It was when I observed her half lit face in the full moon night that I realized. No one looks more depressingly lost in dreams than a person looking through the window of a moving car. The moonlight chased on her skin interrupted abysmally by the lime street lights.
We passed the snaking streets in its deep sleep, the silent houses in their evanescence, the swaying trees in their waltz, in a heavy silence. A silent conversation engulfed us in its broad wings. We said nothing and yet a thousand words rallied between us.
I stole a quick glance at her from the corner of my eyes. I could see her looking into the nothingness, barely concerned about her hair as they danced about her. She kept biting her lips and twitching her nose from time to time. I remembered that she wore the same yellow top with cup cake graphics atop the same brown trousers when we went to shop for a sofa together. I hated the combination. She loved it.
“Is something the matter?” I finally broke the silence.
“Oh!” She spoke retreating from her reverie. “It’s nothing.”
We both knew what was caving into us bit by bit but for some reason unknown, neither of us could bring the subject to the table. When she sensed an uneasy silence creeping between us she spoke again.
“Neerav.” She said. Although I kept my eyes on the road I could feel her stare warming my heart. “I know I should have told you this before. I know it’s too late. But you have to understand.” She said as if there really was no other alternative. “I wanted to tell you earlier.”
“Then why didn’t you?” I asked barely refraining from giving in to my feelings.
“I just…” her voice broke, and then she composed herself, “I just couldn’t muster the courage. I always had this feeling that it would be too hard to convince you. To make you understand.”
“Understand what, Vedika?” I squeezed the steering in my suppressed anger, “You… you kept me in dark. All this time.”
“I am sorry, Neerav.” She said in a voice which vaguely resembled a whisper. “It was too hard for me then. It’s too hard now. But we have to do this. It is the best for us. You’ll understand”
“Oh, I understand.” I gently maneuvered the car into a well lit alley. A group of teenagers were playing cricket and just as I honked at them they dispersed with their bat, ball and a broken wooden chair which substituted for the wickets. We were nearly there.
“What’s his name?”
“Raza.” She spoke with a gentle smile that stretched beyond her cheekbones.
“Is he a…?” I asked an obvious question which needed no mentioning.
I stopped the car and looked at her twinkling eyes, “ Vedika. I know that you have made up your mind but I still need you to think this through. There is nothing wrong with us, baby. We could make it work. There is nothing wrong with me. Lets’ talk sense here. I don’t know what gave you this absurd idea but I don’t think this is a good one. Are you really… really sure about this?”
“I am, yes.” She said in a tender voice. “And I never said there was anything wrong with you. You are perfect.”
“If you have already made the decision yourself with no participation of mine whatsoever, then why did you want me to accompany you?”
“I know that I have made the right decision but I wanted to see your reaction when you see him yourself. Then I’ll be certain that I indeed made the right decision.”
“Hey!” yelled a skinny fellow clad in shorts and tee too loose for his composure, with the bat resting on his shoulder, “Move your car off our field. There is parking lot back there. You are delaying the game!”
Vedika chuckled as I hit the engine and our car advanced.
“I just hope you don’t regret this.”
I met Vedika in an almost uncertain circumstance. It was the late summers and I was home during my college holidays. I opened the door to my father and saw her standing behind him carrying the grocery bags. Before I could acknowledge her presence, she pounded the bags at me and extended a gentle smile. Before I could ascertain the situation she was gone down the elevator. I followed my Dad to his room. “A gentle lady”, he remarked.
He explained how she offered to help him carry the bags regardless of his protests. “Such a young gentle lady.” He remarked again.
Our second meeting was a tad longer and meaningful than the earlier one. Apparently she was a cashier in the departmental store of our society. That time I went along with my dad to carry the grocery bags and avoid another bag pounding from a stranger. In reality however, I wanted to meet her.
Even though she noticed my approaching I doubted that she recognized me from our previous, almost non-existent meeting. I let out a few conversation starters and before I knew it we were indulged in an actual conversation. I thanked her for the other day before we checked out and my father said, “Until our next visit, gentle lady.”
She had moderately olive skin and her hair was abandoned for the greater part of the time. Her wide smile was persistent below her round nose and above her barely-there chin. She was not beautiful, but she was placid and enigmatic like a drowning sun.
My father didn’t have to go grocery shopping after that. Our brief meetings near the counter enhanced into a few substantial trysts eventually and before we knew it, we fell in love.
We got married, few months after my dad passed.
“We’re here.” She exclaimed.
