This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
“Manu wake up. There is a gift for you.” yelled Nilesh with excitement. It was Sunday and early in the morning. Manu did not like the idea of stepping out of the warm and cozy blanket. But he wanted to find out what was causing Nilesh to be so excited. He threw the blanket away with a big yawn and rubbed his eyes vigorously.
He climbed down the wooden staircase carefully. As he came down, Mai grabbed him and led him to the backyard. “Brush your teeth first.” Mai ordered him. He took one end of her Saree and rubbed his face with it while following Mai. Manu loved the feel of her Saree. Mai smiled as she looked at her grandchild. Manu reminded her of his mother, her daughter – Kamal. “His eyes are just like Kamal. I wish she had been alive to see this boy grow up. She would have been so proud.” she thought while leading him into the backyard.
“What is it? Who sent it? Did Somi maasi(maternal aunt) get a new school uniform for me?” Manu asked Nilesh while running down towards him. “Yes, a new school uniform, but not from Somi.” Nilesh said as he handed the clothes to Manu. Somi looked at Nilesh from the corner of her eye. She did not like Nilesh calling her Somi. Nilesh was of Manu’s age and the two stayed together all day long. They attended the same school, played together and shared every joy and sorrow. They were inseparable. Nilesh was an orphan whom someone had left at the village’s temple when he was born. When no one came forward to take care of the baby, Mai had taken him with her to her small cottage. She stayed with her daughter Somi. Her husband had passed away recently and she needed something to live her life for. Nilesh turned out to be a intelligent and handsome child. Mai doted on him. As if he was sent by god for her. When Nilesh was 7 years old, Mai’s elder daughter Kamal, passed away due to a prolonged disease. Manu was handed over to Mai as his father married another woman who preferred not to raise Manu. Since then Manu and Nilesh stayed together. Time had forged a brotherhood between them.
“These don’t fit me. Maasi, why did you bring a short dress?” asked Manu with disappointment. He was almost crying. He had been asking Somi for new school uniform for some time now. Somi worked at the cotton factory and her meager wages were not enough to provide for both Manu and Nilesh. Part of her hatred towards Nilesh was because she had to cut on her food for his studies. She had never approved of Mai’s decision. Now she had a reason to express her disapproval.
“These are sent by your father Manu.” said Nilesh. Manu looked up at him, wiping his tears. “Can we ask him to send another pair of clothes that fit? We can ask for both of us.” Manu was still optimistic about a new uniform. Somi went inside the house without looking at Manu. Nilesh consoled Manu and soon they both were playing some game.
“He cant even send a new dress for his own son?” asked Somi furiously as she stormed in the house.
“Why? What happened? ” asked Mai with a worried face. She had sensed the anger in Somi’s tone.
“His dad has sent him a used uniform. Probably one that was rejected by his kid. What kind of a father does that to his own child.” exclaimed Somi.
“The kid doesn’t understand that much Somi. We will buy him a new one soon. Don’t worry too much about it.” Mai tried to calm her down.
“Yeah he doesn’t understand now, but he will ask hundreds of questions soon. And from where are we going to provide for a new dress Mai. Already we have an orphan to feed. Why cant you send him to work at the factory. We took him with us when no one did. I don’t want Manu to suffer because of him. And till when are you going to rely on my income Mai. Tomorrow I might not be here. What will you do then?” Somi was fuming with anger. Mai’s explanation had backfired.
“Nilesh is a brilliant child Somi. He is gifted. And look at him. He is barely 3 months older than Manu, but takes care of him like an elder brother. He has given me hope when I was distraught. He respects you as a elder sister Somi. ” Mai tried convincing her with moist eyes.
“We do not deserve to suffer because of Nilesh Mai.” Somi was not moved by Mai’s tears.
“God will make it alright Somi. Have faith in him” said Mai while wiping her eyes off her saaree. Somi had some other plans. She was not going to wait on God for things to become alright.
She had noticed Nilesh quietly listening to their conversation. She wanted him to listen everything. While going out she quietly handed over a piece of paper to Nilesh and said “Manu’s future is in your hands. Be ready with your stuff tomorrow morning. And don’t tell Mai about all this. She already has taken enough.”
Nilesh cried when he read the letter. His efforts to hold back his tears proved futile. He ran towards the lake so that Mai or Manu would not notice him. The thought of leaving his village for mumbai made him uncomfortable. His young mind was crowded with too many questions. Will I get to go to school? Will they allow me to read books? What would I do without Manu? Will I get to see Mai? He let out a sob. The young child was facing a situation that he was incapable of handling. The letter was from Manu’s dad. They wanted Nilesh to be sent to Mumbai to do the household chores, which would save them money on the domestic help and they would be able to send Mai the money for Manu’s school. Nilesh knew how bad the financial situation was at home. If he did not go to Mumbai, Manu’s future would be affected. Mai would not say anything but would blame him for it. Somi hated him anyways. He thought of discussing it with Mai and finding a solution to it. The thought of living without Manu was eating him. But then as soon as he thought of Manu, he had made his decision. He could not bare the thought of Manu blaming him for anything. After-all he was just an orphan. Manu deserved better. He got up wiping his tears and started walking towards home. While going he looked back at the lake, the wooden bridge, the old temple. He would not see them again in his life may be.
The next day Manu searched the entire house for Nilesh. He went to the lake, in the temple, to the old fort, the wooden bridge and every other possible place where he suspected Nilesh would be hiding from him. by afternoon he gave up and returned home.
“Have some food beta” said Mai, unable to control her tears.
“Have you seen Nilesh?” Manu asked without realizing that Mai was crying. He just wanted to see Nilesh.
“Nilesh has gone on a vacation beta. He will be back after some days.” Mai was crying now. She had no idea about the letter. She only found a letter in the morning. She held it close to her heart. It was written by a young boy.
Please don’t worry about me. I have to go away for the best of all of us. I will miss your food and of course your stories. When I come back some day I will sit near you and listen to remaining story of Mahabharata.
I will miss you.
She read it again and again. The handwriting was so beautiful. She wept the entire day. She had lost her son.
At the lake, Manu cried as the sun set. Somi took him up in her arms. He hadn’t eaten all day waiting for Nilesh to come. As she took him back, Manu glanced at the at the lake, the wooden bridge and the old temple in the fading daylight.
“Whom will I be playing with now Somi Didi ?” he asked her, suddenly remembering the routine games that he played with Nilesh at the bridge, at the temple and at the lake.
Somi just looked away.
“Will he come back soon?” he clearly wanted some sort of answer.
“I don’t know. I will write him a letter and ask for you” said Somi, trying to give him some sort of assurance.
“Please tell him that his brother will wait at the lake side for him.”
Manu slept off on her shoulder.
Back at home, Somi took out the letter that Nilesh had left at the lake for Manu. She had found it in their burrow, where they used to keep their toys and other stuff.It read –
I will come back for you brother.