Thursday, April 21, 2011

Brothers, Sons

       The funeral is over. Guests mill about the house. Some of them say goodbyes. Some of them help to clean. Some stay back. I'm tired. My Head splits with pain. I just want to go inside and lie down on the bed. Veronica is taking care of the house. As always, she has not lost her head. Though life will never be the same for her. I know.
As I go up the stairs. I see their room. The Boys' room. Forbidden territory. Josh's scrawl across white paper taped onto the doors. I open the door and peep in.
They are everywhere. In these drawings. In these books. In these shoes and baseball caps and G.I. Joes.
       I have never seen my sons climb trees. Or play with dogs. Or with other kids. I have never seen them running wild in abandoned joy, playing football. Or even go out for a date. Were it not for the Nurse at St. Albain's hospital, I would have never seen them breathe, live, grow up.
Sometimes I wonder, if I did the right thing by allowing them to live. Should I not have smothered them at birth? But then sometimes, I see their courage, their warm smiles, n I repent for my cruel thoughts.
They are my sons, after all. My Boys. My Flesh n Blood.
       The father was a sailor, whom I met in a run-down bar, we used to haunt. It was love at first sight, or so I thought. The next morning he was gone. And all I had to remember him by, was a Night in a rickety, creaky bed, both of us dead-drunk n passing out after the desperate fumbling.
It was only 3 months later that I discovered I was pregnant. Business was ruined. No one wants a prostitute with a swollen belly. I cursed my fate, scraping by, until 6 months later, I stood outside the Charity hospital. In the raging rain.
       Later I would recall Veronica saying I looked so frail with a belly so huge, it seemed grotesque. I was terrified because the pain would not let me take a step. I did not know what to do. Here I was, 24 and without anyone in the world, alone, in a dirty old hospital. Everyone seemed to be rushing around. Patients poured in, poured out. No one took any notice of me. I stood there near the desk, controlling my tears, biting my lower lip. And then Veronica came to me.
       One glance and she knew I needed help right-away.  She found an empty bed in a makeshift room, made out of thin wooden screens. She smiled at me, looked up after feeling my belly with her hands and said cheerfully 'Twins. You are carrying twins.'
'I don't know where the father is. Or who.' I half-lied, staring at her grimly.
Her smile vanished. And she came every half an hour to check up on me.
After 7 hours of labour, my children were born. I shrieked when she handed them over to me. All bloody, mucusy, slimy. 'Surely that's a monster!' I cried.
       I had had twins, all right, and they had two bodies and two heads. But they were joined at the sides. Like they were stuck with super glue or something. Shoulders down. Conjoined Siamese twins is what they are called.  These creatures that came from my Sinful womb.
'Let me go, I don't want it. Kill it. Kill it.' I screamed, thrashing my bloodied legs. Forgetting about my torn tissue or the walls that hardly barred any sound from being heard in the other rooms.
She gave me an injection and I slipped into a deep sleep.
       When I woke, up the rain was gone. It was a glorious sunny day.
       Slowly I turned to look at the twins beside me. Since they were swaddled, I could see only their heads. Their faces were perfectly formed. Translucent skin, pink tender lips and tinges of rose.
       They were perfect. Then drawing a deep breath, I removed the cloth. They were perfect. If you ignored the missing hands at the joint, that is. I cried as I had never in my Life. I would be their Mother and I would be a normal human being. I would give up my Life of sin. God believed in my strength and so He had not given this precious gift to anyone else, but me.
Veronica came later 'Have you decided what to do? The Doctors were here. If you wish you can hand them over to the Doctors. They will study them for Medical purposes. Display them in jars. Pickled. I hope you do not. they are beautiful. I will help you take care of them. I do not have anyone. Together we can bring them up. Do not let the Doctors take them. Please.'
I nodded. I knew that was the only right thing to do.
       People stared. Yes. Uncomfortably and looked away. Furtive glances when they thought we weren't looking. In the park, they came to see the 'Wonder boys'. The 'Monster Boys' behind our backs. Some children cried. Some ran away. Some entranced, like Stella, kissed them. Josh and Nick. 'When we grow up, can I marry both of you, Josh and Nick?' Stella would ask in her little 3 years old voice.
       After every visit to the Doctor, we came back more serious. More Heartbroken. Surgery was no option. They could be separated but Nick would die. And there was no guarantee that Josh would survive his death. I would despair for days. 'Nonsense' Veronica would say and take them out to the garden. Away from their depressed mother.
