The room smells of a faint mix of phenyl and medication. You do not know which is which, but together they arouse an atmosphere of patience and anxiety. Added with clean white tiles, plastic curtains and a consistent aura of activity and motion, it’s almost like a hospital. Almost. Rakhi is moving endlessly on her chair, her face speaking through her cringing temples. She is in clear discomfort.
“Pappa, how much time more?”
Before my instincts rush to correct her grammar, I feel a tap on my shoulder.
“Mr. Mehra?”, the nurse dressed in a creamy white suit salwar asks. I nod as I get up in a haste.
“Can you please sign here?”, she asks, handing out a freshly printed application. I ignored all the specifications, conditions and warnings spacing above the given box. I had already rummaged my head through them before coming to this decision.
“Done?”, I ask giving it back to her, grasping Rakhi’s arm in a motion to leave.
“Sure. We appreciate your decision.”, she said donning a hospitality smile.
I will never, I thought.
********23 years later**********
The room smells of a faint mix of phenyl and medication. You do not know which is which but together they arouse an atmosphere of patience and anxiety. Added with the clean white tiles, plastic curtains and a consistent aura of activity and motion, it’s almost like a hospital. Almost. I turned my head to the whitewashed ceiling above, tired. It was gonna be a long wait, I knew. Just then, I heard a screech of wheels approaching towards me.
” Rakhi Mehra?”, the lady dragging the wheelchair asked looking up from a list.
Without a reply, I slowly step towards Pappa with acute realisation. His eyes shone like the north star and lips widened with each step closer.
“Sign here and he’s scot free”
The chair’s handle already in hands, I hastily scribbled to leave.
“Good job!”, she called out as we were departing.
Not so good, I thought.
Rakhi was pulling me with all her might as we stepped outside the building.
“Come fast, Pappa. Today is Sunday. My idlis are waiting for me!”
A hint of grimace rode over my face. Sundays. Meera waking us all up for a walk, preparing idli-dosa for breakfast and all of us going out for a shopping or a movie for the evening. Like any other family. Not anymore. No breakfasts. No outings. No family.
“Beta, mumma has office today. Next Sunday.”
“Next? So what today?”
I turned my face away, pretending to think and asked myself, so what today? And all the days to come after? How long can I go on like this? Should she ever know?
His smile hadn’t fallen even after we had stepped out. Looking up at me with the same expression which he wore whenever I came home with a medal. The one which engulfed me in dignity. But not today. Today I wished to turn away from that look which was filling me in a pool of guilt.
“How is office going?”, he finally asked.
He was smart that way. Not wanting to flood me with a series of questions at arrival- why are doing this? Why now? Did something happen? Do I need to know? Instead, he was going to start with a casual small talk, knowing that all will unfold in all the days to come after.
The days to come after, I thought. The one question didn’t have an answer for.
Waiting on the footpath for the car to come, my mind couldn’t stop racing through all what had led us up to this, countlessly. The last year had been a rough ride for me and Meera. What we had thought was love did sway us along the first of our years together but with time and the birth of Rakhi, our relationship had suffered its eventual downslide. As if all these years, we had been dwindling on a countdown. My frustration, screaming at her, disgracing, beating (that one time). Hers, listening, cringing, crying and drugging. My mind rushed back to that day I found her unconscious in her study, the doctor with a grave look, casting light on her recent habits. I, like an innocent loving husband pretending as if I could never see this coming.
I, looking at her like an inanimate object suddenly coming to life, it’s scars and bruises now appearing on to its surface. The end of our games; winning yet losing.
The decision to put her in a rehabilitation had come like a natural justice. To her, maybe. To Rakhi, definitely not.
Looking at that squinting face, I picture her asking the eventual questions- where is mumma? Why has she gone? When will she come back?; and asking myself the same.
Hoping for an answer, if one existed.
As I drove him to my apartment, his eyes slowly roamed around all that had once been familiar to him. I paused, letting him adjust. It had been seven years, he deserved this at least. He then took me by my hand, in front of him. Looking up, he pressed it gently as mist started forming at the corner of his eyes. This was a chance for us, for me to get back all that I had missed of him in the last seven years. like an influx of all what I had suppressed in my deepest corners, I retraced my steps. Never had my felt the pang of regret this hard.