Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Shortlist, Anurakti Srivastava

The Silhouettes of Our Bond

8 March, 2000
It was the morning of an early summer. The sky was grayish blue and the sun had almost risen. A layer of fog covered the lawn and that made me happy. A seventy year old man walked out of the front door as I stood near the stairs gazing at what had always been my dream. “Good morning!”, a voice, sore and soggy mumbled. It sounded like a lot of strength had to be put in to approach with a greet. I turned to find a man, his eyes puffed and yellow with ends of red, lips dry, with metal framed spectacles and a haphazard smile. My dad. I hugged him and replied, “ Good morning”. We sat down looking at each other, smilingly, as we knew, it was time! I poured some hot tea in his cup. “Bread?” I asked. “I’m too old now, young lady. I’m not even shortly capable of digesting bread!”. We laughed. After spending nearly thirty years of my life with him, we had finally come for a long vacation. There had been places I had been to. Lots of them, and vice versa. But not once were we together, spending time like this one. And for the first time had I been paying for the trip.

A cool breeze gently touched my face and went. Softly and gently. And again the voice, his voice, in a hazardous way croaked, “I am going to take a bath now. Aren’t I?” I smiled and he turned his back and went.

I took a bath too, keeping in mind the various things we had to do. It had to be a long and tiring day, and that was for sure. I sat on a wooden chair right outside my room, in the open corridor. The sunlight now slowly, had begun invading the house. Out came he after a while. Hair neatly combed back, with a smile that mostly possessed wrinkles, narrowed eyes, a clean, washed face, the magical suit and shoes-untied. The suit, my mother had named as the magical suit, right after their marriage for every time my dad used to wear it, my mom used to fall in love with him again, as she said so. Even more than ever, and with such great intensity, did that happen, that she would tell me, too coyly, “I love him. I love your father, Tara!” And it would make me feel awkward since I was just fifteen then and had never talked to her like that. I would make signs and tell her to stop and let mw work. And she would quit talking and would walk away.

What I most remember about her is that she being deaf, would always feel like she neglected. My dad had married her after the death of his first wife. And years after I was born, my dad would think of giving her a divorce. I sometimes would try and eavesdrop for what she would say to herself when she’d be alone in her room. She’d mostly mumble and would console herself that there will be a time when we would be nice to her and smile back, when she’d smile at us. But that never happened. Till I was seventeen, me and mother used to travel to different places, but dad won’t accompany us. He’d also, never travel with me. After a year, just when I turned eighteen, she had a cardiac arrest and died. I remember I had wept. But my dad silently watched over, without a muscle twitching. He was fine with the fact that she expired and after that, never in my entire life did we mention a word about her.
After my mother passed away, my dad remained firm and reserved in his opinions. He would talk little to me at the dinner table and that used to be it for the day. We rarely used to meet for lunch or breakfast. At times, when I’d be alone at home, he’d call me to his office for a brunch with his colleagues, but I never went. I stayed home and always thought that he would have never intended to call me there. And even if he did so, what he’d expect is not seeing me there. And so I kept home. Although he would take me to book fairs, once in a month, far away from town, he would never be interested. Those were a few random things he learnt to do as a parent, from his parents. All he would do is sit on a chair in some corner, give me an hour and half to look for books of my interest, some other and would pay for them after I returned. Those ninety minutes were the most glorious minutes of the month. And eventually, we would return. My dad was the richest man in the town and also in the nearby ones. He had a company to himself, running neatly, with law and order, and profit making. That explained why he was a disciplinary, stern and always to himself. All the pains he took to survive and start building a livelihood from less than a scratch, took the most from him.

For the initial two and half years, he was like that. He had started turning humble, polite and moreover, happy. He had started enjoying his life in a new way. And all of that brought change to mine. I remember sitting on the swing in my room’s balcony, one monsoon. He knocked. I looked over my shoulder to find the door opening. I was reading a book when he walked to my side and kept his hand on the edge of my shoulder. I looked at him, straight up in the eyes, his eyes looking back at me, twinkling. He was smiling and I could tell, one had never seen him smile for long. The last time I’d probably seen him smile was at my birth. Well, it was happening and I was unsure. I rubbed my eyes, they were turning watery. It was raining outside and I had a book in my hand. “Do you have space for two?” He paused. “On your swing?” Paused again. “Mm…I think you do…” Paused. “Will you mind shifting…Tara?” Paused. Smiled. “I’ll sit with you only for a while here. If you don’t mind, that is…” I couldn’t stop staring at him, my mouth half open, eyes wide and watery, palms shaking and feet cold. He started to take a turn when I spoke and almost choked, “I have…” “What Tara?”, he smiled. “…space”, I said. I shifted and let him sit. We both looked straight outside, without uttering a word, staring at the jagged pattern of rain. “Did you know Tara…for years I have acted and presented myself in front of you as bold, and strict, maybe, if you have ever felt that…” “No, I never thought that you were strict, father, you just probably never seemed to know I existed as your very own daughter, your DNA”, I thought. “-and I have. Always.” I heard him talk and to my displeasure, I found out that he had been talking and I had missed some words. I tried to cope up. “My first wife and I met with an accident a year after our marriage and fortunately, I was safe…” I liked the idea of him being optimistic and positive. Using the word fortunate was a better idea than using unfortunate with his dead wife. “…I missed her terribly all the years and then I married your mother. She too met with an accident which eventually left her deaf. I was always afraid of the society as to what people would say and how they’d talk about a rich man and his deaf wife. Hadn’t I created a space for me, my family and my caste in the community, we would have starved to death, Tara…”. He started tearing up, almost. “…I compelled myself to forget everything and start my life new, afresh. I took up the project of building this business. It started in a garage in slow motion. Most of the times it wouldn’t even feel like I’m running a business, but I did it and made my life, made our life. And I’ve always loved you, Tara…”. I don’t know if he said it, my name, five times, but before today, probably, I never seemed to know, he knew my name. “…and now that you are turning 27, I would like to ask you, if you want to marry somebody…somebody you have been seeing, somebody you’ve started liking or..” “No.” I said gravely. “I…uh…haven’t. I am not…I…haven’t. I am…not…going…to…” “It’s okay Tara. That’s alright. That’s…all right.” He stood and left. But his smile didn’t. Neither from his face, nor from my head.

