Moving Mountains

All Elisa could think of on the flight back to San Jose was how she could get in touch with Blue. Kids who came to the Community Day School typically did not stay in the school for long. They either went back to a mainstream school or moved on or dropped out or sometimes just…disappeared. Elisa had not exactly kept in touch with anyone in the school since her departure a year and a half ago and she didn’t even know if the same people worked there. As soon as she arrived in San Jose and checked into a hotel, Elisa called Valerie, her old colleague from the school. If anyone, it would be Valerie who would probably know where Blue lived since she was quite clued in about the students and their whereabouts most of the time. Students naturally and easily warmed to her motherly nature. Elisa herself felt more comfortable talking to Valerie about why she needed to see Blue. She had not even said anything to her own parents because she was afraid of what they would say. Actually, she was more afraid of how they would react if they knew what she was hoping to do since they wanted her to marry again and settle down. 


Valerie was ecstatic when she saw Elisa and hugged her tightly. “You look fabulous! What have you been doing with yourself?” she cried warmly. After exchanging the initial bits of information about what she had been doing and how Valerie was and what had happened to the kids that they had known in the school, Elisa broached the subject. “Do you know where Blue is, Val?” she asked cautiously. She knew she would reveal the truth to Valerie but something was still holding her back from just jumping to tell it. Valerie’s smiling eyes met Elisa’s. “You still can’t get that kid off your mind, huh?” she asked. Elisa pursed her lips and said nothing for a minute. “Well, I guess there is something I need to tell you,” she finally said. Valerie sat back and continued to gaze at Elisa with just a hint of curiosity in her gentle, hazel eyes. Elisa laced and unlaced her fingers slowly while she thought a little bit about how to begin, completely aware of Valerie’s eyes on her. She began slowly and jerkily, avoiding Valerie’s steady gaze, the mortification rising as she recalled Raghuraman’s total disregard for his actions. She felt like she was in some way shaming Savithri who was always firm about what she felt was right and wrong. Elisa was convinced that Savithri would have been horrified by what Raghuraman had done, had she known. When Elisa had finished telling her story, she looked up at Valerie and what she saw was contemplation and not a hint of judgment.


Without once referring to what Elisa had just said, Valerie began slowly to say, “Well…Blue left the school about three months after you left. She just stopped turning up at school. When we tried to trace her, we couldn’t and we couldn’t find her mom either.” But she quickly added, “However, lately I’ve just sort of heard whispers about Blue being somewhere in Salinas, working,” when she saw Elisa’s face crumple, just a little in disappointment. “I haven’t really asked the kids but I‘ve heard Esme talking to some of the girls in class. You know how they are. They never tell you anything about themselves or their friends if they can help it. As soon as you approach them, they clamp up and use their silence like a weapon against you,” added Valerie with a little laugh. Elisa was disappointed, to say the least. How was she going to trace Blue in Salinas? Where was she going to go look for her in a city that she had simply passed through on her way down south? Guessing what was going through Elisa’s mind, Valerie said, “I will do my best to find out from the kids if they have a number or something. I am sure one of them is talking to her. Give me a couple of days. In the meantime, you might want to go down to where she used to live and ask the neighbors. They may know something.” Elisa bit her lip thoughtfully and nodded. She had to find Blue, somehow. 


The trailer park where Grace and Blue had lived was a small one, just next to the freeway close to the school. Elisa parked her rented white Neon and looked around in the hope of seeing someone outside their home. She had no clue where Grace and Blue had lived in the park and so looked around uncertainly. Luckily for her, a Caucasian woman stood outside her home with her two kids, attending to them but eyeing Elisa suspiciously as she walked up to her apprehensively. “Hi, do you have a minute, please,” she asked. The woman looked at Elisa doubtfully and replied, “Depends on what it is?” Elisa swallowed and approached her hesitantly. “There were a Grace and Madison Blue Raman who used to live in this park. Do you know where they are?” began Elisa trying to sound as casual as possible. The woman continued to scrutinize her without answering. After a few seconds, she asked, “Why do you ask? Who are you?” Elisa smiled slightly and replied, “I was one of Blue’s teachers in the Community Day School that she went to and I have to give her something that she left with me.” 


