Amma always looked up at the ceiling when she laughed.
She would close her eyes and open her mouth, stained orange from paan,
The girl had to tug her grandmother’s scarf
to make sure she remembered to breathe.
It seemed to the girl that Amma’s laughter was coming from
somewhere within than her bones.
Deeper than her tissues, her nerves, her beating thumpa-thump heart.
It was as if her soul was erupting.
And sighing and heaving and breathing and singing – bursting at the seams
Her unapologetic symphony to the world.
Amma’s lullabies of moons and milky desserts were full of honey and brimming with love.
Chanda mama door se
O the faraway moon…
She sang, wiping the hair from the girl’s frame and holding her close
Lulling her to sleep as the moonlight whispered in the room.
The girl would watch Amma talk as they cut onions in the kitchen.
“Thin slices anna manna, otherwise no mother-in-law will marry you to her son
when you cut like that,” she said, her head bobbing side to side as she spoke,
like an unbalanced globe on a peg.
To the girl, her world.
They laughed as the girl cut the slices thicker and Amma winked.
“That’s my granddaughter,” she said. Laugh-laugh-laughing.
She would watch Amma’s timid tears rolling down the sides of her almond eyes
As she thumbed her prayer beads
Eyes that had become dark around the rims.
“From crying too much,” she would tell her granddaughter,
to scare her from ever being sad.
Even when the girl wanted to cry, she remembered those hands, calloused yet soft, wiping her tears and telling her not to ruin the shine in her eyes.
Because the girl full of wonder eventually became a woman
who had tasted for the first time, the brokenness of the world
and the underbelly of its people.
Like the edge of a broken plate, scarring.
Those who took, rather than the song of the givers she had known.
The woman cried, heaving, A thunderstorm in her soul.
“Enough. Enough. You have us,” Amma said.
Her calloused hands smoothened the cracks on her tear-stained face.
She pushed the woman away from her sorrow
and into the mirror of the girl she was.
And the home she grew up in.
The stairs that had once been a sunken ship
as she and her cousins would play pirate,
screaming final words before their watery doom.
The backyard with the spongy grass
where she found on a robin’s egg.
And cried knowing it was not alive. That she could not save it, even if she tried.
The orange carpet of the basement that they imagined was Mars.
The backyard shed where the monster lived – Zen, they called him.
The monster always wore a new face,
Sometimes a fear, an idea. Sometimes a person.
The room once full of storage boxes where she and her cousins would be warriors
Adventurers, angels of God Almighty Himself.
The home that protected them and shielded them from the world.
Amma created that world.
The home away from the world.
“You are my whole world,” Amma told her.
“Remember where you come from. Don’t shrink your heart for anyone.”
And so in those moments when Amma’s head is upwards towards the ceiling
Laugh, laugh, laugh-laugh-laughing
The girl now woman holds onto the quilt of her grandmother’s bursting paan-stained soul
Falling back home again.
Over and over again.