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She was happy with Nick and I was happy for her. Her happiness was my only wish. We were contained in our own defined space but those days came to an end which was quite unthought-of. Nick was in India on a project and his company decided to shuffle its employees with his name also featuring in the list. Nick and Choti were not prepared for this but they made their decisions. Nick went back to Australia, but not alone. I vividly remember that day when Choti came to declare our separation. I could have not stopped her, not for any binding reason. She left to leave an unfelt void behind and we never heard from each other. Finding me here would not have been difficult for her. But why is she back after so many years! Her words traced on the telegram echoed inside. My heart swayed with mixed emotions pulling me apart. I don’t know how I will react when I see her. Which part of me will react first. My thoughts also meandered as I steered my way to home. It was already lunch time when I reached back.
Entering inside my own place today gave an alien feel as if I was never here before. With heaviness in my legs and a throbbing head I entered inside. I knew the room where she would be but instead of taking a left from the courtyard to her room and rushing towards her, my legs took me away in the opposite direction. I settled on the single cot of my room. May be I will catch up with her on lunch. I felt like an escapist for no reason. I never did anything wrong but still I felt like one. Her room which was opposite to mine looked unapproachable with closed doors. I moved towards the bathroom to take a quick shower which I needed badly. Hari was in the room taking out my change when I came out. ‘Saab, when did you get back? Should I serve the lunch?’ Hari takes a break after lunch and comes back by the time of evening tea. He was already late today. ‘Yes Hari. Tell memsaab also to join for lunch. She must be hungry.’ Hari left and my heart began to pump up.
We meet like strangers at the dining table. At least she looked like one to me. We talked about her journey and other meager issues while I tried to observe beyond her aged skin. Her hair grayed in beautiful streaks and she had not dyed them as she always used to say. She no longer laughed. There were brief smiles which touched her lips and left almost immediately. Her eyes seemed dull and weak as she wore golden rimmed glasses. There was some casual chatter while Hari served us the food. ‘Hari, you may leave now. We will close the table.’ I relieved Hari. We might take time settling scores.
A thick cloud of silence and lugubriousness engulfed the dining room as Hari left only to be occasionally cleared by the clutter of the silver, taken out especially for the moment. I was mostly quiet even though I had questions within. Me being me, will not speak first. ‘So how are you?’ She could only break the ice. ‘I am good. I am good’ I reiterated asserting my well being or may be pronouncing it to reflect that I can be. ‘And you?’ I finally ask.
‘I am good too.’ Keeping her eyes fixated on the plate she spoke.
‘Where are you these days and what do you do? And how is Nick?’ I couldn’t stop myself further. Knowing Choti, this should be enough to give out her whole story. You had to just prick at the right place and she would just open up in front of anyone without any inhibitions. ‘My life is like an open book.’ She always said.
‘I was in Australia all these years working for an Indian IT firm there but took a transfer few years back. I am in Bangalore these days. In the same old city.’ This time she looked at me and our past together flashed in front of my eyes. The way we met on a bus stop on a stormy day, our further meetings on the same bus stop and then both us getting the same engineering college after the combined entrance and our decade together thereafter, everything still seemed so recent.
‘And when did you shift back here? What do you do here apart from painting such brilliant stuff?’ She moved the cursor towards me after her brief reply.
‘I came back an year after you left Bangalore. My mother had passed away and this place needed me. Not that I kept it in good shape but I am fine here. I don’t need to do anything for my living. There is enough money which comes from the farms. I can be me here and I am doing good. What brings you here.’ I quickly finished, throwing the ball in her court again with the discourteous question but I wanted to hear more from her.
‘Oh. So you are not happy to see me after so many years and want to know why I have come disturbing your peace here!’ I saw her lost mischievous smile and it relaxed me a bit but could not release my anger.
‘Yes. I want to know why you are here after such a long time to disturb my peace again when you left 25 years back without even thinking twice about me. Now why are you back? When you didn’t even bother to find out about me in all these years? What makes you feel that you can decide when you will touch lives of people around and then leave them unannounced the very next moment?’ I stopped to clear the lump in my throat, but before I could vent my wrath again on my Choti, she got up.
‘I never knew you think like this about me Jai.’ She rarely addressed me by my name. She turned towards her room. Walked a few steps but turned back. I never saw a tear in her eyes before. She said, ‘tears are a sign of weakness. And I am not a weak person.’
‘We were doing good together. Nick was the best thing that had ever happened to me. But our happiness was very short lived. We were to get married. My family was in Australia to bless us into our journey to the most beautiful days of our life. But the journey never started. Just two days before our wedding, Nick died in a car accident. My parents wanted me to come back then only but I wanted to stay back. I was carrying a life within me. Nick was so happy Jai. I was so happy but Nick left us. I gathered myself because I was going to be a mother soon and I felt blessed when Alice was born. But how ruthless can life be at times. Alice was born with an incurable disease. Both of us struggled for her life. She was a born champ. But my beautiful fighter lost 5 years back, leaving me all alone in this world. I could not stay in Australia any further so took a transfer. I have been trying to find you for years but only could manage a break through now.’ She could no longer hold back her tears.
I got up and took her to my arms. We sat in the courtyard, together but yet alone.
‘I am starting an orphanage and wanted you to help me in this endeavor. Earlier I was thinking if you could help me with the management but now I am sure you can teach the kids some painting as well.’ Her smile this time was free of the pain she stored for years. I smiled too. I got my life back.
Hari was surprised to hear sounds of laughter coming out of the house which had become reclusive of this place long ago.
Hope you liked the story friends. Have a fabulous weekend ahead. See you tomorrow.