At first, I thought her facial expression signified blame.
Those slightly parted lips, furrowed eyebrows, and teary eyes all but said it. That she was accusing me of hurting her. As if she was saying, “I never hurt you, and always cared for you. So why did you do that?”
She was right. She had always wanted the best of me. I was ashamed of myself. For putting her through that ordeal. She had every right to blame me.
It was only a year and half later that I realised how wrong I was. I had been down with cold and fever that day since morning. As I lay in my bed, taking slow, agonising breaths, she came into the room, bringing medicine and ginger tea for me. Her face held a similar expression.
It dawned upon me that my mum hadn’t been blaming me. She’d actually been worrying for me that scorching day as we lay on the blistering tarmac, bleeding and broken. That was after, as I later found out, her knee was shattered almost beyond recognition, and I had suffered comparatively minor fracture in my ankle and a broken clavicle.
Last year in February, my mum and I met with an accident near Jodhpur. It was a serious head-on collision. I was the driver. Mum sat in the passenger seat. We’d been going peacefully, listening to the music, when a Tata pickup suddenly blundered from behind a truck, startling me out of my musically-induced reverie. I frantically swerved on the right, but the pickup driver did the same at that very instant. Boom. The two vehicle struck each other with the sound that a temple bell the size of a room might make. Probably louder.
I do not much recall what happened after that, except for some hazy details. I had hurt my ankle and collarbone. I staggered out of the car, limping. Then I saw mum was still sitting in the passenger seat. Her door had stuck, and wasn’t opening. I blacked out for a few seconds. When I opened my eye, I was still standing on one leg (the unhurt one) and mum was sitting on the road, raggedly breathing. She was in immense pain, that much even my addled wits could tell. The thing with mum is, she doesn’t show pain unless it is really unbearable. It was unsettling and scary to see her like that and hear those noises coming out of her nostrils.
I forgot I’d hurt my other leg, and tried to walk towards her. As soon as I set my other foot on the road, the world went blurry. The pain I felt was like I’d never felt before and would not wish it to my worst enemy. I don’t remember screaming, but scream I must have. I sat again.
I realised there were people about mum, asking her how she was feeling. Like a stupid TV journalist might ask a man sitting on the terrace of his flooded house about his well-being.
I looked over the shoulder, on the scene of the accident. My gaze fell on my car. Or whatever was left of it. It was absolute carnage. The car had folded unto itself, and it occupied about half of its original volume. Its hood was emitting dark black smoke. It was hard to discern it clearly as a vehicle, actually. For all intents and purposes, it was a misshapen piece of scrap metal you might come across in a junkyard.
I lived with my guilt for a long time. I have been guilty of something or other most of my life, but this was different. This was a soul-crushing guilt. It penetrated deep into my psyche. It was like a physical, tangible weight on my chest. Most of it wore off only when I realised that mum did not blame me for what had happened to her. But I think some part of it will stay with me forever.
Thankfully, now mum has recovered almost completely. She still cannot walk what you’d call ‘properly.’ Instead, it is an adorable waddle. It has been improving steadily, though.
Still, walking like that must be an agony for someone like her who used to like nothing more save for watching morning astrology programmes.
She still likes to talk (I don’t) about the accident to anyone who would listen (I don’t). But not once has she even shown a hint of putting even a small part of the blame on me. She would entirely be justified, mind you. If I weren’t speeding, the collision would have been much milder, and her injuries would have been minor.
Often I eavesdrop on her conversations and hear her telling people, “Kisi na kisi ko toh yeh hona hi tha. Acha hai mujhe hua,” (“it had to happen to either of us. Good that it happened with me”) with a toothy grin.
It has become a cliché to say that you have the best mother in the world, but in my case it really is true.