I pulled over and we both got out of the car. I stood looking at the white board with black writings:
Child Welfare and Adoption Agency.
Vedika walked towards me and slid her arms across mine.
“Trust me.” She whispered in my ear.
“Vedika, I told you before and I am telling you again. There is nothing wrong with me. With us.” I explored her moist eyes, “We could make our own. Our own child.”
“Why do we need to create a new blank page when we could consummate an existent half filled one?” said her obnoxiously compelling wisdom.
“Vedika…” I fumbled. “At the cost of sounding rude, I have to ask. Do you really think that this boy will blend in our lifestyle? Let’s have a moment of consideration here dear. He has not been with his parents for a greater part of his life and…”
“Neerav.” She interrupted me. “I had spent my childhood in poverty. My father passed away before I could even call him my dad. My mother raised me all by herself. I had not toys so I either played with my friends’ toys or I just played with the kitchen utensils. Their clinkering amused me.” The memory carved a gentle smile on her face.
“One day my mother brought me a discarded toy when she was fed up of the commotion in her kitchen. It was a doll. A broken, dirty, and a rather ugly doll. I was overjoyed nevertheless. However, my joy lasted only a day as when I brought it to play with my friends they laughed at me and made fun of my doll. They mocked my doll as it was broken. In other words, it was an invalid. I ran back home crying.”
“My mother, she gently caressed my head while I explained what happened. ‘It’s a useless toy’ I said and threw it away. My mother picked it and gently whispered in my ears. I could still hear those words stark as a day. ‘But my child, the doll that the others have in ever so ordinary. And what you have is a rather special one.’ She looked at my frowned and puzzled face and continued. ‘You see all those other dolls are neat and tidy and well dressed as because they are still naïve. They lack the knowledge of what the world has to offer. This one here? She is special because she has been through worse. She has been through worse, and she survived.’”
“The next day I told this to my friends. And you won’t believe. No one wanted to play with their dolls anymore. Everyone wanted to play with mine.”
“You see Neerav, it’s not what you appears to be what matters, but the story that you carry with you is what matters the most. My mother indeed had a false story for my doll, but we Neerav, we could help our child to create a grand story of this own.”
Her words perfumed my mind with a sweet delirium. I witnessed her disappearing behind the shadows of her past. It is true, I believe, that you can walk away from your past, but the past never walks away from you. It lurks in the depth of your soul, locked away in a fortress you barely visit.
She could see, I imagine, a glimpse of her past in the boy. She could see a boy deprived of his childhood. She could imagine that his mind was like a sinking ship and the feelings and emotions that reside in the mind of a child had long abandoned its vessel, like the crew abandons a sinking ship. A vessel which she was certain she could fill with love and affection.
I wanted to believe in her fairytale but my conviction pulled behind me like an anchor. I was not convinced. Not until we entered the property through the old brown wooden door with large oval grooves and blunt edges.
“Welcome back, Miss Vedika.” Exclaimed the overjoyed lady, with vague wrinkles and heavy glasses, behind the reception, “And welcome Mr. Neeraj.”
“Uh… It’s Neerav.” I corrected.
“Vashi!!” She yelled, barely concerned about my name. “Could you please fetch Raza? Tell him his new parents are here.”
“Right away, Ma’am!” emerged a soft feminine voice from inside.
“He has been awaiting your arrival since early morning.” She said with a wide grin, “All dressed and combed up, that sweet child.”
“Why don’t you two take a seat? Vedika? Mr. Neeraj?”
“It’s…” I started, “Oh forget it.” I said, more to myself than to her.
Few minutes after we took our seats, our attention invited us to a child walking towards us with uneasy and yet firm steps through the foyer. His khaki shorts below were yanked up to his chest and his navy polo was tugged beneath the shorts and buttoned to his neck. His hair was greasy with oil and combed sideways. His brows were barely visible above his brown, slim eyes. He chased a glimpse at us and smiled making his slender lips stretch slenderer.
I pulled myself off the chair and walked towards him. Vedika couldn’t be more right. I looked at him and realized that the child that stood before me had long abandoned his childhood. His mind searched for a home, in a hope to discover something new. Something meaningful. I rested my hands on his shoulder and felt his soul trembling. The boy wandered his eyes through the room until it met mine. He looked at me, as if asking for acceptance.
I sensed that Vedika was looking at us. I sensed that there were tears in her eyes and warmth in her heart. I sensed that she knew she indeed made the right decision.