“To say that she had life would be an understatement.” He spoke at length. He spoke with a measured cadence and the slow deliberation of someone who wasn't really used to the activity of speaking. Observer as he had been all through his life, words were not his cup of tea. Today, as he looked outside at the bright afternoon sun, his eyes watered. He wondered if his little listener would understand what was in his heart.
A small seven year old sat on the soft white shag rug, knees drawn up to her chest and arms around them to support the weight of her body. This little listener who sat facing her foster father looking up to him, urged to be his confidante; with her pale green eyes she coaxed him to open up to her.
He looked at her then. There was something about her eyes, her big green eyes with gold flecks in them that gave him hope. The sunlight seemed to dance in them and instantly he was reminded of his ‘Hanna’. He smiled in self derision as he realized that after all these years he still harboured hope that she would come back to him and that he still liked to call her His.
He felt a gentle tug at the edge of his trouser leg and looked down to find his little listener he had named Arya still watching him with that imploring look. He smiled in the way of their silent communication, got up from the sofa and came to sit across her on the rug to continue his story.
“Well, she was alive. Like she could make anything and anyone happy and...” He gestured with his hands helplessly trying to create something big out of thin air.
"You could never be sad around her. She was very talkative. Always talking. But I liked hearing her talk. She had a soothing voice. She was funny too. I was a silent type. But she understood that. She never asked me to talk. So, I liked being around her.” He spoke giving spaces and pauses to make himself coherent to so young an audience.
“She was pretty?”
“Yes. Yes, she was very pretty.” He said this quickly, a little too quickly perhaps and wondered why he felt like a teenager on a sugar rush.
“You like her?” Arya smiled, just a hint of muscle movement on her right dimpled cheek but Vivaan knew that his daughter was giving him her apprehensive shy smile on being included in adult talk.
“I Do. I love her.” At this, Arya’s smile grew just a tad bit wider.
“What else you like about her?”
“She was caring. It was impossible not to like her. She had this really big heart…”
“A bigger heart than yours?” Arya asked with an eye brow raised.
“Yes, a bigger heart than mine” He closed his eyes at that and wondered if she knew the significance of the question.
“I think you have a very big heart. You are big.” She spoke with such solemn earnestness that he laughed.
“No Arya, the size of a person’s heart is almost the same for all. But it’s the space inside that counts. The space inside the heart. Hanna’s heart was as big as mine but she had more space. More love. She liked taking care of everybody. She liked everybody.”
She nodded as if completely understanding his point and asked
“She like you too?”
“Hmm… I don’t know. She did once.”
“So you don’t know?”
“She might not like it. It’s been too long anyways.”
“Why too long?”
“You’re awfully chirpy today aren't you my little one?”
“Why too long?” was the static reply. He wondered if he imagined seeing an impish glint in her eyes.
“Because we let it be that long. Things just happened and we couldn't control them.”
“It’s a long story.”
“Tell me in short then.” Seeing that she was about to get a negative reply to her question she added, “You promised you’d tell me about Hanna, Pa”
That did it, her calling him Pa. He was cornered he knew. So, he tried telling his daughter how he lost the woman he loved most in the simplest way possible.
“I met Ruhana one summer evening ten years ago. I was sitting in a park, trying to take a major decision about my life. I had two great job offers. I was trying to decide which one to accept when she caught my eye. She was sitting under a Gulmohar tree I think, with a book in hand. Reading.”
His mind took no time in bringing to the forefront the joys of his yesterdays. And he saw her in his mind as he had seen her for the first time that day in a fuchsia sundress. His eyes crinkled at the corners thinking about all the hours she had spent making him cram the names of all her favourite shades.
“She really liked reading you know. I think it was Gibran’s “The Prophet”. Suddenly she looked at me and I don’t know why but I felt like talking to her. She was a complete stranger. But I wanted to approach her. It wasn't that I was lonely, I had my family of course. But there was something about her. I guess it was the eyes. Do you know Arya that your eyes are just like hers? Anyways, I smiled at her and she nodded. I wasn't that great a nature lover, but I started coming to the park frequently. It became our hub. Coffee and books, with them we created our own private haven under those lovely laburnum trees. We became friends and gradually as we both got to know each other, we developed feelings of mutual love and respect. We were happy. As happy as it is possible for someone to be. How two years passed by, none of us knew. Then one day, I told her that I loved her and wanted to spend my life with her. I remember how happy she was. We got married.”
Vivaan took a break. He realised he had never really spoken aloud his feelings since the time Hanna went away. He realised that he wanted to speak, that he wanted to share and wanted someone to know what he had been going through all this time.
His little listener was too young to understand but after four years of silence, he felt himself opening up; and for the first time words flowed.
