I woke up with a start and fumbled at the table top beside the bed. With my eyes half closed, I pressed the power button of my phone and squinted to take a better look.
It was three. Waani was still wailing and there was no trace of Amrita in the room. I shifted in the bed and tried rocking the cradle to no avail. Waani only wailed with increasing intensity. I was concerned about Amrita now. She wasn’t in the room and the stillness of early morning broken up by a child’s cries didn’t bring her in either.
I leapt up to my feet and gingerly lifted Waani in my arms. Resting her head against my shoulder, I ran my hand gently across her back, trying to sing a lullaby. Gradually, her wailing turned into a sing song attuned to my humming. Within ten minutes, she was sound asleep when I placed her back into the cradle and rocked it to and fro gently, my thoughts now returned to Amrita. I closed the bedroom door behind me without making as much of a sound. And tiptoed to the balcony. Usually I found Amrita there, supporting herself against the railing often during the bouts of depression that plagued our lives now.
To my surprise, she wasn’t there. I turned and was about to head towards the kitchen when the bathroom door slightly ajar caught my eye. Inside, the light was on.
I gave the door a slight push and it creaked under the force as the bathroom floor came into view. There she was, huddled against the corner,knees together, her face a dreadful mix of agony and guilt. She had been crying.
I said as I sat down beside her and waited for a response.
After excruciatingly slow moments of silence interspersed with our breathing,
She sniffed and turned her face towards me.
‘Is she asleep?’
I nodded my head. ‘She is.
Why don’t you come to sleep as well, Amrita?
When did you wake up?’
She dropped her head and was looking at the floor now.
‘Around two. I couldn’t sleep, Vaibhav.
I have been having these thoughts that I am not taking enough care of our baby. When I look at her, these scary what ifs start ramming against my mind. I am frightened Vaibhav. I can’t do this.’
I listened to her as I took her hand in mine and held it in a warm entanglement of our fingers.
‘Am I a bad mother?’
Only I knew how I had been dreading this question ever since Amrita had delivered a perfectly healthy baby girl three weeks ago. I knew this was coming and yet I hadn’t prepared an answer. I always knew.
I turned towards her and cupped her face in my palms. How I loved her so much it pained me to see her this distraught.
In sickness and in health.
‘No, you’re not. No one can tell you that Amrita. Trust me, you’re doing the best that you can. Would I ever lie?’
It took her a moment to register what I had asked of her and she shook her head.
I wrapped my arms around her and held her firmly. Her shoulders sagged, as if a load had been taken off, and she slid hers across my waist and let her head rest against my chest. I worked my way through her hair, running my fingers along the length and the same tune that put waani to sleep came back to me.
I sighed. With Amrita, everyday was a struggle.I had fallen in love with the amazing person that she was without realising that beneath the facade, there was a soul so utterly devastated that it took humongous amount of effort keeping up with the various manifestations of her depression, now made severe with post partum trauma.
I used to think the baby would change her outlook for the better.She had been happy. She had been all smiles and she had no idea I could see through that. At the second week after the delivery progressed, I knew she’d breakdown. I knew it was imminent and I had hoped I’d be there when it happened because as much as I hoped it didn’t happen, I knew it was inevitable too.
My thoughts were interrupted when she took a deep breath and looked up at me.
‘I love you so much.’
I said, my words caught in a whisper. I lowered my head and kissed her on the forehead.
She tugged at my tee-shirt, pulling at it with all the strength she could muster, and kissed me back on the lips. In that kiss, I could feel her longing to revalidate herself as someone who deserved to be loved. Tears welled up in my eyes and I struggled to keep them from leaving me when I couldn’t afford to seem vulnerable.
I wanted to make my way of dealing with her depression work. I wanted to give her the hope that she searched for, when she looked into my eyes.
When she committed suicide nine years later, she told me in a note that it really worked.
You kept me alive far more than anyone ever could.