The woman didn’t say anything for a minute and then she responded, “They left about a year or two ago. Don’t know where they went.” “Do they ever come back…?” Elisa tried probing. The woman simply shook her head before nodding curtly and going back indoors with her two children. Unclear about what to do next, Elisa continued to stand in front of the woman’s home and look around her. Then through the corner of her eye, she noticed a woman watching her from her deck, about two homes diagonally across from where she was standing. Elisa drew a deep breath and walked up to her. “Hi, would you happen to know of a Grace and Madison Blue Raman?” Elisa’s friendly tone sounded a little forced even to herself. The woman seemed a little bit more receptive than the first one. “Yep, they used to live in that house,” she said pointing to the trailer home opposite her own. “Why are you asking for them?” Elisa repeated her story and the woman looked at her a little quizzically. “Blue lent you something? It’s usually Blue and Grace who borrow.” The woman looked a little amused. “No one has ever come looking for them, except for the cops.” 


Elisa ignored the woman’s sarcasm and maintained a fixed smile that hid her mild irritation. She knew the woman’s vague derision was probably justified but now that she was convinced that Blue was her niece, she felt protective about the girl. “They left one night without tellin’ anyone where they were goin’. Didn’t pay their rent for the last month and left the place a mess. It took the landlord three days and about $600 to clear out their junk, just piles of garbage. They really gave the rest of us renters a bad name. The landlord wouldn’t stop goin’on about how hard it was to get the rent out of them every month including the money for all the fittings they broke. That woman was a mess. Drunk silly, shoutin’ and yellin’ all the time at that girl. It’s good they’re outta here. Felt sorry for the girl sometimes because she was a good kid. But she sure is headin’ the same way as her no good mom,” said the lady resolutely, adding to Elisa’s angst. 


The squinting woman held up a dry, shriveled hand to shield her eyes from the brilliant sun that shone down harshly on her face and showed up her parched, wrinkled skin and the innumerable vertical lines around her mouth. The woman rattled on almost like she was waiting for someone to come along so that she could unload all her complaints about Grace and Blue, her dislike for Grace more than apparent. By the time she had finished, Elisa’s heart was pounding. She had to find her niece. “Would you know anything at all about where they went?” Elisa almost implored, timidly. “I would really like to get in touch with them,” she persisted. The woman looked at Elisa strangely and then broke into a smile that revealed a few brown and broken teeth. “I have an address that the girl once gave me in case anyone came looking for her and her mom when they happened to be not around here. She did say that that would be the only place they could go to since they didn’t have any money or any relatives. I think it is the home of some cousin. You might want to try there. Like I said, the girl was a good girl. She just didn’t get any support,” the woman said before disappearing into her house and returning with a scrap of paper. Elisa literally grabbed the paper from the woman and breathed a sigh of relief. It was an address in Salinas. So Valerie must have heard right from the kids.


As soon as she got back to the hotel, Elisa called Valerie, who was driving home from school and told her what she had learned. Valerie herself had nothing to offer since Esme, Blue’s friend and constant companion had not turned up in school that day. “Listen, dear, would you like me to come with you to Salinas,” asked Valerie in her soothing, teacher voice. She always took charge of a difficult situation and Elisa marveled at her ability to have a tight hold on her emotions even when the roughest of kids acted up in class. She had a way of stilling you when she spoke. Elisa gratefully accepted her offer. She did not look forward to meeting Grace alone since her one and only meeting with the woman had not been memorable or heartwarming. Besides, she was going to ask Grace for something she knew Grace would refuse not so politely and at that point she needed someone to be with her. “Alright, dear, I know you’re in a hurry to get this done. I’ll call Mr. Mitchell tonight and tell him I have to attend to something urgent and personal tomorrow. I do have all those days of personal leave that I have never taken. I guess a drive to Salinas would be nice,” said Valerie laughing a little. “I hope Cindy comes in tomorrow. I’ll call her too,” said Valerie before hanging up. Cindy was the teaching assistant who stepped in whenever the teachers had to take a day off because they were sick or had something else that required them to be away from school. 


