I took my Mom to a local exhibition yesterday—one of those local “arts and crafts” fairs that dot our cities.
It was one of the few times she has been outside since her recovery from Covid.
My heart was pounding when I parked the car. There were unmasked people everywhere, and the memory of beeping oximeters is still fresh in my mind. My mind doesn’t remember my last salary, but it remembers those oximeter numbers very well.
Yet, despite my anxiety, I can’t keep her cooped up inside forever. We have forgotten the mental toll of this pandemic as we rush to get outside, leaving those older flailing behind – categorized unemotionally as “those with co-morbidities.”
The fair was set up under a colorful canopy. A green plastic carpet in front and, inside, many stalls of musty colors. Carpets, paan, pickles, saris, incense, and the booth where we paused the longest: buying nightgowns.
“How much?” my Mom would ask.
“Rs 500,” the shopkeeper would mumble.
She would eventually get it for Rs 300. (I would have thought I had struck a good bargain if I had paid Rs 450).
I don’t know how my Mom does it: but the strategy was the same at each stall:
✔️Never settle for the first price.
✔️Never show too much interest.
✔️Walk away firmly. Most often, they call you back. (They did)
We got back to my car with many nightgowns, a few mats, and some pickle jars. I let out the breath I didn’t know I had been holding and frantically poured sanitizer on her palms.
“Sad for them, right? At the end of the day, they make so little,” my Mom said suddenly.
“Then why did you bargain so hard?” I asked, astonished.
“To get a fair price. You can’t cheat.”
How do you know what’s fair? I wanted to ask. But I kept quiet because I remembered that each of the shopkeepers had laughed along with her, cutting prices, examining together the quality of “100% cotton” – their shared banter something I have forgotten with my swipes on a smartphone. Sure, my phone promises great Indian shopping experiences and delivers convenience. But it doesn’t give me these old comforts of connections.
“Get your Mom again,” one of the shopkeepers grinned, waving as we left. “You give better price next time!” my Mom retorted.
I smiled too and remembered that this is what it means to recover from Covid: To really cherish the beauty, the incessant joy of being alive. Sometimes, that joy is masked by the clouds of despair that hang over me. By the termites of loneliness. By the stress of not making enough money. By the loss of confidence. But as I drove back with my Mom, who continued to delightedly point out the green guavas, the prickly pineapples, and orange-hued papayas from all the street vendors, I am in awe of just what it means to live this day. It means just this: Be here now.
And to look for those papayas, the guavas, or that odd trembling leaf and smile that you have so much space in your heart for not just loss, but the sheer presence of love.