Every evening, when Mohit returned from work, his daughter, Shelja, and the pet dog, Ruffles ran to welcome him. Shelja would jump into his arms while the dog pawed his way in.

Today, they did the same. He held Shelja in one arm and used the other to pet Ruffles. Then he looked at Savitri, smiled and said, ‘peace’. She smiled back.

They looked picture perfect. Happiness radiated from their togetherness as the daughter gurgled with laughter and the dog wagged his tail. Seeing how contented they were with each other Savitri was overwhelmed with emotion. She remembered, whenever she hugged Shelja, she would call out, ‘daddy come, family hug.’ Today, she stood to wait and watch, but neither called out to her to join in the family hug.

Tears welled up within. Wouldn’t the picture have reached perfection if Savitri were a part of it? Why didn’t they include her in their togetherness? But what was stopping her from reaching out and joining in?

Seeing them together, why did she feel like “an outsider, a nobody?”

Hurt, anger, sadness, guilt, love, loneliness overwhelmed her.

Just moments before Mohit arrived, all hell had broken loose. Shelja was throwing a tantrum and Savitri was screaming in anger. Yet now she looked angelic and radiant in her father’s arms.

Savitri felt pensive. Was she hurting because she felt invisible? Or was she angry because they seemed so content within their inner circle? Would he listen if she talked about the tantrum? Or would he indulgently smile and brush it off saying she was overreacting, yet again?

Sometimes she longed for him to surprise her by actually listening to her side of the story and empathize.

Was she guilty for wanting to be a part of the moment, which truly belonged only to Mohit? She understood how calming a hug from Shelja could be after a long days’ work.

She owed him that space and exclusivity with his daughter.

Did she feel lonely because she had been waiting for them to ask her to join in? Did she feel excluded? Would they find her inclusion intrusive?
But was that even their intention?

Heaving a sigh she wanted to cry but that wasn’t an option. She was strong. Yes, Shelja knew which buttons to push but being her mother she couldn’t give in. Yes, Shelja made her feel insecure as a mother but she couldn’t give up.

Why were all these random, confusing thoughts clouding her mind? Why had she become so emotional just looking at them?

Was it because sometimes, Shelja behaved the same way he did? He would belittle her, be stubborn, show attitude or simply look through her. Occasionally he would cut her off making her feel swatted like a fly.

Her vulnerability and insecurity flared up. No matter how many times she repeated to herself, ‘I’m strong,’ it didn’t help. Once a relative had picked up the subtly in their not so good relationship commenting, “it’s interesting how he always manages to put you in your place.”

My place? Why did that feel like a point of no return? Whenever she experienced these emotions, she felt worthless. She felt like a hot air balloon – nothing inside except empty air. Everyone saw the colorful balloon soaring in the sky. But none realized that one misstep and she would either fly away randomly or fall back with a thud incapable of getting back on her feet again.

Ironically, Savitri wasn’t strong enough to stand up for herself but was strong enough to ensure that her true identity (read worthlessness) was invisible to others. Yes, she felt lonely amidst family. She had no friends for she had stopped making an effort when she realized that she had nothing to offer. She was running on empty herself.

She was weary of battling Shelja who was growing up fast. Mohit often made her feel like he didn’t need her. He spent long hours either at work fending for their future or spent his time with his children. He called them his ‘life.’ They were her life too. Why was that hard to believe?

‘Amma, I’m hungry,’ cried Shelja getting off Mohit’s lap. ‘Yeah, serve me too. I’m famished,’ added Mohit.

Savitri snapped out of her thoughts. It was a school night so she needed to put her to bed early. She had better serve dinner before she became cranky again. Mohit too became equally cranky on an empty stomach.

She busied herself in the kitchen. When she caught her reflection on the microwave door she let out a laugh. It was funny how quickly she could bury her feelings and put on the mask of deception.

And life carried on…

The mother who felt like the Outsider was first published on Women’s Web on 24 December 2018 / Image via Pexels