She woke up early thinking she has to make breakfast for him before he left for school.
It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
She went and sat on his bed for some time, thinking about him and the last conversation they had before he left for school, last Friday.
She gave him all the love and care one could give as a mother. She was a mother, father, sister, and friend to him. She made sure that he never felt his father’s absence in his life.
His father left them when he was four-years-old. In fact, saying that she asked his father to go away, would be more appropriate.
Thirteen years was not an age to leave this world.
She looked around his room. His shuttle racket was hanging there on the same nail she helped him to fix, last year. The digital Piano she gave him as the birthday present was on one corner of the room. There was a sheet of paper with printed music notation on the music stand.
‘That could be the piece he was practicing on Friday, before he left for school’, she thought.
She sat on his bed for some time. On the side table, there were story books and a photo of him and her, taken when he was ten.
“It’s been almost five days since you had any proper meal teacher. Please come and have something. I am going to make Dosa”, said Geeta, her maid.
Everyone called her ‘teacher’. She is a college lecturer.
“I am not feeling well. I want to lay down for some time. If someone calls, tell them that I have gone out. Lock the gate also”, she said.
“At last drink tea and have some biscuits.”
His memories crossed her mind vividly like the scenes in a movie. The day he was born, the day he started to walk, the first day of his school…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone knocking on the gate of her small little house.
“Who is it Geeta?” she asked
“Let me check teacher”, says Geeta, as she walked towards the front door.
“Teacher, there is a tall man outside the gate and he asking for you.”
“Did you tell him that I am here?”
“I told him that you are sleeping and asked him to come some other time, but he said he will wait.”
Teacher moved the curtain and looked towards the gate through the window.
“You can go inside. I will open the gate”, she said
She walked towards the gate with the keys of the lock in her hand.
“No. No need to open the gate. I just came to …” before he could complete, she opened the gate and asked him to come in.
“I have to go back soon. I’ve asked the taxi driver to wait…” he said.
“Come inside. Please.”
“I reached here in the morning. I was in Shillong. I did not give my contact details of the place I stayed to anyone in Calcutta before I left… I had gone there just for three days…”
“Reena and her husband had come for the funeral. They told me that.”
“Hmm… Dad also wanted to come but he cannot walk now. He is really sick. He had a stroke. He is staying with them now. They have kept a home nurse for him…”
“Is this Arun’s room?”, he asked looking at the room where he saw some sports shoes, school bag and piano.
“Yes. Your old room. Arun started using it since he was six years old.”
“I will be back in a minute”, said the teacher and she went inside the kitchen.
“Buy a packet of milk from Shivankutty chettans shop. There is no milk to make tea, right?”
“No. We did not buy milk today. Washing powder also got over…”
“Okay. Take that ₹100, which is on top of the fridge. It should be enough”, she said while poured water from the jug into a glass.
When the teacher went back, she saw him looking at the piano.
“I bought this for him when he scored distinction in the 3rd grade piano exam. But, he could only play on this for 5 months…”, she said and gave him that glass of water.
“How is that bike rider who hit him? Heard he is serious and in ICU?” he asked.
“He is a bank employee. In his 50’s. He lost control and hit Arun. Arun was crossing the road. It happened in front of his school. Just before the school assembly started. They gave a holiday for school, last Friday.”
“I know… In the morning Reena showed me the newspaper which had his news in it.”
She went to her bedroom and brought an album in which she had kept his photos from his childhood.
He sat on the couch and looked at each photo.
“Umm… there is something else I wanted to give you. Let me go and get it”, she said and went to her room.
She came back with an envelope. There was a ₹10 stamp on it. On the address side it was written, ‘Rajesh Menon, Calcutta’
“Last year, he had written a letter to you and asked me to post. He had sealed the envelope. So, I don’t know what he wrote. When he asked your address, I told him to just write Rajesh Menon, Calcutta”, she said after handing over the envelope to him. she said.
He opened the envelope. There were three pages…
Dear Papa, Cochin, 14.11.1993
How are you, papa?
Today is children’s day.
We had gone to visit Kaloor Post Office from the school. The postmaster explained how each department works inside the post office. He also gave all students one envelope with a postal stamp on it, to send mail to our friends or loved ones.
You know, our area pin code is 682017.
My best friends name is Tariq. He speaks English really well. He studied in Abu Dhabi till 5th standard. Last year, he came back from there and took admission in my school.
I like to play the piano. Not keyboard. I scored 92 marks in the 2nd grade piano exam. Amma promised me that she would buy me a digital piano if I score good marks in the 3rd grade piano exam. Right now, I am practicing on your old CASIO keyboard, at home. And in school, Peter Sir allows me to practice twice a week on the piano in the school’s music room.
I want to become like A.R.Rehman, when I grow up. I love his music. You know, he got a national award. I also want to get a national award.
Papa, I am the class leader. Sneha Jose is the assistant class leader. Since 1st standard, I am always the class leader.
My friend Binu’s dad bought a new red colour Maruti 800 Dx. There is A/c in that car. He told me that they are going to fix a stereo system in the car.
I will also buy a Maruti, when I grow up. We three will go for a trip. I will drive.
Papa, never wear a black shirt in summer. Annie miss told us that black colour shirt absorbs heat and white reflect heat. So you wear a white cotton shirt in summer.
