Vedika was tired and angry, but mostly tired. Anger was exhausting. Her husband’s father was infuriating even in the best of times – he belonged firmly to a generation that seemed stubbornly incapable of thinking of women as equals and seemed to regard her dedication to her career as a character flaw. The deafening silence of his judgement for the fact that the apartment she shared with his son was not spotless made it difficult to hear anything else. The old man wasn’t overtly rude of course, but it was clear he believed his son would have been better to marry a nice girl from back home than this half-breed woman with an Indian name and green eyes. She did not want him in her home and she especially did not want him passing on his ideas about a woman’s place in the world to her son, Arvind.
For his part, the old man kept his counsel to himself. He hardly spoke to his son and even less to his daughter in law. Ajay, her husband, sat on the couch with a mound of papers fanned out on the coffee table in front of him. Medical records from India and America both, alongside a pile of insurance papers and another pile of brochures for assisted living facilities.
Pita, I know you value your independence and I don’t want to take that away from you, but after your fall last week we need to make sure you are someplace safe.
Pita had fallen on the steps up to his apartment and lain there for several hours until a young couple coming down had found him and helped him to his apartment. Vedika and Ajay had tried to get him a cell phone several times but he complained that the numbers were too small and refused to carry it or keep it charged. When his landlord had called to tell them about the fall, Ajay had panicked.
The old man was, well, getting old. He had worked hard his whole life and, while he had never managed to amass much money, had paid Ajay’s way through college without a lot of student debt. It had not been a gift – it was a contract, an obligation. Ajay had dreamed of being an artist and drawn constantly as a young man but when he had expressed interest in art college the old man had gone into a rage and burned his sketch books. He had not travelled to this strange land and worked and saved for so long so his son could be a starving artist! Ajay would be an engineer and that was the end of the discussion. There had been tears and words of rage but in the end the old man got his way. The two had hardly spoken since, it was only her husband’s sense of duty that made him insist on the old man moving in. Ajay and Vedika had fought bitterly, she did not want Pita in her home! But they could not afford to put him in one of those assisted care homes. In the end, tears or no, it was as simple as that: Pita could not live alone any longer and there was nowhere else for him to go.
The old man didn’t like it any more than she did, it was obvious. He had always been independent and didn’t see any reason why something as mundane as old age should keep him down. She almost admired him, in spite of herself. Meanwhile, the conversation was getting heated and both men were starting to get louder. She hushed them, it would not do to have the neighbors talking and Arvind was asleep in the next room for his after-school nap.
Pita gave her a look of disdain but lowered his voice and turned to his son: “Ajay, I raised you to be responsible and respect your elders – not bully them!”
I am not bullying anyone, but it is not safe to leave you alone at your age. You took care of me alone for years after mom died. Let me do my duty as a son and take care of you now.
Pita was silent, struggling with the fact that he knew his son was right but could not bear the thought of life as an invalid. The thought of giving up his independence to be a guest in someone else’s house, even his son’s, was unbearable; but there was no way out. He was trapped. His shoulders slumped.
All right son, you win. I will give notice on my apartment this month.
It’s not what I want, I’m not winning anything dad. I’m just trying to be a good son and take care of you.
Fine! What do you want from me? Do you want me to be grateful?
Ajay noted with shock that the old man’s eyes were filling with tears. He tried to embrace him but was rebuffed.
I will be alright, I am not some invalid that needs to be coddled. Just give me time.