It was just five in the morning but Maria was already awake, sipping her tea in the veranda. It was still dark, the birds seemed to be asleep too, but she had not slept all night, feeling restless, getting nightmares, waiting for it to be morning somehow. After all, this could be the last sunrise she would be watching here, sitting in the small patio of her little house in Ollur, a small town in Kerala. Somehow, the house looked unusually beautiful to her today, with it’s small well, it’s coconut trees, it’s own pond...after all, she had been there for several years now and she had always decorated it all by herself. The rapid urbanization in Kerala had paved way for many buildings and towers, but she still had her house. But then, for how long... she wondered.
Resting her head on the wall, her whole life seemed to rush past her. Maria had been the eldest of four kids and hailed from a poor family in Kerala. She had been a brilliant student and like many Malayali girls, she too had trained to be a nurse, getting a scholarship after her pre-degree. Topping the course, she secured a full time job in a top hospital. But then the responsibility of her siblings and ailing parents fell on her young shoulders. She did a good job; both her brothers finished graduation and settled in Gulf and her sister got married into a respectable family.
Now her parents wanted her to settle down too, but she was well above thirty. Maria was not very keen about the alliance but then she bowed down to her parents’ wishes and finally agreed to marry Mathew, a middle aged free lance Ayurveda doctor.
Mathew and Maria purchased a small but independent house, the house in which she lived now, the house she had cherished for all these years. Maria would work in the hospital all day and Mathew would practise at home.
But soon Maria realized that her condition was still the same, she was the bread winner with a steady income and Mathew just sat at home most of the time. He was an obedient husband, he performed all the household chores without complaining, but Maria somehow could neither love nor respect Mathew, she did not know why. He could never be her knight in shining armour; he was more like a compromise she made. Her role was the same at home and at work; she was like a matron at home, scolding Mathew, commanding him, just like how she was at the hospital, a strict head nurse to all her juniors.
It was two years after marriage that Maria was blessed with a son and she realized, motherhood was what she had been waiting for all her life. Having little Tony was such a relief for her, she felt as if finally she had got somebody to call her own. And no, she was not ready to compromise anymore, Tony would be brought up the way she wanted, he would be her pride, her best friend.
And Tony was indeed a perfect son, a mama’s boy. Mathew would babysit him when Maria was at the hospital, but Tony hero worshipped his mother. He was a brilliant student and an all rounder at school. Maria was happy, not only was her son doing well, but she had full control over him and over her house.
Amidst their busy lives, Maria and Tony somehow never noticed how upset Mathew was getting, how aloof from them he was. His wife and son didn’t respect him and he felt they could easily manage without him. He spent most of the time at church, and one morning, leaving a note, he just left them, going off with a spiritual group, in search of peace.
It wasn’t as if Maria hadn’t felt sad, she had. After all, he was the man of her house, her old age companion, but then she wasn’t shattered. They had grown apart in the last few years and there was no love left anyway. So, with an adolescent Tony to take care of, she bravely took charge of her life. She was an efficient nurse at the hospital and her department depended upon her for everything. She was equally efficient at home, supporting Tony academically and financially. Being the good son that he was, Tony worked hard, studied well and fulfilled her dream of making him a doctor. A few years more and Tony coaxed Maria to retire and relax at home. His mother had single-handedly brought him up and made him what he was; he considered it his duty to take care of her in her old age. But he never left their home and Ollur, he was happy there and always wanted to be with his mother .
Now that Tony was settled in life, there were marriage brokers visiting every day. For Tony, his mother’s decision was final, so after lots of deliberation and consultation, Rosy was finalised to be Tony’s bride. Rosy was a doctor too and worked in another hospital nearby. One fine January morning, Rosy walked into Maria’s house and Tony’s life.
And then, in spite of Maria swearing to herself that she would be a good mother- in- law, differences crept in. “ I have always held the reins of the house and kitchen, so how dare Rosy decide what Tony wanted for breakfast? Hardly two months of entering the household and how could Rosy decide the colour of the curtains and where to place the flower vase? How could Rosy instruct the maid or decide which channel to watch on TV? Had she forgotten that it was Maria’s house and it was she who was the intruder? How dare she behave as if it was her own house?” Maria thought.