Fields of lettuce, spinach, and strawberries whizzed by as Elisa and Valerie drove to Salinas, which was about sixty miles from San Jose. It took them less than an hour on a sunny and bright Wednesday morning to get there. There was still a cold bite to the air despite the fact that it was already late May. Elisa’s bright pink sweater and heavier than usual make-up did little to hide the fact that she had spent the entire night going over what she was going to say to Grace and how she was going to convince her to agree to what she wanted of her. Her heart was beating wildly both because of her fretfulness and the third cup of java she was having since she had stepped out of the hotel two hours ago. Valerie had guessed Elisa was in no fit state to drive as soon as she saw her. She had offered to drive and Elisa had gratefully accepted. “You have the address with you?” asked Valerie glancing at Elisa sideways as she drove. “Yup,” said Elisa patting her tan Coach, which lay on her lap. “It shouldn’t be too difficult to find the place,” Elisa added looking straight ahead of her. Valerie glanced at her again before focusing on the road. There was hardly any traffic so the drive was easy but both felt no urge to talk as each one was thinking about what lay ahead. Secretly, Valerie was afraid for Elisa, which was the main reason why she had offered to go along with her. 


Blue had told her a lot more than Valerie had revealed to Elisa, mainly out of a sense of propriety. She felt strongly about keeping what students revealed to her about their lives outside the school, to herself, unless there was a genuine need to share it with Mr. Mitchell or her colleagues. She knew Grace was loud and abusive; Blue had told her this. Blue had also told her that her mom had not always been the way she was, drunken and obnoxious. She remembered her mom to be pretty, sweet and loving and working as a secretary in an attorney’s office. Blue had been about seven or eight. Grace had been full of stories about her own childhood in Wyoming at that time. In fact, she had named Blue after the Madison River. “Your eyes are as blue as the Madison, sweetie,” Grace would say to little Blue holding her up against the sun that bathed them both in a golden hue. Blue would often reminisce about those times either with Valerie or Esme, especially when she had had a particularly loud row with her mother the night before. “She’s just become plain crazy now. I don’t know why. She was fine just a few years ago,” she would say to them. “She’s this disgusting bum now. She doesn’t even look like she used to. She was so pretty; my mom was so pretty…before she became this awful, loud, racist pig.” Valerie hadn’t revealed what Blue had told her about how much her mother hated South Asian Indians. In fact, she didn’t want to tell Elisa that that was the reason why Grace had ignored her when they had met on Back to School night. “Mom just hates Indians and she keeps telling me that I should too. I think she hates me because my Indian half shows up so much,” Blue would say sadly. “She doesn’t hate you, you know that. She is just an angry woman, Blue. You just need to work with that,” Valerie would soothe. Blue would just look down whenever Valerie said this to her, unconvinced and waiting for the day she could leave her mother. 


The girl had been close to sixteen when she had left school. She wondered if Blue even lived with her mother now. She should now be almost eighteen. Valerie turned into the street on which they hoped Blue and her mom would be living. The street was lined with battered pick-up trucks and unkempt lawns. Valerie pulled up on the side of the curb outside what they thought was Grace’s home. Switching off the engine, Valerie turned towards Elisa calmly and asked her, “Do you want to go in alone or do you feel it is okay for me to be there?” Elisa gave Valerie a look that made it clear that she needed her there when she spoke with Grace. Elisa held her breath as they waited a full ten minutes after they had rung the bell before they heard footsteps approaching the door. The door opened just a little and half a face peered out at the women. Relieved, both Valerie and Elisa silently observed that it was Blue’s face. As soon as she saw Valerie and Elisa, she opened the door and stepped out while closing it behind her. She looked from one face to another without saying anything, unsmiling; puzzled. 


“Ms. Brown what’re you doing here,” she finally said, acknowledging Elisa with the slightest of nods. Elisa was now completely convinced that Blue was Raghuraman’s daughter. Except for the brilliant blue eyes, there was so much of Savithri in her. The shape of the eyes, the aquiline nose, the full mouth, her tall slender frame, and the dark hair that cascaded in waves down to her waist, were all Savithri’s. The brilliant blue eyes were the only feature that made Blue, Grace’ daughter. As Elisa scanned her face with her newfound interest, she realized that there was not much of Raghuraman in her, maybe just the slightly weak chin. “Hi, Blue. How are you?” asked Valerie, giving Blue a hug. “My, you’ve really grown in this… one year, is it?” asked Valerie. Blue returned Valerie’s hug a little uneasily. “Yeah, it’s been more than a year, almost two years since I left the school and came here. What brings you two here? When did you get back to the US?” she asked Elisa abruptly. 


