A Ten Year Old Wish
A Ten Year Old Wish
I tried to walk normally and shake off the waddle. It was hard for me. It was hard to see my home after ten sets of ‘three hundred and sixty five days’. I had forgotten what my garden smelt like, what kind of sound my doorbell made, and how awkward the blue letterbox looked against the chrome wall. I had to wait for a long time. I had lost hope, but even oblivion has an exit door. And I found it. I will always find it. For you.
My finger could not press the doorbell switch once I was facing the door. Yes… I could smell her. I stood there, nonplussed for no clear reason at all, but I kept standing until I heard the door getting unlatched. I knew there was no need for the doorbell to ring. When she opened the door and looked at me, I realised that poets run behind fancy words in vain, while the true essence of paradise lies in the eyes of the person you love. She was not only my wife, but also my friend, my confidante. She kept staring at me, struggling to believe, and I was reluctant to erase the line between dream and reality for her. There she stood, a lamp in her hand, her locks glowing against the light, and her eyes sparkling in all their glory. I wished I were a painter.
I finally smiled and said, “It’s really me. You can let me in. I won’t bite you.”
She did not smile, and I missed it. I missed how she used to burst into peals of epileptic laughter at my jokes that hardly even qualified as jokes. But that was long back. People change. People make people change.
I sat down on my armchair. She did not utter a word. She went to the other room, and after a few minutes, she emerged, locked the room behind her, and occupied the seat in front of my chair. Now I noticed the teardrop. I said, “There is no point now, Sarah. We were perhaps not meant to share a life.”
She wiped her tears, nodded, and made a desperate attempt at faking a smile. I watched intently how well she had maintained the house. “I don’t think you made any changes since I left.”
Sarah said, “No. Changes weren’t necessary.”
“No Sarah, they weren’t. They are now.”
“Why have you come, David? After all these years…what have you come to see?”
“I came to see you, Sarah.”
She stood up and walked towards the open window. The moonlight cascaded in and slanted all over her face. I understood a weird human psychology – the person you love somehow looks a little more beautiful when she cries for you. Somehow.
I did not know what to say. I stopped rocking my chair and said, “Are you not happy that I am here?”
She did not reply. I had anticipated this. It was normal. I went forward and held her hand. She jerked away from me for an instance, but slowly came closer again. She was no longer looking me in the eye. She whispered in a voice tear-soaked voice, “Why on earth did you leave us, David?”
I held her hand, while my fingers slowly ran through the gaps and ridges of her fingers. She had always been like this. Carrying an uncanny radiance. Always reminding of the goodness in people. I whispered, “I had to go. You know my reasons, Sarah.”
She shook her head, tears rolling down her cheeks. She was right. Maybe I was too selfish. Maybe I should not have abandoned them. I had no idea her life would turn into this. Had I known this, I would not have left her.
I said, “You have to forget me, Sarah. You should not hold on to the same strings. Why did you not marry someone?”
She now looked me in the eye and said, “I can’t believe you asked me that. David, don’t you remember anything? Any of the millions of things we did when we were together? All the promises that you had made? Was it all one big sand castle? Was it so easy for you to wash it away?”
I tried to put my arms around her but she stepped back. I felt a sting somewhere inside my chest. I whispered, “I am sorry, Sarah. I know you hold me responsible for everything. I am sorry.”
She kept crying. I could not imagine how difficult I had made things for her. All of a sudden, after all these years, an unannounced appearance like this could shake the very soul of a person who was already struggling to heal. It was like scratching a dry wound. I moved towards the bookshelf, and she stood there motionless. “Your taste has changed,” I said, noticing poetry books instead of a haphazard collection of jungle lore. “You now prefer Keats over Corbett.”
Sarah sat down on a chair. She was feeling weak, I could tell. I now looked at the closed door. “She is twelve now, isn’t she?”
Sarah looked and smiled. Tears and smile. Just as beautiful as sunshine and rains together. “Yes. She is.”
