The sweater sleeves end at the wrists, leaving the palms yearning for warmth. They rub against each other, crawl into woolen pockets, and hide in the folds of an old white throw.
There they rest, until that familiar-but-maddeningly-persistent ringing of the phone. They wriggle out, they have to, and reluctantly inch closer to the icy metallic touch screen that glows ocean blue.
The cold wrinkles the skin, numbs the fingertips and curls them shut. But open they must, to pour some chilled wine and cut some cool cucumbers.
Sometimes, to hide the shivers, the fingers cup the mouth as if in shock; run through the hair as if in doubt. They seek the heat in the folds of the neck, in the slope of the back and in the pit of the arm.
All the while blaming the sleeves that end at the wrists, leaving the palms yearning for warmth.
We welcomed the new year with a slice of pizza, a large bite of home-made beetroot chocolate cake, and a game of What do you Meme?
When the laughs died, and the friends left, we sunk into our couch, and spent the weekend watching The professor and the Madman, The one I love and The Hobbit: the desolation of Smaug.
The slow weekend dribbled into a week filled with the pressure of keeping up with new ambitious resolutions. Bursts of good news came in: A friend was getting married, another was buying a house, yet another was expecting.
Excitement hovered in the air. It was often disturbed by the familiar knocks that signaled the arrival of Amazon and Wayfair packages: a teal loveseat, a gigantic picture frame, and Turkish cotton hand towels.
Cabinets were cleaned, bedrooms were reorganized, and future plans were neatly laid on the table. New blank journals were opened and in them were written thoughts about embracing the year… no matter how it played out.
It’s the first snow of 2020 in Delaware. The curtains are parted and the blinds lifted, to give an uninterrupted view of the white flake gala. As if on cue, flurries land softly on thin grass blades; the air turns still in suspense, and the sky turns grey like freshly-laid cement.
It’s a drama that’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful, depressingly comical. A play of ironies, a dance of opposites.
The window bravely stands between the conditioned warmth inside, and the wild cold outside. While the branches languidly shake off the shimmering flakes, inside, a lavender-scented soy candle fights the gloom with its single wick. It throws light on everything at reach —the beige carpet, the grey paper cranes, and a dusty black heater that oscillates a continuous stream of hot dry air.
As the wax melts, the snow thickens. From somewhere far, the sound of traffic comes in like a muffled storm.
The phone blinks, a reminder of unanswered texts, story deadlines, and blocked calls. On the table rest a pile of handwritten letters and Thank You cards, to-do lists and recipes noted down in a haste… each yearning for a glance, some attention.
But all can wait. For, what’s on is a performance by the band of clouds. ‘Tis the premiere of snow in Delaware.
Evenings meant a 30-minute walk around our parking lot brimming with cars hot and shiny under the 6 pm sun. Until a Friday came along coaxing us to shed the routine. We decided, instead, to stand in the glow of the moon, and lose count of the gazillion stars in the dark sky. We headed to nearby Augustine beach, a small beach along the coast of the Delaware river, from where you can see the Hope Creek Power Plant relieve smoke and a thin strip of New Jersey skyline coyly graze the shore. We parked our car, and through the sunroof looked at the sky turn color from hot orange to dark blue. The stars hid behind the clouds. The moon, however, bold and proud, stared right back at us. Birds, small and big, crisscrossed like a spray of black ink on blue canvas. Dragon flies and other bugs added, it was like a lively Jackson Pollock painting. We sat inside the car, quietly observing the moon admire its reflection on the Delaware river. The water, the moon, and a cleansing cool breeze exchanged whispers and grew familiar with the young night. The clouds, however, gathered speed as if in a rush to enter the new dawn. Just then, the street lights came to life, swallowing with them the lively drama, and our little hope to lose count of the gazillion stars in the night sky.
My heart goes out to small businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who are having it rough in these uncertain times. All news seems grey – almost as if a giant cloud has lodged itself in the sky perennially. But the sun shines the fiercest when it pierces through the pillow of clouds. Now, more than ever, it’s important to look for those sharp streaks of sunlight.
Since March second week, when the lock-down began in the United States, my husband and I have been strictly adhering to the ‘Stay Home Save Lives’ motto. In the beginning, the weeks, which had become open and fluid all of a sudden, demanded some structure. Our home had to be rearranged, spaces created, to accommodate the new lifestyles of two working adults. Visits to the supermarket reduced, and bags of vegetables in the freezer increased.
I would remember this lock-down as the time when mornings were about sipping coffee unrushed, sitting next to a windowsill lined with well-nourished plants, and evenings were about whipping cake batter without a recipe, watching Brooklyn 99 with warm dinner bowls in our hands, and solving crosswords till sleep conquered.
I would remember this lock-down also…
…as the time I asked strangers/friends to send photos of their home office set-ups, and carefully recreated them in black and white illustrations.
