The quaint alarm clock buzzed and Laxmi woke up with a start. She covered her eyes with both her palms and sighed. Another day stared at her and all she could do was move forward and dance to the tunes of life. Well, what else could she do?

She looked at her son Varun, who slept blissfully next to her or so it seemed. Yesterday night was one of those dark and fiendish nights when yet again she felt helpless and it was difficult to even think about the agony of her boy. The seizures had come again. It left him miserable and as he slithered groaning loudly, she stared at him with listless eyes.

Laxmi felt tired to the bones this morning. She felt spent and it had been ages since she had slept through the night, but she could not afford to sit back and relax. Varun opened his eyes drearily and looked at her, while he drooled like a one year old. Laxmi felt a surge of painful emotions wrap the innermost chasms of her being. The seventeen year old was wrought with suffering and she often questioned the strange ways of the Supreme power. Laxmi who was once a devout Hindu had slowly but steadily turned an atheist as she meandered through the journey called life.

Laxmi’s reverie was broken unceremoniously by Varun. He said something and Laxmi instantly understood and mentally chided herself for not being prompt enough. The slurring speech was the gift of Cerebral Palsy and had become one of the few sounds that reverberated in the cream coloured walls of the dilapidated house.

But, Laxmi could make out what each garbled sound meant. She could decipher those sounds and she felt alive whenever she heard those incoherent babbles because for her it meant her son was alive and he was there by her side.

As she took out Varun’s heavy diaper, he winced. She understood why a teenager who was forced to lay bare himself each waking hour would feel wretched and ashamed. But, she had no choice. When he was a kid things were not so bad. But, as he grew the solemn silence of the house was steered by fits of rage and the quiet little boy was now perpetually angry. He would growl incessantly for hours and Laxmi made an earnest attempt to calm him down. She would hug him, she would put on the small television set that stood in the room on that rickety brown stool and at times she would merely sit next to him and caress his hand. She even thought that it was merely a phase but, to her dismay, the mood swings persisted.

Laxmi wanted to be by Varun’s side at all times. But, she did not have the luxury to do so. Meals had to be prepared. Medicines had to be bought. Basically, she was to run a house and cater to the needs of her ‘differently abled’ child. ‘Differently abled’ yes, this was what she was told by that suave looking bespectacled doctor the other day. Laxmi wondered how people coined such ‘mumbo-jumbo’ to give solace to such children and their parents. But, did it mitigate the suffering of these innocent souls?

Laxmi’s life ran a programmed course. But, of late she felt that she was struggling and she would often find herself gasping for breath. Age was catching up and the finances were falling short. Her only income was the menial amount that she could procure from renting the room upstairs. But, with the staggering medical expenses and her failing health, things were turning dismal for them.

She was no longer the broken yet stout woman both in spirit and body. Lifting up Varun for his ablutions was getting increasingly cumbersome. Taking care of a disabled child had taken its toll on her. She was miffed easily these days and had to make herculean efforts to keep her temper in check. After all, two disgruntled souls could not do much to the existing pall of despair that loomed large over their humble abode.

More than once in the day, Laxmi would inadvertently think about her husband Umesh. Umesh- the scoundrel who chose to run away from her and from his only child. Umesh- who was spineless and who made her feel responsible for giving birth to a child with special needs. And Laxmi lived on, wrecked with guilt for years together, and cursed herself for her son’s woes. It was only years later, when she was categorically told by the on duty counselor at the government hospital that she could let the possibility sink in, that it was not her fault that Varun had to endure insurmountable pain each waking moment of his life.

It was like any other day- mundane and squalid. The distinct smell of medicines pervaded the room like always. Laxmi had just finished feeding Varun. It took her half an hour to make breakfast for the two of them. But, it had taken more than one hour to feed Varun. It was all the more of an ordeal today as Varun had difficulty swallowing each morsel. Porridge had predominantly become their staple diet because eating solids was becoming a nightmare for the boy. Laxmi mechanically brought a bowl of water to clean up Varun.

And then it happened.

He flung the bowl and pushed her violently towards the wall. Seizures followed. Laxmi was caught unaware. She remembered feeling a stab of acute pain and then she blacked out.

Laxmi opened her eyes groggily. What had happened, she tried to get a grip over herself and slowly she got up. Then it dawned upon her. It all came rushing back like a thunderous waterfall. “Varun…”, she called out.

There he was. He looked at her and silence spoke a thousand words. An errant tear trickled down his eye. Laxmi ran towards him and hugged him. They bawled together till exhaustion got the better of them.

Water, Amma can you get me some water”, Varun whispered. Then it hit her. She looked at the old black clock, the one with the backdrop of running horses that was erected on the wall like a lone lizard. It was six in the evening. She had been unconscious for hours. And Varun, who lately could not even move around his wheel chair, sat there- alone, desperate, waiting for his mother.

She quickly got a bowl of water and fed him. He hastily drank up while some of it fell on his shirt. He slowly lifted his hand and touched her head. She realized she was hurt. She wasn’t bleeding anymore but there was a sharp pain that emanated from the wound. It was ok, she wanted to say. She understood his angst, she wanted to say. But she could not say anything. She just smiled.

That night she could hardly sleep. Her mind was rattling with thoughts that unnerved her tormented her and would not let her sleep one wink. She knew that her son was dependant on her. She always knew. But, today she actually witnessed how helpless he could be without her. She shuddered as she contemplated the enormity of the situation. She had never felt so helpless before. Tossing and turning in the bed, soon she saw the first rays of sun form a shadowy reflection at a lone corner of the room.

She rose from the bed and gently caressed Varun’s hair which fell unabashedly on his forehead. He needs to get a haircut, she made a mental note. Today, she would have to step out to get the groceries. She would have to again request the sullen old lady next door to watch over Varun for a while.

It was breakfast time. Varun was awfully quiet today and Laxmi did not make any attempt to break the silence either. Silence hung between them like an uninvited guest.

“Ammaa, I don’t want to livee, set me freeee”, Varun squealed.

Laxmi could clearly understand his words. But, she feigned her ignorance and looked the other way. “Let us go for a walk today. The weather is good”, she said instead.

In the coming days Varun would often repeat those words and Laxmi began to dread them. But, in the quiet of the night she would often think about their future. She would cry covering her mouth with a pillow and would think of the pain that her son had been enduring. But one single thought haunted her the most- Who will look after him when I am gone? She had no one to turn to. Her parents were long dead and Umesh, well she did not know his whereabouts and even if she did, could she count on him, who left his own flesh and blood at the drop of a hat.

It was a cold wintry morning. Laxmi woke up in the wee hours of the morning. She took a bath and stood in front of the small statue of Lord Ganesha that stood in the kitchen window. She closed her eyes. As she opened the discoloured kitchen cabinet, she shivered. Mustering up all the courage, she took out a small bottle. She poured milk in two glasses.

In the bedroom, Varun was still asleep. She nudged him and he woke up with a jolt. He looked at her questioningly. She put the glasses on the table and with trembling hands poured the liquid in both the glasses. He looked at her and smiled. She helped him gulp the glass of milk as tears trickled unabated. She then picked up her glass and drank it with a sense of urgency.

“I am sorry my love”, Laxmi whispered.

“I love you Ammaaa”, he cried.

Both of them shivered and hugged each other. He laid his head in her lap and she embraced him for eternity.

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This is an entry for the event #BreakFree, ArtoonsInn’s signature Short Story Writing event, #ArTales-16.
Check out event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/break-free-artales-16-open-event/

Check out Meha’s space here: https://artoonsinn.com/author/meha-sharma/

Photo by: Patrick De Boeck

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