Ashtami

“Father”, his son-in-law exhaled heavily over the phone, “we had to bring her to the hospital.”

“But”, he summoned all his efforts to say, “but there was more time.”

“I know”, the son-in-law replied, “could just come up once?”

He kept the phone back. Sweating, he ran through his chores as fast as he could, but it still took him half-an-hour to rush out. At 60, he was not that fast anymore.

Sitting in the bus he looked out. It was almost 9 in the morning and the ladies were walking in groups dressed in new sarees, with flowers and sweets in plates to the nearest puja pandals. He remembered, it was Ashtami.

‘Time has a cruel way of pricking old wounds,’ he thought. Six years ago, on this very day, he had lost her, the love of his life. The third and most important day of Durga Puja had only left to be an occasion of mourning since then. Never again had he stepped in a house of God. 

He tried calling, but the call would not connect. He sweated heavily, and an uncomfortable lump kept disturbing at the throat. He looked out to let the wind on his face.

“You take care of them”, she said that day six years ago, when he sat by her bed alone on that Saptami evening.

“Don’t worry”, he had somehow managed, “you just come home soon.”

“I will”, she had promised, “I will.”

That night never saw the morning again. 

The bus was stuck in the jam for quite some time now. He looked at his watch. Almost 10. 

“You take care of them” he remembered again. Not even six months had gone by when their dog had died. Of grief mostly, they said. It had almost stopped eating after the day she died. It was inevitable. “I failed you” he had said to her photo that night they buried the little spaniel in their backyard. “I could not save him. But I will never let anything happen to our daughter and son.”

The promise was well kept till now. The daughter was married off a couple of years back. And the son was already looking for a job. “We have managed somehow,” he remembered saying to her smiling face in the photo, the day their daughter got married, “You said you would come home. I needed you so much today.”

It was almost 11 when he stepped out of the bus. Breaking through the Sealdah crowd he almost ran towards the hospital. Panting, he entered at last. But they were not there at the visitor’s lobby. Nervous, he asked the nurse, who informed that the patient was still in OT. Sweating, he took the elevator to the fifth floor. When the door opened he could see his son-in-law standing outside the operation theater. The OT light was off. Apparently, it was over.

Lost and anxious, he walked slowly out of the elevator towards his son-in-law. Seeing him, the son-in-law rushed to him.

“What?” his voice was almost failing.

“They just took her out,” he said, and then embraced him, “she is here.

For a moment the words did not make any sense. Then it dawned. He stepped back. His son-in-law smiled at him for the first time, “you are a grandfather now. Its a daughter.”

He kept looking blank at his son-in-law who kept explaining that the how it had become critical, but now both mother and daughter were now ok. He kept saying that all the others had gone out to buy sweets the moment they heard it. He kept saying how they all said that it was their mother who had returned as their daughter now, on the same day she had gone away. 

But he heard nothing. Slowly he stepped back and sat down on the bench by the wall. And then holding his head in his hands, for the first time in six years, he broke down in tears, sighing, “You kept your promise. You came home.”

The son-in-law gave him a moment. The others had come back with sweets. Slowly he stepped closer and put his hand on his shoulder. 

“Father,” he said, “come, we can see her now.”

A moment later he stood up, smiling and wiping away his tears. ‘Its not everyday, not often,’ he thought ‘but sometimes, if we suffered enough, time could put a permanent balm on an old wound as well’.

(Inspired by true events)

© Arindam Dey

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