Her eyes opened suddenly. She glanced around; it took her a few seconds to be in complete mindfulness. The thick blanket engulfed her, she found it hard to breathe. Looking up, she realised the fan was off, it had stopped working in the middle of the night. The saliva tasted terrible in her mouth. She prepared to get out of bed, realising the urgent need to brush her teeth. She took her first deep breath of the day, the stench of stale food and unwashed clothes, of dirt and filth, filling her lungs with a sharp, pungent sting. And amidst it all, she could hear her baby boy cry at the top of his lungs. He probably woke up because of the heat as well.
Maria forced herself up. It was a good night’s sleep, she thought, while it lasted. The simplest things in life were luxuries she could rarely afford. Maria frowned as it dawned on her that the sun was still sleeping. Nevertheless, she picked up baby Jeremiah, and began to rock him back to sleep, singing the same lullaby for the umpteenth time, the only one she knew, the only one that disguised her voice as something out of the ordinary, the only one that she was sung to as a child.
It didn’t take long for Jeremiah to fall back asleep, of course, he never required a pillow, his mother’s gentle hands were all he needed. Maria’s eyes stayed transfixed upon his sweet face. Oh, what a blessing lay in her hands. She had to work extra for him, but how it added pride instead of burden on herself. She never got a peaceful wink of sleep because of him, but how she adored the colour of red in her eyes. She had to lie to herself that she wasn’t hungry when she gave him the whole piece of pie, the golden piece of pie, but how the rumbling in her stomach turned into her melodious lullaby. One day, he would know, and he would understand, she thought.
As time started slipping, she decided to finally get up and have everything ready before she left home for work. She wore the same old, ragged, jumpsuit, for the fifth time that week. Jeremiah was soon coming to his senses too, and after feeding him half a cup of cold milk she stepped out into the fresh air. At least that was free.
What she saw outside juxtaposed with the events of her own life. The sun, in its great attempt to nullify all the dullness in the world, happy, healthy children running about, birds singing and the flowers gleaming with colour, as if it was a pride war among them. Maria paused at the sight of a young couple. They were living far from reality, in their own wonderland. The girl, smiling with her teeth as white as snow, the wind making her hair fly off, reminded Maria of herself. Meanwhile, the young man, gazing at her with the most affectionate smile, reminded Maria of him.
She tried hard to resist it, but the fluttering feelings of love were dominating. She was strongly reminded of how they were each other’s universe. She had considered herself as the luckiest person in the world to have him by her side. Their wedding, although not very grand, still was the biggest day of their lives. And then came Jeremiah, the fruit of their love. But it didn’t take much long after that for everything to crumble, for the house of cards to collapse. Being a brave member of the army, he had said goodbye to his family as he was being deported. Little did they know it was his final goodbye. Nobody exactly knew what happened. But they found a man, dressed in his army best, lying between the bushes near the enemy zone, with three bullets in his chest.
Maria was playing with her little son, her heart melting looking at him smile. And then a phone call was all that was needed. Three bullets had gone into her chest through the receiver.
Things had changed a lot since then. Imagine having to cope with the loss of your loved one and trying to keep your son alive. She couldn’t even see his body. God knows what happened to it.
All these thoughts came flying in so fast, Maria felt almost overwhelmed. She hoped it was all a nightmare, but there she was, baby Jeremiah smiling up at her, standing in the middle of the street. The couple had long left, she realised. And off she went, to earn some coins. She had never resorted to begging, and would never. She had her dignity to protect. Maria had decided to earn her coins, and so she did, for 5 years thereafter, working at construction sites. Pure labour, one which required only physical stress, and if that runs out, then the face of a hungry five year old at home was all the driving force she needed. Day after day, even on the days when she couldn’t lift her head, she’d do her job and make her boss happy, and in turn, her son.
Most of her fellow workers were afraid of their job. They thought it was dangerous. Why, they had to carry big boulders of rocks, climb unstable ladders, hang on feeble ropes… of course it was dangerous. But Maria was able to overcome this fear with another one – the fear of Jeremiah being left alone if she too was gone. She had to give him everything in life she never had. And she’d cross all borders for that.
It had been merely 5 years of this life. 5 years, and counting of pure sacrifice. Living for another, breathing for them. Her husband had departed, she rarely thought of him now, she never had the time. Her love for him had fallen dead when he did. What was the point of thinking about people who would never come back? But Maria knew, that even if she died, her love for her son would be eternal. He was the life that she created, and nurtured. She would love him till the end of time. It was the love that never died.
So how did you like this piece? I’m going to tell you a secret- *whispers* -this took me almost 4 months to finish. Oops.
Through this story, I wanted to highlight all the struggles a mother goes through. And although this story revolved around a single mother, they all face the same things, single or not. And we must all cherish them, appreciate them, and make them proud. If you understood this, then I guess I was successful.
Thanks for reading!