“As a physicist, my work took me to different places but I enjoyed the solitude, the peace and quiet of my lab where I spent most of the time hunched over whatever project I was working on. She was the perfect partner I had hoped for. I had never thought that having a partner would mean this much. I am a selfish man in many regards but she understood it all. Marriage with her was more like a happy progression of our camaraderie than a big change people usually are so scared of. She was always warm. Every night I’d come home to her warmth. She’d embrace me, cook really bad food and like children we would sit and talk…”
“Like we are sitting now?” came the query.
“Like we are talking now?” came another.
“Yes. Just like we are talking now. A heart to heart.”
Arya touched her heart and then her father’s and smiled suddenly. Vivaan kept his hand on her silky brown head in love and protection. She shifted and snuggled under his arms comfortably. Playfully he messed her two small pig tails much to her tinkling laughter. He looked outside and saw that it was evening already. Soon it would be time for dinner. He remembered he had forgotten to do his grocery shopping.
“Every night was our night. We talked, laughed and shared all our ups and downs. She understood me. Even without saying anything, she had this knack for accepting me. Then one day she just stopped loving me and went away.”
“Why did she go?”
“You know how babies come from God. So, when we asked God for a baby, he put one in Hanna’s tummy. We were very happy. But the little baby she had in her tummy was so beautiful that God took him away after some months. We became sad so we went to the doctor but the doctor said that she couldn't have a baby anymore.”
“But why didn't you go and ask God for another baby?”
“We did but God already has many people asking for so many things.”
“Why didn't the doctor help?”
“Well he said that Hanna was not strong inside in her tummy.”
“She did not eat healthy food like me?”
“She did. But nothing could be done. This made Hanna very sad and she cried lots. And then she stopped living her life.”
He remembered it all too well. He had seen it happen in front of his eyes after all. He had seen her dying inside a little day by day. He remembered her fitful crying jags, how she had blamed herself, how she had wept every night lying in bed. He remembered both her painful screams and the times when she’d just grab her belly and howl silently. He had witnessed her losing her health, her weight, her beauty and her glow. But that was not all. The loss of the child had started to drain all her life force. She stopped living and stopped loving. She just lost the essence of which she was made. No matter how much he tried, he couldn't revive her. No matter what he said, what he did, he couldn't bring her back. At first he had thought that it was just a phase which would go away given time. But that did not happen. The baby even by not being there had become the center of her life.
He could not understand her. And there was always shortage of time. She would shout at him saying that he didn't give her time, didn’t talk to her and didn't listen to what she felt. But what could he do? What could he say? He couldn't leave his work like she had done. He couldn’t quit his job. He had lost a child too. But he wasn’t crying, was he? She had made him angry. And so one day he told her to stop doing it because he couldn’t take it, that he was sick of her and that she could just stop with her drama. He told her how she had not only lost the baby but also their love, romance and their marriage. He told her that he hated the baby which had ruined their lives. He told her that he was giving up on her that he couldn’t help someone who didn’t want to help herself.” With that barrage he had snapped her. She had not said anything then. She’d just looked at him from the corner where she was huddled. She had looked at him blankly like she couldn’t recognize him anymore. She had left him the next day. No note, no explanation.
He had believed she’d come back to her senses and would return to him. He had thought that maybe time alone would heal her. But time had not helped. Things became complicated when he was sent to US for a year and half. She refused to go with him. Slowly the calls decreased, then the mails and then it all dwindled to a measly flower and gift giving tradition followed on birthdays and anniversaries. He felt like an actor taking part in a sham and wondered if she felt the same. They met like strangers a few times a year. He asked her to come back to him but she said that she didn't need him. After that work had taken their time. She was busy and so was he. He didn't ask her again. And then Arya had come into his life.
“You did not give her water then?” came the accusation.
“You said water brings back all dying things.” Vivaan found Arya
pointing at the flowering adenium they had planted a few months back.
“If you’re my Pa, then is Hanna my Ma?”
“I don’t know.”
“She does not know about you.”
“I have not told her about you.”
“I stopped contacting her after she told me that she didn't need me.”
“You don’t have her hello number?”
“Then call her.”
“I wish it was so easy.”
“You do not know how to call on phone?”
“I know how to do that.”
“Pa you are sad, call her. You said she is your friend.”
“She might not want me anymore.”
“Is this the truth?”
“It could be, I don’t know.”
“If you don’t know the truth then call.”
“Things are not so simple, I am scared.”
“I get scared too. But I always eat the food you cook.”
“Alright then.” He laughed aloud and wondered why he felt so
good inside. “Wish me luck. Here I go.” And saying that he rang Hanna’s cellphone. She picked it up after five rings.
Arya watched her Pa nervously talking on the phone for a couple of minutes.
“It is set. She is coming to meet us tomorrow.” And saying that he released all his pent up breath.
Tomorrow was going to be a new day. A new beginning. She knew it.
Tomorrow was going to be a new day. A new beginning. She knew it.
Courtesy: Derek Cheung/Creative Commons/Flickr