A story how a boy and a mother wait in different ages.
As the clock struck 3:00 PM, the school bell rang. What followed was chaos, screams of joy filled the corridors of the school as the children realised that it was time for them to head home. Little Eric led from the front, he was the first to let out a voice in class I-A and the first to run out of it. He ran with all his might, despite sweating his shirt wet during the day he was bursting with energy. He was the first to get out every day, today was no wonder, he was the first again. As he made his way through the corridors, he noticed a few seniors making their way out.
They were ahead of him, but he was leading from his class and that’s all he cared about. He made his way to the open gate in front of which there was large set of vibrant colours lined up. Parents. This was no different sight to Eric, he was accustomed to this sight, but what he was not accustomed to was this delay in spotting his favourite face, his mother’s face.
Every day after sprinting out of class, Eric would easily spot his mother’s smile and her sweet voice calling out his name, but this had deserted him today, there was no smile and no voice.
He stood there in fright, his eyes searching for his mother and suddenly a group of children ran past him, before he could realise, the entire school was making its way out. He was pushed, bags hit him, he stood firm using all the strength his little muscles could provide him, his wandered for his mother’s face, in vain. She wasn’t there.
Isabella woke up that morning knowing that this was going to be a hectic day. It’s been a week since her husband returned to his job in the middle east, she missed him desperately, she wished he was there beside her. A quick glance at the clock and she knew, she had to start now. So her day started, it was the usual routine, shower, get breakfast and lunch ready for herself and Eric, drop Eric at his school and get to her cubicle in the bank. It was a routine she was accustomed to, it would only change when her husband would return home for his break, then it was his duty to drop and pick up Eric from school, there wasn’t a day where she wished her husband was beside her.
But Isabella had to get on without him, and get on she did. After dropping Eric, Isabella arrived at her office on time. It was a big day at the bank for everyone, it was auditing day, and everybody had their hands full. Isabella did too, she knew she had her hands full that day, she knew it would be difficult to leave at 2:30 PM, like she day on any other day. Nevertheless, Isabella was hopeful she could turn this hectic day into just another day. So, the chaos began, there were people on the move all the time, phones ringing left, right and centre, the sound of printers making their all so familiar noise could be heard in every direction. Isabella wasn’t spared, she was right in the middle of the storm. Even though she tried her best to keep an eye on the clock, it had to be ignored, what was on her desk screamed for all her attention.
Forgetting time Isabella put her all in getting her job done, she juggled between various desks helping her colleagues out, attended her boss’s calls for her, it was chaos. As the sun moved to right above people’s heads, the chaos seemed to have calmed down a bit, the noisy, hustled morning had vanished, Isabella knew she could leave on time. But at that very instant, she was called in by her boss.
She had to help him and the auditors clear a pile of files. She hated it, but hopeful that they could finish the job by the time Eric school was over.
Once again Isabella got working, but this time the atmosphere was different, everybody in the room was irritated with the events of the day.
A sense of frustration loomed in the air, no matter how many files they cleared, the pile never seemed to have reduced. Isabella’s phone rang, it was her mother, she answered the call with minimum words and was quickly off the phone. Her boss gave her a cold look, agitated he asked Isabella to put her phone on silent mode.
Isabella was familiar with this look, she knew she had to comply, she knew there was no escape without getting her job done. Comply she did. The work went on, voices were raised, brains were pushed to limits, and finally all the files were cleared. Isabella was free to go home. She picked her phone, her heart ached when she realised what the time was, it was 4:00 PM, she four missed calls, the latest one five minutes earlier. She called back, her gut was true, it was from Eric’s school.
Eric stood bewildered at the gate, his mother was always on time, but not today. He watched in angst as his friends left for home with their mothers, he was scared. He sat on the bench near the play area, wondering where his mother was and badly hoping she would be here soon. His heart filled with fear, his eyes heavy, moist. The crowd of students that passed through the gates slowly thinned down, now it was only a few students and more of teachers who were making their way out. Eric sat there watching them go, nervous, scared, his eyes heavy, moist, wondering why did Mom leave me here like this. Right then he heard somebody call out for him, a glance to his left and he saw his class teacher with her eyes firmly fixed on him. Eric ran to her. She was saddened to see her student this scared, crying. She held him tight, wiped his tears away, calmed the kid down before asking what she had to. She asked him questions anybody would ask, “why haven’t you gone home? Who comes to pick you up?” Eric answered them all, the next thing she asked was his Mother’s number, he cheekily pointed his ID card at her, he didn’t know the number by heart.
She dialled the number, the call connected, but after several rings the call was cut. She tried again, but once again nobody picked up. The teacher was persistent, she tried again, but in vain. The teacher contemplated her next move, as she did, her phone rang, it was Eric’s mother. Eric watched as the teacher spoke to his Mom, there was relief inside him. The teacher ended her call and informed Eric that his mother would be coming to pick him up soon. Eric was relieved to hear the news, but the boy was still scared. The teacher passed on the duty of watching the child to the gate keeper. This was a heftily built man, with big thick moustaches, certainly not one of Eric’s favourite people. But what else could Eric do, his mother had not come, so he had to stay under the constant gaze of this man.
