The wind was rising in the branches of the trees, furiously rattling the bare twigs, against one another. It was gradually growing dark outside.
Sitting in the corner of the balcony, Priya watched the yellow lights deepen the shadows as they receded from the garden.
Pedestrians, mainly office-goers and shoppers, hurried home. At the end of the road, traffic could be seen moving at a snail’s pace.
Someone was singing a sweet melodious song it mingled with the drone of insects and floated delicately in the evening air.
It was Nupur, Priya’s six year-old daughter. Wearing a blue dress and a matching headband, the little child made a lovely picture, with her fair skin and soft features. She was now involved in the important task of putting her favourite doll Bunty to sleep.
The street lamps of the town now came into view. Lighted trams passed each other slowly. A few stars sparkled in the sky.
A door suddenly banged shut in some part of the house, bringing Priya to herself with an abrupt suddenness.
Slowly ,she got up and went indoors. The interior of the house was bright and glowing in direct contrast to the bleakness of her thoughts.
In the kitchen, she heated a glass of milk and carried it to the living room for her daughter. Her mother-in-law looked up from her knitting, as she entered the room. If she was anxious or worried, she did not show it in anyway.
“The brave lady”, Priya thought. “Widowed at an early age, fighting a hard and lonely battle against fate. Having to struggle hard to make ends meet. Educating her only son and helping him to establish himself in life.
In the end, however, she had won. Oh, yes, she had definitely won against fate. Her son was now a manager in a British concern.
Taking the glass of milk from Priya’s hand, the old lady said, “I will take care of this. You go and tidy yourself up Rahul should be back any minute now”.
“Yes”, Priya managed to whisper as she left the room.
Draping a towel around her shoulders, she scrubbed and cleaned her face, there were circles under her eyes, a clear sign of her sleeplessness: with uncertain fingers, she applied kajal to her eyes. A tiny red dot, in between her brows gave the pale, worried face a tinge of color.
“My sun”, Rahul would say, every time she applied the bindi. A sigh escaped her lips.
Draping a yellow Tangail sari around her, she sat on a sofa presently, distractedly leafing through a magazine, as idle thoughts floated through her mind…
Her mother was kneading flour in the kitchen, beads of perspiration on her plump arms. Her father was asleep on the rocking chair, with the paper folded on his knees.
Two girls chased each other in the garden, in front of the house. Binita the older, slim and fair, married to a Forest Officer now, in Darjeeling and Priya the younger tall with soft features..
“My fortunate one”, her father had always referred to her, for it was her birth that had brought about a new job and a pay rise for him.
Priya now wondered what luck she was going to bring for her husband. Minutes ticked by…..
“Hello”, said someone.
Priya looked up at the speaker.
A slim young man, not exactly good-looking but definitely good-tempered, smiled at her.
“Hello”, she replied.
Then, someone intervened and they were separated. But as the party was thinning, they had got together again. That was eight years back. Priya’s first meeting with Rahul. She was working in a travel agency and he had joined a British Company as a trainee. Before the party had ended, they had exchanged their telephone numbers.
From then on, their meetings had become a regular affair. . Their discussions centered mainly on books and art
Speculations on what these encounters might lead to had been dismissed by both of them. Then, as time passed, they had drifted further afield and talked in terms of love and marriage. As spring opened into summer, in a rosy floodlit building, they had been married.
From then on, her life had been both exciting and fulfilling. Priya had a happy home, a loving husband, a kind and understanding mother-in-law. When she had left her job, she had done so, without any regrets.
Friendly and boisterous by nature, Rahul had a huge circle of friends, who had welcomed Priya with open arms. There were parties to organize, cities to visit, concerts to attend, new people to meet. Life had been fast and hectic for her,in fact it seemed to be roses all the way.
Finally, six years back, her cup of happiness had been full to the brim, when Nupur, her daughter had been born.
“It was like a dream…too good to last”. Priya thought.
The sound of a fast-approaching car brought Priya out of her reverie. Hastily she got up and ran to the window. The car did not stop at their gate, but further up the road. It was their neighbour Deepak Mehta’s car.
She stood for sometime near the window with a sinking heart.
“Who was it?”her mother-in-law’s voice intruded into her thoughts.
“It was Deepak, I thought it sounded like Rahul’s car”, Priya said.
There was a pause.
“Don’t you think you ought to come away from the window? It is getting quite chilly outside. You might catch a cold”. The old lady’s voice showed concern.
Priya closed the window and looked at her watch 8 P.M
“What would the report say?” she wondered.
Before leaving in the morning, Rahul had patted her shoulder consolingly and promised to be back early with the report.
“Everything is going to be just fine”, he had said in his usual cheerful tone.
“I will leave office early today. Visit Dr Bannerjee and get the report as soon as possible. I should be back latest by 7”. He had said.
Now it was nearly 8. An unknown fear stirred inside her.
“What would the report say?” Priya wondered.
A piece of paper, holding the destiny of so many individuals in its cruel grip. A wave of despair swayed her.
She thought of that evening, when he had come home from a long and tiring tour. She had made coffee and a few tidbits to go along with it. As she brought the coffee to him, she noticed a small swelling on his neck, the size of a marble.
“Oh it is nothing ,just a swelling. I think I must have banged against something hard. It will vanish overnight, don’t worry” he had said with a brush of his hand.
It had not vanished overnight, neither did it vanish in the following days. She had wept and begged him to see a local doctor. His mother had also appealed to him. He had, out of a sense of obligation to her and his mother, visited a local compounder, who had prescribed some medicine, which did not have any effect on the lump.
“It takes time”, he had tried to reason with her but she would not listen. In desperation, she had visited Dr.Banerjee, a specialist, her father’s childhood friend and fixed an appointment with him.
Dr.Bannerjee had examined the lump and wanted a biopsy to be done.
“I should think a biopsy is necessary”, he had said, “to be on the safe side of things”
Today Rahul was going for the biopsy report. The last few days had been like a nightmare for her. She had not been able to sleep cook or eat properly.
“Why do we always think of the worst when our loved ones are concerned?” she had wondered.
Her mother-in-law had behaved in her usual calm and dignified way, as if nothing in the world had happened.
Someone rang the doorbell. It was drizzling outside.
“Sorry to be late”, he started. “Our director came down from Bombay. I Got stuck in an emergency meeting, for much longer than I had estimated.”
He picked up Nupur from the carpet and settled himself on the sofa. His eyes fell on the faces of his wife and mother. Two women tearing themselves into shreds, out of anxiety for him in their own different ways.
He would have loved to tease them by holding back the details of the report but he did not have the heart to.
“About the report”, he began. “Dr.Banerjee said there was nothing to worry about. It is just a glandular inflammation and not malignant. An operation is not necessary.”
“The doctor has prescribed a certain dose of medicine, which is not available here. I shall write to our London Office, for the medicine, first thing tomorrow so that the phial can be sent as soon as possible” He smiled all around.
Outside, the rain seemed suddenly to have stopped. A delicious aroma of coffee floated from the kitchen. The clouds seemed to have dispersed- in her mind as well- revealing a brilliantly blue sky.
A song played lightly on Priya’s lips, her heart seemed to have taken wings, ready to fly out of the window any minute, as she carried the coffee tray into the drawing room. .
All the little things of life she had taken so much for granted seemed so priceless to her. She was thankful to have them given back to her.