to?” Nida inquires.
“Yes, I did. They said they would see if they had any available space.”
For a few weeks now, Nida and Hassan have been talking about shifting me to an old age home because apparently I was “a bad influence on Hamza”.
“They’ve been putting us off for long enough now. Hassan, you need to go talk to the manager in person! I’m sick of waiting. I’m not going to stay with this old man for much longer. I’m warning you, Hassan. Either he leaves or I leave.” Nida commands.
“Picking a fight won’t get us any closer; it will only make matters worse.”
I can’t take this anymore. This conservation reminds me too much of my own past, when I made the same mistake. It pains me to this day to think about what I did. A flashback, unbidden and foreboding, enters my mind.
“Ammi, you’ve made my life hell! I’m tired of you, Aaliya is tired of you! You’ve left me no other alternative.”
“Beta, you’re making a very big mistake. There is no person on the Earth who loves you more than a mother!”
“We’ve already had this conversation. My decision is final; you’re going to the old age home tomorrow. Now, please don’t argue and go pack your stuff.”
Why am I thinking about it? I’ve never thought about it in the past 25 years, so why now? Sudden and unwanted tears roll down my cheeks.
“Abu, we’ve gotten a reply from the old homes. The lady says you can move in by Monday. That’s two days from now so you better start packing.” Hassan’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
I start to say something, but, then thinking better of it, keep my mouth shut. What if, when I say something, Hassan and Nida make a hurtful comment, like I did with my own mother?
“I’ve never asked you for anything in my life, Usman. I’m just asking this one thing of you. Please, please, Usman, don’t leave me to rot in that hellhole. I will live the way you want me to, but, please not that place.”
“Ammi, I told you I will keep visiting you and I’ll bring Hassan along with me as well.”
“Usman, I love you. I can’t live without you -”
“Abu, are you listening?”
This is too much. I never thought that this would happen to me, that my own son would throw me out of his house. I get out of the chair and without a word go back to my room. Hassan does not stop me.
Life has turned out to be way more painful than I had anticipated. But, maybe, this is what karma is. I reach under my bed and take out an old wooden box. I peer inside. All the letters, all the pictures; they’re all perfectly organized. I take out the first picture. I’m 19 years old and dressed in a sherwani. Aaliya sits beside me in a beautiful red lehnga. Next to Aaliya, Ammi is seated. All of us are smiling at the camera, completely oblivious to the misery that would befall us years later.
“Usman, I’ve searched the whole world, and now, I can safely say that I’ve found you the best match in the world.”
“Oh, Aunty, now you’re embarrassing me” Aaliya’s laugh echoes in the room.
When things started to go wrong, I wonder. When Aaliya first came into the house, even after Hassan was born - everything was perfect. When Aaliya started complaining of my mother’s presence, I didn’t think much of it in the beginning. However, it was not long before we decided to shift Ammi to old age home.
In the first few months, Hassan and I would visit her on weekends. With time, our visits became less frequent and gradually, we stopped going. I did not even bother calling her. The few times that she called me, I told her off for wasting my time on pointless talk.
I didn’t realize my mistake until it was too late.
“Is this Mr. Kamal speaking?
“Yes, it is.”
“I am speaking from Sufia Homes for the Old. My deepest apologies, Sir, your mother passed away today.”
I still remember Ammi’s pale face when I lifted the white sheet off her beautiful face. I remember thinking that it was my fault. If only I had listened to her when she told me that she could not live without me, I could have saved her.
Now, my own son was making the same mistake and I cannot let him do it. I go to Hassan’s room where he’s playing with Hamza and I tell him everything. I tell him what I did to Ammi. I tell him how much I want to stay, how much I’ll miss him if I leave. And when I’m done, Hassan is stunned.
“Abu, I’m so sorry. I had no idea...”
“It’s ok, I guess,” I interrupted him. “I’ll go pack my bags now if you still want me to leave.”
“No, wait! Let me complete. I mean, you can stay with us and I’ll talk to Nida and I’m sure she will understand.”
My face instantly brightens. “Really?!”
“Yes, really. I’ve realized my mistake. I’m so sorry.”
I reach forward to hug him. I hold onto him tightly and he hugs me back with equal vigor. It will be alright now. Everything will be fine.