Niamh of the North Star

Niamh of the North Star

PRESENT DAY
NORTH OAKS HOSPITAL

The ocean blushed a rosy hue as it swallowed the last slice of the  boiling sun. The boulders against the craggy edges of the mountainside far across my window stood dark and tall. The waves were a soft splash of lace against their feet. 

Mira has got me a hospital room with a view! 

She always does things in style. 

That silly child!

My end is nearing and strangely I’m at peace. The various tubes and needles sticking into my flesh and my aged, wrinkled skin don’t bother me anymore. 

Mira is a well known name today in the research for cancer treatment.

All my life I had worried for nothing. About how she would  cope or survive without me…after me. 

I can now exit this world without a burden on my soul. I had never imagined that she would be so wise, independent and worldly smart. 

I can see her through the glass walls from where I’m now, in a serious discussion with her team. She turns her head for a moment to look at me and gives me a tender, loving smile. A slight nod of assurance too which makes me close my fluttering eyelids and rewind my life…

***

BOOK 1

PART 1
‘Rage of the Angels’

Mira 
Age 17

June 15 
5.40 p.m.

“House rules are meant to protect one’s own, not to bind them”, I tried to cajole her. But my advice fell on deaf ears.

“You are paranoid and…and… phobic!” 

Mira crossed her arms defiantly and glowered at me. She had enough volatility in her to raise the roof. 

Placating anyone was never my forte. Facing her, I speechlessly looked out of the window behind her and saw dark clouds gathering outside.

They hung heavy and low, auguring a tremendous explosion  any moment with curtains of downpour. The dense clouds began to rumble as a war cry would. 

Meanwhile, I could also see bad weather gathering on her usually sunny face. My ‘sunshine’ had been watered down to almost colourless.

The pressure cooker with the Pigeon Pea lentils for the Dal Fry whistled and hissed in the kitchen.

I could almost imagine a similar steam rising up in her, ready to erupt with a great force of unending words any minute now. 

And it did! 

An outburst! A sea of emotions! 

“I’m sick and tired of your rules! Your time was different! You will never be like the cool moms my friends have!

How can you be??!! You aren’t my mother at all! You’re only a step-mother!” she lashed out, her eyes throwing daggers at me. 

Her piercing words were an icy slap that echoed dully. Brick by brick the castle that I had built for us came crumbling down in a heap of dust at my feet. 

Dust! That’s what I had ultimately earned in 15 years…to sweep away…

With a toss of her head, she flounced into her bedroom and slammed the door on me.

I stood rooted to the spot, looking unseeingly out of the window, with the storm still raging outside, inside my teen, inside me…

***

As a young and childless widow, I had knowingly and willingly entered into a remarriage with a widower with a two year old toddler. 

I had fallen in love with Mira’s cherubic face and had embraced her as my own. As luck would have it, I couldn’t bear a child of my own without complications I was told. 

Maybe this was meant to be. So that I could focus all my motherly love on Mira.

At seventeen, Mira was taller than me. She thinks she is wiser than me, suddenly more adult. 

Seventeen, I was told, is the age where they are half-baked and half-cooked. They don’t like to talk, they don’t like to listen. 

They have no attention span and are zoning out all the time. 

They don’t like to be told, they don’t like to obey. 

I was too apathetic to reason with her at the moment. 

It took sheer mental strength amid mental exhaustion. 

I was sick with worry. I was numb with powerlessness. 

I was…simply bone-weary!                                           

I felt a pounding migraine coming on in waves and I slumped on the couch, pressing my temples.

PART 2
Ramblings

I was a gawky seventeen-year old once upon a time. A very long time ago. Every generation, every era had its own challenges and choices. Its own freedom and its own restrictions. 

After sundown, we were house-bound. Shadows loomed large in dimly-lit alleys and lanes. People didn’t venture out. Not even the grown-ups. 

In a quiet hometown, we made dinner and had it at home. 

Home! 

It was a protected sanctuary to return to.

But with technology today, the dark alleys, the looming shadows, the lurking dangers and worse have found their way into the safe havens. 

Social media they call it. 

Strangers have found a virtual entry into homes. And Mira was getting suctioned into this quagmire.

It’s impossible to keep everything at bay. I’m no supermom..much less a superhuman.

Could I possibly defend my fortress unarmed? I was defenceless against the invisible and the unknown.

