Wales Arts Review is pleased to present a new series of literary vignettes, next up is ‘Snapshot of Grief’ by Nasia Sarwar-Skuse. These vignettes will be glimpses into the thinking of the writer and their experiences; from the day-to-day to the extraordinary. They might have the intimacy of a diary entry, or have the scope of something much larger.
It is a cold afternoon and I am in the garden digging into the hard soil planting a raspberry cane. In the evening I read to the children and tuck them into their beds. Exhausted, I fall into a deep sleep.
I wake up to the telephone ringing. Before I reach it, it stops. It is 2am. A text message pings; my sister, three words: ‘mum has died’. I stare at the phone. All is still in the house. I can hear my children breathing peacefully, the cat lies curled up at the foot of my bed. I wake my husband up.
Pacing the house, I am packing a suitcase. Frantic long distance calls with instructions I cannot absorb. I scribble them down:
names of people I don’t know,
telephone numbers of distant relatives.
I am planting kisses on my children, leaving them behind, they need their mother. I need my mother.
The sound of wheels on tarmac and the roaring of the engine trigger tears that creep like ants down my cheeks. A woman around my mother’s age comforts me. Another woman wipes away my tears. Their kindness overwhelms me.
Lahore is cold and foggy. Standing in the hallway under the family portrait, my sister wraps her arms around me. We stay like this for a long time. Two orphaned girls.
My mother’s skin feels paper thin. She is layers of colours, she is smooth as ice. The summers of my childhood linger in her hair.
We dress my mother in a crisp white shroud and adorn her face with roses and marigolds. She resembles a Frida painting. I tell myself to remember this always: my mother looking so young and beautiful in death, smiling as she is lowered into the ground.
At night a storm breaks out. I imagine my mother in the ground, mud running across her face. The angry sky makes me jump. I drop a cup from my hands, it smashes to the floor. I cut my index finger cleaning up the mess. I want to go home.
I am inhabiting a landscape different from those around me, mine is bleak with sink holes that pull me down. I am awake when others sleep. I eat out of necessity.
I am growing around my grief. Instead of wearing it on my face it is my epicentre that can sometimes erupt unexpectedly. But most days it simmers away in the background. My therapist tells me that I am making progress.
My mother was a keen gardener. In my garden I plant a dusky pink rose-bush in her memory. It is here, among the flowers, that I feel closest to her. In the breeze I hear my mother’s voice, she reminds me that even after death love does not die.