Homecoming10 mins 17.5K 10 mins 17.5K
An ordinary, rather extremely ordinary and old flat complex. It had no towers, or gym, or swimming pool.The main gate remained open.The cars parked here and there were modest ones, the garden was not manicured.The houses were three storied, with bold and well defined simple lines . The people inhabiting these flats are also simple, ordinary folks.
'Or, at least they were', thought Arup. The taxi he had taken from the airport had a middle aged driver, who had been driving at such a leisurely pace that Arup had fallen asleep. He had only woken up when the driver gently called him to ask directions for the exact exact location. Right now, Arup was standing with his luggage in front of a three stories flat complex. Slightly bleary eyed, he stared at the flat that had been his home many years back. Even the outside wakas had the same shade of yellow. He was about to go in when a squeaky noise penetrated his ears. It was a very familiar sound .
He quickly turned towards where the playground was. Sure enough, some children were up on the swings, and the swings were squeaking in protest.
A soft smile flitted across his face. There he was, about twelve, in nylon half pants, a vest, bare feet, swinging as fast as his little legs could push him.The next swing was occupied by his friend Subho, whose legs were even smaller than his, and was trying his best to keep pace . Arup could almost feel the cacophony of shrill voices, occasionally interspersed by the deeper one of some parent, being thrown at the kids from a verandah, a balcony, a garden, or a window .
It must be that thoughts travel at the speed of light. Though Arup felt that he must have been standing there for about ten minutes. In reality it was no more than a few seconds of flashback at a brisk pace.
Picking up his luggage, he made his way up the three steps to his door.
It had been his mother's door. Even a few years back it had been his parents door. Now both were gone.
Was it his imagination or did the door look much older than what it had been a few months back ? Before turning the key to the lock, he slowly ran his fingers on the surface.
Yes, the paint was peeling. It had a gnarled appearance now. What would it be like inside? His mother has been dead for not more than six months and already the little flat wore an unkempt, deserted look of many years. Fishing out the key, he started to open the somewhat rusty lock.
The shrill call of the mobile phone was jarring in the silence.
Arup had dozed off on his mother's bed. He fumbled for his spectacles . They were not beside the pillow where he had placed them before going off to sleep.
Picking up the phone, which had stopped ringing by now, he squinted at the screen, trying to find the last call. Must be Bidisha, his wife. Earlier, he had sent a short text saying he had landed safely.,and will call later .
Locating what he felt was the last call, Arup dialled the number.
The ring tone wiped all sleep from his eyes. He sat up, as if in shock. An old bengali song was playing. Uncannily, it had been his mother's ring tone.
This was not Bidisha's phone.
Who did he dial just now?
Whoever it was, did not pick up the call.
Arup could lie down no longer.
He needed a glass of water.
It was eerie, this house without his mother. He could still feel her fragrance,-- moist, laced with spices and talcum powder. He had a bottle of mineral water in his travel bag. As he padded his way into the small sitting area, he stopped short.
The water jar that his mother always kept on the dining table,was sitting at its familiar place, full to the brim.
How did he miss this when he entered the house?
When he had opened the door sometime back, the house had greeted him with muted sighs, rustle of the old curtains, some paper lying somewhere, a strangely musty yet fragrant sandlewood smell, and lot of memories. But that jug was not on the table.
Or had he, in his tiredness, and due to myriad of emotions playing through him in quick succession, had seen it with unseen eyes?
Someone was calling him from outside.
He walked up to the open living room window and peered out. The call was coming from the balcony across the street.
It was Subho 's mother. She was leaning from her balcony. On seeing him, her face creased into a smile.
"You will have your dinner with us Arup. Subho had already informed me."
It was like old days.,when one family would play the role of an extended family , whenever the need arose.
He knew that Subho was currently in Minnesota. But he had still managed to oversee Arup's comfort,
knowing how difficult it would be for him to walk through the empty rooms, which even a few months back had felt the warmth of human touch.
The conversation across the dinner table was muted.
Subho's father had hugged him when he had bent to touch his feet.
Lipika aunty ,Subho's mother had wiped some unruly tears on seeing him, while slowly patting his back.
The conversation had of course turned to Arup 's parents, mostly his mother, who had been so full of life not so long ago. As they ate, the elderly couple reminisced the early days when they had been young, and the boys were just boys.
"The two of you never wanted to come home from the playground", Lipika said,
"Do you remember I had to entice you with fritters? That brought you in,and Subho automatically followed". Lipika's eyes had moistened again, but this time maybe it was for her son. Arup could only manage a smile. He was feeling a sudden pain in his throat and finding it difficult to swallow. Childhood was fun but it was also hard to let go.
Lipika continued her monologue...
'Your mother had rollers instead of feet...She just could not sit still.'
Arup knew that very well. Until the disease had totally ravaged her body, she had continued to be as she had been always....Arup had always found his house too full of people,all coming to his mother for varied reasons ..some recipe, a current magazine, a letter to be written, a song she must sing during the Puja, a knitting pattern, a little home made pickle.
It was past ten o'clock and Arup was back to his flat again. The house appeared so big now. And silent. He had not felt like lying down immediately and was sitting by the window. He could see one light after the other being turned out as more and more people retired to bed for the night. A constant thought was nagging him.