Amma had told me that you are very busy and I should not disturb you.
I always dream of you coming home on my birthday. Usually, no one will be there on my birthday. Amma does not allow me to invite my friends. I don’t know why. She does not allow me to go for birthday parties also.
I have made a tiny garden in front of our house. I have a small fish tank also, but no fish in it now. The last fish died during my summer vacation.
I am as tall as Amma now. Next year, I will become taller than Amma. Amma once told me that you are very tall and I will become like you, one day.
I help Amma. Now I have started to go out and buy bread and Maggie from Shivankutty chettans shop.
Until last year, I was going in the school van, but now, I walk.
Papa, most of my friends have got the cycle. Three of them comes to school on cycle.
I had asked Amma to buy me a cycle, but she told me, no. She is worried thinking what would happen if I fall down. I have cycle balance. John taught me how to ride during the lunch break.
So papa, please tell Amma to buy me a cycle. I promise I will not fall down or ride fast.
Can you send me your photo? I want to see you. I have an old photo of you holding me. Amma told me that it was taken on my 4th birthday.
If you cannot come for my birthday, can you call me that day, before I go to school? I can tell my friends, that I spoke to you…
He sat there silent, holding the letter after reading it. After some time, he burst into tears. He kept his hands on his face and cried like a child. He couldn’t control his emotions…
“What happened. What did he write? What is wrong?” teacher asked.
He rose from the couch, gave her the letter and went to the garden.
After reading the letter, she went out to look for him. She saw him standing in the corner of the garden and smoking the cigarette.
“Sorry, I should have sent you the letter…”, she said wiping her tears.
He looked at her and said, “I have to go. The taxi is waiting.”
“When are you going back to Calcutta?” she asked
“Day after tomorrow. Depends… If I get the train ticket”, he said
“Are you staying at Reena’s place?”
“I wanted to talk to you about this house.”
“What is there to talk?”
“I stayed here only to look after Arun. Now that he is gone, I don’t need this house. This is your house. I did not contribute anything to buy this house. I also know that I owe you some money”
“You had paid my post-graduation fees. I want to settle everything and go somewhere far away. If I stay here, I would kill myself. Each and every minute I am getting reminded of him.”
“Post-graduation fees? Are you crazy?”
“Yes, I want to settle everything and go away. You are having a great life in Calcutta, I know. You have your own drama school, theatre group, and her as your support system, but I have no one”.
“Stop it. Please. Which ‘her’ as my support system are you talking about. I don’t have any ‘her’ in my life?”
“Then, where is she now? That painter? Is she not staying with you? I am sure you must not have married her because we are not legally separated…”
“I don’t have any contact with her. And why are we talking about her now? It was something happened nine years ago. I have never seen her since I left Cochin.”
“Where is she?”
“I think she is in Italy. Heard that she married an Italian painter.”
Suddenly the tone of her voice changed
“I fought with my family to marry you. Nobody talks to me from my side. You know, they did not invite me to Sarah’s wedding. She is my sister, right? Maybe I brought shame to my family by running away and marrying a Hindu. In a way they were right, because you betrayed me and left me.”
“I did not leave you. You asked me to leave, remember? You asked me not to contact you and Arun, ever again. Life has not been easy for me in Calcutta. But I don’t want to talk about all that like the way you do.”
She became furious hearing that. She wanted to yell, but she lowered her voice to a whispering pitch and told him…
“You slept with her.”
“I made a mistake. How many times I told you this? I was young. I was just 27, but I tried my best to change myself and stay here with you and Arun. But you never gave me a second chance.”
“Those days, I was also 27, Mr. Rajesh. What would you have done if I had come and told you that I made a mistake? You probably would have killed me, right?”
After nearly a minute of silence, he said, “I am taking Arun’s letter,” and went inside the house.
She followed him.
He took the letter which was lying on the couch in the living room and walked out of the house.
“Wait. Where are you going? You always run away. You are selfish. It has always been like this. You don’t care about how others feel. Today I will vacate the house and will give the keys to Reena.”
“Do whatever you want.”
That was the last thing he told before leaving.
Soon after he left, she went inside Arun’s room and locked the room. She stayed there until 5 pm, till Geeta knocked the door to tell her that she is going home.
“Is there anything inside the fridge?” she asked Geeta.
“Yes. There is rice, curry, milk, and curd.”
“Take all that out and you can take it home because I won’t be here for a couple of weeks. Want to switch off the fridge, till I come back. Fold the clothes which you had put outside for drying and keep it inside the cupboard. I will give you your salary also before you go”, saying this, she went to the living room and took her maroon colour telephone book and opened the page containing the contact numbers of people with a name starting with the letter ‘R’.
“Is Rajesh there? This is Solly…”
“Oh… Hi! How are you? Yes, he is here. Wait, I will call him”
“Hi, umm… when are you leaving?”
“I didn’t get the train ticket, but there are seats available in flight. So…”
“When is the flight?”
“Tomorrow morning at eight.”
“Did you buy the ticket?”
“I am going to Akbar Travels right now, to collect the ticket before they close. It’s already 6:00. They close at 7:30. I had called them and booked the seat, an hour ago.”
“Buy one ticket for me also”
“Calcutta, I am coming with you”