- a story
Someone shook my shoulders. It was time to go to the venue. A simple ceremony was being held for those who lost their lives in the senseless tragedy that occurred two days ago. I stood up and allowed to be led away by helping hands to the car. But I did not let go of the one I have been holding on to. I looked at the mop of curls beside me, the one that looked so much like the other one I lost and unbearable pain filled my being. It hadn’t been combed in the last forty-eight hours and looked rough and unkempt. I held her closer and tighter to me.
Two days ago life had been perfect, I reflected. Nothing could go wrong …..or so I thought.
It had been just another morning. I heard the doorbell and walked to the front door to let Radhamma in. She is our household help and comes to work around this time. This is one disturbance I have to suffer during the day. The rest of the time I am free to work undisturbed for as long as I want, or even sleep if I am not in the mood to slog.
To my surprise, it wasn’t Radhamma at the door. There stood two policemen. I frowned in confusion. Before I could ask anything, the older of the two asked,
They were trying to reach you. But your phone seemed to be switched off.
Working from home has its hassles. People disturb you with calls. So the minute the mood strikes to write, the first thing I do is take the phone off the hook and switch off my cell phone as well.
Who was …and why?
The younger policeman looked away at this point not meeting my eyes and I felt panic rise from deep in my stomach and spread its tentacles throughout my body.
There has been an accident.
Neelu. My heart constricted in dread. I knew it was her. She was always in a rush. How many times had I told her to leave early for work and not drive her scooter so rashly? The way she rushed up and down the stairs at home was enough to make my heart stop at times. Slow down Neelu, you will break a bone, I have told her at least a dozen times each day. She only laughed that lively sweet laughter of hers that had made me fall for her in the first place. What could a guy do under the circumstance? I just looked at her adoringly, not believing my luck that she was indeed mine, an out of work writer with just a solitary not-so-successful novel to his credit.
Had I blacked out just then? I found myself being helped to the sofa by the older policeman. The younger one walked over and thrust a glass of water, which I saw him filling from the jug on the dining table, into my hands. I pushed it aside. I felt like gagging. Water wouldn’t go down my gullet just then.
Where is she?
In the hospital.
Is she…. ?
I stopped, unable to bring myself to put into words what was in my mind. The policemen were silent. But I rejected the unspoken answer in their eyes. I tried to fight the giddiness unsuccessfully. The older one said a little too roughly,
Let’s go. I have others to inform.
Oh yes, we had to inform Neelu’s parents. But wasn’t that for me to do? The niggling thought had no place in the state of mind I was in. Suddenly, something brought the darkness back and with it waves of nausea. Our little one. How was I ever going to tell her this news? Oh Rhea, oh Rhea, my heart sobbed. I will have to be your mother and father from now on, my darling child.
I went with the policemen, still refusing to completely accept what seemed by then to be a certainty. But nothing prepared me for the reality when I finally came face to face with it. I stared with uncomprehending horror at the bodies laid out in the hospital verandah. The heart rending cries from all around only accentuated the unreality of it all. So many of them? They all looked so tiny.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder bringing me out of my reveries of that horrendous day. We had reached our destination. Hands were once again helping me to alight, as if I was an invalid. May be I was, but my heart steeled itself when I looked down at the mop of curls beside me. She seemed to have shrunk in the last two days and looked like a little girl. I took her hand in mine and held her closer as we walked to the school gate, the one Rhea would never again cross, like all those others who had been with her in the ill-fated school van that fell off the bridge into the water. Tanya, Somu, Shiv, Rahul, Geeta, Prachi, Raghu, Titli……… all the little buds waiting to bloom.
Those who stood up to speak choked over their words. People everywhere were crying, some silently, others sobbing uncontrollably. I found my cheeks were wet too. I glanced at Neelu beside me. Her eyes were dry. She had not shed a single tear so far, not a good sign at all according to the doctors. My own eyes welled up remembering how I found her standing rigidly by Rhea’s cold body, in the hospital, on the fateful day two days ago.
The defeated looking figures moved out one after the other when it was all over. The last candle had been lit, flower laid and goodbyes said for now. We made our way too towards the exit. I saw a figure walking towards us. He seemed oddly familiar. Of course, it was the policeman, the gruff one. I just hadn’t recognized him minus his uniform. His eyes seemed red. How kind of him to make an appearance here. A policeman with a soft heart in spite of his rough exterior, a total misfit in his job, I found myself thinking. He held out his hand,
“Tanya’s Dad.” he said gruffly.