It had been three days since I moved in with my parents. My father had got transferred yet again to this hill station after 5 years. He would be in charge of the repairs section of the Sanshet dam constructed around 40 years ago and which now stood towering in the distance.
I had barely finished college, scraped through it you could say. Pass marks in all subjects. At least I was consistent. I was wondering if I could apply anywhere with such an academic record. The morning mist looked inviting. The coffee cup was still waiting for me to pick it up. The newspaper sheets flipped till it reached the appointments page waiting for me to go through those that might suit my credentials.
As I was still undecided to get up, I heard someone calling. Thinking it was someone calling dad or mom, I didn’t pay much attention only to know the person whoever it was calling, was trying to elicit my attention towards her.
I opened my window pane to see Meena looking eagerly waiting for me as if she wanted me to show something. Meena was my classmate in school at Sanshet school before I left this small village town after my dad’s transfer.
Her hands were empty save for a couple of glass bangles on both. There was some calf love between us during those days, I must confide, which both of us were proud to admit. Her eyes seemed to talk. They looked sad and yet there were streaks of shine happy to see me after these long years which seemed ages to me.
I got dressed casually, put on my slippers and walked out of the room through a door which could open directly to the courtyard where stood a beaming she. Her silver anklets looked the same as her pretty frock she used to wear long back. Her form was the same when I last saw her. She had not changed one bit.
Before I could ask her anything, she took my hand in hers, clasped them tightly and beckoned me to follow her. The morning dew on the grass was making things slippery for my feet as the initial walk now became brisk and it was clear she would have broken into a run over the mounds and crests of fine green grass that adorned the beautiful country side, had I complied.
Where are you taking me, I enquired of her, my eyes riveted on that beautiful face etched in memory which I used to dwell upon in my loneliness and depression bouts at college.
Meena was the foreman’s daughter and they lived in the officer’s quarters that was half a mile away. But today she was taking me elsewhere. I tried to start another conversation thread. How have you been. Did you finish college? In silence she smiled at me; the same patented smile of her which I had taken care to imprint and nurture and chisel on in memory. The years spent with her in school was a dream run never to come again but the good Lord had given me the ability to replay those beautiful moments. She didn’t reply even this time but her lovely eyes did.
Where are you leading me, Meena? I thought you were taking us to your parents. How are they? Still the silence prevailed but I could see that she had slowed her steps while still holding my hand tightly.
There appeared a desolate house and I wondered if something was wrong as she led me to it. She opened the door to the house which welcomed us in with a creaking yet haunting voice. Except for a couple of old wooden benches and a chair there was nothing in this room of this shelter.
All of a sudden she let go of my hand and went into the other room. I thought maybe to bring me some water who was not used to such long walks in the morning mist which only aggravated my asthma. I now remembered I had not taken my Asthalin Inhaler before venturing out with her.
I waited for a few minutes and still when she didn’t appear, I came out, circled the house twice looking for dear her. Calling out to her also did not elicit any response. Sure she was playing a prank as was her nature. I walked to the officer’s quarters and located her house which was the fourth in the second row of houses that had got a fresh coat of white paint.
I walked in unwelcomed, so I thought, based on old memories. Her father looked very uneasy and tired sitting in the easy chair. His eyes looking into the far distance trying to solve some puzzle in which he looked entangled. Addressing him, I offered my salutations but he looked through me as if I didn’t exist. I walked around the kitchen hoping to see her mother or her but none I could see there. I walked back into the living room that looked lifeless and my eyes fell upon the picture of her mother that was garlanded with non fading flowers and was I shocked again when I saw another garlanded frame of Meena.
I sat next to her father and tried alerting him to my presence but he either looked blind and sounded deaf or both or was it I, who was dreaming all this while. I smiled how crazy dreams could get..it was a matter of time before I woke up from it. But things remained the same and I got up as there was no point sitting in front of her crazy father or was it me who had gone crazy.
As I walked back she appeared again briskly trying to catch up with my footfalls. She held my hand as we walked in silence. I tried to play along with her act not showing what I had learnt upon the visit to her house. But the silence was killing me. Are you on a vow of silence? I asked not expecting an answer. “No”, she answered taking me by surprise. I wanted you to know what had happened after you people had left. I used to frequent the typing institute to hone my skills in it. I must have gone two years and got a good speed.
One day on my return through these same paths there was heavy rain accompanied by thunder and I had to take shelter in that house where I took you today. I couldn’t venture out that evening and got trapped there in the incessant downpour. Someone came there, a stranger. It appeared he was staying there without nobody knowing except me in my misfortune. I never saw his face in the darkness but he sensed my vulnerability and took advantage of it and as I resisted him, little did I know that he would snuff the very dear life out of me.
He fled the place and was never to be seen again in this territory of mine she said with a change of tone. Now as I looked at her she was not the diminutive Meena I had known. She was a beautiful woman yet of a pale self. Were you waiting for me these years? Yes she replied I knew you would come so that we can spend some ages together in bliss. How can we, what makes you think…. I broke off, not knowing what I should say.
Come, let us go your house, said she, sensing my thoughts…Wanting to give a glimpse of what a life I had lived I started to enlighten her. After I had left Sanseth, I had got into bad company at college. First smoking then drinking which seemed soothing at first before I got addicted with drugs whatever I could lay my hands on or whatever the peddlers could give me.
A once healthy me was a pale self now, with frequent attacks of asthma adding to the aggravation. I tried to wean away from all these considering the love of my parents and you who I knew doted on me and would wait once I came back after graduating. It was easy to kick smoking but not doping. The drugs were the demons who came to you every night and pestered you till you relented and met their demands. They pleased and praised you and left early morning with you defeated. Yesterday it looks I had a heavy dose or else how could I explain your appearance though you now appears lost to me. I couldn’t understand how such misfortune could come in our lives.
Life’s lessons are sometimes too harsh and at too short a notice. You never know what hit you and slowly we reconcile ourselves to the grim truth of reality. Isn’t life a chain of events like beads in a rosary caused by karma and a mix of choices that we make? With a throbbing head and with the shadow of Meena in tow, I walked into my quarters where could be heard a wailing from my mother with father holding her crying self over my body now lifeless, eyes looking into the distance trying to make out the purpose of dear life.
How some stream that we take channel us into paths best avoided and before the gravity of it sinks in, we get drowned before anyone could help us. There is no point thinking over it now nor staying here anymore, Meena said, as she held my hand and led me out into the sunshine…