This time, it was so vivid, my dream screams translated to my actual bedroom. Muffled though they were, the final wail was real, and I awoke with tears soaking my pillows and through gritted teeth, I was keening. My throat was sore from the real effort my dreams took to assert themselves into my life.
And again, as always, when I woke up, it was indeed too late.
My mother was dead. In fact, she died four years ago. And for four years, I have been having intermittent dreams where I had tried to see her one last time, with the hopes that I could save her somehow. That would have been impossible anyway.
She didn’t die in an accident. She took a few years to slowly degenerate, all the while putting on a front that she was fine. She was ill, but none of us knew the extent of her illness. Her silent killer overtook her eyes, blinding her in one, eating away at the other, slowly at first, and then gobbling up her sight day by day. I had watched her fumble, touching things to feel that they were the right ones she needed, and for months, she had survived this way.
The last phone call from her had sounded breathy and low; she had seemed lost and frightened: she the child, I the adult reassuring her that it would be okay. I lied. She was not going to be okay; in fact, five days later, she was gone for good.
I berated myself for a year afterwards at the sense of relief I had felt almost immediately when the machines stopped their infernal beeping. That feeling was instantly clouded by guilt and absolute pain and terror. I would never wake up and be able to call her. Well, that’s a lie. We were both terrible at keeping in touch, but I always knew that she would be a phone call away, a boat/bus/bus/hitchhike away. That too was a lie I had invented in my head to make up for the fact that I once didn’t speak, write, call or visit for two years.
But this dream, this latest one – it was a heartbreaking one.
I often had dreams of taking a trip somewhere. My excitement was always because she would be at the end of the trip waiting for me, with my favorite soup ready, and that delicious potato pone bubbling and sizzling away in its banana leaf mold. Often, the bus would have a flat tire or the boat had to divert, or a new deadline cropped up at work. So, by the time I ‘got home’, the house would be empty, and I would find a few people standing around mourning, the looks of accusation on their faces the only thing telling me what had happened.
This one was different: I was yet again on a boat, working, and trying to make my way to her. Her lively voice on the phone had told me there would be a lot to catch up on. I got diverted – and my luggage left without me. By the time I got to the village, there was only silence – and years had flown by. Houses that once stood proudly by the roadside, greeting incomers with their lively colors and front gardens looked decrepit in places. Weeds had choked the gardens, leaving brown, dead stalks to sway listlessly in the breeze.
Even the pig farm had an old smell about it – no squealing pigs sounded. There seemed to be no people around, and when I rounded the corner to her house, to home, I could see why. They had all turned up to mourn her.
The people who had lived around her, had known her all her life, they too had changed. Gray haired, stooped and old, wrinkled faces stared out at me. Their rheumy eyes had enough of life in them to direct unspoken accusations at my direction. It was about that time that the tears began, but my horror at feeling the loss anew sent me looking for her.
What I saw instead was so heart-wrenching that I began sobbing, great big, ugly, loud, sniffly sobs. She was old and grey, withered, her eyes milky and unseeing. I stood there watching her, and for the first time, I made it home to watch her take her last, shuddering breath.
It was far, far worse to make it home in time. I saw her as I never wanted to: old, broken and dying.
It was a sight I did not want to ever experience, and I had prayed for something to happen. I had prayed for her death. I regretted asking for a reprieve from the responsibility. The guilt has consumed me for so long, still hanging on through my dreams it seemed.
And in this dream that gripped and refused to let go, as in life, there was no escape.
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