This story is by Vasanthi Jagatha and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Crow and Chocolate
The crow tapped the window expectantly. 88-year-old Radhika eyes slowly opened. This was the best part of her days here at the hospice.
I opened the door and offered the Thair Saadum – a traditional south Indian yoghurt rice. The crow cocked his head and looked at me with one beady eye. I sighed and looked at Radhika. She shrugged her shoulders and pointed at herself and then the crow.
I understood and smiled gently.
“One day you will die, and a crow will carry your soul as you visit your friends and family.” I said, repeating an ancient belief of Radhika’s culture. “And then you can eat your favorite Thair Saadum that they feed you.”
Radhika love for Thair Saadum was only eclipsed by a hearty bar of milk chocolate. I tossed my fish curry from lunch to the impatient crow. He happily accepted it.
Radhika pointed a finger downwards and smiled. “No no! not today!”, I said automatically. This conversation was happening every day for the last two weeks.
Radhika slumped against her pillow. Every night, she hoped it would be her last, but she always woke up to another bright sunny California morning. She was growing tired of it.
“Besides,” I gently reminded her. “Your children are coming. Maya especially is not ready to let you go”. Radhika nodded in agreement.
Just then, Maya walked in. She greeted mother her mother and quickly pulled me aside.
“Nurse Nina, how is she today?” Maya asked fearfully. Her mother looked a lot frailer since the last time she saw her.
“She’s fading” I said honestly. Maya’s eyes welled with tears. I squeezed her hand. she quickly dabbed her eyes, painted a fake smile, and headed towards her mother and forced a cheerfulness in her banter.
Within an hour, a tall, swarthy man in his fifties walked in. “Amma look!” exclaimed Maya. “Jagan is here. He’s been wanting to talk to you for a while now.” she got up and made space for her brother. She quickly muttered in his ear “I know you want to have it out with her again. But please! Don’t fight. Let the past be.”. Jagan looked at her very disagreeably. The past was exactly what he wanted to talk about.
Jagan whipped out Radhika’s favorite chocolate bar and started unwrapping it. Maya grabbed it from him with a glare. She laid it on the side table. Jagan eyed Radhika apologetically. Radhika glared at both her children, willing them to understand that the chocolate was going to make her no worse than she already was.
It took Jagan five minutes to meander to the point. He leaned towards his mother as he delivered his speech haltingly.
“Amma. I need to tell you something” he started, “I’m angry! I’m so angry! You and Appa did not treat me well.” Jagan got up and paced. “As the first born, you made all your mistakes with me. You didn’t give me the same advantages that you gave Maaran and Maya. I suffered…I didn’t go to the right schools, got stuck in one dead-end job after another, married the person YOU told me to… “At this point, Jagan’s face twisted in agony. There was no ring on his finger, and I never saw his wife in all the times he had visited his mother.
“You punished me. You and Appa cut me out for something that my wife did…and he called me an immoral coward …and you just stood there!” Jagan’s voice choked. He turned his face to the wall with his hands balled up. “I stood with my wife! And you disowned me. She disowned me too.” His shoulders slumped. “I’m never good enough for anyone it seems.”
Radhika’s face softened and she lowered her head in sadness. She gestured feebly to the cupboard. I knew what she wanted. She had left instructions for me in case she was too incapacitated to do anything.
I quickly opened the cupboard and brought the blue and green folder. I handed it to Jagan. He looked quizzically at me and then his mother. She nodded at him feebly. Jagan began to get distracted by the documents and walked away.
Radhika’s breathing became worse as the day wore on. She was choking and coughing. The thick brown phlegm in her throat would not come out and could not be swallowed. Her body was slowly strangling her. Maya was feverishly moving around her mother’s bed trying and failing to make her comfortable. “She will live. She will get through this” she muttered constantly under her breath.
Maaran arrived in the later afternoon. He looked like a younger, classier version of Jagan. The pain of jealousy flashed in Jagan’s eyes as he briefly looked up from his papers. Maaran, having felt that jealousy all his life, avoided looking at Jagan anytime they met. He went straight to his mother.
It took her a minute to realize her favorite son was in front of her. She smiled. For a moment, the pain and age melted from her face. Maaran smiled and sat quietly next to her.
Radhika tried to speak but just ended up coughing. She waved for a paper and pen. We could not read her scratches- she lost control of her hand. She was starting to get frantic, using the last of her energy to say something to her son.
“Amma, its ok. No need to talk.” said Maaran. An animal sound left Radhika’s throat.
I said awkwardly “She didn’t know if she would see you before the end, so she asked me to give you a message in case…Anyway, She and your father loved you deeply” I looked over my shoulder to make sure Jagan was not in the room. “You fulfilled the dreams they had for Jagan” Maaran’s face suddenly turned cold. I quickly continued “She said you fulfilled their dreams, but they lost you. She understands and wants you to have this. “I opened the cupboard and took out an intricate butterfly brooch with inlaid gems. “She said you’d understand.”
Maaran looked at it thoughtfully. Radhika visibly relaxed. Her breathing became less labored as her worries lifted. The only thing left for her in this earthly world now was to ease her daughter’s pain.
She reached out to Maya and kept pointing at the crow. Maya nodded though not understanding. She then squeezed Maya’s hand and put it on her heart.
Maya’s eyes welled with tears. “I know. “She said. ” I love you too”
Radhika’s face portrayed determination and serenity. All was quiet for a few minutes
Suddenly, Radhika heaved her body to the side with an agility that I had not seen in 3 weeks and grabbed the unwrapped chocolate bar that Jagan bought. Before anyone could stop her, she stuffed her mouth and choked immediately. The beeping machine next to the bed immediately screamed of the never-ending flatline. It was all over in seconds. All of us were frozen in shock.
A gleeful smile painted Radhika’s face. She died happy.
Maya screamed in raw grief as I held her. Her sons sobbed.
Soon, the doctor pronounced her dead and quickly left. I sat there next to Radhika quietly saying a prayer. Sad as I was, I learned to keep my emotions at bay and worked on packing her things. I threw the rest of the Thair Saadum on the windowsill. If the crows won’t eat it, the ants might!
The three siblings stood looking at each other. Eyes red, pain etched on their faces.
“Amma left me the house” Jagan said hoarsely waving the folder “I have a home again. She listened to me and saved me. Even though Appa specifically wrote me out of the settlement.”
“Appa is gone. Amma’s word stands” said Maya hugging her brother “You loved that home more than us. You deserve it!”
Maaran nodded in agreement. His mother had balanced the scales of fortune between the brothers, and he no longer had to feel guilty
“She left me something precious too – Periamma’s brooch” said Maaran, holding up Radhika’s older sister’s brooch.
Jagan took it and said thoughtfully, “You know, Amma always belittled Periamma for defying the family and playing by her own rules…but I always felt there was a tinge of admiration when she spoke of her. Maybe she wants you to do what Periamma did- break free”
“I know” said Maaran hoarsely. “I will pursue my dreams now and not give a fig about the ‘family reputation’ as Appa kept saying”
I looked at the window at this point. “Maya…look” I shouted. The crow that hated the rice, was gobbling it up.
“Amma?” Maya said remembering her family’s belief. The crow’s eyes had the same twinkle as Radhika’s in her happier moments.
He gently hopped onto the bed, took the rest of the chocolate off the side table, and flew away cawing joyfully.
“She’s happy now” said Maya finally understanding her mother. “She’s been trying to tell me that all day, hasn’t she?” we all nodded. Maya wiped her eyes. “I will let her go. Maybe not today but soon. I promise!”
I hugged her children and said, “Then let’s end her life story with this last final phrase… “
“Happily ever After”