On the Phone with Mummy

Papa stepped into eternity on this day twelve years ago. Although I still miss him, what I missed most today was being on the phone with Mummy.

Mummy and I would make it a point to call each other every year on December 8. These were the most predictable of our many phone calls. We would always comfort each other with a verse or two from the Bible and then swap funny stories about Papa (and funny stories there were many). At some point, the conversation would invariably turn to Atish, my parents’ first grandchild, who was born on this day.

Mummy was with my sister in Calcutta for the birth. Papa and I were at home in Pune, anxiously awaiting the news. Back in 1991, the cellphone was still a few years out in India. If you were expecting an important piece of news, you had to be home.

Papa had barely budged from his post by the phone since Mummy had called to say my sister had gone in labor. It being a Sunday morning, I had snuck off to church, though I admit I could not concentrate on the service. And instead of socializing afterwards as I usually did, I had snuck back home as fast as I could.

The phone finally rang around 6 or 7 p.m. Papa picked up at once and was laughing joyously a moment later. As my parents chatted I stood impatiently by with my questions. Boy or girl? Time of birth? Baby’s weight? Mother and child okay?

Mummy would have answered all of my questions had we talked, but she was calling from a payphone outside the hospital and there was a long line behind her. It was India; we were not the only family with a new baby. Mummy hung up before I could take the phone from Papa, and all I got out of him was that he’d had a grandson.

It must have been seconds before Papa heard the news and relayed it to me, but it felt like years. And the funny thing is, although it was thirty years ago, it feels like it just happened.

I can see my slender young self standing beside the gray sofa while Papa is on the phone with Mummy. I can feel the tightening in my chest, that knot of excitement mingled with anxiety as I wait to find out if I’ve had a nephew or a niece. I am wearing a light-colored sweater or sweatshirt, I can’t remember which, but I know it’s something warm. The living room has large windows and tends to get draughty.

Papa and I hug and congratulate each other for becoming a grandfather and an aunt, respectively. December 8 will be a happy day for him for the rest of his life. As for me, on this very day eighteen years later, I will be on the phone with Mummy as she tells me that Papa is at peace.

(c) 2021 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

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