The day her husband dies my mother removes the red bindhi from her forehead. She is a widow now. 

The day her husband dies my mother slides her gold and platinum bangles down her arm, one by one: clank, clank, clank.

The day her husband dies my mother sheds all her colored clothes. She wraps a simple, cotton sari around her body.

The day her husband dies my mother starts 13 days of mourning. She prays to the deities for peace because her husband’s soul may still be here.

The day her husband dies my mother stops eating Subway sandwiches. He exerted his last breath, while she was staring at the yellow and green Subway wrapper.

The day her husband dies my mother wails like an infant, curled on his bed, beating his chest, banging her fists to conjure up a magic power to will him to life.

The day her husband dies my mother lifts the black mangal sutra necklace, from her neck.

The day her husband dies my mother leaves their home. She can’t live in the same place where he died.

The day her husband dies my mother leans on her daughters to help her understand; we don’t know what to say.

The day her husband dies my mother breathes a sigh of relief. Four years of hospital stays, doctor visits, medical bills, lukewarm coffee, parking passes, people who talk too loud in waiting rooms, and sleepless nights are over.

Many days after her husband dies my mother begins again. She now has choices. She can leave the kitchen messy, watch television all day, and play poker with her neighbors. She can do this without shame and guilt.

Many weeks after her husband dies my mother has permission to plan for the future. She can commit to plans with her friends and not feel guilty if she smiles, wears extra red lipstick on her lips, and struts her hips with meaning.

A few years after her husband dies my mother says out loud in surround sound, while waving a red, white, and blue flag, the word, “Freedom.” Maybe he can hear her, but she doesn’t care.

***

Rudri Bhatt Patel likes words She is the co-founder and co-editor of The Sunlight Press and on staff at Literary Mama. Her work has appeared in Pidgeonholes, Mothers Who Write, Literary Mama, and elsewhere.