       Josh and Nick are completely different from each other. In Likes and Dislikes I mean. Josh likes G.I. Joes, Guns, and Army men. Nick likes books and painting. Since both of them have only a hand each it is slightly difficult to co-ordinate both these varied interests at the same time. Nick obviously needs more time, but Josh is a little impatient. He starts to mutter under his breath, pout and then finally scream out that he is bored. Nick then sighs, and tells me to give his popsicle to Josh, which is exactly what Josh has been wanting all along. 
       They are 4 years old and can walk on their own. When they were babies it was very difficult because being unaware of their limited dexterity or mobility, they would want to crawl to different places and end up pulling each other. Just in case you are wondering, no it doesn't hurt. Then we would start keeping the toys in different corners of the room. Finally they learnt the art of co-operation and would retrieve both the toys from their separate corners. 
       They are inseparable. Yes, I am aware of the irony here. They fight and even punch each other. But they always eat together, sleep together and do everything together. If Josh is hungry, he waits for Nick to get hungry. If Nick wants to paint, Josh plays patiently for some more time. Interrupting at times for the popsicle though. When one wakes up, the other does too. When one wants to go poo the other wants too. If you were to see them, you would guess straightaway that Josh is mischievous. His eyes twinkle and he is a cunning little brat. But Nick is an angel. All golden curls and big blue eyes. 
And sometimes I feel they can read each others minds. Yes, I'm sure. They can.
We carry them around in the car. We also have a double pram that was modified to a single 'double seater' pram by the Local Hospital. When they walk for more than 20 minutes, they get tired. Blame it on the three legs they share.  
Not that we take them to the city except to see the Doctor. To avoid the stares and bemused expressions. So mostly what they have seen in all of their 6 years is this little town of Pinner and the countryside. Which I guess makes them pretty much calm. And appreciators of nature.
Teaching them to read and write was easy. At Home. Going to school was not an option. Because one of us would have to be there with them at all times. And school can have bullies. I might seem possessive, but I'm a mother. And it is my fault that they have been born this way. Not theirs. I can never see them suffer. The horrible words I uttered after giving birth still echo in my ears, and I try to ignore the voices. But regret and guilt are not mere flies you can swat away.
       Three months ago, we found out that Josh was falling more and more sick. He was growing weaker and more emaciated. The Doctor said Josh's body was giving up. On Life. His immunity was weakening. He would not survive another 3-4 months was clear. I could still try to save Nick. 
'You are sure Josh will die. Are you sure Nick will survive if I agree to the surgery? Will you write it down, seal it and hand it over to me with your signature?' I asked. 'No. I don't know if he will survive. But there is a 50% chance'. He said and looked away. 'If they die, they die together' I announced.
       The medications, the lengths of tubes, the blinking lights, the gentle hum of the monitoring systems were all part of our waking nightmares for the next 3 months. 
       Veronica and I held them throughout those 3 months. Not a single moment went by that we left their bedside. 3 months. Can you believe? The pain that ate us inside? Seeing someone you love rot away, ever so slowly. Sometimes you would wish to strangle them then and there, just to stop their suffering. But we had Hope. That Guileful Mirage. Hope.
Josh stopped asking for popsicles yesterday morning. Nick stopped telling me to give them to him soon after. 
My Perfect Sons. 
Brothers till the end.


the critics said...

a sad yet beautifu7l end to a wonderful spoke a lot, not only on the twins but thorough the mothers and veronica characters too....nice

Shilpa Nair said...

@ TC - Yes, I almost believed I was the Mother character in the story, n I would have chosen the same ending for the twins...

Castle said...

I juss chanced upon your blog and dunno why but I just kept reading them one after the other like am possessed :P.. this one's awesome. Its an eye opener for people who just throw away their kid for reasons as flimsy as "its a girl child". Gosh how much i hate 'em. Brilliant capture of a woman's feelings and nicely worded life of conjoined twins.. keep blogging 4eva Shilpa.. :)

Shilpa Nair said...

@castle, I'm so glad to have yet another reader who appreciates my writing. Thank u for ur kind words :)

Enchanta said...

I cried.

I don't know what more to say.

But I just cried.


Shilpa Nair said...

Awwww........but I cried too. U should readLori lansen's 'the girls'.....U will be completely bowled over.