Flash Fiction: All Kinds of Mothers
It’s 8:30 on a Monday morning. So what is she doing in a gym class with Chanel bag-toting suburban grandmothers who seem to have nothing better to do?
On this unnaturally sunny morning in February, Minu felt sick at her community center in Oakville. She stared at the list of drop-in classes for the day—mostly for seniors and newly fired folks like her. There was water aerobics for those recovering from a stroke (It may be just what I need!); easy flow yoga (I could Shavasana my way through this one!); Zumba Level 1 (Too early for sassy swivels and general joyfulness!).
It seemed pointless at this time. She wouldn’t fit in. Today would culminate in an uneventful night, which would then stretch on eternally to give birth to one more day, identical to the one gone by.
“That’s deep,” said a voice on the verge of a giggle. Minu turned around, embarrassed.
“Hi . . . just talking to myself,” Minu said, staring into a pair of astonishingly deep blue eyes. “You know?”
“Why? Because I’m old? I’m only joking. I’m Gwen!”
“Minu. Nice to meet you.”
“Minu, that’s a sweet name. Are you from India?”
“Nice. Harini is from India as well. Mumbai, actually. Of course, you wouldn’t know each other. She’s in my class. I teach a ball class here,” Gwen said, the silver in her short crop catching the light. She spoke in clipped tones like her twelfth grade teacher, Ms. Vakil, thought Minu. Her taut calves were encased in neon green and black tights. She wore a bright yellow neon top with a black sports bra peeking out. Her short arms gripped a large turquoise exercise ball and a gym bag . “Why don’t you join in? The first ten classes are free . . . did you know?”
“I didn’t . . . haven’t been here in a while. Sure, I’ll check it out.”
“Girls! We have someone new joining us,” Gwen announced to a gaggle of differently sized women dressed in an assortment of bright leotards, racerback tees, sneakers. The owner of a Chanel gym bag stepped up to Minu. “Hi, darling! I’m Galina—and you are?”
“Minu. I like your bag!”
Thanking Minu, Galina introduced her to Hannah, Margaret, Charlotte, Harini, Angela, Julie, Deb, and Shrinika. Minu promptly forgot who was who. What was the point? She was just trying this class out and the “gang” was a group of Chanel bag-toting suburban grandmothers with not much to do at 8:30 on a Monday morning. She had already called her headhunter and was pretty sure she’d be at her new job in a couple of weeks. Smiling and nodding as the women filed into the room, chattering excitedly, Minu found a spot close to the door.
“Don’t get ready to run away yet . . . you might enjoy this. Gwen’s really good,” said a soft voice next to her, smiling, as Minu adjusted her leg weights. “It’s Deb. First time at the gym?”
“Yes. I usually go to a yoga studio down by Speers,” Minu replied.
“Ah . . . where the young ones hang out! Well, you might like this!”
Fifteen minutes into the warm-up, Minu felt her heart thump wildly as her legs turned to mush. She should have picked lighter weights. Gwen was screaming into her mic as Cindi Lauper thundered about “girls just wanting to have fun” over the music system. Minu rolled her eyes and grunted as the sweat from her forehead dripped onto the floor.
Minu, vowing to never come back, excused herself as the “girls” settled down for a post-workout coffee. “I have to work,” she lied. “But I will see you soon! That was great, Gwen! Thank you.”
As Minu backed out of the parking lot, her phone rang. It was her mother. She ignored the call and drove home. Tuesday was a drag. The sky was a dark gray as the snow continued blowing—typical Canadian winter weather. Her phone rang as she surveyed her bare fridge with a sigh.
“I called you yesterday but you didn’t pick up.” Minu’s mum sounded mildly irritated.
“I was driving. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, we are all okay. Is Arya with you tonight? Your papa and I would like to chat with her. It’s been two weeks,” she said, and coughed. Minu could hear her father shuffling around in the background. He was arranging and rearranging his newspapers of the week, clipping articles that he would go over on the weekend.
“Ask her how her job is going,” he said, his voice faint.
“Papa is asking—”
“Job is fine,” Minu replied tersely, resting her head on the cool surface of her fridge. “It’s been a busy few weeks. Arya will be here tomorrow night and then back over the weekend.”
Her parents knew that their granddaughter was usually with Minu on alternate weekends, splitting time between her and Arya’s father, who lived around the block. But Minu’s parents called sometimes in the middle of the week, hoping to speak to their only grandchild. She was sure they set a reminder for this: How can we needle Minu today?
“I can’t understand why you and Avinash can’t talk this out—”
“I have to run to the grocery store. I’ll call you when Arya’s here.” Biting her lip, Minu hung up.
The grocery store was so quiet that Minu was startled when she heard her name being yelled across the produce section. It was Deb, who broke into a wide smile. “Hey! So nice to run into you. The gang was asking about you... you missed class today.”
“I had meetings all morning,” Minu said, smiling back at Deb.
“Ah! It was Gwen, wasn’t it? She’s loud and she speaks her mind. But she means well. She’s thrilled that we are getting new people to join our class. She’s been teaching this class for over twenty-five years!”
“Wow, twenty-five years! You all seemed to be very close.”
“We are. Angela, Gwen, Harini, the others too... our kids went to the same school, they got married around the same time, and we had our grandkids around the same time too.”
“It’s like a little family,” Minu said, smiling. She hadn’t smiled so much in a while.
“Oh, yes! Deaths, divorces, second and third marriages... it’s a pretty active group,” Deb said, laughing. Minu looked at her manicured nails, which were painted a lovely shade of mauve. Her own mother had cracked fingers because she insisted on doing all the washing herself, for as long as she could remember. She wouldn’t hire a maid and she didn’t trust anyone.
“So, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow morning? It’s a 10:30 class, so it might not work out for you. But try to come,” Deb added, turning towards the checkout lane.
“I’ll try my best.”
Deb grinned. “You know, you remind me of my youngest daughter. She’s in Calgary. She hardly calls now but I don’t blame her. She’s been very busy. Working from home has been hard for her and she’s got no help with her twins. My grandkids love chatting with me. I wish we lived closer, you know? Oh, I never asked. Do your parents live here or are they—”
“They are in India. I miss them. I wish they were closer, yes. I’ll see you tomorrow, Deb.” Minu swerved and walked away as fast as she could. She didn’t want Deb to see the tears streaking her face.
Minu took a deep breath as she buckled herself in. She stared at her phone, the lock screen image staring back at her: Arya, then a month-old baby, sleeping peacefully in her arms. Her mother was there too—a blur, a ghost in the background. She had the uncanny ability to walk into a shot unannounced, unasked. But she was there.
“Call you in half an hour,” Minu typed. “Have news.”
Baisakhi Roy is a culture writer and journalist based in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Chatelaine, Broadview, and CBC. Formerly a reporter with The Indian Express in India, Roy is an avid Bollywood fan and co-hosts the Hindi language podcast KhabardaarPodcast.com.
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