Every day at 5:00 PM the gate keeper would get his daily allowance from the school canteen, a cup of tea and a samosa. Today he was more tired than usual, he was impatient, he kept looking at his watch from time to time. This time as he did so the time was 4:35 PM, as he sat impatiently a woman approached him. The gate keeper knew this could be the boy’s mother. The woman approached him fast, she was half running, half walking, her body language suggested his guess was correct, it was indeed the boy’s mother. The gate keeper was well accustomed to this scenario, during his spell of ten years as the gate keeper he had scene numerous parents in such a situation, and he knew what to expect of them. The first thing they always did was ask about their ward, run to the ward, console and apologise to the kid, and while leaving they would thank him and explain why they were late. He got ready for another such experience.
Isabella got there as fast she could, she always despised public transport, yet that day she was thankful it got here to school. She half ran, half walked to the school, upon seeing the gate keeper, words burst out of her, words she had been desperate to let out, ‘Where’s my son Eric? How is he?’ The gate keeper calmly told her where her son was and not to worry. Isabella would only trust his words after seeing her son. She entered the school premises, she knew where the play area was and she directed herself there. She spotted him, a small boy with his shoulders slumped, a sense of peace and relief overcame Isabella on seeing her child. She ran to him and hugged him. The boy was caught by surprise, but he was familiar with this hug, this touch, this scent, he held on to her tighter.
The boy sobbed as he held on to his mother with all this might. Isabella was relieved that she was with her son, that feeling lasted very short as the boys sobs made her realise what she had put the boy through. A sense of guilt overcame her, she untucked herself from the hug, making sure she did not shed a tear she stooped down to meet Eric’s eyes. She was saddened on seeing them, she quickly wiped away his tears, and kissed him, only then did the boy calm down. Isabella apologised to him for leaving him there for so long, she promised him that she will never leave him like that again. The boy cried out everything he had in him, as if this wasn’t heart aching when the boy said, “Mumma I thought you will not come at all”, it broke her heart. She once again hugged him, assured him such a thing will not happen again, she promised him. The boy calmed down. A promise of getting two ice creams on the way home made him smile, that’s all she wanted. They made their way out, just like the gate keeper had predicted he got an apology and an explanation.
That night, after putting Eric to sleep, Isabella spoke to her husband, amidst her heavy sobs she somehow told him the events of the day. The phone call helped, but one look at Eric and his crying, scared face he had in the evening flashed before her eyes. She sat beside him on the cot, tears filled her eyes as ran her hand through his silky hair trying to imagine what the boy must have gone through. She sobbed, she apologised, she promised never to leave him again, it was a promise she never broke.
Isabella opened her eyes, the tears she had been holding back now burst out of her. She was not sitting beside her little Eric, her hands were not running through his hair, she was in a different place, different age. Isabella reached out from here arm chair, her table was nearby, she found a picture of little Eric, holding right in front of her eyes she couldn’t contain her smile, yet tears made their way down her cheeks. The memories of that day were still fresh to her. Even after so many ages, she still felt the emotions of that day and it always brought her to tears. Today everything was different, she was no longer the young mother who worked in a bank, she was an old lady without her husband, living in a place she couldn’t call home, surrounded by people like her, yet alone. Alone. Little Eric was no longer little, he is a top shot in big name corporate, Isabella, proud of where her son had reached, yet pained by the promise he broke.
It had been a year since this place became Isabella’s new home, a year and six months since her husband passed away.
Eric had promised he would visit her every month, he promised her. It was nine months since she last saw his face, ten days since she heard his voice. Every day Isabella would smile, talk with her compatriots, do her daily chores with them, every day she felt empty and alone inside. She wondered whether all of them felt the same too. Not all of them she said to herself, a few lucky ones there had their children visit them monthly, Isabella was happy for them. That sight of a happy mother with her child moved her every time, she was a mother, she knew the feeling, yet deep inside she wished it was Eric who had come.
Her body was not as energetic as it once was, every time she lay down to rest, her mind was filled with thoughts f Eric, his memories, her heart caved for his presence. Amidst the tears and smiles his memories brought, Isabella had questions, questions that arose ever since the day Eric told her that this place would be her new home. They were still unanswered. She wondered why Eric would do this to her, did she do something wrong, did she not love him with her all, did she hurt him, did she burden him with anything, and most painful of all, she wondered whether this was the punishment for leaving Eric alone on that day thirty-six long years ago, she wondered painfully whether she had broken the promise she made to him. There were no answers, only Eric could answer them, he wasn’t there. Isabella was alone.
There was not a day where she forgot the events of that fateful day, his scared, tears filled eyes of that day, today he wasn’t there to see the pain in her eyes, to wipe the tears his memories brought. Isabella loved her son more than anything in this world, she lived for him and today her Eric was not with her. All she had was the smiles, tears his memories brought, her heart craving for him, his presence, his smile, the pain of that day, the pain of those unanswered questions.
That fateful evening when she left him alone, she slept with a heavy heart, now, every night she slept with a heavy night, the pain she felt now was her new companion, the companion she thought she would have had deserted her. She was left alone, even so she could not stop loving him.
Every night Isabella prayed, prayed for Eric, for him to be fine, happy, for his loved ones to be fine, happy. As for herself, she knew her days would end soon, she knew tomorrow she may not wake up, and all she wanted was to see Eric, spend a day in his company, ask him the questions she had, and sleep knowing he is right beside her. She could only wish, she could only hope that Eric would come before death would.
Not knowing who would come first, death or the most precious thing in her life, her Eric, Isabella waited every day. She waited.