From ‘Coming Home’
I have travelled down this twisted, broken path before. I left here a child, aged five years. I return married with two children.
I remember this house. The warm, soft air. Those happy days running barefoot through the streets to the falooda shop. The place hasn’t changed much. Even the people are just as they always were; wrinkled, but speaking with the same voices. I’ve heard these voices in my dreams, like long lost friends. I’ve listened to them these past twenty years. They’ve offered me hope, whispered advice through the tough times, congratulated me when things go well.
My cousins have grown taller. Their children spend their days playing with mine. I spend my days watching them, amazed. Even language doesn’t dampen their friendship. They get by with hello and love you, thank you. The camera clicks and they all say cheese, revealing wide smiles, creating new beginnings of their own.
I don’t have photos of me at that age. My father burnt them all. But now and then this place sends me snapshots from my childhood: my third birthday party at the small dhosa place opposite the masjid. The only place that served chocolate ice cream. A memory of me sitting in father’s lap in his favourite chair. Aunts and uncles feeding me with chocolate barfi one after the other when my mother wasn’t looking. Happy days at home. Father was so different then. And mother.
As hard as I try, I can’t remember her. I want to, but I can’t. She died when I was five. I’ve never seen a picture of her, or of my parents together. All I know of her is what I’ve been told. Nowadays she’s just a character in one of my stories. Tall and beautiful with long brown hair, hazel eyes. She is poised, like a 1940’s Hollywood star. I'm nothing like her. I’m not glamorous enough. People persist in saying that I look just like her, but I don’t believe them. They only tell me that because they’re kind. And besides, my father has never said so.
My father moved on three months after she died. He left his life here and started afresh. I joined the ride with his new wife. Things were never the same in that new place. Part of me stayed here with my mother. I missed her. I missed my home. I cried every day for months. I begged my father to let me go back. He didn’t ever say yes. After a while I pressed my memories for safekeeping, like daisies. I stopped thinking of India. I stopped thinking of my mother. I left everything behind. I betrayed the people and their love. I forgot the stories: I forgot it all. I never once spoke to them on the phone or opened their letters. I made England my home.