We’ve learned to communicate better over the years. Like in any new relationship, it took us a while, but we seem to have our rhythm now. You might argue ours is not a new relationship, as such, but when you died, it changed our dynamic so profoundly, that one could only describe it as new, wouldn’t you say?
In those early days, I could only sense you through objects: your hairbrush, the white chenille sweater you wore on cooler evenings, the gold bangle I don’t part with. Our last outing together was to see a doctor, and you sat on a children’s ladybug stool in the full waiting room. I went back there a month later trying to make sense of it all, begging for something to dull the pain, as I sat on your stool, feeling your presence in that moment.
Soon after that, we started to speak as I slept. You tried to tell me it was your time, but I wasn’t ready, so you came back. Sometimes, you would come back a medical miracle. Of course, she’s not dead, she’s right here, yes, it was a terrible mistake, but all sorted now. But the person who came back was a translucent ghost-like figure – incomplete, lost. Other times, you weren’t dying, you were just abandoning us – it was the stuff of fiction: with a heavy heart, she says goodbye to her children for a better life elsewhere.
Eventually, the years went by, and things began to slowly change. I would catch myself at an angle in the mirror, hear the echo of your cane in an airport lounge. Once, I even saw you in my office, your wiry black hair swaying as you moved from one side to the other, a mirage, no doubt. Mostly, I see you at the temple, laughing, happy, as you take in the joys of a pain-free existence. And you smile at me when we lock eyes.
I waited for you by the water, where the pallbearers had let you go. I thought if I stood there long enough, we’d find a way to talk. Where at first you felt far away, as if the currents had swept you into unreachable depths of the ocean – later, I started to see you again, speak to you and feel you all around me. I began to realize, I don’t need to go somewhere or touch something to talk to you, nor do I need to hope for a dream – you have converged with the universe and are everywhere I look. From objects to dreams and visions, you have continued to lose form over time and integrate into nature, yet have never felt more whole, present, connected… more alive. You are the light in the sky, the earth beneath my feet, the burst of pink peonies, overgrown like ivy all around me, reassuring, fortifying, speaking to me without the constraint of words, the limitations of language – here you are, Mom. Everywhere.
I walk Ellie to the park on Sunday, where we sit under a Chinese banyan tree, one of three in the small space. A butterfly teases her as she watches its dance with interest. It continues to flit about for a little longer as if engaged in a private exchange with her, before moving on. The birds are in full form today. I recognize the Asian koel immediately and try to identify the others from their call, but I can’t. I sit back and enjoy their music.
I look for the ghost of my dead mother on Google Street View. First, I try the temple. This is where she spent most of her time when she wasn’t home. I half expect to see her standing outside the building, surrounded by friends, laughing and saying goodbye as they head home. Unfortunately, the Google map people shot the neighbourhood during the early hours of the morning –capturing empty sidewalks and closed shops – a shell of a street I don’t recognize.
Overnight, Zach sent me a link to an article published by The Guardian about how people around the world had found dead relatives on Google Street View, reconnecting with loved ones in their afterlife. I put down my coffee mug and begin searching for my mother in the early morning, as if I’ve just been given a fresh lead on a missing person.
After the temple, I try her apartment building. She rarely left on foot, but I try anyway. Another empty road. Next, I check our ancestral home in Pune, India, and our newer home, but Google hasn’t gotten around to that part of the cantonment. I think about trying other local spots, but the chances of finding her immortalized outside a restaurant she frequented or a friend’s home, are even slimmer. I run out of places to search and exit the app feeling frustrated, even if it was a long shot to begin with.
There is a freshness to my desperation I haven’t experienced in the nine years since her death – nine years tomorrow. Maybe next year, I will stop chasing ghosts.
But right now, I feel cheated again – this time by Google. Not realizing at the time that the Street View is updated regularly, I search for her like I do in my dreams, dreams in which she abandons us for a new beginning. But instead of an afterlife, she moves to Paris to become a recruiter or to Washington, D.C to get on the lecture circuit. I follow her, but she remains elusive, unreachable, an apparition.
I finish my coffee, thank Zach for the article, and make a small donation to The Guardian. Tomorrow, I’ll visit the temple to continue my search.