I have restless days and sleepless nights, keeping a watch on the clock, on her screen time.

And my heart pounded like a million hammers whenever I caught her looking at her phone, sneaking in a hint of a smile. 

“What makes her smirk so slyly…who could she be talking to?”  My blood runs cold at the horrors doing the rounds on cybercrime stories.

Mira has found her tribe. Where I see uncertainty and dangers lurking in every corner and in every street, she sees the thrill and excitement with her new-found wings. Wings that are only as wispy and fragile as a Dragonfly’s. 

She thinks they are strong enough to span the vast expanse of the skies.

She wants to be an Eagle that soars high above the clouds, riding the breeze. 

She’s strong minded.

She’s like the juvenile lioness of the Savanna. Wild and untamed. She’s curious, with an unbounded energy. 

At the same time, she’s also as gentle as a Doe.

Vulnerable and lively all at once. Docile and gentle in a heartbeat.

She tells me that she’s my partner in joy, sorrow, game and crime.

She’s precious.

She’s my sunshine and also my sun. 

She’s my world! And I can’t imagine a world without her. An extension of my own being, my twin soul…

Things were so smooth sailing this morning…

This bright day was one lovely season of spring showers and rainbows.

But every mizzle and every sky awash with rainbows follows with the whippings of a squall. 

Same is true in the seasons of human emotions. 

They are unpredictable. Raging storms cause a whirlwind that I got consumed in.

Flash floods keep rising higher and higher. While I try to keep my head above the water to gasp for breath.

My migraine is worsening by the minute. Mira’s bitter words have taken a huge toll. What has gotten into that girl?!

PART 3

Reminiscences

Mira
Age 5

“But Amma, I don’t like greens. I hate Palak and green leafy vegetables and…and…coriander leaves…she pouted. “And all the herbs as well!” she added firmly as an afterthought. 

I had been amused when she had assertively babbled at the age of five. There was a packet of freshly bought Palak in the refrigerator. I had made her a sumptuous lunch and disguised the much hated but superfood spinach in more presentable ways. 

Lunch was a spread of Saffron rice, Naan and Palak Paneer.

After a filling nutritious lunch, it was time for her siesta. We both would snuggle under a Winnie the Pooh quilt while I would read Enid Blyton stories or Fairy Tales to her in my animated voice.

“Amma, I don’t want a story today. Sing me the special lullaby you wrote for me about fairies.” On some afternoons Mira wanted me to sing her to sleep while patting her gently and I would oblige:

“I’m Amma’s favourite child,
In a Wonderland I lie
Dreaming of the summers gone by

When I read about Tinkerbell 
And the shimmery wings of fairies
Thinking how thrilling it must be 
To be able to fly.

I had heard about them all, 
Fairies of Summer, Fairies of Spring, 
The ones of Winter and even 
Those of Fall.

Flower fairies, Tree Fairies 
Fairies of every kind
Even the one 
Who, to Sleeping Beauty, was unkind.

It was a dreamy realm 
It was a magical world.
Every Daisy, Bluebell or Buttercup
Might have a fairy hiding in them
I was told

I flew into this realm with magical wings
Stardust in my eyes, clutching at a moonbeam.
I still patiently look up
At the sky to see

If Witches fly on brooms 
On Halloween
Or Santa Claus glides by 
With his Reindeers and team

I have a Fairy Godmother, 
I have Angels
I have every benevolent entity 
Who can fly seen
And unseen”…

And even before my hum could  fade away into a soothing silence, Mira would have already arrived at the ‘Land of Nod’.

***
Mira
Age 13

It was spring cleaning day! Mira had enthusiastically joined in.

Cotton wool, ice cream sticks, paper plates and crepe flowers of myriad hues—these made a bagful of crafts which I had  preserved through a decade.

In the course of my routine  decluttering, I always chanced upon this box and every time, I opened it like it was for the first time.

Even though I knew the contents—handmade Mothers’ Day crafts and drawings made by Mira in school right from the age of 4! 

The greetings written in doodle scrawls were enough to have made me dreamy and race back in time when I would lead her by the hand to nursery school and kindergarten.

I had lined them up in front of me and looked wistfully at the progress of her handwriting over the years. From loopy irregular curves and lines to elegant confident strokes, it was like watching a time-lapse frame.

As the years advanced, so did the gifts. 

A one-line greeting and wish levelled up to a four-line poem.

