Originally published on Women’s Web as a winning entry for January 2017 Muse of the Month
“Ladies and gentlemen, we request your full attention as the flight attendants demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft”, announced a member of the flight crew. Though Mrs. Kumar couldn’t stop staring at the attendant giving the safety demonstration, her mind was elsewhere. She felt void, helpless and lonely. After all, it had hardly been four months since Mr. Kumar passed away in an accident. The sudden demise of her beloved husband had come as a disastrous shock. The thought of living without him for the rest of her life never ceased to tear up her eyes. The compulsion of her son made her board the plane to Chicago, a city and a country she had never been to. Her life revolved around the school she worked at and her husband who loved her like no other. But the sudden turn of events had left her shattered. Due to the trauma she was going through following her husband’s death, her son felt she shouldn’t be living alone anymore.
She spent the next 17 hours of the flight recalling the memories her husband had left behind. After enduring her first international travel filled with heartache, she reached the destination, which she never wished to visit alone. Mrs. Kumar’s son was elated to have her in his land of dreams, which he now called home.
“How was the flight, Ma?” asked Niroop curiously, while driving home from the airport. “It was okay”, she replied.
“The kids are eagerly waiting to meet their Ajji”, uttered Niroop, sounding excited. “I’m sure, you’ll have a good time here, unlike feeling lonely back home”, he reiterated. Mrs. Kumar sighed and looked outside the window, but little did she bother to admire the architecture and the skyscrapers adorned with white glowing snow. Nothing really caught her attention, despite the wonders a new place and a foreign land can do.
She smiled after months when her grandkids pounced upon her, but the smile faded away slowly.
Days passed by, and then months. The spindly branches of winter started regaining their glory, hinting the signs of spring. The family was unsuccessful in making Mrs. Kumar step out of the house, despite their best efforts.
“Maa, it’s been close to three months since you moved here! It’s high time you go out and take a stroll. You’ll have your mind off all this for a while and may feel good. Please trust me!” pleaded Niroop.
A silence followed as usual. “I know what you are going through. It’s hard on us too, but is this the way you’re going to live for the rest of your life? Let’s just go for a cup of coffee, please Ma!” he requested.
She noticed the pain in his voice and the twinkle in his eyes, which reminded her of his need for his mother. After all, parents survive for their children, if not for themselves! She agreed to accompany him for a cup of coffee.
The moment she stepped out, she felt the chilly breeze sweeping through her hair. Mrs. Kumar started gazing around while peeping out of the car window. She noticed sheets of muddy snow scattered that no longer looked beautiful. She took a look at the tall buildings and the sculptures.
As they entered the coffee house, Mrs. Kumar seemed uncomfortable in her own self, walking around in a Saree amidst foreigners. “I better stay indoors”, she thought. “Hello, Nirup! How are you doing today?” greeted a lady in an apron, standing at the counter. Niroop being a regular customer, was a known face at the coffee house. “I’m doing good Dona! How’s it going?” he said. “Not too bad! Looks like we have a guest here”, she asked with a warm smile while taking the order. While Niroop was busy introducing Dona to his mother, Mrs. Kumar couldn’t help but notice the spark in the lady’s eyes and her genuine smile.
“Here, try this White Mocha. I figured you like your coffee to be sweeter, so you might enjoy this one”, Niroop said, while placing a 12oz. coffee cup on the table. As Mrs. Kumar sipped in the coffee, “Is it any good or close to your filter kaapii?” he joked.
“It’s different”, she said.
“So, how’re you liking Chicago Ma’am?” Interrupted Dona, yet again with her warm smile.
“Are you done with your shift?” asked Niroop. “Yup! Mrs. Kumar, I loved your attire! Indian women look beautiful in a Saree!” she exclaimed.
Mrs. Kumar was surprised on what she just heard. “Thank you!” she smiled. “Please feel free to visit any time, I’ll be there, if not your son! You guys have a good night”, Dona said with a hearty laugh. They walked out of the coffee house, but this time Mrs. Kumar could no longer sense her discomfort. She may not have felt very good, but she definitely did feel different. She realized her inhibitions of living in a new country. She slowly started pondering about her present, rather than her past and the future.
Within a few weeks, Mrs. Kumar was no longer a guest at the coffee house. She has kept accompanying Niroop every now and then and developed a good rapport with Dona. They greeted each other with a smile and indulged in light talks. There was something unique about Dona’s demeanor that did not make Mrs. Kumar feel lost and lonely- a feeling that had been haunting her for months now. She was amazed on how someone in an alien land could give her this feeling of comfort. Not only did she enjoy sipping in American mochas, but she also enjoyed her enlightening conversations with Dona, that diverted her mind from the agony she was going through. Soon, she got acquainted enough to visit the coffee house all alone, not just to savor chocolaty coffee, but also to cherish her growing friendship with Dona.