Not responding to her questions, Valerie took charge as usual and asked her if her mother was home. “We need to speak with her.” They heard Grace before Blue could say anything. “Blue! Blue! Where the hell are you?’ cried out a voice. The tone was still harsh but the voice was hoarse Blue made a gesture as if to say, “Well, now you know.” Elisa and Valerie exchanged quick looks before Elisa spoke up, “Blue, we need to speak to your mom…actually, I need to speak to both of you.” Blue looked at her like she had gone crazy. “My mom won’t talk to you. She didn’t even look at you the last time she met you. Why would you want to put yourself through that?” she asked. “It doesn’t matter. I need to speak to her. It’s important,” replied Elisa earnestly. “But…” began Blue when Valerie cut in and said, “Blue, please…listen to her. This is important.” Blue rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Suit yourself,” she said before opening the door. The house smelled predominantly of sweat and alcohol and faintly of urine. It was barely furnished and the few pieces of furniture were buried under clothes, papers, and just stuff. The curtains were drawn to shut out light which could have possibly made the place look a lot more sanitary. “Blue! What the fuck are you doin’? Where are you?” yelled the voice again from the unseen depths of the house. Elisa jumped a little because the voice cut through the eerie silence within the house. Valerie guided Elisa by the elbow and gestured towards one of the rooms as Blue led the way. Both Elisa and Valerie quietly followed Blue into a room. The smell of urine was now getting so strong that it was hard not to gag. As soon as they entered they saw her lying huddled on the bed, under which lay the offensive pan that made the place smell so bad.


Both Valerie and Elisa were shocked by what they saw. Although the Grace that they remembered was thin and wasted in appearance, she had still been spirited and feisty as a person. The Grace that they saw now was completely yellow and withered. She looked like she was just willing herself to live. “Mom, we have guests,” said Blue walking towards her mother. There was silence for a second before, Grace rasped, “What the hell girl? I told you not to let anyone in.” “Mom, it’s Ms. Brown and Ms. Cherian from the Community Day School that I was going to,” said Blue pouring out a glass of water for her mother. “Ms. Who?” asked Grace. Blue repeated what she had said. “You mean that Indian woman?” asked Grace and Elisa winced. Valerie placed a hand on Elisa’s shoulder before speaking. “Hello Mrs. Raman, we came because Elisa, Ms. Cherian had something important that she wants to talk about, to you.” Grace continued to lie facing the wall. “I don’t even know her. What could she possibly want to say to me?” she said, still refusing to acknowledge Elisa’s presence. “Grace, I am Raghuraman’s cousin,” said Elisa quietly stepping forward. 


Her revelation was met with silence. A curious Blue looked at her and then at Valerie and then at her again. “I am Blue’s father’s cousin,” said Elisa glancing at Blue and turning to Grace again. Reassured by the continued silence, she took another step forward, completely not foreseeing the stream of contempt that shot out of Grace. “Shut the fuck up and get out!” said Grace her back still facing Elisa and Valerie, with as much strength as her diseased body could gather. “Don’t say another word. Just get the hell out of my house,” she continued, her raucous voice cracking. Stunned, Elisa stopped short in her tracks while a baffled Blue looked on. Nothing Valerie could say would make Grace see reason. Blue, who was usually churlish and defiant, was made speechless because she was confounded by the altercation. Dumbstruck, she watched Valerie and Elisa leave. 


Valerie drove into the city looking for a place to eat. Both Valerie and Elisa were silent; Valerie focused on the road while Elisa stared straight ahead. She wasn’t as much as shocked by Grace’s reaction as disappointed that she could not say what she wanted to say. Deep within her, she had expected Grace to react the way she had, she even felt that Grace had been justified. But she had prayed that somehow she would at least get a chance to talk. It was going to take more than just one meeting to get through to Grace. “What are you going to do now, Eli,” asked Valerie still focused on the road. “I will come back again, and again, as many times as I have to, to talk to Grace. I have to do something for Blue. I can’t just let her end up like her mom,” replied Elisa resolutely. “I won’t let her waste away. Someone in my family has to make up for what her father did to her mother and her. Let me be that person.”


True to her word, Elisa returned the next day and received the same treatment. In fact, Blue slammed the door on her. When she went back on the third day Blue threatened to call the police and slammed the door on her. Completely dejected, Elisa drove straight to Valerie’s place. She was at a loss and now afraid to go to Salinas again. So what Valerie told her when she saw her, made Elisa just stare in disbelief. Blue had been rude and almost venomous when she had slammed the door on her the last time. But Valerie told her that she had asked Esme to tell her that her mother wanted to meet with Elisa.

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