Mother refused to come down from the ceiling.
“Ma,” I said, “please, stop being silly and come down.”
“Watch your mouth,” she said. “I didn’t raise a son to give me sass.”
I bent my head, partly in shame, but mostly because my neck was beginning to ache from looking up.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But what are you doing up there?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m just being myself.”
I stopped. It was true. She did look perfectly natural, sitting there on her haunches, stuck to the ceiling. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that she was up there, upside-down, and I was standing on the floor, down here. I looked around me again to convince myself that I was on the floor, because she looked so comfortable up there that it made me wonder if it wasn’t I who was wrong-side up. Nope, the furniture was down here, with me, and the ceiling fan was up there, with her. Still, I parted the curtain to look out the window. Yep, the lawn outside was down, too. I’d covered the windows in a hurry as soon as I’d gotten over the shock of seeing her up there, and had recovered my senses enough to realise that it wouldn’t be a good idea for the neighbours to see mother sticking to the ceiling. What would they think? I mean, she was my mother, and it was creeping me out.
“Please, ma,” I said, getting desperate, “please come down. What’ll people think when they see you up there?”
She gave me such a scornful look that I immediately regretted my words.
“What I do inside my home is my business, nobody else’s,” she said, stretching herself out and laying her head on her folded hands.
I kept expecting her to come crashing down, but nothing happened. She looked as cool as if she were lying on the lawn, sunning herself. However, the hem of her shirt and the curls above her forehead hung down, proving that gravity was on my side, not hers. That meant I was on the correct side and she was not.
“Ma, you seriously can’t expect to continue being up there. It’s not natural.”
She looked down at me–literally, not figuratively, for the contempt had disappeared from her face, replaced by what I assumed was pity.
“You know, you were much more accepting, and less cocksure not so long ago. What happened to you, kid?”
I bowed my head–this time in complete shame. But something wouldn’t let me back down. I looked up belligerently.
“Reality is what happened. Isn’t that what you sent me to school for? To get educated?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your past, your childhood sense of wonder. Books–and friends and teachers–they’re only to show you that there are so many other things out there. They’re supposed to add to your knowledge, your understanding, not replace what you already had.”
“But–but what if one invalidates the other?”
She laughed. “See? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. ‘Invalidates’. What a scientific-sounding word! Any one subject isn’t big enough to accommodate everything. You have to expand yourself, your thoughts. That’s the true purpose of education–broadening the mind, not narrowing it.”
I shook my head. “This is not happening. I’m having a dream, and soon I’ll wake up and everything will be okay again.”
She frowned. “Okay? What’s not okay now?”
I exploded. “This! This is not okay, ma! You, up there on the–on the ceiling, for God’s sake! I mean, do you realise how unnatural this is? You really expect me to believe that people can–can lounge around on walls and ceilings?”
There was no reply for a long time, and so I forced myself to look up, worried. Mother’s lips were pressed tight, and quivering. In spite of the ridiculousness of the situation, I found myself apologising, as if it was I who was wrong.
“I–I’m sorry, ma.”
She spoke after a long time. “I spent more than half my life living up…no, living down to other people’s expectations.” Her eyelashes got wet. “If I can’t be myself in my own home…if my own people can’t accept me as I am, what’s the use?”
She jammed her fist over her mouth to stop the sobs, and I automatically braced myself to catch her, should she fall. She didn’t.
Now I understood why dad had left. I promised myself I’d be a stronger man.
But right now, watching her crying, alone by herself up there, all I wished was to have her ability to stick to ceilings.
Author Bio: Subhankar is a grasshopper. He subsists entirely on dreams. Seriously.