“I hope she doesn’t ask about her father much. It would be troublesome for you to explain to a twelve year old what I did to her and her mother.”
Sarah remained quiet. After a moment’s pause I asked, “Is she asleep?”
“Can I see her?”
Sarah did not reply. I begged, “Please. Do not deny me this.”
I knew she would not. She slowly opened the door, held my hand and walked into the room. She had done this exact same thing the exact same way ten years ago, to surprise me because my daughter had said her first word, which had seemed gibberish to me then, but somehow Sarah was sure it was definitely ‘Pa’.
In the dim light of the night lamp, I watched her sleep. My daughter. I could not hold back my tears any longer. I had to wipe my eyes repeatedly to get the best view of my child. She looked exactly like Sarah used to look when she was a kid. I had known Sarah since we were fourteen. My daughter reminded me how swiftly time flies, and how mercilessly it waits for none.
I cautiously placed my hand on her head. She was bewitching. I planted a soft kiss on her cheek and noiselessly came back to the adjoining room. The sting in my chest had gone.
I heaved a sigh and sat down. I looked at Sarah and said, “You’re growing old quite fast.”
She smiled and said, “Who cares.”
“How is she, Sarah? What does she like to do?”
“She paints really well. I have arranged for a weekly arts class. She makes a mess when I’m not at home.”
I laughed. “Like we used to do when we were kids? Both of us were terrible at painting. We always ended up painting our hands and faces more than the paper.”
Sarah laughed, and the sound kept ringing in my ears for the next few minutes. I said, “And what does she love to eat?”
“Cookies. She can live on cookies.”
“She is good in all subjects except Mathematics.”
I felt satiated. I wasted a few minutes pondering over what could have been, after which Sarah spoke, “David, tell me, why are you really here?”
I cupped her face and said nothing. She held my hands. When my lips touched hers, it somehow made me feel complete. It made me feel the troubled child in me had finally found the missing piece of his broken toy. She stared deep into my eyes trying to find answers. I said, “When the bullet hit my head, I did not die instantly. I was alive. For almost a minute.”
Sarah looked at me, this time tears gushing down her eyes. “I don’t want to hear it…David, please…”
“You should Sarah. You should know what I was thinking in those last precious seconds.”
Sarah, amidst furious hiccups, waited for me to speak.
“When the bullet hit me, I want you to know that I felt absolutely nothing. But when I fell down on the soil that already had the stink of blood, I saw, for a brief moment, the sky filled with dust and smoke. I heard sharp cries and grenades exploding. And then I longed to see the sky, blue as it should have been. I wanted to hear my daughter’s ‘Pa’ amidst all the explosions and cries. I wanted to see your face, Sarah. I wanted to feel your hand in mine. And when I realised none of it was possible, I wanted to die quickly.”
Sarah buried her face in my chest. The sting was back. Probably shrapnel.
I held her firmly and said, “Nobody told me ‘let us go home’. But I am sorry Sarah, for the hell I have pushed you into. Had I been more alert that day…maybe, just maybe, I could have watched my daughter paint my ridiculous face now.”
Sarah asked, “Why could not you come to us earlier? What took you so long?”
“I cannot explain this to you, Sarah. It’s a confusing place, where I am now. It’s so dark, and there are so many doors…it took me time to get to the right door. But I never stopped searching for it. How could I? My last wish was to watch my daughter grow.” I looked at all my medals behind the glass cases.
“I wanted to be with her, but that is sadly not possible. But tonight I had my last wish fulfilled. I did watch her grow. And also, held your hand. In my home.”
I stayed with Sarah for a few more minutes that night, but finally I had to leave. I knew she was a strong woman. Exceptionally strong. The moment she had opened the door for me, I had seen it in her eyes. She was not afraid. She was relieved.
The place where I come from, as I said, is like a maze. But I have found the door once, and I shall find it again when needed. For you.