She poked her head while I was still unpacking my boxes. I had not just moved into an apartment I had moved to a new phase of my life.
After college I had lived in various hostels while trying to find work and making just about enough to cover my rent travel and commuting expenses. As I completed my higher studies along the way I also got into better paying jobs and thought I finally need to get out on my own.
“Where are you from? Are you going to live here alone? Are your parents letting you do this, are they not worried you are going to be alone in this big bad city? Do you want some food, you are obviously not eating enough to cover those bones.” Her barrage of questions hit me like an avalanche. So much for getting out of the hostel and from under the nose of an ultra strict matron.
At first I tried to ignore her but she was so persistent. I felt watched all the time. When I stepped out to work she would greet me, when I came back (no matter at what hour) she would peep and say good night or grunt or comment, depending at the hour of my return.
The door across the hallway was always a bit ajar. It was as if she had been appointed as my guardian.
I slammed my door shut at times when I was too irritated by her constant presence and the next morning I would get a bigger smile and a louder good morning. Nothing seemed to deter her.
When I broke up with my then boyfriend she almost hugged me. I shrugged it off and stayed cooped up inside for a couple of weekends, ignoring the constant doorbell and knocking.
And then one day I saw the doctor leave her apartment chiding her on his way out.
She sat on her favorite chair draped in a shawl, looked a bit withered.
I weighed the consequences of going in and against my better judgement got pulled into her world. As soon as she saw me hesitating outside her door, she called out, “Come in, come come my child”. She tried to get up but fell back in her chair.
It alarmed me a bit I always thought she had endless supply of energy in spite of her being in her seventies.
“Sorry I am a bit tired today, my youth is slipping away”, she winked.
I sat on the couch next to her and slowly we started talking.
It was well after midnight when I realized that we had emptied a pot of tea, some hurriedly put together healthy meal (it was a great break from my frozen ones)
I would then check on her regularly, morning and night. She had lost her only son who served in the army while he was still unmarried. Lost her husband to heavy drinking and depression post her son’s death. But she trudged on in the battle called life.
Stayed young in heart and mind even whilst the hair turned grey then silver.
The home she lived in had belonged to her father and she was the only living child, she had lost her brother at a very young age too and her sister who had married and moved overseas had passed away some years back, childless and alone.
She had so many tragedies but when she spoke of them her voice never wavered, it was matter of fact as if these realities of life were so easy to accept.
She showed me pics of her parents, sibling, friends, husband and son.
Told me stories of her enchanted childhood, fairy-tale marriage and her son’s awesome achievements. She inquired enough about my own family, my life and my recent break-up.
Slowly as I got to know her I started appreciating her genuine concern, unrelenting care and nothing asked in return for compassion.
I learned from her true strength and grit.
And then one day the door from the hallway was closed. I had a spare key.
When I opened it she seemed to be dozing in her favorite chair with her shawl draped around her. On moving closer I realized she was at peace forever.
I should be happy she would no longer meddle in my life,why were then tears clouding my vision.