'Am I right in selling off this flat?"
He reasoned himself that it was painful to be there,when all that was dear to him were no longer existent. If he did keep it, it would just be a house that will remain locked for most part of the year, slowly deteriorating over time.
A soft autumn breeze was blowing. It was that kind of breeze that preferred the gentle hours of the night, whatever be the season. Somewhat like a zephyr .
Arup was still sitting near the window, staring out into the night when he heard a soft thud.
It came from the bedroom. Leaning his chair back, he tried to peer into the room. He could vaguely make out the lines of his luggage resting flat on the ground. That was strange. He knew he had kept it upright.
'Must have lost balance and toppled', he thought.
It was then that his phone rang sharply, jolting him from his stupor.
"Had you gone to sleep? ", Bidisha's tone was slightly apologetic.
Arup had never been more glad to hear his wife's voice .
--' I cannot, it is not easy parting with your childhood. Now, at least,I can feel it, when I am here. '
--' You know you have to Arup.'
--' Yes, tomorrow I am going to finalise the deal. Already had a talk with the agent in the evening'.
-' Yes, What?'
-' I understand what you might be feeling right now, specially as you are in that house at this moment. I suggest take a day. Call the agent the day after. It will help you to think more rationally'.
That was so typical of Bidisha-meticulous, rational,methodical and practical..All moulded into one beautiful form, a little stern perhaps. But her best treasure was her gentle soul....Arup always felt he has been lucky in many ways with regards to the women in his life...his mother, his wife.
Arup could not help but smile at her words.Good advice. He suddenly felt free. He had one more day to himself. The decision can be taken day after tomorrow.
He stretched his tall form on the old, patterned bed that still seemed to retain his mother's touch. He had carefully dusted the bed, taken a fresh sheet from the almirah and laid it out. He had looked for the wide pillows with embroidered covers that was his mother's. It was Bidisha who reminded him that they were stacked in the wooden cabinet in the tiny hallway. Lying down,staring at the ceiling, he remembered the little unexplained episodes of the day--- the jug full if water, the luggage topping over for no reason.That phone call and the ring tone! Were they significant, coincidental, or accidental? Whatever might have been the reason, at present he felt at home.
There was quite an irony in that thought.
This was not his home any more.
His present home with his wife and son was in Sydney. That is where he returned home from his work.
This house was now bereft of both his parents.When they were alive, stepping into this house was like turning back time and crossing the threshold to childhood again.
Yet he was calling this his home.
Arup started to feel hot and thirsty.It was the end of the autumn season. It had been quite pleasant outside, when he was walking back from Shubho's house. Coming back to the house, he had closed the windows fearing mosquitoes. He now cursed himself for having had the air conditioner dismantled on his last visit.
Should he open the windows?
Arup got up, splashed water on face and neck and came back to bed.
Perhaps it was his tiredness and exhaustion that despite the discomfort, his eyes started to close.
'Yes Ma? Coming out, five minutes'.
'Since you have already spent nearly thirty minutes in the washroom, you better clean it too".
The door opened instantly and a dripping Arup came out, shaking himself like a dog all over his mother.
In return, she pushed him on the nearest chair and started to rub his hair, vigorously with a towel. Arup could not see ,but could hear his father's laughter. Though he was protesting verbally, Arup was quite enjoying his mother's hands through his hair. It felt cool. His shoulders sagged slightly, eyes started to close as he relished the cool touch of her fingers. He reached his hand to his head, trying to hold his mother's hand,"It's all right Ma, any more and all my hair will be gone!".
The hand. Cool, thickly veined, with long tapering fingers, the bangles resting against the palm was slowly fondling his head. Arup 's eyes shot open. He was absolutely still. He knew that he had had a pleasant dream. But what he was feeling now beat all rational barriers. He was staring at the front wall, afraid to look back, afraid to turn. He was awake and could still feel his mother's long fingers slowly folding and unfolding in his hair.He was not feeling hot any longer. In fact, he was feeling pleasant, very pleasant. The night was silent, except for the occasional faraway howls of the dogs . The street lights threw interesting animated patterns on the window. Within the little flat, Arup lay quietly, his head resting on the soft pillow that was his mother's, his right hand clutching a corner of the bed spread, as he did when he was a child, feeling that phantom hand caressing his whole being as gradually he drifted off to a deep sleep.
The return flight had been on time. It was a short drive from the Sydney airport to the Randwick residential area.
He was feeling exhilarated, slightly light headed. Nothing was lost. Everything remains, as he had learnt in school.That law of conservation of mass and energy. He had felt it. He ran up the short driveway to his main door with a spring in his steps. He knew, even this house was empty at the moment as Bidisha was in office and his son was in school. But they will be here soon. Just like his house in India. He had been mistaken. It was not empty. There was something, or someone still there. He had no name for it. But the agent had gone back disappointed. The house remained, with its old furniture, photographs on the wall, the cupboard of used utensils, the cabinets with its sheets, pillows and duvets, the book cases, coffee table and peeling doors.
"I have to get the repairs done on my next trip", Arup decided as he retrieved the key from his pocket and set about opening the door.