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Sister, Stranger, Saviour…

Posted: December 16, 2019

Two cups of kahwa were placed on the table. They had finally found the right time for it. Maybe. The loudspeakers hadn’t stopped blaring as yet. Only they had found another narrative.

The second winner of our December 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Sonia Dogra.

It was just another morning. There was a real nip in the air and it sat like a red cherry atop Natasha’s nose. Her hands should have been numb with the cold but no… instead she felt a surge of warmth as she reached out to ring the doorbell.

It had taken her twenty-nine long years to be home! Home…was it?

*

The valley had been seething. Natasha was pacing up and down her grocery shop keeping beat with the clanking of the coins in the tiny potli tied to her waist. Sabah had promised her she would be there by nine. Natasha turned to look at the clock. Five to ten.

‘Should she just put down the shutter and take-off? After all, she wasn’t going forever. A few weeks…may be months. Did she really need someone to take care of her business?’

“Baba’s business,” Komal reminded her. “I am sure he wouldn’t have ever approved of handing over the shop and the house to anybody from just anywhere…”

“I have known Sabah for a while now…,” Natasha interrupted her younger sister.

*

It was in February 1990 that the two girls had spoken for the first time. The sky had been overcast that morning. The forecast on the radio about a possible snowfall wasn’t enough to hold Sabah back home. She had missed plenty of classes after abbu had passed away and needed to get her act together before the final exams. She was ammi’s only hope.

Natasha was a stickler for attendance and nothing could keep her from attending college every single day. Not even a deadly weather forecast. But the others had paid much attention to the dipping temperatures and the classrooms wore a deserted look that day. It was then that the two acknowledged each other, a first for them in three years.

Gusts of snow flurried outside the window as Natasha decided to speak first. Having lost baba when she was thirteen, she found it easy to slip into Sabah’s shoes. It wasn’t the best time for two girls with such varied backgrounds to knit yarns of friendship. But, they say, when you hurt at the same place all other noises in the vicinity die out and what you hear is only an echo of your own sighs.

The hateful narratives that blared from loudspeakers never made sense to Sabah anyway. Only now they seemed weirder than ever before.

“This is going to get okay,” said Sabah.

“The weather…you mean?”

“Nah…Huh…yes, the weather. The weather I mean. So, you said I could have your notes?”

“Yes. Would you like to come home with me?” Natasha asked wondering though if that would be okay.

There was pin-drop silence…the kind of quiet that is only hypothetical in schools and colleges.

“Professor Abid would have loved this ideal classroom situation,” Sabah said looking out of the window.

And then her thoughts turned to Natasha’s question. She wouldn’t mind, she thought. There was no way the weather was getting any better and she could care for a hot cup of tea before following the long trail back to her house. It would be great in fact.

“No. I think not today,” she blurted, surprising herself. Hadn’t she meant to say something else!

Natasha’s eyes were fixed to the blackboard. The clean slate with light impressions of an Economics lesson. And then, as if, she read kafir written right there in the centre! She rubbed her eyes hard and recalled the writing on the wall outside her home.

“Yes. Maybe on a better day,” she replied.

College lasted for two months after that cold February afternoon. Two girls sat together on a wooden bench through classes. Sometimes they shared their thoughts, posing a few questions and preferring to leave them unanswered. They walked back home together, in silence, like parallel lines. For Sabah, these walks salvaged her, the kind of rescue you need when you have just lost someone. Midway, on some days, they completed formalities of invitations to tea or dinner and declined each politely, knowing well that it wasn’t the right time. Sometimes, though, they wondered if cups of kahwa or bowls of rajmah and evenings of chitter-chatter had a wrong time actually!

The sun had begun to stay longer and exchanged notes had successfully found their way into answer sheets. But the atmosphere was terse. Much more than before. Most of family and friends had begun to trickle out and Natasha, Komal and amma couldn’t be exceptions.

“It would be a good idea to give the shop on lease. Or better still to sell it off,” amma said. They would manage enough to start afresh in Delhi.

It wasn’t easy though. To get a buyer that early was near impossible.

“I do think we will be able to return in a few months. It wouldn’t be wise. I know of someone trustworthy who can look after the business while we are away,” Natasha almost promised to her mother on behalf of Sabah.

*

Sabah zoomed in, tumbling over a sack of rice and then looked at the old, Ajanta clock, almost apologetically. Five to ten. The stack of account books stared at her from the table. So did Komal.

‘So, this is her. The Sabah we are going to entrust a life’s savings with.’ She thought, loud enough.

The two girls ignored Komal and got down to some serious business. They had several conversations in that quarter of a day. That was all the time they had, didn’t they?

Natasha helped Sabah through the ledgers. Not a thing to be done in a jiffy but there wasn’t much time. Anyway, they would be in touch. And it was only about a few weeks…at the most some months. Would it do to deposit the cash every month? Or should she simply keep the money at home. And she wouldn’t be able to sit for an entire day or maybe even for days together. But she would visit often, very often. And clean up the place and check on the house as well.

There were papers in the cupboard just in case… and they would be carrying the gold. Most accounts had been settled but there might just be one odd…but Natasha would call and be in touch. She so wanted her father’s home to stay. She so wanted his kiraana shop to not go away. But what if…

Oh, life always has ifs and buts…doesn’t it? But we still hope. And that’s all that we can do. Sabah was sure she wouldn’t go anywhere, not until Natasha returned.

*

‘There you are!’ The words knocked in Sabah’s head as she opened the door, the February chill getting to her. ‘Who takes twenty-nine years to find their way back home?’ She left the door open and walked back in.

Natasha followed her quietly. Sabah had changed. Her nose had become longer, her face thinner. There were fine lines on her forehead. But the house, the house hadn’t changed a bit. Natasha instantly made way to the shelf. There, stood proudly, her family picture. Not a frame out of place.

‘Your home.’ Sabah’s eyes, deep and sunken, seemed to convey.

‘Yours.’ Natasha was sure.

Two cups of kahwa were placed on the table. They had finally found the right time for it. Maybe. The loudspeakers hadn’t stopped blaring as yet. Only they had found another narrative. Natasha held the cup in her hands, its warmth a shade of Sabah’s heart.

“This is going to get okay,” said Sabah.

“The chill…you mean?”

“Nah…Huh…yes, the chill. The chill I mean.”

“Wasn’t that supposed to happen twenty-nine years ago? It only got worse Sabah!”

“At least we managed a cup of tea together.”

And so, two girls sat together sharing thoughts over chai, asking questions once again and leaving them unanswered for another time. They had waited and walked back. They had rescued the other, each on a different day. They weren’t beholden to turn from strangers to saviours. But they had. And they had been both!

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 December 2019 is this quote from the poem The Princess saves Herself in This One by poet Amanda Lovelace, whose book The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One was selected for the Goodreads Choice Award 2018 for Best Poetry in 2018.
“it is strange
how sisters
can
be saviors
or strangers
& sometimes
a bit of both.”

Sonia Dogra wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: Unsplash

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