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All that my befuddled mind registered was the fact that I had forgotten to switch my phone back to ‘Normal’ mode. My poor mother had been calling me frantically for help while I was busy getting myself drunk.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Manideepa Lahiri is one of the winners for the March 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. About this story, our author juror for this month, Andaleeb Wajid says, “This story had everything – although I was a bit apprehensive when it started, but it ended perfectly!”
Anyone looking at me from a distance would see a young woman engrossed on her laptop. However, if they watched closely, they would find all my senses were actually focused on the small group that had gathered around the coffee machine for a short break. I bet they were up to something. It was pretty evident from the excitement in their voices. How I wished I could join them but…
I sighed. I wasn’t too close with the people at work for these very reasons. They would all make plans to go out somewhere after work. To decompress, they called it. To have fun. I had to come back home so that my parents didn’t worry about anything untoward happening to me. But it was more to satisfy the wagging tongues of the many aunties in the family who were appalled that my parents were ‘letting me work’ instead of getting me married.”
Startled, I glanced up. Animesh was leaning over my desk. We worked together and for a long time I had been harbouring a secret crush on him.
“Want to join us for a drink after work?” he asked.
My heart started beating wildly. He had never asked me before. Maybe it was his proximity or his persuading tone that worked it’s magic. Because for the first time in my life, I gave in to a temptation.
‘Just one evening,’ I promised myself. ‘That’s all.’
Taking a deep breath I answered,
Animesh’s eyes widened with surprise. He certainly hadn’t expected it. However, he recovered swiftly and said, “That’s great. See you in the evening then.”
He left and I sat thinking. Had I really said yes? A strange sensation of thrill mixed with fear coursed through my body.
Some places are contagious. The moment you step inside, you get sucked into their energy. Whatever apprehensions I had vanished in the dim light of the ‘Bar cum Restaurant’ and my heart started dancing to the hard rock music playing in the background.
“Here, have a drink.” Animesh offered me a glass filled with brown liquid and added almost as an afterthought, “Or….you can have starters if you don’t wish to drink.”
“I would just like to taste a bit.” I said, uncertainly.
The glass was halfway to my lips when my phone started ringing. One look at the caller ID and I closed my eyes in irritation. It was so typical of Ma to call me at the most inopportune moment. Irritated, I declined her call and gulped down the entire contents of the glass in just one go.
“Are you alright?” Animesh looked at me with concern.
I nodded my head which suddenly felt as light as a feather.
The wretched phone buzzed again. This time I straightway switched it to ‘Aeroplane mode’.
It was quite late when we stepped outside. Animesh offered to get me a cab. But I hopped on to a bus hoping the cool breeze would clear my head.
By the time I reached home, it was close to 10.30 pm. My stomach tightened in anticipation of the upcoming outbursts. With trembling hands, I pressed the doorbell. It opened almost immediately.
“Where have you been?” hollered one of my aunts. “Do you know what happened? Your father collapsed! Your uncles took him to the hospital. And where is your phone? We tried calling you so many times but….”
I didn’t hear the rest. All that my befuddled mind registered was the fact that I had forgotten to switch my phone back to ‘Normal’ mode. My poor mother had been calling me frantically for help while I was busy getting myself drunk.
Tears of guilt and shame ran down my cheeks as I rushed to see my father. I would never forgive myself if something happened to him!
At the hospital, I found my uncles huddled in a corner, conferring amongst themselves in hushed tones while my mother sat alone on a far away bench shedding silent tears.
“Ma!” I ran towards her. “How’s papa?”
“Oh Divya! He…he had a heart attack!” She sobbed as I held her tightly in my arms. “They have put him on medications. But the doctor said that he needs to undergo an emergency bypass surgery. Your uncles are deciding what to do.”
“What’s there to decide Ma?” I frowned. “This hospital has some of the best doctors in town. Do you realise that we might be running out of precious time? Wait…let me talk with them.”
Instantly, I approached my elder uncle. He looked at me gravely and said, “Look Divya, we brought bhaiya here because it was nearer to our house. But it’s also very expensive. The cost of the surgery is well beyond our means. So…we have decided that we would shift him elsewhere.”
“Even then we might not be able to bear the entire expenditure,” chirped in my younger uncle. “You see..” he cleared his throat. “We have so many mouths to feed.”
“I see.” I said, trying hard to control my temper. “Well, I am grateful to all of you for everything you have done until now. But henceforth, you needn’t worry about my father. I will take care of him. He will undergo the surgery here itself. That too now!”
I walked off leaving my uncles standing there gaping at my back. My mind was suddenly clear of all confusions and anxiety. For I knew exactly what was to be done.
Firstly, I went to meet with the doctor. After giving him my consent for the surgery, I called up my company’s insurance agency. Since both my parents were covered under their scheme, the formalities went off without any glitch.
Next, I visited the nearest ATM and withdrew a large amount from my savings account which contained all my earnings till date.
Ma protested vehemently, “Save them for your marriage.” I chose not to listen to her.
My aunts, who hereto had taunted my parents for letting me work now sang a different tune.
“Of course, Divya will bear all her father’s expenses. If not her, then who else? After all she is working, isn’t she?”
My uncles snickered, “How much does that chit of a girl earn, huh? Thousands? Lacs? Let’s see how she manages to get all that money!”
I turned a deaf ear to everything they said. Nothing mattered other than the wellbeing of my father.
15 days later, I brought my Papa home. And silenced the wagging tongues once and for all!
Some incidents change the course of your life. The day papa fell ill, my life changed in a manner I had never dreamt possible.
For one, the aunties have stopped meddling in my affairs. Secondly, my parents no longer expect me to reach home by a particular time. Instead they ask me to be careful.
I have made a few good friends at work and we go out occasionally. To decompress. But I have sworn myself off alcohol. Once bitten twice shy!
Animesh and I are still seeing each other. We are taking it one step at a time. Marriage is not yet on the cards but we are happy.
Most importantly, I am happy!
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Andaleeb Wajid, author of 27 published novels, scattered across different genres such as romance, YA, and horror. Her horror novel It Waits was shortlisted at Mami Word to Screen 2017 and her Young Adult series, The Tamanna Trilogy has been optioned for screen by a reputed production house. Andaleeb’s novel When She Went Away was shortlisted for The Hindu Young World Prize in 2017. Andaleeb is a hybrid author who has self-published more than 10 novels in the past two years.
The cue is from her latest book Only You that releases on March 5 on Kindle.
“I wasn’t too close with the people at work for these very reasons. They would all make plans to go out somewhere after work. To decompress, they called it. To have fun. I had to come back home so that my parents didn’t worry about anything untoward happening to me. But it was more to satisfy the wagging tongues of the many aunties in the family who were appalled that my parents were ‘letting me work’ instead of getting me married.”
Image source: a still from Four More Shots Please
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