And Tony, who had needed Maria’s permission for everything, now, ate out often and came home late at night, often after a movie with Rosy. He didn’t even bother to take Maria along. He would even take Rosy out on weekends and never bother to ask Maria, why didn’t he take her too?
And Maria, not the one to compromise, decided to set everything straight. On one occasion, she threw a huge tantrum, scolded Tony in front of Rosy, telling him how he had forgotten her and how he had suddenly got hen pecked. When Rosy tried to intervene, talking something about privacy, Maria lashed out saying that Tony was her son before being Rosy’s husband and it was Rosy’s sheer luck that she had got such a good alliance. In her effort to enforce her full control, Maria happened to distance herself from Rosy’s parents too.
The fights and arguments multiplied, and Tony often found himself caught between his mother and wife. Maria would forcefully join them for their movie outings and back in the bedroom, Rosy would throw a tantrum. Maria still wanted total control over Tony and Rosy got sick and tired of the never ending interference.
But then, things sobered a bit when Rosy got pregnant. Rosy was a working woman and Maria respected her for that. Being a nurse herself, she took good care of Rosy and Tony sighed in relief, hoping everything would become normal.
Peter arrived on a beautiful rainy morning and filled the little house with joy. In three months, Rosy started working at the hospital leaving Peter in Maria’s care. Maria now started her new job as a full time ‘mother’. She had missed being a hands-on mother to Tony, but now she was grateful to God for giving her Peter. As for Peter, as soon as he started talking, the first word he uttered was ‘Amma’ and that was for Maria. Maria forgot all her problems with Rosy and Rosy was happy too. Peter would sleep with Maria and the young couple got the privacy they had sought since long.
Things went fine for some time, but then as Peter grew and started schooling, Rosy found faults with his upbringing. She would chat with other mothers her age and then complain that he wasn’t eating by himself because granny fed him always, he wasn’t taking bath by himself because granny bathed him always, he wasn’t behaving properly because granny pampered him too much.
Soon Rosy started finding faults with everything that Maria did. There were frequent fights and Peter would end up getting pulled into the tug of war. On one occasion, Maria ended up telling Rosy that it was her house and her grandson, so Rosy could go wherever she wanted and do as she pleased. Rosy on her part, shouted back saying that Maria could keep her son, but had no right over Rosy’s son.
The same evening, Rosy packed her bags, took Peter along and left Maria’s house. Tony didn’t return home that night, he had obviously been with his wife. Two days later when he returned, and Maria tried talking to him, he lashed out, “How could you do this to me? She is my wife, that’s my son .Just because you treated father badly, does that mean I should do the same with my wife? What kind of a mother are you, who doesn’t want to see her son happy?”
In all those years, it was the first time that Maria felt shattered. Tony had questioned her motherhood, called her a bad mother. After everything she had done for him, this is what she had got in return, a ‘Bad Mother’ label.
Tony had now totally turned against her and now spent most of the time there in his wife’s house. Maria tried calling many times in desperation, to listen to Peter’s voice once, but Rosy didn’t let Peter talk to his grandmother. And Maria felt too proud to apologise to Rosy.
Then one day, just like that, she collapsed. The doctors said it was a heart attack, she was lucky that the neighbours had seen her unconscious in the veranda, but then how could she tell the doctor that she couldn’t be cured now. Her heart was broken, with the only two people she adored, Tony and Peter, now totally away from her.
She came back home and Tony was with her all the time. Even Rosy came with Peter, and Maria decided she would apologise to Rosy the next morning and request them to stay with her, let her play with Peter again. But in the evening, while she was telling Peter a story, Tony told her that Rosy’s father had found a job for her in a hospital in UK. Tony would be moving with her, he would anyway get a job there. Peter would also have better academic opportunities there. They would be leaving Maria the next day itself and fly to UK in a week’s time.
Stifling her tears and anger, Maria asked him what she would do, all alone. What if she got a second attack? That’s when Tony reluctantly told her that he had discussed about this with Rosy and after a lot of consideration, Rosy had agreed. Maria could stay with them in UK, but on one condition that she would reconcile with Rosy, listen to everything Rosy said, would never fight with her and never interfere with Peter’s life. She could join them in UK if she wanted, but Rosy was not to be hurt again.