Beb! Twenty-seven missed calls? Are you dead?” asked Filah.

“If I am dead, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” said Priya.

“You know, sometimes you are smart.”

There was no reply from Priya.

“Hey! What happened? You don’t sound you.”

“She’s talking,”

“Who’s talking?”

“My mum… she’s talking.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” replied Priya with a broken voice, “I need you.”

“Well, how can I come past the polices and armies guarding our area? You know they are everywhere!”

There was a silence again.

“I will call you later again to check on you beb. In the meantime, keep your mum company, and if there is an emergency, call me immediately, do you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“Good, I will call you then. Can you manage yourself? I am worried!”

“Don’t worry. I can manage, bye.”

“Bye beb.”

Priya’s mum has not been talking for the past five years since her father had passed away. Priya’s brother, Ravi, had left for Australia the same year.  Priya then took her mum along with her to the city. They never visited Menglembu ever since.

And life was not the same anymore.

Priya and her mum live in an apartment unit in Kuala Lumpur. It is a single unit apartment, far constricted than the beautiful wooden house in Menglembu where they had spent their lives earlier. No jasmine flowers, no chicken coops, no bird chirps and no backyard garden. Priya had to move out, however, for the sake of her mother’s health and for her work.

Priya goes to work early in the morning before the day breaks. Her mum keeps herself in her room. By the time Priya comes home nearing midnight, her mother will be fast asleep.

Sometimes, she wished her mum would open the door and welcome her home with a smile or a loving word.

She knew it will not happen. Words are too expensive for her mum. She had taken her mum to several clinics and hospitals to get her checked, but to no avail.

She never said a word, until one day…

Priya had to stay at home as the Corona pandemic has taken a toll on the world. People are told to stay indoors and to stay safe.  Radios and televisions are all about the number of deaths the virus is causing.

“The malligai poos will bloom again…”

Priya paused from cutting oranges and turned to her mum. Her mum is gazing at the empty air outside the balcony.

Amma?”

There was no sound.

Priya thought it was an illusion and continued cutting the oranges.  After a few seconds, she heard it again.

The malligai poos will bloom again,”

Ma? Is that you?”

Priya rushed to her mum and bent on her knees to grab her mum’s hands.

Amma, did you say something? Can you hear me?”

Her mum curved a slow-motioned smile and glanced at her daughter.

“The malligai poos will bloom again,”

Priya smiled back, with tears overflowing, breaking a deep well in her heart.

Ma, you are talking!”

Priya then rested her head on her mum’s hands lying still on her lap.

Amma, say something. I am Priya, your daughter. Can you recognize me? Can you hear me?”

Her mum’s gaze continued to the clouds floating outside the balcony.

That is when Priya had called her close friend, Filah. Filah knows everything about Priya. She is the only shoulder to lean on when Priya is feeling happy or down.

After the phone call, Priya sat beside her mother and held her hands. She could feel the old, wrinkly nerves of her hands. She massaged them gently.

Priya is not going to initiate a talk. She is going to wait for her mum to say something again.

As Priya gazed at the clouds, her mother turned to face her.

She scanned Priya from head to chin.

“You are beautiful,”

“Oh, amma, I missed you,” cried Priya.

Her mum smiled.

“The malligai poos will bloom again,”

“Oh amma, what malligai poos are you talking about? You know, we left Menglembu long ago. We did not bring back the jasmine flowers with us to KL,”

Her mother smiled.  She remained quiet throughout the day. When night fell, she went to bed.

Priya held a cup of tea and stood at the balcony, watching the roads. They are empty. Only one or two cars were roaming. They looked like toy cars.

Priya took a deep breath.

“Why now? After all these years, why mum had spoken now? Is it because I am at home most of the time now? Did I do something wrong? What changed?” she thought.

The next day, Priya made her mum’s favourite breakfast – idly and chutney. She was expecting her mother to say something sensible that day.

She fed her mum with her fingers. Her mum ate well but kept mum.

Ma, do you want more idly?”

There was no answer.

Priya decided to end her meal and cleaned the dining table. While wiping the table, she heard her mum say something.

She paused.

“Did you hear the neighbours quarrel today?”

Priya stared at her mum. She quickly took her seat beside her mum.

Ma, which neighbour?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Kingston. There is no noise today… even yesterday.”

Priya squeezed her eyes. She does not know of her neighbours’ whereabouts as she is rarely at home. Work had kept her occupied. Priya doesn’t know the Kingstons exist, even.