“Mrs. Kumar! Just getting off my shift, will be with you shortly!” Dona said, while taking off her apron. “Take your time”, Mrs. Kumar smiled, while making herself comfortable in a cozy corner table.
“Thank you for taking time to see me. Glad you are here!” Dona sounded excited. “Oh, please don’t be, the feeling is mutual”, Mrs. Kumar smirked. “I wanted to invite you over to my place, for a cup of Indian coffee”, she added. Dona was so pleased with the invitation that she couldn’t refuse. “I’d love to! Never been to an Indian place, nor had their coffee!” she claimed. They left the coffee house and drove to Niroop’s house.
As Dona made herself comfortable and admired the Indian ambience, Mrs. Kumar headed to the kitchen to make coffee. She then offered her special filter coffee to Dona in a cup and saucer. “Oh, is this the Indian way? Smells amazing!” Dona expressed. While relishing their South Indian filter coffee, they indulged in an aromatic coffee conversation filled with comparisons of coffees from their respective lands. “I’m so glad you invited me over. It is a pleasure knowing you and your culture”, Dona proclaimed. “Thank you! To be honest, I enjoy spending time with you”, Mrs. Kumar smiled.
“I know! The very first time I saw you, there was this strange connection that I sensed, and wondered, Wow! She is so beautiful!” professed Dona. “I was nervous, wasn’t comfortable walking around in a Saree”, Mrs. Kumar confessed. “Also, I came out of the house only after three months”, she added.
“Hmm, I understand. It’s hard. Looks like he loved you very much, the way you miss him”, Dona sighed.
“He did. I was married when I was 18. All I knew was I wanted to study, but I was forced into wedlock. My husband was a very caring and an understanding man. As years passed, I felt blessed to be his partner. He made me complete my degree and eventually helped me become a teacher. I loved my job and my family. But now…the accident has left me nowhere. I miss him so much, I quit my job. I did not want to live anymore”, cried Mrs. Kumar, unable to stop her tears.
“Oh dear, please don’t cry! You have a great family that your husband left behind. You have a wonderful son and adorable grandkids”, Dona said, while trying to pacify Mrs. Kumar. “Do you even know how fortunate you are?” she asked.
“I lost my only love in an accident all of a sudden. The blow is horrifying, something that doesn’t make me wake up every morning. How am I fortunate?” Mrs. Kumar cried out loud.
“Honey! Life moves on! If not now, this may have happened at some point. Life is not about being prepared. Of course, you are fortunate compared to many in this world. Well, look at me! I had an early pregnancy and my son was born out of wedlock. His father left us when he was 8 months old and never returned. I was young and broke, with a son. I never went to school, but wanted my son to get his education. So, I worked hard to save, but all in vain. He dropped out, surrounded himself with bad influences and ended up in prison. I don’t even get to meet him very often”, Dona said in a sobbing tone.
“I’m so sorry Dona! Never realized you had so much pain behind that smiling face”, Mrs. Kumar felt bad.
“Now, I’m in my 50s, with no family, living all by myself, working in a coffee shop to pay my bills. I have to do it, to support myself. I’ve struggled all my life, with no better hope for the future. The coffee house and my work keeps me going”, Dona continued.
“You are very brave Dona! I’m really proud and honored to have known you”, Mrs. Kumar said with pride.
“You’ve had a great life with a loving husband and family. Your son is doing well here and cares for his mother. You have wonderful memories and a promising hope. Memories of your loving husband will motivate you to get going with your life. Acknowledge your gifts in disguise, before you emphasize your loss. Don’t overlook your blessings, you will only make things worse!“, Dona explained.
Mrs. Kumar was feeling a sense of enlightenment and could not thank Dona enough for her offering. She realized how fortunate she was and that she couldn’t make it worse by reminding herself about the tragedy.
After the enriching conversation with Dona and many days of failed attempts to make up her mind, she finally decided on what would make her live in peace.
One fine day, when Niroop was home from work, Mrs. Kumar said, “I’m planning to go back next month.” An astounded Niroop, wasn’t sure if his mother was unhappy to live with them or if she had been having trouble adjusting in the new country. “But why Maa? You’re not happy here?” he asked.
“I want to reapply for my job back home. That job was a result of your father’s motivation. I can’t disrespect him by quitting!” she replied.
Niroop was glad to know his mother was getting back on the right path. “As you wish Maa”, he smiled.
Mrs. Kumar met Dona at the coffee house and thanked her again for making her feel lighter ever since they had their uplifting conversation. “I’m happy you took the right decision. But I’ll miss you!” said Dona. “You’ve no idea how much your words meant to me! I’ll cherish your friendship forever!” stated Mrs. Kumar. “There is no dearth of staying connected these days. Are you on Facebook?” inquired Dona. “I heard about it a couple of times from my students but never really used it. I’ll create an account, for you”, Mrs. Kumar declared.
“Awesome! But hey! I don’t know your name yet”, Dona giggled.
“It’s Meena”, Mrs. Kumar smiled.