It was two hours since his eyes had escaped sleep, but it was still too early for dawn. Walking restlessly in the woods that encircled his home, he saw darkness recede slowly. The sky had taken on a deep purple hue, a colour he had never witnessed before, despite having lived here for over 25 years. It was strange, he wondered, how the village opened itself to its people. Here, there was something new everyday; something of which he was yet to see. Now, it was the colour of the sky, tomorrow it could be the manner in which the rains poured from above. He amused himself as he strolled, trying hard to keep his mind away from what was disturbing him. But even as he forced himself to think otherwise, those thoughts kept interrupting him in flashes.
Like that day when it had poured incessantly. His son hadn’t taken an umbrella, so he rushed to school on his cycle, caring little about himself. When he arrived 20 minutes later, he was soaked and trembling. His son was dry, having nestled himself under an awning. He ran to him, covered him in a tattered jacket, placed him on the top tube of the cycle and took him back home. That day, he was running a temperature, and a bad one that too. The family doctor had suggested taking him to the hospital, if it got worse, but he recovered a week later. Then, he remembered how his son came to him, hugged him and said innocently, “Dada…when I get rich, I will take you in a car, so that you don’t get wet or sick.”
Today, his son was rich and had a car; and though he got drenched a time-too-many, no car had come to his rescue.
“What are you doing out there?” his wife yelled from inside the home.
“Am checking if the mangoes have ripened,” he lied.
“I know exactly what you are up to…come back right away. It’s only 5.”
“Oh…then come, I’ll sing you lullaby,” she teased.
He walked back quietly; he knew that she was disturbed too, but was tough as a nutshell to show it.
At breakfast, he finally brought it up.“Will she call?”
“Who?” she asked casually.
“Our son’s daughter.”
“I don’t know.”
“She should right…after all, we are her grandparents. She should take our blessings.”
“I don’t know,” she said again, pouring coffee into his mug. And then as an afterthought said, “Your son never told us about it. Don’t expect the call. Don’t think about it…please,” she requested.
“She’s getting married today. How can I not think about it?”
“We weren’t invited.”
“Because, he thought we were too old to make it for the wedding.”
“Don’t defend your son,” she said immediately.
“Should we make the call?”
“Don’t add salt to injury.”
He rose angrily from his chair, “Don’t do this…don’t do that…don’t…don’t..don’t…is that all you have to say.”
“Yes, because I am your wife, and I do not want you to be hurt,” she said calmly.
They did not raise the issue again, not until late in the night when they were lying down on their bed, staring vacantly towards the ceiling. Each thought the other was sleeping. But sleep was hard to come by, not today at least.
Why weren’t they told? They wondered. What had they done? They had just one child, a son. He may have lived continents away, and never bothered to reach out to them after he left India 20 years ago, but now to learn about his daughter getting married from another relative in the US, tore them. Over the years, they had come to terms with their loneliness, but they had thought little about being neglected. Today, after having been denied this small happiness, they felt lonelier than they had always been. Their eyes welled up, but they tried hard not to whimper lest they stirred the other.
At around 2 in the night, after hours of restlessness finally took its toll and pushed them to sleep, a phone call woke them up. The old man nervously rushed out of bed and went to answer the call…his wife was anxious too, but did her best to contain it.
On the other end, he heard the sound of a man; it was a voice too familiar to forget, a voice that was their only connect to their blood, a voice, which now ached in drunkenness.
“Did she call?” the man on other end inquired, his voice stammering. “Did she call?” he repeated.
“No,” he said, a little perplexed.
“She did not call me either,” he said, sounding equally disturbed.
He looked at his wife who was standing beside him, earnestly waiting for a reaction. His face that had grown paler today, was slowly gaining colour. She saw his lips widen and curve into a wicked smile.
“Is it her?” she asked.
He handed over the receiver to her. She could here faint sobs on the other end. It was her son.