The poems then made headway to page-long tributes.

As if the heartfelt journaling pages weren’t enough, precious pocket money was spent on miniature snow globes for me.

The snow white cotton wool birds made in kindergarten had aged since and had also changed their colour, marked by the years.

The crepe flowers, although faded, held the most heavenly fragrance of memories. 

The ice cream stick crafts had splintered in places, a reminder of the passage of time. 

It had feebly held its shape with scotch tape in my amateur attempt to restore it.

When I had found my way back from ‘Nostalgia Lane’, a good chunk of time had been eaten away.

The box of Mothers’ Day crafts was returned to its place like a fragile piece.

There weren’t any more Mothers’ Day crafts from school at her age of thirteen. 

Mira and I had revivified ourselves with snapshots of timeless memories. That we had celebrated Mothers’ Day every time, when she had held out her hand to me, 

Everytime, when she had sprung a surprise on me and chirped “Amma, I have a surprise for you” and handed out a specially wrapped sandwich from a cafe on her way back home,

Everytime, when she had poured me a drink in the sweltering kitchen,

Every time, when she had tiptoed when the light-sleeper in me was having a much needed nap.

***
Mira
Age 15

A new year had kicked off with a bang and a lot of gusto. It was Mira’s last year in her secondary school. 

Meanwhile, for the past couple of days she had been giving me subtle hints on how she has been collecting recipes for cheese sticks. 

Today, after her send-off, we experimented with her recipe of rolling Mozzarella cheese in eggs, breadcrumbs, flour, Italian herbs, chilli flakes and voila! a super-duper snack was ready. 

On a Sunday rainy late afternoon, munching on the cheese sticks, we had talked about the good old days when Mira was a pattering toddler. 

I missed the jolly good days immensely and the cherished moments right from her ‘Tots House’ nursery days where she needed help right from wearing her socks and shoes, to be accompanied all the way to and from school, which was an outing in itself. 

It was a fixed routine. Starting with tapping all the Touch-Me-Nots growing in wild random clumps fringing the curbs, she would look at me with pure joy as it closed shut when she touched it. “Look Amma, I put the plants to sleep by patting them just like you always put me to sleep.”

It was a repeat while we returned  home in the afternoon. “Look, Amma, It’s nap time for them. I must pat it!” 

She had never failed to spot stray cats and it would take a lot of coaxing to break her away from a meowing conversation with them. 

Or just the two wise souls staring into each other’s eyes in quiet contemplation and exchanging telepathic dialogues. 

Or a – “Look, Amma, pigeon…sparrow…mynah” and she would imitate their waddle and hop while they humoured her.

I had made it my routine to start from home early enough to give a window to all these flora-fauna bonding time and to reach school on time as well. 

Rainy days had Mira very crestfallen as her feline friends would go into hiding or slink into warm cozy unreachable spaces and the birds would be nowhere to be seen. 

The Touch-me-nots would be drenched closed. It was a forlorn walk to school wearing the much hated raincoat. 

Amma, the rains will make my touch-me-not grow more and give them more pretty pink flowers, won’t they?…

Let’s take a left turn from the carpark and my school is just under that block…See, Amma? I know my way around” she would babble all the way and I would look forward to dismissal time at noon when she would rattle off the happenings at school in a similar fashion, never holding anything back.

My walking-talking doll as I always called her. With the days just sprinting into a  marathon speed towards final exams that September, not to mention saying goodbye to her school, nostalgia was running wild as were the flashbacks.

And so on and on we had  recounted every memory from the time she was a tot.

 “And, if you want to, you could do it even now, I don’t mind.” she added hopefully. 

Er, what?” 

I said, I don’t mind it even now. You can put on my socks and shoes for me, carry my rock-heavy school bag, laptop and can you also accompany me to school, Amma? ”  Her wide eyes were pools of anticipation with reminisces.

I was dumbfounded and with mixed emotions my first thoughts were “Time! You are vile! Freeze!

***
Mira
Age 17

She’s a young lady now in junior college and although she hasn’t  changed much in this trait of compassion for the flora and fauna, a sense of civic behavior has reduced this to only a quiet gazing and capturing them on camera. 

As soon as she incessantly rings the doorbell upon reaching home, one must think that she wants to pounce on the teatime dishes. But no!  

“Do you know who I met today?” she says, eyes shining.

