She is scared.
That before her breasts sag, before invisible crows place their feet in the wet cement that is her skin, before the first touch of grey settles in her hair, before she is need of a cataract operation, before she becomes the ‘one’ in the one in two women over fifty who get osteoperosis, before she officially becomes an Aunty to the twenty something who uses words like ‘tony’ in place of ‘posh’ (what on earth is wrong with posh?) before all these inevitabilities.
She is scared her hands will be the first to go.
Veined, mottled, worn, callused.
She cannot say for sure when the slow growing seeds of this phobia were planted, but she has hazy recollections of her great grandmother’s hands. Frail, white to the point of ghostly, covered in veins blue like the tributaries of a river, malleable. When pinched the skin would bunch together like a small ball of aata for a few seconds before deflating and joining the rest of her hand. She tells her therapist about this. But he rubbishes her theory and mumbles something about her mother. According to him everything is about her mother. She checks the diplomas on his wall one day when he is out attending to a phone call. He has obtained it through correspondence.
Her mother does not give her phobia any credence.
‘You’re just lazy. You don’t want to do anything, you don’t want to learn to cook or do needlework. Lazy. And you’re using some phobia-shobia nonsense as an excuse. So unfriendly also you have become, refusing to shake hands with Verma Uncle’s boy who came last week.’
The ‘boy’ was forty years old and had been digging his nose till the introductions were complete. How could she allow her carefully preserved hands to touch such a thing? God knows where else it had been.
‘And look how many creams you use. God gave us hands to do work, not to cover in expensive creams and gloves. How will I ever get you married if you are like this? Refusing to learn to cook and arrange flowers? Who will want you?’
She watched a show about a handicapped man with no arms who used his feet for everything. Driving, eating, cooking, dressing his children. His paintings sell for thousands. Inspired, she tried to do the same (trying not to think too much about how he cleaned himself after his morning crap)
‘What is wrong with you?’ her mother screams after an attempted coffee mug lift with her feet. ‘God has given you two good arms and hands and you are doing this? Chee chee! Why God, why did I have to get a daughter like this?’
She gives her seventy year old uncle a foot shake. A bad idea. Already gripped by senility he was under the impression she was trying to kick him. Silly old man. Why would she do that?
She goes without a fuss. It is all very quiet and dignified. Not at all like in the movies where a van comes and ugly men in white uniforms strap you to the stretcher and carry you away kicking and screaming. Oh no. Of course she was somewhat startled to see her therapist at the front door on a Sunday evening. But she didn’t see why she shouldn’t go with him. He had seemed so reasonable. Other than the little pin prick in her arm, the whole evening was very pleasant.
She isn’t exactly sure why she is here now. But she likes it. The room is clean, she is fed and bathed. And they give her gloves when she paints. Of course none of her paintings sell for thousands, but her mother always takes one home after her weekly visit. She is not over her phobia of ageing hands. But she can pick up a pencil with her toes.