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It was as if a dam had broken and everything came tumbling out. Her grief, the hollowness, the rift with her husband and the constant aching pain.
The fourth winner of our September 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Manideepa Lahiri.
“You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day”
Naina blinked and read the lines again. It seemed as if they were written for her. Naina sighed and closed the book. She leaned back and stared at the rotating fan above.
It has been two years. But the pain was still fresh. It refused to go away. She thought about the umpteen number of times she had tried to approach Dinesh. But his answer was always the same.
“What is there to talk about, Naina? I killed my only daughter. Hadn’t I insisted on driving at night, I could have seen the speeding car. And guess what? We, her parents escaped with minor scratches while my little girl…” Dinesh chocked back a sob. He couldn’t continue further.
“Oh Dinesh! It wasn’t your fault.” Naina clutched his arms.
“Please leave me alone Naina. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Naina knew they needed help, especially her husband. She suggested that perhaps they should see a psychiatrist. But Dinesh just wouldn’t hear of it.
Naina wanted her husband to talk out his grief. But the more she tried, the further he went into his shell. He spend most of his waking hours in his office trying to keep himself immersed in work which left Naina alone to fight her own demons.
Coming back to the present, Naina wiped away her tears. Was a mother’s grief any less than that of a father’s? Not a day went when she didn’t think about her deceased child. The void in her heart was swallowing her up. The accident had not only snatched away her daughter but created a permanent rift with her husband. Days dragged and nights seemed sleepless.
The only thing that kept her sane were the little children at the NGO. She had started teaching there a few months back. It was the only time in her otherwise dull day when she felt fully alive.
Naina dressed and stepped outside. It was raining cats and dogs and there seemed to be fewer vehicles on the road. Clutching the umbrella tightly, Naina stood waiting on the road for an auto. After about fifteen minutes or so, Naina was still standing in the rain, now fully drenched. She thought of turning back when she heard someone shouting her name.
“Nainajii! Here, get inside fast!”
Naina saw Ashish waving at her from inside an auto which was standing right across the road. Ashish was her colleague who too taught at the NGO. She had never spoken to him and hence hesitated. However the rain decided for her. She hurriedly got inside the auto.
“Do you live here?” Ashish asked as he looked outside.
“Yes. Um.. Thank you for the lift.” Naina said as she wiped her wet face.
Ashish broke out into a big smile.
“No need to thank me Nainaji. Today my auto took this route because of traffic and rain. It’s sheer luck that I saw you.”
Naina didn’t know what to reply. Saying ‘Thanks’ once again didn’t make any sense. So she remained silent.
Ashish however was in a talkative mood. He continued, “Actually today I got a bit late. I had a meeting with a client.”
He saw the confusion on Naina’s face.
“Oh! Didn’t I tell you that I run a small software business? Teaching the kids is my passion. Nainajii, we all live for ourselves. How many of us think about the less privileged? It is my dream to see them stand on their own feet and lead a purposeful life.”
Naina smiled for the first time. She liked his honesty and more importantly his infectious smile. Soon they reached the school and went away to their respective classrooms.
After that day, they met frequently in the staff room. Ashish never lacked conversation while Naina mostly talked in monosyllables. But she enjoyed his company. He never asked about her personal life unlike many of her other colleagues. What she liked most about Ashish was his happy go lucky nature.
One day, Ashish asked Naina, ” Will you come with me? I want to show you something.”
Naina agreed and Ashish took her to his place. As they entered the building he took her to the parking area. A brand new car stood there, the garland still fresh on its newly coated body. Ashish swept his hands towards the car and exclaimed, “Taraaaa!! My first car!”
Naina’s hand went to her throat and she let out a scream.
“What’s the matter Naina? Are you alright?” Ashish asked her worriedly.
“It’s the ss…same cc..car th..that killed my daughter!” Naina stammered and soon broke down into heart wrenching sobs.
Ashish took her to his apartment and gave her a glass of water to drink. Naina calmed down but she still seemed disturbed.
“Would you like to talk about it?” Ashish asked her gently.
His invitation was just what she needed. And as she started narrating the whole incident, she felt a heavy weight come off her chest. It was as if a dam had broken and everything came tumbling out. Her grief, the hollowness, the rift with her husband and the constant aching pain. It was the first time that she was actually saying the words. Talking about it.
That night Naina slept peacefully without waking up to the bad dreams of that fateful night.
The next day, Naina approached Ashish.
“Thank you Ashish for listening to me yesterday. You don’t know how you have helped me. However, I am feeling guilty. You were so excited about your car and I spoiled it for you. Actually, the model of your car is the same….” Naina paused and took a deep breath.
“The colour of your car is very rare, not generally seen on the road. That was the reason I was so shocked.”
Ashish smiled at her.
“But it was the sight of my car that provided you an opportunity to vent out your feelings. Isn’t it Naina? All these years you had bottled up your feelings inside you. They didn’t let you live. They needed an outlet.”
“Yes you are right Ashish. I hadn’t realized that.”
“But still there is one more thing left. Please come with me Naina.”
Naina followed her friend outside the school. She saw his car parked outside. Ashish opened the passenger door.
“Naina, please take a seat.”
The sight of the car still gave her goosebumps. It was a reminder of the accident. Naina shook her head.
Ashish was adamant.
“I want you to come out of your past Naina. It’s ruining your present. This is just a car. It didn’t kill your daughter. Please try to see it that way. The harsh reality is that your daughter is dead. She isn’t coming back. But you and your husband are alive. Please don’t die before death comes.”
The full force of Ashish’s words hit her like cold ice and she realized that the time had indeed come to let go. Let go of the bitterness and accept the truth.
Naina slowly walked towards the open door and sat down. Ashish turned the key and started the car.
Naina felt the cool breeze on her face and she closed her eyes. Instantly, into her mind popped the smiling face of her daughter. A tear escaped her eyes but she no longer felt dead.
Opening her eyes, she turned towards Ashish.
“I won’t thank you. You have done what any good friend would do. All I can say is that you will always be in my prayers Ashish. You have been a true blessing in my life.”
That evening Naina found Dinesh already at home. She rushed towards him.
“Dinesh are you alright? You are back so early.”
Dinesh was looking at the photograph of his daughter. He kept it back on the shelf and turned towards her. He looked haggard and his eyes were red.
Running his fingers through his hair, he said, “Naina, I can’t go on like this. Please… please help me!”
Naina quickly walked towards him and took him in her arms. With tears flowing down her cheeks, she said, “Talk it out Dinesh! I am listening.”
Editor’s note: In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month got bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.
The writing cue for September 2019 is this quote from the poem Someone Leans Near, from the book Five Poems by Nobel Prize awardee Toni Morrison, a towering literary giant, who passed away recently on 5th August 2019 at the age of 88.
“You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day”
Manideepa Lahiri wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: shutterstock
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