“Er, who?”

“I met Twig, Golden, Blacky, Baby, Benji, Rusty….”

“Er, yeah sure. Who are they?”

“Cats, who else!” 

And her phone is right in my face with the videos of their latest antics. I would be held hostage until I saw every picture and every home video of her feline friends. It was a routine every evening with new videos.

BOOK 2

PART 1
 Reflections

June 15
7.53 p.m.

Another cannonade of thunder  jolted me back. It was two hours and a little more. The door to her room remained shut. 

The torrential thunderstorm outside has almost abated to a gentle drizzle by now.

“She will come around when she cools down”, I comforted myself. Till then I had just let her cool down.

I hadn’t taught her how to respect me, I was told by her father. 

I’m a nurturer— my duty is to protect and safeguard. Maintaining peace is my priority. I don’t need an endless war of words at home.

It was futile to hope anyone would understand me.

My goal was to earn her trust. And I had tried to make that effort by being a good listener without any judgement. 

That’s precisely what had made her come to me in the first place with her innermost fears, ordeals and worries. 

Her angst was justified. Right now, she hates to admit that she was wrong.

I did understand that trying to find her own identity, her own niche at a phase like this was a colossal task. 

But she will… when the time is right

I tried to convince myself.

Meanwhile, during moments like these, I think of myself as—

A Lighthouse—where I stood in my own light and shone it outward.

To warn my unsuspecting sailing ship of the craggy rocks nearby.

To guide my lost ship in a rolling fog to safe harbour with my beacon of light.

I’m a Lighthouse for my child to seek refuge in. 

Right now, she was like a small boat which was thrashed about mercilessly by the tempestuous seas.

A sea of emotions that were volatile, which needed an anchor.

I waited patiently…

***

The door to her room opened after a while. I was embraced in a bear-hug for what seemed like a lifetime. And a doe-eyed child was remorseful.

 “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it…I know you mean well. I thought it over and now it all makes sense to me. Do you still love me, Amma?”

And undoubtedly, I do. I did love her fiercely and I told her so.

What’s for dinner, Amma?” She was ravenous by now with all that sulking, no doubt.

“Palak Paneer—your favourite.”

She let out a whoop of delight while I continued, “With Saffron Rice and Dal Fry.”

She had twirled me round and round in a dance.The turbulent high tides had calmed down to feathery frothy waves.

The rift had gradually healed. It always did. 

Life is like an hourglass full of sand. We tip it and the cup overflows again. Slow and steady…

PART 2

Recollections And Resplendence

Back To Present Day
North Oaks Hospital

I had earned Mira’s trust over the years and it was for keeps.

I would be there when she fell, I would be there when she rose.

I would let her walk her path, fuelled by her own zest for life.

Never holding her back, but always walking two steps behind her. 

My hawk eyes would always do double time.

I would let her see her follies and get her wisdom her own way. 

That way, she would pave new roads for herself

I would let her draw her own maps and explore uncharted territory.

But I would always be her compass. 

I would always be her constellation to help her navigate through the oceans and the rough seas.

When she wanted to cross that bridge to come to me, I would  always be there—
As solid as a rock, 
As strong as a pillar 
As resolute as a towering Lighthouse—
To encircle her with my ‘NIAMH’ like a shield.

When she finally achieved her dreams and reached for the stars, I had prayed that that day she would be the wise adult in my life who would hold my hand in my mellow years and show me the way… like a true North Star! 

My child, though not my own, was more than my own. Our souls were matched together in a divine realm.

She’s here by my bedside now, holding one of my palms delicately in both her hands and bringing it to her cheeks with moist eyes…

“Amma…you were more than a mother to me—a motherless child. I’m indebted to you forever. I will raise your grandchildren with the same values and upbringing. I’ll be a ‘Lighthouse’ to them, even though I can’t hold a candle to you in any way,  Amma…” 

“You can and you will…I have faith in you, my North Star…Aren’t… you my.. ‘Niamh’, Mira…?”

Her sobbing sounds grow faint as if coming from a faraway tunnel. I can feel my eyelids getting laden but a strange calm washes over me…

Miraaaa…I’ll… always be with… you…in spirit..” 

Each breath is a struggle….

A divine, loving ‘Niamh’ is slowly approaching me…

***
Author’s Note:
Niamh is an Irish word for radiance. It is used as a feminine name as well.
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