A Little Surprise

Gemma Kelton - India


May 13, 2018

Mataji

 

4:00am. I check my phone and see a long string
of texts, exponentially increasing by the second, all sent within a minute.

 

Fifteen texts.

All from Mom.

Oh, dear lord.

 

            “Hi Gemma.”

            “Gemma!!!!”

            “Gemmaaaaaa,
where are you?????”

            “You
haven’t sent me any pictures in a long time!!!!!!”

            “!!!!!!”

            “????”

            “?!?!?!?”

            *attachment
1* *attachment 2* *attachment 3* …. *attachment 20*

 

            And so,
it continued like this. Endless stream of texts. A plethora of photos of
vacation destinations. That was when my Mom was planning her trip to come see me
in India, where I was spending my gap year.

 

I thought I was doomed. You know how moms
are: nagging you to clean your room, demanding you to put down your phone while
you eat, asking where you’re going and when you’ll be home, or about what’s up at
school or how your friends are doing. I thought I had left that all behind when
I decided to live in India for eight months, exactly 8,401 miles away from
home.

 

Was I so wrong. Whether you’re going to
college in Maine or living in a place like India, Mom will always follow you. There
is no escaping.

 

            “Hi
Gemma. What’s going on? You promised to text me everyday!!!!!!”

            “Mom,
that’s unrealistic. I’m busy here. I wake up at 5:00am, and start teaching at
7:00am. Ugh, I’m done. I’m so tired all the time.”

            “Welcome
to the real world. Now you understand what it’s like to have a real job.”

            “Yeah,
well, I wish I was a kid again. And I’m sick.”

            “Sweetie,
I am really concerned. Please take better care of yourself. Chicken soup. No
junk food. Lots of sleep. This is all good advice.”

 

            And so,
our conversation went on. After four months of being away from home and fending
for myself, I slowly began to understand that being an adult can be exhausting:
doing a good job at work; going to the doctor’s by yourself; paying for your
own food and clothes; going to places by yourself. . . I missed just being with
my mom, having her next to me to comfort me when I felt down or had a
heartbreak or just had a dismal day.

 

While she preaches eating healthy, she once
gave me an entire carton of rocky road ice cream and a whole can of whipped
cream, claiming, “Now, that’s what I call a cure for heartache.” She understands
my needs and me. I’m a real fireball, and she is my force of nature.  

 

            When she
arrived for her visit on December 19th in Bangalore, I was a
complete mess: nervous, excited, happy, apprehensive, and sad. As I stood
outside her hotel room, I composed myself. I brushed the sweat on my forehead
aside, wiped my palms on my pants, plastered on a smile and raised my hand to knock
on the door.

 

Perfect timing. Just before my hand touched
the door she opened it. Seeing me, she immediately jumped up and down, saying
“Gumby gumby gumby,” my old nickname. I have never seen my mom so excited, so
enthused. We hugged and just felt each other’s presence. We sat on her bed and
talked for a 1ong time about all my adventures: hardships of teaching, my host
family, and the enormity of returning to India.

 

            It was hard
to digest that she was actually here in India with me. More importantly, she
was in Bangalore, the city that I was born and lived in for the first half of
my life.

 

Ten years ago, on December 20th 2007,
I met my adopted mom, Erika, for the first time at my orphanage in Bangalore. I
had lived there for three years, after running away from the desperation of the
slums and its
raw, daily humiliations. There is little dignity for
slum-dwellers, so I decided to take my chance, board a bus, and go wherever it
took me. I was six years old. I knew there must be something better for me,
though I did not know what it was.

 

            I will
never in all my life forget the day I met my mother, I turned my head towards the
large mahogany doors, which stood majestically at the entrance of the orphanage.
My new American mom entered. She wore long black pants with vertical white
lines that followed her leg’s shape and settled just above the floor. The black
top she wore set off her pale skin. She was American. 

 

I
stared. 

She
stared back. 

I
waved. 

She
waved back.  

 

“Hi!”
she said loudly and enthusiastically, stepping towards Mary Paul, the head of
the orphanage at the time, with her right hand outstretched.  

“Thank
you so much for everything you have done to help me.” She shook Mary Paul’s
hand briskly. Then she leaned down and hugged me, her flowery perfume tickling
my nose. She looked nice enough, but her words came out in a thick, nasal
American accent that jolted my ears.

I
can barely understand anything she is saying
, I thought. What a
voice! Do all Americans sound like this?
I wondered. 

 

“I
know, Jyothika,” Mary Paul answered in Tamil.

“She
is from America. She has a strong accent. I know it is very hard to understand.
But go, talk to your new mother.” 

Still
clinging to Mary Paul I said hesitantly, “Hi, mama.” I showed her my small
notebook filled with addition and multiplication problems, and pointed to the stars
and “Good Work!” stickers.

“Oh,”
my mother whispered in my ear, “I am so proud of you, Jyothika.” 

 

Miles
and years had passed from that moment, yet on December 20th 2017, my
mom and I traveled back to the orphanage together. We hopped into the car from
St. Mark’s Hotel to the Vathsalya Charitable Trust orphanage, a 45-minute ride
away. As we drove, we each remarked of the changes that had happened to the
road leading to the orphanage, even pointing out certain homes or trees that
looked vaguely familiar.

As
the car slowed, the building appeared on our right, tall and off-white, with a
papaya tree that had grown many feet in the decade I was away. My mom and I
stood in front, holding hands, uncaring of the tears that flowed freely.

At
the entrance, I took off my shoes and walked up the five stairs to the same massive
mahogany doors. We looked inside and marveled at how different, yet so familiar
everything was. Ten years ago, we left the orphanage as mere strangers; this
year, we returned as mother and daughter.

 

As
my mom and I toured my old orphanage, children stared and swarmed us. I was one
of them once. I saw myself in so many of the kids. Then, I saw the care
workers. Though the children of the orphanage were unfamiliar to me, the care
workers weren’t. I remember all the countless hours, days, and weeks they spent
with us: caring for us, and teaching us the meaning of love. Seeing them again
ten years later was an unbelievable experience. One in particular, whom I grew
to be extremely fond of when I was there, embraced me in such a big hug that it
felt like she gave me all the love in the world. In that embrace, I knew she
missed me, and vice versa.

 

“How
is America, huh?” She asked.

            “Very good, very good. I love
it.” I responded, choking through my tears.  

“Remember
now, to always come back. Never forget us. God is with you. He has praised you,
and raised you well.”

“Thank
you, thank you, I can never forget.”

 

We
embraced one more time, before saying goodbye.

In
going back, I appreciate more the journey I’ve travelled to be where I am
today. Without the help of the care workers and the shelter of the orphanage, I
would not have found myself with an amazing mom, in America, and have this
opportunity to return to my orphanage ten years later. 

My
past has given me a backbone, and I want to make a positive impact in this
world. I am only one voice, and I want kids who are in the position I once was
to know there is hope. I hope that someday, a mom like Erika will adopt them.
They deserve what I’ve gotten and have taken for granted: a loving family, a
caring mom, and a phenomenal education.

I
can never thank my mom enough for rescuing me and giving me a life that I am so
fortunate to live. She is truly not only an amazing individual who gives so much
and asks so little in return, but also a phenomenal mother, constantly feeding
me love, even when I make mistakes and disappoint her tremendously. There are
only two things I have wanted ever since I was a little girl: to go to school
and have a mom. I am so grateful for all that she has done, even though I don’t
say it enough. I truly am the luckiest daughter, and am proud to call Erika my
mom. Thank you, mom. I love you, momka. Happy mother’s day.

 

Gemma Kelton