After the death of my mother, I had never intended to marry. I never fell in love, I never even liked somebody. For me, the meaning of a relationship had changed. It meant being expressionless, emotionless and away. Away from every single thing that happened, could happen or would happen, over the course of time. If I had a relationship with somebody, it was my grandmother. She would do everything for me and be with me twenty-four-seven. But, she passed away soon, so early that I can’t remember her face too. And that annoys me. I often thought of myself…”How can’t a five-year old remember in her afterlife, what her granny looked like, when she was with her?”

I had also, when my mother died, figured, that maybe I had a relationship with her too. I never realized but, but, I always longed to catch a glimpse of her smile. It gave me energy, made me feel happy, that at least someone around me used their lips to not just talk, but also smile. Ultimately, it used to make my day. I had a relation with her. Or maybe, a ‘relation-ship’. 
“Let’s go dad! We are getting late for rafting. It’s scheduled for twelve.” “I am just,  just, coming.” He hobbled across the hallway, walked down the stairs, hobbled again to cross the garden, climbed a flight of stairs, again, and almost running in the corridor, huffed, puffed, walked towards me. Hastily, he took off his watch, the one he had been wearing for years, lowered his spectacles, and breathing heavily, asked me, “I need to know the time! Tara!” “Where had you been? Dad?” “The date too..!” “Dad? Dad!” “Yes?! What?” “Where were you?” “Oh, I had gone to our old fix-a-twix room…” I started laughing. “Our wha-?” I laughed. “I know it’s funny, fix-a-twix room. Your mother named it! You know… That was the place where we’d go fix things. So I went to fix my watch. I found all the tools in place…funnily.” He laughed. “She, your mother, was a beautiful woman, a pretty lady and a loving mother, Tara…you need to know…how much she loved you....” My eyes lowered, fell on his shoes, still untied. I had tears in my eyes. I thought of her and then him. “More than anything, she was loyal, admirable, sensible and flawless wife, dad.” He put forward his hand, placed his forefinger beneath my chin, his thumb touching my cheek, wiping my tears. “Yes…she was.” I hugged him tight. “Now would you just…tell me…the TIME?!” I giggled… “It’s 11:25 A.M., 8th March, 2000, dad!” I moaned, smilingly. We walked out, placed ourselves in our jeep, and rode off, for rafting.

3 years later-today-21 March 2003
“I am absolutely sure” “Are you?” “Yes.” I said. I turned and walked to the other room. He, my uncle, followed. “One last time, Tara…” “Uncle, I think I am sure. And I also think I don’t want many people to come. I want…” I hesitated, “I want it to be only me, and the Father of course…” “Hmm…okay.” Despite being a Hindu, I decided to bury him on the hill behind the Church. Later that evening, I sat beside his grave, in deep thoughts. The breeze was cool and slow. My hair ruffled, stumbled onto each other, and stayed. Then again, ruffled and stayed. The fragrance of the dry soil and sun burnt weeds, hit my head, continuously. The sky was a hint and hue of deep red, with orange scars of fading memories. The birds flying south, the clouds drifting away. It was silent all around. I sat staring at the cross the Church top had. Examined possibly everything there could be in the simultaneous array of happenings. I saw life moving on, graying, ageing and happening. The moon had started to show up by now and some street lights switched on. I realized, felt, life fading out in darkness, with memories. I had a sense of nostalgia. It all seemed surreal. I imagined if the time when my mother died, my dad didn’t cry. And I, well, even I didn’t. I always felt, since he didn’t feel shattered after her death, he was wrong. But today, I felt ‘I’ was wrong. I am wrong.
I would have cried if, and only if, under circumstantial phases or situations, hadn’t been my dad’s daughter.

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