“I see. Do they quarrel often?”

“Yes.”

Then, there was a silence.

“They must be making love now.”

Ma,”

Priya was baffled.

Her mum smiled.

Ma, do you know what is happening right now? The world is in a mess. Many people are dying. There is a virus, you see… It’s killing many people. It is so dangerous that we must not leave home. I am at home now for the past two weeks.”

“The malligai poos will bloom again,”

Ma,” Priya sighed.

Priya left her for her unknown thoughts and went to grab a book to read. She sat opposite her mum, just in-case she speaks something again.

“What are you reading?”

Priya looked up at her mum from her book.

After a few seconds of silence, she replied, “It’s Kurunthogai Collections, with English translation. You know, ma, the Tamil love poem written two thousand years ago.”

Her mum smiled.

“My kohl-lined eyes that resemble flowers with many petals refuse to sleep… “

Priya smiled. She knew she could win her mum back using this book. This is a precious book which her dad used to read and discuss with her mum. Both were in love with the Tamil language back then.

“Yes, indeed, ma, my kohl-lined eyes that resemble flowers with many petals refuse to sleep…you remember,”

“Are you in love?” her mum asked.

“No… ma,” she replied hesitantly.

“You should be. Flowers wilt too soon… you should be in love.”

Priya tried to understand her mum’s double-meaning sentence.

“I hopefully will, ma,”

The birds are chirping,”

“Yes, ma, for the past three days, a pair of yellow-winged birds has been flying near our balcony. I am glad you could hear them,”

“The wind breeze… it’s fresh and clean,”

“Yes, ma, it is,”

“The malligai poos will bloom again… you must get married… have children… don’t wait until the flower wilts,”

“OK, ma,

“I will be here now… and then I will be gone…”

Amma, what are you saying?”

Her mum did not reply.

“Do you want to talk to Ravi? I told him you are talking again. He is busy right now. He will call us next week.”

There was no reply.

“The time is limited… fall in love… have children… be happy… don’t wait until the flower wilts…”

Ma,”

“Don’t forget the basics of life,”

“The basics of life?”

“Fall in love, have children, be happy… don’t forget the basics of life… I will be here now… and then I will be gone,”

Amma… you are scaring me.”

Her mum stared into her eyes and gave a wide smile.

Priya was afraid. She was afraid that her mum would go back to what she used to be. She does not want her mum to live without words again. She would not be able to bear it, again, after her phenomenal return.

Amma, keep talking to me, please… please don’t stay quiet anymore,”

There was no reply.

“Why didn’t you speak a word for the past five years?”

There was no reply.

“The bhumi is sleeping now… let it sleep… I will be here now, and then I will be gone.”

“No, please don’t, amma,” cried Priya. “Ravi will speak to you next week. Please continue speaking to me. I promise I will be by your side all the time,”

Her mother smiled.

“Don’t wait until the flower wilts,”

That evening was the end of her conversation with her beloved mum. Her mum walked to her bedroom and sat still, staring at the wall.

Priya cried profusely. She tried to talk to her mum, but there was no response.

“Hey beb, is everything okay?” Filah called to ask.

Priya sighed.

“She’s gone,”

“What? What do you mean she’s gone?”

“She’s not talking anymore. She went back to her room. I don’t know when she will talk again, maybe not anymore,”

“Hey! Relax, maybe she will soon,”

“No, I know for sure now, she’s gone into her world… her quiet world,’

“How do you know for sure?”

“Because the Movement Control Order declared by the government is ending today, so the world will get back to business tomorrow… that’s why, she’s gone.”

“Hey-“

Priya put down the phone abruptly and wept. She hugged her knees.

She realized her mum will not come back for now. She misses her. She misses the two-minute conversation near the balcony with her mum.

She misses everything.

Priya has to move on, no matter what. Her mum will stay to herself in her small room for a long time again, now, with no use for words.

Her work needs her tomorrow. The world needs her tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be another ordinary day, but especially different with her mum’s voice in her heart, which she would carry with her forever.

“The malligai poos will bloom again, amma.”

*** Header image by Camilla Frederiksen on Unsplash.

Are you a writer or a poet? Share your short stories and poems with us at editors@eksentrika.com Read our FAQ before submitting. Here’s another short story you might like.

ESSAY | The Lizard In My Room by Mwaffaq Alhajjar

Hey guys, this was a good read! I want more content such as this in my inbox.