My story about pillowsHow borrowed pillows helped me understand a love that comes not from a place of desire but generosity and kindness.
It’s nice to lie down in bed and be alone with your thoughts, when your life is running at a normal pace. But not when life is paused at certain uncertainties. At least that’s how my life feels as I lie in bed, surrounded by pillows. I sleep propped on eight pillows these days. Nine. I straddle one.
There’s been occasions when straddling a pillow came with the promise of pleasure. Now, it’s mere comfort. For comfort. For a broken bone. When my right leg goes over a pillow, it brings my fractured tailbone some relief.
The seven pillows come in different sizes. Let me begin from the one that serves as my headboard. Masand, or at least that’s what we have called it in this house, is actually a bolster pillow. My obsession with them began when I went to a friend’s birthday party as a child and noticed the soft white pillows in the drawing room. They were large and my friend’s mother was leaning on them, talking to her sister.
They appeared so content in their conversation, that I immediately imagined my mother similarly leaning against one, chatting away her cares. So, I wanted one. I became obsessed with the idea of such a white bolster pillow, for my mother to rest on and chat away.
But it wasn’t until many years later that my parents bought bolster pillows. They were pretty with colourful chequered covers and came with additional handmade Nepali mandala covers. They had matching chakatis. We used to have a low table in one corner of the drawing room where these were carefully arranged. Mandala Chakatis and the masands. It was a cozy corner. It is the most functional thing I’ve ever seen. My sister and I used it as our study table sometimes.
When the books were cleared and the table was laid out, it was our diner. My father and uncles would spend hours sitting at that table, leaning against the masands, chatting away over drinks. My mother would join them between cooking meals—her apron half dangling by her waist. My father joined her in the frying and stirring and chopping, but she still insisted on half-wearing the apron, as though making a statement. I never saw her lean against the masand and chat away relaxed, like I had once imagined as a child. But our pillows were colourful. The ones in my childhood friend’s drawing room had been white. Maybe they needed to be white? Maybe then my mother would see them as utilitarian and not just aesthetics.
White has continued to be my obsession with bed sheets and pillowcases. So, the day I was sent home from hospital, my mother had made sure my bed had a white, floral print bedsheet and white pillowcases. I arrived home in great pain, groggy with painkiller injections and in great anger at my own physical condition. Everyone scurried around the house to make me comfortable. My mother gave me her extra pillows. If you’re a pillow hoarder, you know what a big sacrifice that is.
My mother’s bed is actually dotted with pillows of all shapes and sizes. She uses a very flat one for her head. Then she uses several smaller ones for her knees, legs and her feet, and tiny ones for her face. Her legs have needed pillows since her varicose veins surgery, but also for wobbly knees caused by arthritis.
The ones used to support the face are called gala takiya by my paternal family. As a child, I thought it was a cute idea. A pillow for the cheek. But over the years, I’ve wondered why anyone would need a cushion for the face. You just look up at the ceiling and sleep. Or you turn on one of your sides, shut your eyes and sleep. But sleeping cannot be that easy. For my mother, who has nursed insomnia her entire life, pillows are precious companions.
When she can’t sleep, she arranges and rearranges them in correct order so she can sleep. She speaks to them too, about how the arrangement is just not working, and blames it for lack of sleep.
It’s only after being chained to bed by a streak of bad luck that I’m at least close to appreciating my mother’s obsession with pillows. My father, who shares the bed with my mother, interestingly, only uses one pillow. And when I came home from hospital, he decided to lend it to me so I can nestle my feet on them. My brother decided to lend my father one of his two pillows in the meantime. So, there’s been a lot of pillow-sharing love in the family since I fell sick.
My father has however taken it a step forward. The moment I was in my room, finally adjusting myself to the heap of pillows to form an additional layer of mattress, he had taken off to an upholstery place. He returned with a white pillow with a gold seam. This one’s for your head, he said. It’s going to help you sleep well. When your excruciating pain takes over the night, sleep is a deserter. Yet, it’s the softest pillow I’ve ever used and at least promises softness, should I finally fall asleep under the influence of the painkillers.
My father brought me one more old pillow for my back and two cushions for my whatever needs.
Paartha’s kitty donut pillow, and my brother’s travel pillow also landed in my room. But no gala takiya for me. With the internal injuries inside my face, maybe my face just needs to freeze in the Kathmandu night for now, and not perch itself against any surface.
So, I also borrowed my sister’s pregnancy pillow in the hope that it will cradle my fractious bottom, like it had cradled her tummy when she was carrying my nephew. It doesn’t exactly cradle, but the crescent shape at least offers me hope for soft dreams.
On nights when Kathmandu temperature dips, I slide my feet under one of the pillows, trying to trap my own warmth. But my toes are prone to chilblains and they itch as they warm up. The itch is less than contained by my feet. It crawls up my feet, travelling up the length of my legs and spreads like heat over my stomach. I lay thinking about my feet, my knees, my thighs. Of sensations behind my knees and along my thighs.
It will be a while until I run or cycle, or participate in any activity that demands I use my legs or my pelvis. But my legs and my pelvis ache for activities. They want to stretch across busy and deserted roads. They want to feel the gush of cold air that lap against the limbs, when riding a bicycle. They want to feel the warmth that spreads from within to the outside when straddling and pedalling. All the heat from the part of my body that is currently in pain, reeks of desire. Desire to be consumed by that freedom of being.
I run my hands across my chest, my shoulders and neck and feel thankful no bones are broken around here. It could’ve been worse, everyone says when I’m done repeating my near-death experience like clockwork.
Let me rest in silence for now. It has taken me the homecoming to borrowed pillows to feel gratitude for love that’s coming from a place of no desire but charity. The act of giving, that is what is keeping me alive.