Vermilion

Vermilion

Our neighbor, tall and smiling and generous, the
wife of one and mother of three, is sick. I did not
know it until I saw her in the garden, plucking
white jasmines for all gods she kept in her shrine,
beside that her long hair was short, and her skin
pale as yesterday’s old flowers, her forehead
without the big round vermilion dot. Nothing unusual
in her voice when she, in her regular cheerful tone,
asked me to visit for lunch.

I spent all my summers in her garden, observing
the transformation of butterflies, reading
Love Story, and eating mangoes fresh off the branch.
Then I grew older, and as the life stretched farther
my visits became shorter, replacing vacuums
of reality with jars full of nostalgia.

This summer I plan to meet her often. I make plans
to ask her out for lunch. I make dinner for her,
once, twice, thrice. I try to know if there’s
something that can transform her to her old self,
she with her bright vermilion dot, and long black
hair that she air-dried in the sun.

We both smile. She smiles more often, and tells me
about planting a holy basil plant in the courtyard.
“It brings good luck,” she gets me one from her garden.
I drive back home and plant another life on this soil.
I drive again to talk to her. She is full of life
in the world of dead living beings. There is never
a silence around her. There is nothing strange.

The river is full of water. Trees dance with the wind.
The moon rises on a cloud-free sky. Her bird-feeder
is never empty of empathy. She prepares food again,
like my childhood days, and asks about career
plans of this generation kids. She advises me to
walk slowly and to put my feet on the ground.
The evening ends, like a ritual that the night
starts before sleeping. Everything is same. Though
I know now, one day, like her vermilion dot, she has
to disappear into the infinite black hole of eternity.

 

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