…and as the time I opened a new account on Medium to write stories focused on art trends and art news. I have been writing artist interviews for a wonderful Philadelphia-based magazine called Artblog, but I had so much more to tell, and so often, that I had to start a blogging account to pour out my words. Follow my art writings here and here.
Life in the time of Covid-19, most importantly, has been about putting in consistent effort to stay positive. It has been about embracing the negative, accepting the lows, but also calmly, like a big round balloon, floating out of it, above it, and into the crack between the clouds where the sun always shines the brightest.
There was no big celebration inside the hotel room. Outside, the whole town of Nice had come together for the annual carnival. Abba’s Dancing Queen blared from the speakers. We walked past children with painted faces, adults with masked ones. Past the line of high-end boutiques and restaurants with al fresco settings warmed by outdoor heaters. We stood watching the sleepy Mediterranean sea gulp down the hot sun and turn grey.
Back in our hotel room, we switched on a French reality TV show. The participants seemed angry. Probably used expletives. But in French, the words shed their bitterness. It was a new moon night, a pitch dark sky engulfed the last hours of my 20s. When I woke up, I expected a new world. But the sun was already on its long slow dive into the sea. And the sea… the sea lay with a certain disinterest, stretching its blueness like a long yawn, stripping the day of its significance.
That morning, my husband and I caught the train from Gare de-Nice Ville in Nice, to Gare de-Lyon in Paris. We walked along the fifth arrondissement to a bright blue door at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where writer Ernest Hemingway lived and loved. Here’s probably where he wrote ‘The end of something’, we wondered while lunching at an Armenian restaurant amid French-speaking crowd. It was our last night in France, we spent it in a hotel that stood floating on Seine.
From inside, we watched the resilient river reflecting with clarity, the bridges that rose from it, the tall yellow street lights, and the high-rise buildings that shimmered in the background. The reflections danced the entire night. Until the dawn swallowed them just like it did the last of my 20s.
Time sometimes severs some relationships so far apart that you have to unspool some old threads of memory to sew them up. Like when meeting a high school friend after long — every conversation inadvertently begins with “Remember when…”
2019 was life changing. My husband and I, we walked in the darkness of Mammoth cave in Kentucky, explored the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and strolled the busy lanes of Miami on a sultry summer evening. We moved houses, and slowly, carefully, turned it into a home. We laughed over Frasier on Netflix, hopped in and out of several art galleries in Texas, Maine and Tennessee, and tasted the best of Bourbon in Kentucky. We had Amish ice cream with his folks, and lazed around in Rehoboth beach with mine. Most evenings, we sat on the couch, enveloped in a white throw, watching a tearjerker like Marriage Story (my pick) or a mythical action flick like The Witcher (his pick). Sometimes, the nights were short, sometimes, they continued to the wee hours of night, with conversations and arguments over several glasses of wine.
Somewhere in between all this, we, he, and I turned a year older.
In 2019, I read 23 books, watched 94 movies and 25 odd series. Over the course of last two years, I covered 29 States in the United States. With each new book, movie, or place, I came to know a little more about myself. Insecurity, fear and doubt surfaced at several instances. But so did bouts of courage, strength and resilience. There were episodes of sadness, happiness, excitement and dismay. Like clouds in the sky, they appeared, and disappeared. This year, I started learning a new language; built a routine that included Yoga and meditation; and took up a new position as the editor of a newsletter in a local women’s club. All the while, writing content for a Pennsylvania-based non-profit (Friends Association for the Care and Protection of Children) that helped 354 men, women and children find a home. I also Marie-Kondo’d my closet, finished a sketch book, and turned to plants as the new home decor option.
It’s been a magnificent journey. And for that I am grateful.
On the week preceding our second year anniversary, we find ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot. From among a plethora of options including Boston Ferns, Burgundy rubber plants and Yucca canes, our eyes rest on a modest looking plant named Peace Lily. Its white shell-shaped flowers wrap around a baby corn-like spadix like a secret. We bring it home, and place it next to our bookshelf. Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink are its new friends. Every once in two days, we water it. Every friend that comes home drenches it further in compliments.
Two weeks hence, we find a new baby leaf. Elated, we buy a new overarching acrylic shade floor lamp, just to shine on it.
Everything is peaceful, until one morning we find a leaf turning yellow. It slowly wilts and falls. The yellow, like over-watered paint, spreads on other leaves, and then to the creamy white of the flower. Concerned, we move it closer to the window hoping the first rays of sunlight would heal it. We fill our living room with plant friends — Anthurium, Kalanchoe, and chocolate mint; we feed it sugar; and till the soil with surgical care. We also bring in the Masters. Vivaldi, Chopin and Beethoven. Every morning, at the strike of dawn, they fill the house with music.
But Lily seems obstinate. She continues to shed some leaves, sprout some. She has grown taller ever since, but now and then, as if overcome by a sense of sadness, her leaves droop and turn color. She is not ideal, but she is resilient. Full of peace, hope and beauty. Just like love, just like a relationship.
Aren’t we glad that – on the week preceding our second year anniversary, we found ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot.