Hold On To Me: Part III
Hold On To Me: Part III30 mins 10.6K 30 mins 10.6K
It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody
- Maya Angelou
The elevator door opened with a ping.
As Niamat was getting in, her phone rang. Seeing Savi’s face flashing on the screen, she quickly answered it. “Hi sis. Let me call you back”, she said hurriedly, disconnecting the phone. She prodded Shiloh towards the open doors, “What’s wrong Shiloh?”, she asked. There was lots to be done and she had been a bit upset when her mom had asked her to take Shiloh for a walk. Age was catching up and Shiloh was no longer as agile as he used to be. Their golden retriever had taken his own sweet time around the park. Any other day, she would have enjoyed taking Shiloh out, but she had deadlines to meet.
Niamat interned with one of Delhi’s most prestigious law firms. Some of the clients were high profile businessmen and politicians and even though she did not agree with the firm’s capitalistic approach, having its name on her resume would open many doors in the future. Her ultimate goal was to fight the righteous battles.
‘You know Niamat, we all feel this way when we graduate from law school. After that it comes down to the basic economics of it. But, don't get discouraged with the reality of things. Stay true to your goals, but do be realistic’, her mentor had told her on hearing her ideas.
And here she was, and at the moment Shiloh seemed to be an impending obstacle in her path to success. Niamat was a carbon copy of her mother, fair complexioned, petite and light eyed, though her temperament was quite the opposite. While Aliya worried and got flustered easily, Niamat’s temperament epitomised , “Cool Like A Cucumber”. She hardly ever got flustered, but at that particular moment, she seemed quite irritable.
“God! Shiloh! I need to get home now. You can go out later with Mom. Now hurry up”, she said agitatedly, gently pushing Shiloh into the elevator.
She spun around and almost collided into the woman behind her. The cool voice had taken her by surprise. “Sorry! I didn't hear you coming. It’s just my dog, who is being ridiculously
obstinate all of a sudden”, she said, smiling sheepishly and running her hand through her hair, while holding on to Shiloh’s leash.
“I’ll hold the door while you take her inside”, the woman offered.
“Him! His name is Shiloh”, Niamat smiled at the woman. Tall, at almost 6 feet, the woman’s face had a calm radiance. Fair, with a translucent complexion; her deep brown eyes; her loosely tied hair; made her look ethereal. She wore a peach Lucknowi Chikan tunic and beaded bracelets adorned her wrists. In comparison, Niamat in her tracks and her hair tied up, was in a state of dishevel.
‘Oh My God! I can't believe I am feeling so self conscious about what I’m wearing’, she thought to herself, letting out a giggle.
“All okay?”, the woman asked quizzically.
“Sorry. Yes, Just remembered something”, she smiled back, getting back to prodding Shiloh into the elevator. He seemed a bit edgy and Niamat found it a bit odd. “He is not like this normally.”
The woman smiled and ran her hand through Shiloh’s coat. “He is lovely.” Shiloh seemed to warm up to the stranger and quickly got inside the elevator.
“Finally!”, Niamat exclaimed as the two of them got in and the elevator door closed. She quickly pressed 24. “What floor are you headed to?”
“36”, smiled the woman and pressed the button.
She finished reading her book and turned to put it on her bedside table. The clock flashed 3:00am. The book had been worth the sleepless night and now that she had finished reading it, she felt her brain slow down. She could barely keep her eyes open.
‘Thank God I don't need to get up early tomorrow morning!’, she thought, covering herself with the comforter. As she was alone in her room, she decided to leave the bedside lamp on. Every time she read something intense, her sleep got disturbed. She knew she was in for another restless night. She chided herself for having given into temptation yet again. Sleep teased her and in her semiconscious state, she turned to the side. Fatigue soaked her body and just when she was on the verge of deep sleep, she sensed some movement near her window. She wasn't sure whether it was her subconscious mind playing games or something was happening for real. It was really difficult to open her eyes wide and this confused her.
Was she on the verge of drifting into a dream?
In her semiconscious state, she turned her head to see what it was. She noticed a faint silhouette floating towards her. She should have screamed or gotten off her bed, but a calm had descended over her and her body did not react to the situation. As the figure approached, she realised she knew her. She smiled lazily and the visitor smiled back and sat down next to her.
“Help her! Tell her I am sorry”, the visitor pleaded, holding her hand and pressing it gently. She nodded her head in affirmation. She did not feel any anxiety or fear. She strained to keep her eyes open, but found herself drifting off. Just when she was about to doze off, the look on the visitor’s face changed. Horror-stricken, the apparition floated away and dissipated into a faint mist, before vanishing completely. A dark cloud floated across from the window and whizzed past her. She felt herself pinned down to the bed, unable to move, her throat parched. With a jerk, she sat up on her bed, eyes wide open. She was awake and everything seemed fine.
‘I must have dosed off’, she thought to herself. The bedside light was on and she checked the time.
It was 3:01am.
She distinctly remembered putting her book down at 3:00am.
A chill ran through her body.
‘This was definitely my subconscious mind tricking me”, she thought, reassuring herself. Leaving the light on, she settled back into bed and within seconds, was fast asleep.
The cell phone rang five times, before Savi answered.
“Hi! Sorry couldn't call back all these days. Had a few rough days”, Niamat rattled off apologetically.
“That’s okay. I am going to the bazaar this weekend and wanted to check if you needed anything from Pahalgam. Last weekend here”, Savi said.
“I don’t mind some of the beaded stuff you got last time. Maybe something for the wrist. I met someone a few days back and she was wearing something similar but as bracelets”, Niamat replied.
“Sure. Dorje will be very happy. That boy is amazing and you know what, I think he has some psychic powers”, Savi beamed. She had met Dorje when she had visited the bazaar. The little boy had connected with Savi on a spiritual level. “By the way, who did you meet?”, she said, changing the topic.
“Don’t know who she is, but she helped me handle Shiloh. Seems she lives in our building. Don't remember what floor”, Niamat said, changing the topic to Raj, “But forget all that. How is Raj?”
Raj’s name seemed to brighten up the conversation. “He is fine. Everyone here was quite surprised when we told them that we were together. Though Mr. Singhal is the only one who said that he knew we would always end up together”, Savi laughed. “His assignment hasn't finished yet, so he will stay on here for at least another six months.”
“You know Savi, I really like him. Even though we met just once, I feel I have known him, maybe because you went on and on about him. Seems like yesterday. Was so nice having you home. Cant believe it’s already a month”, Niamat replied.
“All okay with Dad and Mom?” Savi asked.
“Ya, Dad should be back this weekend and Mom is as always busy with her stuff. Let me call her. She wanted to speak to you too. You take care. Give my love to Raj too”, Niamat said before calling out to Aliya. “Mom! Savi on the line.”
Aliya rushed to the living room, with Shiloh at her heels, “Hi Savi! Missing you here”, she said exuberantly, taking the phone from Niamat.
“Mom! Missing you all too”, Savi said. “But see you before the next move.”
“Do you know where you are going?”, Aliya asked, settling down next to Niamat. “Hope it’s in India.”
“I don’t think so Mom. There is a training course at The Hague and DRR wants me to go there. It’s in two months time so I will be reporting to the head office in Delhi till that time”, Savi replied.
“That’s fabulous”, Aliya exclaimed. “Can’t wait to have you home. All okay with Raj?”
“Ya Mom, he is fine. By the way, I wanted to speak to you about something. Please don't worry, just getting it off my chest”, Savi said with trepidation. She knew how her mother worried. “I have just haven't been feeling 100%. Had restless nights and the craziest of dreams.”
“Really? Are you worried about something or have you been reading thrillers into the early hours of the morning?”, Aliya asked.
“I don’t know! I haven't been sleeping well since I got back”, Savi said. “I never dream, but these days I am having the weirdest of dreams. Don’t ask me what, because I don't remember them when I wake up...”
“Then how do you know they are weird?”, Aliya interrupted, fully alert.
“I just wake up disturbed and exhausted. I have faint recollections of meeting new people and walking away from the people I have known all my life”, Savi continued.
“Just stop reading thrillers at night. You come back after a stressful day work and then read till late. You aren't getting enough rest. Just relax before you go to bed”, Aliya replied, before ending the call.
She sat there in a pensive mood. Something had been bothering her too, though she could not put a finger on it. She too had been restless....
“Roma, I can’t tell you how relieved we are”, said Aliya. Her friend Roma’s face beamed back from the phone. Aliya’s golden retriever Shiloh, hovered around her, trying to get Aliya and Roma’s attention.
“I told you everything will fall into place. As always you worry”, Roma replied. “When do you meet up with Raj’s parents?”
“They will be here this summer. That’s when we will have the engagement. Raj made us FaceTime with them when he was here. They are nice people and turns out they know Neel’s brother in New Jersey.”
“Small world.But you should still check. Is Savi sure about this?”, Roma asked.
“We will definitely check with Neel’s brother and with Rajvir Singhal. He heads DRR. Neel knows him well and I had met him when I had visited Savi a few months back. I had liked Raj that time, but you know Savi”, Aliya sighed. “She had totally dismissed the idea and as always said that I overthink things”, Aliya laughed. “I guess it’s destiny. Things do work out when they have to. I want them to be happy. Roma, they look so nice together.”
Roma smiled back, “I am sure they will be happy together. As happy as you are with Neel and I with Ram”. They both laughed at the shared joke.
“What’s happening with Niamat?”, Roma asked.
Aliya laughed, “She has always been a toughie. Busy these days with her internship. She has these strong ideas and I worry that she will get disillusioned. The world is tough. I still remember how heartbroken Savi was when she returned from Ethiopia. But thank God everything has worked out well for her.”
“Am sure Niamat will be fine. She is a very sensible girl. Just don't start worrying about getting her married”, Roma said strongly.
“Okay! Will only talk about it once Savi is married. But you never know, she might find someone herself, like Savi did”, Aliya beamed.
“Roma, there is something thats been bothering me. Lately, I have been thinking of Kavita. Am sure, had she been alive, we would have connected”, Aliya said seriously. “Found some of her novels at the bookstore too. Quite interesting, I must say.”
“Didn’t I tell you? I had also looked her up on the internet. Found an old short story of hers online. Was quite sad. About the child brides in rural Bengal”, Roma added. “She wrote beautifully, straight from the heart. I feel sorry for her.”
“I had contacted her daughter by email, but she was not interested in talking to me. Must have been quite a shock for the children. I still feel like reaching out. My experience with Kavita made me realise a few things. I will always be grateful to her for that. Maybe that’s why I feel obligated to check on her kids”, Aliya said dejectedly.
“Aliya, let things take their own course. Try and contact the children again. If it doesn't work out, just let it be. And just relax!”,Roma said firmly, before disconnecting.
Aliya and Roma’s friendship went back years. Aliya had met Roma when they had moved to Mumbai. The subsequent move to Gurgaon had been devastating, but thanks to technology, the friends had been always connected. Aliya had just returned two months ago from Roma’s son’s wedding. Both friends had thought that their children would get married and strengthen their friendship further, but Savi and Arjun had been quite clear. “Seriously?”, Savi had said with a smirk. “We have grown up together. He is like a brother to me.” Arjun too had said that both Savi and Niamat were like his sisters. All three had laughed at their mothers’ whimsical ideas. The matter had been put to rest and a month later, Arjun had announced his engagement. Neera was a writer and the star client of Arjun’s publishing house. Roma had been ecstatic and Aliya had shared her friend’s joy. And now, Aliya’s joy knew no bounds. Savi had found Raj and deep down in her heart, she knew that everything would always work out for the best....
Having the same dream three times, in close succession, was no coincidence.
The first time she had dismissed it as a play of her subconscious mind. The second time she brushed it off as the over activeness of her imagination.
It was 2:21 am and she had just been jolted awake by the same dream. This time, she knew she could not ignore it.
Kavita was trying to reach out!
How could she help?
Sleep eluded her and she sat up and decided to try one more time. That’s what Roma had also suggested.
To:firstname.lastname@example.org Date:10th October,2022 11:45AM Subject: FW:Re: Re:Connecting
It’s been a few years since I tried to connect with you. Hope you and your brother are doing well.
I don’t want to upset you, but it is really important that we meet. Don’t know if you believe in karmic connections.
Let me elaborate and then I will let you decide.
I didn't know Kavita when she was alive. The year we moved to Gurgaon is the first time I met her; better to say, had a paranormal encounter with her. Please don't think I’m crazy. There are people who can vouch for me and I know enough about her to convince you. She came to me when I needed someone the most. I had been going through some issues and maybe that was what made me susceptible to this encounter. She seemed troubled and alone. There must have been some unfulfilled desires, making her cross-over from our world, difficult.
With help, I broke off my connection with her, but I feel that she might still be unsettled. Lately, I have been thinking of her, so I decided to connect with you.
She helped me in a way no other person could have helped and if there is anything I can do to help her or her children, I will consider it a debt repaid.
I am still in Centre Park. Would love to meet you and your brother whenever you visit.
...........Forwarded message......... From:ak#$%@email@example.com To:firstname.lastname@example.org Date:9th July,2016 12:22 AM Subject: Re: Re:Connecting
I am so sorry for upsetting you. And please don't get upset with Mr. Gupta. He only agreed, because I was persistent.
I understand your sentiments.
I wont pester. But please do get in touch with me when you are in Gurgaon.
Once she had sent the mail, she decided to browse the net. The internet was full of information on dream therapy and psychic defense. One of the links connected to Dr. Vasudevan, the well known psychic analyst. Dr. Vasudevan had been very helpful all those years ago. She thought of contacting him again. By the time she finished browsing, it was 4:00am. Leaving the light on, she settled into her bed.
‘I wish Neel was back’, she thought to herself, before sleep took over.
“Why do you get so agitated?”, he asked, clearly irritable.
“You really don't know why?”, she replied angrily, banging her laptop shut. “I am also tired of carrying this burden. It’s not been easy.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks and he regretted his outburst. Taking her in his arms, he hugged her tightly. She broke down and cried her heart out.
“You have always been there for me and know this, that whatever happens, I am here. We are family”, he said, hugging her even tighter.
“I should be the stronger one and look at me now!”, she smiled through her tears. “What do we do now?”
“If you really want to move on, then you should deal with this. How long will you avoid her?”, he said firmly.
Her eyes said it all. He smiled and left.
The morning conversation came back to her. She sat alone in the spacious living room, which once had reverberated with sounds of laughter and music, and then all of sudden had been replaced with a deafening deathly silence. Photographs still hung where they had, but a layer of dust and time had faded the smiles of the people in them. The balcony windows were open and a gentle breeze brought in the heady fragrance of frangipani. The full moon shone brightly, with countless distant stars breaking the pitch darkness of the silent night. Though she could see the glittering lights of the city, no noise reached the 36th floor apartment. The golf course next to the complex added to the verdant vista. As far as the eye could see, lights shimmered and the silhouette of the green expanse gave a surreal feel. The apartment had been empty for years and the scent of despair still cloaked it.
‘Something really needs to be done! This can’t go on forever’, she thought to herself.
“Aliya! Did you know that Kavita’s daughter has moved back into the apartment?”, Sara said excitedly. She was over at Aliya’s for a coffee. Their friendship went back years, from the time when Aliya had first moved to Gurgaon. Sara had been very welcoming, and like Roma, had been privy to Aliya’s encounter with Kavita.
“Really? I had no idea. I had written to her a few weeks back, but didn't get any reply from her. Are you sure?” Aliya was shocked.
“Ya, 100%. We use the same estate agent and he mentioned. We had asked him if any of the vacant apartments were filling up and that’s when he told us. Because of what had happened, it has been very difficult to sell the apartment. And now, after all these years she is moving back. The daughter is a lawyer and the son, some kind of doctor. He lives in the US. He too was here, just to help her settle back in. Both aren't married”, Sara replied. “They must be in their late twenties or early thirties. Wonder why they haven't married.”
“Sara, it must have been traumatic. God knows what they went through. I really want to meet them and see if I can help in any way.”
Shaking her head in disbelief, Sara strongly advised Aliya against interfering, “Just let it be. Why do you want to get involved again?”
“You won’t understand. It’s Kavita. For some odd reason, I think she wants me to help someone. Maybe her kids?”, Aliya explained.
“Com’on Aliya! I think you are just psyching yourself up. I should never have told you this. Now Neel will get upset with me for racking up the past”, Sara said, looking genuinely upset.
Aliya laughed and held Sara’s hand, “Just relax! It’s not like last time. I think I am more at ease with things around, so chances that I will get upset are minimal. It’s just that I feel I owe it to Kavita. She did connect with me and that connection helped me realise and value my own relationships. So I guess, I just want to repay the debt. Don't worry Neel wont say
anything. Let me see how I can contact the children. I am only surprised that the daughter Rima doesn't want to connect.”
“Just wait till Neel gets back, before you do anything. Promise me!”, Sara pleaded.
Aliya nodded her assent and hugged Sara.
She pressed for the elevator and waited.
‘Is it the right way forward?’, she thought to herself. She was hesitant, but before her hesitation could get the better of her, the elevator arrived at the 36th floor and the door pinged open. Taking a deep breath, she entered the elevator and pressed 24.
It barely took a minute, before the elevator stopped at 24. The door pinged open and she exited, looking for the apartment. Other than the top most floor, which was hers, each floor had two apartments. She recognised the sign marked “Kapoor”and rang the bell.
The door was opened immediately by the girl she had met a few days ago in the elevator. “Hi!”, Niamat smiled, recognising the lady from the lift. “How nice to see you again. Do come in.”
Slightly flustered and hesitant, she entered the apartment, “You can’t be Aliya Kapoor. Are you?”
“No! No!”, Niamat laughed, “She is my mother. I am Niamat, by the way.”
“Rima”, Rima replied, half smiling. “Is your dog behaving now?”
Shiloh came running towards the new visitor, as if sensing that he was the topic of conversation. He hovered around Rima, bringing a smile to her face.
“Shiloh! Sit!”, Niamat said firmly. “Please, make yourself comfortable. May I get you something?”, she said addressing Rima.
“Nothing at all. I just wanted to meet your Mom”, Rima replied.
“Mom’s been busy with her exhibition. She should be back soon. I can give her your message. Is it about some paintings?”, Niamat asked.
“It’s okay. I can speak to her another time. Please tell her Rima from the 36th floor was here”, said Rima, getting up to leave. “Nice meeting you again Niamat.”
Niamat smiled back as she let Rima out. Shiloh had been unusually exuberant the whole time.
As soon as Aliya got home, Niamat told her about Rima. Aliya was ecstatic.
Seeing Aliya excited, Niamat could not help but wonder who Rima was. “Mom, how do you know her?”, she asked, curious.
“She is the daughter of an old acquaintance. I had been trying to connect with her”, Aliya smiled back. “Did she leave a number?”
“No, but she did say she will contact you”, Niamat replied, before heading off.
Neel was back the next day, so Aliya decided to wait patiently. Much that she wanted to contact Rima, she didn't want to act rashly. She picked up her phone and quickly called Roma.
“Hi Roma. You won’t believe what happened”, she said excitedly, giving Roma a full run down of what had transpired. Roma’s response though excited, was a bit wary. “Aliya, don't get too involved please. You don't know this girl or how she would react. You shouldn't be the one who gets hurt. Being a good samaritan does not always work”, she warned Aliya.
Aliya smiled to herself before reassuring her friend, “Don’t worry. I won’t do anything till Neel gets back. He is back tomorrow evening. But in case Rima contacts me before that, I will definitely try to be more rational than emotional.”
Once she had disconnected the call, she rummaged through the card folder for Dr. Vasudevan’s number. She wanted to keep it handy, in case a situation arose. Niamat had gone out with her friends and would only get back late. Asha too had taken the day off. Before settling down with a book, Aliya decided to take Shiloh down for a walk.
Locking the door, she pressed for the elevator. The display showed 36 and she had a sense of déjà vu. Slowly, the numbers started decreasing. As the elevator door pinged open, Aliya realised she had been unconsciously holding her breath. A sense of relief descended over her when she found the elevator empty. She got in with Shiloh, who
seemed very excited at the prospect of foraging around the park. Breathing a sigh of relief, she pressed L as the door closed.
With age Shiloh had slowed down considerably. The stroll around the complex had left him exhausted, so Aliya unleashed him and sat down on one of the empty benches, checking her phone for messages. Shiloh scuttered around the banyan tree in one corner of the park, while Aliya responded to messages. Time to time, she looked up to check on Shiloh, who seemed busy sniffing around the park.
A loud screech made her jump. She had been totally lost in her digital world and hadn't noticed Shiloh dashing across the park onto the drive. Luckily the car had halted and Aliya could see the driver getting off to check on Shiloh. As per rules, there was a speed limit, and as she ran, she hoped that the accident was not a major one. The sun had already set and faint hues of orange dimly lit the sky. She could see a silhouette bending over Shiloh. Her heart panting feverishly, she rushed around the peripheral bush to get to Shiloh. As she approached the car, she stopped dead in her tracks, colour draining from her face. “This is not possible”, she said out loud in disbelief, visibly disturbed.
In front stood Kavita, bending over Shiloh and petting him. Shiloh looked fine and was enjoying the attention. Sensing her presence, both looked at her and it was then that Aliya’s pallor diminished. This was not Kavita. The resemblance was astounding. ‘Could this be her daughter?’, she thought, before walking towards her. Shiloh jumped up and scampered for attention. She hugged him tight, breathing a sigh of relief. “Don’t you ever do that”, she reprimanded him. Shiloh whimpered apologetically as she leashed him again. “Rima?”, she asked, regaining her composure.
“You must be Mrs. Kapoor.” Rima’s tone was dry. “We finally meet.”
Almost 6 feet like her mother, Rima’s deep brown eyes and fair complexion were quite similar to Kavita’s. With shoulder length hair and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, she was a modern and younger version of her mother.
“Niamat mentioned that you came home today. Strange coincidence that she bumped into you earlier as well. Shiloh seems to have taken a fondness for you”, Aliya said smiling. “I am happy that we have met now. Would you like to come over tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? You know Mrs. Kapoor, I’d prefer we speak right now about whatever it is you want to say to me, so that we can get this done and dusted. I am not the type who will meet you for coffee, get to know you etc. Just tell me what it is you have been dying to tell me and thats it”, Rima said coldly.
Her stand-offishness put Aliya off, but she resolved to handle this patiently. “Rima”, she said calmly, “You have to listen to me, before you repudiate my reasons for trying to reach out. Let’s meet tomorrow when you are more relaxed. It’s getting late...”
“Why not now?”, Rima cut in adamantly. “You have been trying desperately to get in touch with me. So well, thanks to destiny or whatever you want to call this coincidence, here I am!”
Aliya was taken aback by the outburst. “I really didn't want to upset you. I only wanted to help.”
“How can you help me? You seem to know what’s troubling me. You think you know enough there is to know about my mother and it seems that you believe everything that you know or have been told”, Rima continued, her agitation escalating. “You really want to help, then come with me right now to where it all began, so we can end this ordeal once and for all.”
Shiloh stood as a silent observer. The park was almost empty, and some of the joggers, running past them, looked at them quizzically. Not wanting to create a scene, Aliya nodded in agreement.
“I will meet you by the elevator in five minutes”, Rima said, as she got into her car. Aliya stood transfixed. This was definitely not how she had envisaged her meeting with Rima. She had to go with the flow.
The elevator door opened on the 36th floor. With Shiloh on the leash, Aliya followed Rima to the apartment. She wondered whether she should have waited for Neel. There was nothing that could be done, so letting go of all trepidations, she entered Kavita’s old apartment. Unlike her own home, the apartment reeked of a cold sense of despair. It looked uninhabited, with covers thrown over the furniture and boxes strewn around. Photographs adorned one wall and she found herself riveted in one place, looking at Kavita smiling; a smile preserved for posterity, so different from the smile Aliya saw some years back; the resigned smile, which was shaded with despair and lost hope. The photographs seemed to bring Kavita back to life. Aliya turned her attention to the others in the photographs, Rima, Avi and Kavita’s husband. There was laughter and hope in those images. She turned around to look at Rima, who in total contrast to the Rima of the photographs, stood dejected near the balcony door. Shiloh had settled himself quietly on the rug, as if sensing the belligerence in the air.
“Rima, can we sit down please?”, she asked tenderly.
Though hesitant, Rima offered her a chair and sat down next to her.
“I really feel sorry for you and Avi”, Aliya continued, taking Rima’s hand. “I didn't know Kavita when she was alive...”
“You want to know about my mother- ya?”, Rima interrupted, pulling her hand back. “Let me tell you”, she continued contemptuously. “She was a self-centred woman, who was so weak in character, that she ruined everything. You can only judge a person’s strength in dire times, and let me tell you, she failed miserably as a mother. Doesn't every mother
promise to look after her children? In all her selfishness, she broke every promise she had ever made.”
Tears streamed down her face as she continued, “When I heard of Dad’s death, I was shattered. I just couldn't believe it. He had been with us in London, just a few week back and then all of a sudden I got the news. It seemed as if I had been hit by a truck. But somewhere, deep inside, I thought of Mom and Avi. I knew I had to get to them. Avi was very close to Dad. And do you know what I saw when I got back?”, she asked wiping her tears with the back of her hand, “I saw my mother sitting shellshocked, and my brother totally inconsolable. I had to put aside my grief and take charge. I tried reaching out to her, but she was completely oblivious to who I was, what my needs were or for that matter what I was saying to her. I promised her we would go through this together, but she had totally blocked me out. Me!!! Her own daughter!”
Aliya tried reaching out, but Rima brushed her hand aside and continued, “And then when all of a sudden, she ran out, wanting to see my father’s body for one last time, not listening to me crying out to her, I broke down. I thought that she would turn back and come and console me. What happened next, you surely would have heard. What you don't know is how Avi and I coped after that. It took Avi years to come to terms with it. And now when he smiles, I smile! I know he has forgiven her, but I can never forgive her.” Rima sobbed profusely. Aliya, unable to bear Rima’s distress, got up to pacify her. She wasn't sure whether she had done the right thing by rekindling the fury. Holding on to her, she felt a cold shiver run down her back. Her resentment filled the air and Aliya could sense pain and angst surround her. ‘Can Kavita feel this too?’, she thought to herself. Maybe this was what Kavita had wanted all along; to assuage the pain; to see her children smile again; to ask for their forgiveness.
“Rima, let me tell you what I know. I don't know why Kavita reached out to me. There are so many others living in this building. Maybe she assumed that I would take her seriously,
empathise with her, help her. I don't know! And just by putting things together, I can guess that she has never forgiven herself for leaving you and Avi when you most needed her. She might not have had a way to reach out, and maybe that’s where I come into the picture”, Aliya said. “You don't believe in coincidences, but how else can this be
explained ? Why was I persistent? Why didn't I give up? I think Kavita has tried again, this time through my subconsciousness. Isn't it strange that I dreamt about her just around the same time when you moved back? And in all three dreams, she wanted me to help someone and tell her that she was sorry. That she could only have been you!”
Rima kept looking at one of Kavita’s photographs on the wall. Even though she hadn't acknowledged what Aliya had said, there was a visible difference in her composure.
Aliya continued, “During the first psychic connection, Shiloh seemed quite alert too. I had to take expert help to break off the connection. Even though it had left me petrified, I realised how special a person Kavita would have been. I wish I had known her. I was going through some issues of my own and that experience helped me centre myself, appreciate my loved ones, learn to let go. And for that I will always be grateful. By contacting you all those years ago, I think I just wanted to know more about her. We shared some affinities, or maybe most women are quite similar. No matter how different the background, the situation, all women are kindred. When I couldn't connect with you, I decided to move on. I did try and find some of her stories though.”
This seemed to have caught Rima’s attention. “I remember her telling me that Dad was not very happy at one point. Her characters reflected her own stories sometimes”, she said wryly.
“And then, after all those years, the subconscious connection seemed strange, Aliya continued. “As I have told you before, it is uncanny that it is around the same time you moved back. Rima, no one can explain these things, and I am not an expert, but looking at how everything is transpiring, I know Kavita is trying to reach out. Forgive her and let her
move on! Smile, so that she can find release. She is somewhere around. Maybe she has always been here, waiting for you to come back. While you helped Avi move on, you stayed trapped in the self-consuming circle of hatred. You haven't moved on.”
As Aliya continued, Rima broke down again, “I suppose I am just a link, connecting you back to your past, to your mother, so that you can move on to the future. This has to be your quest. Not Avi’s. Not mine.”
It pained her to see Rima shattered, but there was nothing that could be done. She reached out again and held Rima’s hand.
“I’ll leave you now. Will you be fine? Where’s Avi?”, she asked.
“He left this morning”, Rima replied, blankly. “I can manage.”
“You know where to find me”, she said, squeezing Rima’s hand assuredly. Rima needed time; time to contemplate; time to accept; time to heal. Aliya’s job was done.
After Aliya had left, Rima called Avi and in between sobs, told him about her unexpected and emotionally charged meeting with Aliya. Avi’s concern touched her.“Avi, it’s not what I thought it would be. I am disturbed, but there is nothing you can do about it. Like you said, I need to deal with it”, she assured. “Just give me some time. I will call you”, she said, ending the call.
She rummaged through the boxes and found an old album. Settling down with it, she opened it, her hands quivering. Slowly, she turned the pages and found herself going back in time. Every memory brought tears; tears for her loss, tears of realisation that time could not be turned. With tears came smiles, as she reminisced about time long gone. Smiling faces beamed out from the pages; the two faces that had once rocked her world; faces that mirrored her emotions; faces that would always be etched in memory, as they were years ago; faces of the people she had loved the most and lost.
All those years spent blaming her mother, had taken a toll on her. Losing her father had been devastating, but she blamed her mother for leaving them in a lurch. Not a single day had gone by when she had not imagined what life would have been like, had Kavita not been rash. While everyone around her had put it down to destiny, Rima saw it as her mother’s selfishness. While on one hand, she had relentlessly tried to block her mother’s memory, selflessly on the other hand, she had taken over the role of a mother for Avi. Life had been a struggle and Rima realised, that her non-acceptance had added to her personal tribulations and woes. Hatred and contempt had formed a thick layer around her heart and the healing process was going to be a long drawn battle; her journey; her quest.
“Where are you Mom?”, she cried out loud, holding the album close to her heart, hoping that somehow her voice would reach Kavita. “Help me. I am tired. I want to move on.”
Shiloh seemed happy to be back home. As soon as they got in, he scampered off to the study and settled down for the night. Niamat was out for the evening and Aliya had the whole house to herself. Sleep eluded her. She made a cup of coffee for herself and went to the balcony. It was completely dark and the distant city lights flickered. A sense of equanimity washed over Aliya, giving closure to her transcendental connection with Kavita. Her phone rang, startling her out of her reverie. Neel’s face flashed on the screen. Smiling, she answered the call, “Hi! Can’t wait for you to get home.”
She smiled at what Neel said, “Well, I too have so much to tell you!”