November 20, 2013KR OnlineNonfiction



She is the last of her siblings who is alive; Mother says she is tired. (Ba will never say she is tired.) Ba is my mother’s mother. She walks, leaning on the walker, from one side of the basement, the foot of the stairs, to the bar at the other end. This is exercise. There is a wet bar with its own sink and no drinks. (My parents, with a bar in their house, don’t drink.) Fluorescent tube lights, white and red. Stickers of sexy ladies tattoo the walls, a remnant of previous owners, thirty-five years ago; the decals still glow, voluptuous, pin-ups, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, spilling out of their green and red silk camisoles and chocolate-brown fur stoles, sitting with legs crossed or lounging on one hip. Across from the bar sits the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses, Krishna, Laxmi, Ram-Laxman-Sita-Hanuman-the-monkey god, Ganesh-the-elephant-god, Shiva and his trident, purple and magnificently furious. To be magnificently furious! The occasional background holy cow. The pictures show no children except a blue baby Krishna, scooping butter from a clay pot, but I know that many of them, these gods and goddesses, are parents.


Children are hanging off the bars. A child sits on a leather platform, another child pushes this walker. The platform is a shelf with no discernible use. We need things that have no discernible use. These children belong to me; they are my nephews. I like to use the word my. Children monkey bar across the walker—no, not really, but they are monkeys, they are squirrels, they are boys who love cars. They are boys: they love motion. They twist, shout, change direction, repeat, repeat. They push their great-grandmother’s walker across the kitchen floor in a spacious, five-bedroom, nineties-built home in Eastern Massachusetts decorated with lux European antiques, not far from water. For these boys, everything spins, everything is a toy, wheels equal toy equals theirs. They appeared on a hot August day, nearly seven years ago, in a hospital in Boston, c-sectioned from their mother’s abdomen. For them, scooters, skateboards, bicycles, four-wheeler motorized car; motion and mobility and running away from me and from each other matters. Yet another set of boys, with wheels or without them, running in the opposite direction. Chase me, they shout. Get me, they say. Gonna get me? they ask hopefully, they implore.


It’s a Cruiser Deluxe Classic Walker with Detachable Flip Back. My grandmother has one at our home. My father uses a simple metal one at the hospital. Prostate cancer. Basically everyone gets it, but still, we were surprised. They say doctors make the worst patients. My mother (not a doctor) says they are right. He would rather be home, he would rather be at work, but wouldn’t everyone? No one likes hospitals, but not everyone signs up to work in one. I watch him lean on the simple walker and the cords and fluid bags trail him like confetti. They are tiny children trying to outrun themselves, or even tinier ones, determined and shrill, to nurse.


You will use this for your knee replacements, your hip replacements, your heart when one of the boys you chased (not remembering they are supposed to chase you) breaks your heart. You stopped eating for weeks. You hung your hand washing off the bars to dry—the periwinkle blue bra you bought at a tiny store on the Upper East Side and the only white lace-edged black silk underwear you ever owned. You were embarrassed that you bought beautiful underwear for a man who found you at best, likable, who refused to say love. I like you, he would say. Hey cutie. And somehow this didn’t make you sad or angry for years. (Now, once angry, you don’t know how to stop.) Who was that person? And was she, though in her twenties, already limping along behind a cart of broken bones?


At the front of the big box strip mall store, next to the mall, they are lined up, to the side, congregating; they are parishioners after church. Strollers, walkers, canes, crutches, walking sticks. The cane displays a curved metal handle and is propped against the wall next to a single crutch. They are restless, ladies waiting outside for their sons to finish karate, nursing a cup of coffee. They are parents leaning on the fence at summer soccer, waving to their children, exchanging sangria recipes. But where are the people? The mall has eaten them up, swallowed them alive as malls do. Mostly they return, but burdened now by packages, brown plastic bags, clothes with tags, more things they heap upon the strollers or hang from the walkers or the wide red and gray shopping carts, which also loiter near the entrance and exits, waiting for trouble.


If you have a child, when you are old, you will have some place to walk your walker: a smooth place. I have no children. I don’t know when the irreversible collapsing will begin (it has already begun). The shortening, the shrinking, the pulling back into itself, the declaring, the rusting out, the turning. Where will I walk my walker? (Black, ridged plastic handles, smooth metal bars, a corruptible body, heavily leaning?) I am afraid to imagine fluorescent lights and white tiled floors, cool and patient and horrifying, a hospital or facility, assisted living, but I can imagine it anyway. I imagine it anyway. I should be doing other things (at this age), but I take the time to imagine it, anyway.

Sejal Shah
Sejal Shah is a writer, interdisciplinary artist, and teacher of writing. Her debut essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance, was an NPR Best Book of 2020 and included in over thirty most-anticipated lists including those from Electric Literature, Lit Hub, the Los Angeles Times, The Millions, Ms. Magazine, and PEN America. The recipient of fellowships from Blue Mountain Center, the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, Kundiman, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, Sejal is also the author of the forthcoming story collection, How to Make Your Mother Cry: fictions. Find her online at and @SejalShahWrites on Instagram and Twitter.