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Ish held the paper in his hand. It seemed brittle with age. He opened the folds by carefully easing the yellowed edges wth his finger tips. The paper was thick, the kind of paper he used when he was in school. He could remember the the feel of that kind of paper. He just was passionate about papers, reading and writing and more than everything, speaking. There was no one to beat him on stage when he held the mike. That was how he had come to head one of the leading law firms in London. A millionaire he was now and it was quite long since he had the time to visit the place he was born, grew up and got educated. As he stood in that small room furnished with a single cot and a table, he could remember things, insignificant and purile, yet, held his thoughts for long. Things like how he used to hide behind the door when he and his cousins played hide and seek, how he memorised the one page speech over and over again till he started muttering it in his sleep!
He opened the shutters of the window with a jerk and remembered the time he had closed it. His new bride was standing in front of him and he thought that she was shaking because of the chill draught from the window and was obliged to close it. He shook his head and brought himself to the present and looked into the paper. He even wondered what made him want to read it. He looked at the plastic photo frame in which it was hidden. The photo was his, wearing his convent uniform and beaming a proud smile. It had always been there ever since it was mounted in that frame.
It had all happened too fast. His father in his death bed, his mother pleading with him to tie the marital knot with that unknown girl, to fulfil his father’s dying wish. He then had to tell her about his affair with Wendy, eight years his senior, and how they were planning to get married after registering the house which both he and Wendy had planned to buy. His mother went hysterical at that. She shouted that he was so ungrateful that he would not even fulfil his father’s dying wish and so he had to give in.
It was in the same room that he saw the girl for the first time after their marriage. He told her everything as he did not want her to believe that they were going to live a life together. The nameless bride had big round eyes and he could see shock in them. He told her that he was to return to London, without her of course, to get married to Wendy and live his life there. She took it pretty well, he thought; perhaps she was used to shocks in life. His father saved him the embarrassment of spending the night with her in the same room and perhaps on the same bed. He passed away before the girl had got over the shock her new husband had given her. Ish performed the final rites in a hurry, told his mother that he would be back in a couple of days and left. His life turned out to be so beautiful after that. He was racing up in his profession and affluence and Wendy brought heaven into his personal life. He could not please her family, though. They could not come to terms with the fact that Wendy had married a dark fellow.
His mother’s letters were a bit disconcerting at times, but he got over the feeling of remorse by sending her a lot of money. He knew her brothers would take care of her. She must have been very well taken care of, as she had lived quite long – outlived his wife Wendy. Wendy had passed away of heart attack a couple of years back. Life had become monotonous as they had no children.
Ish was not surprised over the hostile reception he got in India when he saw them all – after so many years. Mother was able to recognize him, but she turned her head away. “I don’t want to see you. Ask him to go away,” she muttered feebly.
“The surgery took longer than I had thought it would,” he could identify the same metallic voice that had spoken to him over the phone and explained his mother’s critical condition. She had identified herself as a cardiologist and a surgeon. He moved back to give room for the doctor to examine his mother.
“Ma, how do you feel now?” she asked his mother.
“Why did you make me live, to see his face again?” his mother cried softly. The doctor stroked his mother’s hair and spoke soothing words. His eyes wandered across the people there and he could identify his uncles and aunts. But they all averted their faces from his glance.
“Mother, don’t be angry. I couldn’t do anything else. I didn’t want to live here. My life is else where. Please understand. I became extremely busy. I didn’t have time for anything. Didn’t you and father want me to be happy? Then why did you want to force a life on me which wouldn’t have suited my temperament?” He couldn’t explain it. His mother tongue had failed him. It was such a long time since he had spoken it.
His mother died with a final wish that he should not perform the last rites for her. He was packing the few things he had brought, getting ready to leave. He saw the doctor approaching him.
“I’m sorry it had to happen this way. I thought you would want to see her at least once before she died. I have not introduced myself. I am Dr. Sharadha who talked to you over the phone. I could get your number as you are quite well known there. Your mother had written a letter to you sometime back. .”
The doctor smiled and brought that old picture of his in his school uniform. She removed the frame and brought out the letter from behind the photo. She extended it towards him. With a jolt remembered when was it that she had extended something towards him previously. Very vaguely he remembered a thin girl offering him kheer in the same room, behind closed doors, which he never took. She must have seen the shock in his face. “Yes, I was married to you, through emotional blackmail, I suppose,” she laughed.
“S..Sorry,” he stammered.
“No, don’t be. Had you accepted me I would have lost myself. Thank you for making me realise my worth, for finding me.” she smiled.
“Why do you talk to that wretch?” someone admonished her from inside. “You have been taking care of his mother all these years. The wretch didn’t even come to see her once.”
He started reading the letter. Somehow he found it very difficult to read, though it was written in simple English.
When you read this, you might have forgotten your mother tongue. So I have asked our neighbour’s child to write this. You know how ecstatic we were when you came into our life. We got you from an orphanage as we could not have a baby of our own. We wanted to give you the best of everything…….”
Ish couldn’t read anymore. The brittle paper broke into bits and fell from his hands.