“Are you afraid?”
“Of the pain?”
“Yes. The pain of leaving you behind. Of not being able to take my world with me.”
That day in the hospital, as I sat beside my mother, I felt helpless. She was withdrawing from me, being pulled by a world as dreary and dark as this world is beautiful, and I couldn’t do anything but grasp her hands tighter.
“Let’s watch TV?”
Or, change the subject.
Later that day, as I drove home to freshen up, the evening sun lit up the windows of my car. The sky was a golden yellow with accents of oranges and violets. Birds chirped in merriment, almost smug about their ability to fly away to alluring, distant lands even as we struggled with human problems like disease and the need to PLAN. We would draw up lists of destinations we wished to travel to, enlist pros and cons, look up hotel reservations and see if the food choices suited our palates. All the while, our limited time kept running out quietly, exactly like the hourglass someone had ominously placed at the reception in the hospital.
I was done with planning. My mother lay in a hospital bed, afraid of losing the world, worried that the hospital-smell and the 24-hour-lighting would forever obliterate the sights and sound of the brilliant world we lived in. I couldn’t let that happen. No, I decided, my mother and I would follow the birds and see the world like they did—flying to new places with our wings spread wide open.
“But are you sure it’s a good idea? She is not keeping well.” Friends and relatives crowded around us; many of them had brought along travel brochures and guides.
“It’s the best idea I have heard in a long time.” My mother chained her backpack and re-inspected mine. We hadn’t packed any of the brochures; they interfered with our travel diary and Polaroid camera. “We are saying yes to the world.”
My mother had always been the textbook definition of a Type-A person. She arrived for appointments 15 minutes before schedule, accounting for traffic, bad weather, and cows blocking the road. She carried five guidebooks even when we went for a two-hour drive to a picnic. In her Tupperware boxes, she packed non-perishable food so we wouldn’t have to snack on anything that gave us bad digestion.
It is this woman who stood in the boarding line at the airport today, carrying nothing but a backpack, her eyes blindfolded and ears shut to sound with headphones. She nonchalantly hummed a tune, oblivious to curious bystanders and students who ventured up to ask if we were “doing an openminded social experiment”. I tightly held my mother’s hands and watched her beam from end to end.
“We are now embarking on the journey of a lifetime,” I said to her. “Make sure you collect as many memories as you can.”
She kept humming and smiling all through our flight.
The fortnight that my mother and I spent backpacking across quaint little towns in Europe was the kind of happiness I first experienced at the local fair. I had been three, and my mother had bought me a large red balloon that bobbed and bounced and threatened to fly away if not held on to tightly. My mother squealed like a little child—very reminiscent of the red-balloon-girl—whenever we arrived in a new town.
She clapped till her hands got sore when a horse carriage in Vienna drove us around the main square. She spent five whole minutes sniffing at her chocolate waffle in Brussels. In a gondola in Venice, she made me pose for a half a dozen photographs—some of them, a bit embarrassingly, with our gondola-driver. She shopped for trinkets in the Christmas market at Copenhagen and told an elderly lady that she had “beautiful skin as pink as a rose”. Not once did she ask me about the next city in my top-secret itinerary–#TheBlindList. But every night, she slept as peacefully as a contented baby.
I did not blindfold her on the way to the last airport—the one from where we would catch our flight back home. When we arrived and walked out the gate, she gave everything around a fixed, long stare.
“Don’t you think these trees look greener than before? And I am sure the people in the airport look happier.”
“That’s only because you are happy, Mom.”
“I am. Very much. I have stored all the memories from our exploration so deeply in my heart that I am no longer afraid. They have become imprints. I am convinced I will take them with me when I go.”
A lot has transpired in my life since that journey my mother and I undertook together. Frequently, I find myself down in the dumps, unable to find meaning in life. I then embark on travels—to places near or afar—and immerse myself in the thrill of an impromptu, unplanned journey. Rarely do I follow a bucket list; I merely endeavour to experience sights I hadn’t anticipated, meet people far removed from the stressors in my daily life, and eat foods that tingle my taste buds.
In these wanderings, I experience self-exploration that unfailingly leaves me enthralled. It is a blind date with the world that leaves me flushed with kisses—of laughter, surprise, and wonder. It is a blind date I want to keep going on, for in the incognito I find myself.
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