There was a soft knock at the front door. After a few seconds, Mrs. Salini Rathore could overhear Ranjana, the maid, responding to a man at the front door. Ranjana approached Mrs. Salini Rathore, a lady in her mid 40s, who busied herself with loading the boxes of household items in the bedroom.
She looked up to Ranjana and enquired, “Is that the Cargo fellow?” “Yes, Madam”. They wanted to know what time we were moving out tomorrow? There was a “sigh” as Mrs. Salini Rathore turned around with her hands on the hips. Rajana could see the tiredness on her face as there was lack of sleep in this due course of a week. She replied, “At 9:00 A.M”.
As the maid walked, she followed her and continued loading more boxes in the living room. She sat down at the end of the sofa at the far corner on the northern side of the living room, where she could easily have a view of the entire room. She piled up the books and magazines underneath the centre table of the room. The magazines mostly consisted of interior designs and home cooking. She took a long deep breath and called out to the maid and asked for a cup of strong ginger tea.
As she wandered around the room, her eyes fell on those pictures on the walls. She stood up to walk across and took down one of the pictures.
A picture of college days, where Mr. Anil J Rathore and herself went for a trip along with few friends in Manali. She remembered that was on this day that, he expressed his love for her. It was back in the 90s. The next picture was the picture taken on their wedding day. She looked quite loved by the man next to her, he was holding the back of her head and kissing on her forehead. Both their eyes were closed and she could still feel the moment somewhere back in her head.
The next picture was a picture where they went out for a quiet romantic dinner. She remembers that was the only day, they promised each other the very topic of being childless would never cross their mind as long as they were together. That very evening, she received a report from the doctor that she was suffering from PCOD (Poly-Cystic Ovarian Disease). She was shattered that could never be a mother. Out of sympathy and guilt to know that she could never give a baby to her husband. She requested him to leave her, and they could never be enough, just the two of them. The words that came out of her mouth, made him smile and look at her with love. He held her hand, drew her close to him and replied, “Two is a company and three is a crowd”.... we two are enough for each other to live a lifetime. In a fraction of a second, he whispered in her ears, “why would I need another baby, when I have one in my arms”! It made her smile. At that moment, she realised one thing, for over 26 years of togetherness, never did he make her cry, or shed a single tear. All he did made her smile even in the toughest times. He stood by always and repeatedly said, “I am strong and brave to cross any hurdle with you in life, and you should know, being with me makes you stronger and braver than me”.
As she packed all the items in the house, each item had memories stored. She packed every bit that remained and headed towards the adjacent room of their bedroom. She called out for the maid and was ask her to bring the blue suitcase from the bedroom. There lies the cupboard where she kept all her husband’s clothes. She selected them like one readying for the next journey, and as she packed each of his items, she tried to visualise her husband with every clothing she folded and placed them neatly in the suitcase. She memorised each moment how much hardship they went through just to stick on with each other over the years.
By 2:00 P.M, the maid re-entered with Mrs. Salini Rathore’s lunch and placed it on the center table and requested. “Madam, please have a morsel or two, you haven’t eaten anything since morning”. She nodded and asked the maid whether she watered the plants in the garden. The maid quickly responded, “Yes, Madam.”
She stood up and went to the garden and picked up all the dried leaves which had fallen on the lawn. She spent most of her days in that specific area since 13 years of marriage. Her garden was looked after passionately by her all these times and she loved each plant she planted. Her favourite was the red hibiscus which was at the entrance to the garden. The plant was gifted by her husband on their 3rd wedding anniversary. She had a special affection towards the mango tree which she patiently waited for the tree to give fruits. The garden looked dried and lifeless now. She thought of the fine spring season when she spent most of the time in nurturing the plants.
At around 11:25 P.M, the phone rings, it was her mother at the other end. She asked to enquire about the time she will be reaching Bikaner. She responded with a tired voice, “most probably by evening”. Then she heard her mother sobbing and cried, “How will you continue without him”? In that, she responded, “He was never prepared to leave me, but taught me to be strong and brave in every battle of life. Over 26 years, he never made me cry, and have forgotten what tears signify. So why now?” She hung up the phone saying goodnight to her mother and said she will see her soon.
She set the alarm for 7:30 A.M, tired and exhausted, she crawled up the bed and put her head on the pillow, facing the ceiling and lied down. She reached out for the other pillow and hugged it tightly and whispered, “Goodnight, my love”, and kisses it.
The last time she saw him was nearly a month back. When he hurried for work, he turned around and kissed her saying, “Don’t wait up, I will be back soon. Love you”. Never did she realise he would never turn up on the very day itself.
When dawn broke, the alarm clock started ringing. As she reached out for the clock, she felt a velvet box kept right next to it. She opened her eyes and grabbed the box. As she opened it, there was the “President’s Police Medal for Gallantry”. The medal was awarded to Mr. Anil. J. Rathore for preventing crime and saving the lives of his men on duty with him during an operation of anti-smuggling. He was shot dead by the smugglers while evacuating the injured personnel engaged in the firefight. She laid down motionlessly and visualised her husband lying next to her. He was her pride, nation’s pride and the people whom he saved. The only comfort all she had now was he was the man of honour. It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half –grown tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
As she walked across the hall, for the last time, the house seemed so empty. She grabbed a cup of tea from the kitchen where everything was packed except the electric kettle and a coffee mug.
The chirping of the birds from the garden she could faintly hear draws her attention. She opened the door to the porch and walked up to the steps which lead to the garden. She sat down on the steps sipping the tea and had the final look around the garden where she spent most of her time while her husband went off for duty. She heard the maid silently opening the door behind her and said. “The Movers are here”.
The cargo men quickly loaded the van.
She walked around the house which was so empty now and realised it looked the same as they had moved in. As she walked along, she silently prayed and blessed the couple who will move in next after she leaves.
As she locked the front door of the house, held the lock, she bent her head down and bid goodbye to THEIR’s once a home, Quarter 4/F. As she turns her back to the door, her eyes caught on something just next to the doorbell. The nameplate which read, ASP Anil J Rathore. She runs her fingers on the name. And now, shed the tears which she had held for more than 28 years. Love and emptiness still strong in her continues.
*Quarter 4/F is the first fiction which the author was inspired to write when she realised the emotions behind every story of men/women who saved the lives of thousand, and the lost to their family members. I salute each one of them from the bottom of my heart. They are the “Hero” for someone out there.