A letter from my son has just been delivered. It’s been a month since I received the last one, and as I open today’s envelope with trembling fingers, my heart migrates into my throat and stays there. I don’t know at what point I started crying, but my welling tears have rolled down my face and spilled onto the bottom of the page, but luckily not smudged the writing, which is still legible.
My son sends news of his well-being. It is how he always begins each letter, the first thing he always informs me, because he knows it is the first thing I want to know. Next, he lists the problems he faces daily at the border: new young recruits too subversive for their own good, a mysterious shortage of food supplies at the end of every week, and a fresh, “ultra-short” buzz-cut that leaves his scalp exposed and itching for days. I have always laughed at that. I can’t stop laughing now, despite the tears. One would think after enlisting in the military, like his father did, you wouldn’t be concerned much by such humdrum issues, but it must comfort many parents’ hearts to see that their children haven’t truly left them. This is just a different world they have gone to, where people do much of the same things.
His next news is every mother’s dream come true. He has found a soul-mate. He uses the term ‘friend’, but I know she is more than that by the affectionate way he has written of her. Sonia is a year younger to him and they have been getting to know each other. She heads the female garrison at the border, as he does the male garrison, and they spend several hours a day patrolling as a team. He feels great affection for this girl and I am so proud and touched by his candor that my heart settles back into my chest and warms me. More tears spring to my eyes anew. He has found someone who can care for him when I am gone. It is all a mother ever truly wants. If his father were still alive, I know he would have felt assured and content to hear this as well.
But my son has left the best news for last. The furlough he applied for has been granted, a leave from his duty for seven blissful days. In two short weeks he will be in my arms again. Joy overwhelms me, and my shaky fingers drop the letter, but I immediately bend to retrieve it. Through blurry eyes, I strain to read through to the end. He is bringing along my future daughter-in-law. I see that, at last, he has overcome his initial shyness and finally declared his love for her to me now. They both wish to take it a step further. He hid this from me for the past few months, waited until he and Sonia were both sure of what they wanted. I have waited thirty years to hear this. My knees go weak, forcing me to drop numbly into the couch. I cup my mouth. He concludes with his love and longing to see me again after one whole year of being apart. I hold the letter to my chest, over my heart, and I sigh as I think back to his last homecoming all those months ago when I got to cook all his favourite meals and pamper him for one short week.
This life of strict discipline and unforeseeable dangers he had chosen to live is what I feared would take him away from me. Not just physically, but spiritually as well, to the next life. It is a curse that tortures, a mother’s intuition. I cannot see how it could be seen as anything else.
Sonia enters the room with the glass of water. I had forgotten I had asked her to fetch it for me. She trades it with me for the letter as she sits down beside me and drapes me with a comforting arm. She starts to read it, starts to sobs, starts to realize what it is and whose words and handwriting she is reading, and when she looks up at me, she finally notices my tears. It is like a ghost from our past, triggering a maelstrom of emotions we never knew was possible.
I sip my water silently and gaze at the opposite wall of the room where two framed pictures hang. Pictures of the only two men in my life whom I loved, who were taken away from me too prematurely.
I notice the flowers of their garlands are wilting already. They need replacing.
© Amaan Khan, March 29, 2018.