When Jacarandas Bloom

on

my most vulnerable piece.

*

Even the city lights flashed in slow motion in Brisbane, the sleepiest metropolitan of the nation. Everyone was connected to each other with two degrees of separation in between; the slow lights were mostly out before midnight.  But there were places even quieter – my street, Amelia. Spring had befallen the jacarandas on full bloom, lining the sidewalks with overhung branches.  

From our bedroom window, my mother and I watched the jacaranda tree placed outside our house. The petals fell like teardrops. First in pairs; later, in a series. Everything was showered with a layer of lilac: a running child, the roof of a car, and gutters that stretched the length of the street. Sometimes windchimes rustled and the ice-cream truck playing an instrumental, high-pitched Greensleeves would invite clouds of giggling children to follow. Those moments of movement were rare. Most times, the days stringed together – today, yesterday and the decade were an amorphous concept. Where one began and the other ended, we had difficulty identifying.  

But my mother and I knew that, even in this haze, winter would come. It would take the showers of lilac and leave behind only the skeleton of a tree: naked and grieving.  

On this afternoon, we heard the grazing of strollers against the asphalt before we saw the silhouette. The outline of a woman with one hand on a stroller, the other holding the hand of a young child. She wore a distinct dark orange salwar kamiza long modest outfit covering from neck to ankle and a headscarf covering her hair. When she reached our jacaranda tree, she bent down to pick at the petals stuck to the soles of her feet. In that moment, the sun shone on her face and I recognised her: Maya.  

Maya, my mother’s friend, now with two children that she did not have seven years ago upon arriving on Amelia Street. Two more children than her twin sister would ever have.  

‘They have grown up well,’ my mother said from next to me, watching Maya. ‘She was scared to give birth. But look at them – they’re so healthy mash’Allah.’ 

Maya’s fears were not unfounded: her twin sister died on the operating table of a fertility procedure seven years ago. Maya expressed to my mother that, before the operation, she thought she was seconds away from becoming a twin sister and auntie. She left as an only child. Ora bhool bon ke niche, she had said to my mother, her eyes hollowed. They took the wrong sister. 

But in the present, her eyes looked up at us. She waved, her small lip twitch resembling a smile. The permanent grimace she wore over the past six years seemed to be gone. 

Assaalamalikum.’ 

Walikusalaam,’ my mother and I replied in unison.  

‘Very beautiful,’ she said, admiring the lilac tree. ‘What are they called?’ 

Jaakaraandha,’ my mother replied. ‘The first time I saw them, it was like looking at picture or a film.’ 

Maya nodded. ‘The trees aren’t very beautiful in Bangladesh. My sister and I used to crowd around magazines filled with pictures from overseas. Lots of gardens and lights.’ 

‘My eleven brothers and sisters also did the same. We crowded around a magazine and think -this is what Jannah would look like, no? We had so many problems. We think it would go away if we just came overseas.’ 

Maya shook her head. ‘It’s not true, no? You just get new problems instead.’ 

My mother laughed. ‘We don’t have our old ones, alhumdulilah.’ 

‘We forget our old ones.’ 

 ‘Yes… this is true. When I first watched the trees bloom, I started to feel like I was truly in Australia,’ my mother said. ‘I had finally left behind everything in Bangladesh. Watching a tree. We never saw anything like this,  no?’ 

In the space of silence, I imagined escapism of the jacaranda tree for my mother and Maya in Bangladesh. My mother shared a single egg with eleven of her siblings, but craved the chicken that was rare on their plates. Maya lived in the rural areas with each day filled to the brim with manual tasks – retrieving hot water from wells, cooking over bonfires, and patching rags together to create something resembling clothing. In Australia, my mother eats chicken almost daily; Maya only needs to do housework once a week.  

But there are new problems. I will never quite understand the fear of flying in an aeroplane for the first time, covering my mouth when I speak English, or the silence of the neighbourhood of Amelia Street as deafening against the twenty-four-seven bustle of Dhaka. Where my mother has lived through every experience I have had during my twenty-two years of experience, I barely know a third of hers. I don’t know who she was before my father – before the outburst of rage, beats and bruises on her arms, and the strings of words that break bones. Some of the memories still stain our pillows: the bleed in inks of grey and black.  

On those nights, I jolt awake from the dreams, sweat formed on my upper lift, eyes stinging with tears because I could hear the devil in his voice: koota bacha! ShuurProstitut Sometimes I would get myself a glass of water and stand next to the bedroom window, looking at the very same tree. The trees were everywhere. There were jacarandas in my earliest memories of primary school, where I learned to play the guitar surrounded by wooden benches and chattering classmates. The first blush of spring leaving trails of soft lilac through my black hair before I shook them off. Even then, the soothing lilac could not shelter me from winter. The coldest nights were the ones where my father’s voice was the loudest; and by most mornings, he became a different person, cooking extravagant meals and buying expensive chocolates left in front of our doors. For this reason, we could never leave him – the glimmers of humanity made us want to hope, even when there was no semblance of remorse on his lips. 

Yet, alhumdulilahat least they are different pains. Alhumdulilahthat my mother and found a place for ourselves in neighbourhoods with kind elderly women who saw me as their granddaughter. Though we may not be Australian citizens, we have the ability to return to welfare support as New Zealand citizens: we belong to a country that can fund us to live. While we wait, we enjoy the luxuries of automatic hot water, the forefront of the technological revolution, and the blue sky that was impossible to find in smog-infused Dhaka.  

Though apprehensive at first, little by little, my mother couldn’t imagine a life without jacarandas anymore. From the first time she counted my fingers – all five, alhumdulilah– she said that she wondered if I would have a life like hers. She wondered if a daughter would mean handcuffs decorated as bangles on the wedding night: on her hands, and on mine. But this was only brief: as the days passed and the seasons changed, little by little, she couldn’t imagine a life without me either.

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