The Broken Hearts
The Broken Hearts
Little Tim took out his light blue cotton uniform and tried to put it on as fast as he could. He fumbled with the buttons, but in his hurry, he put them through the wrong holes. His hair too was proving to be recalcitrant and posing a tricky problem, because as soon as he was combing it down straight, the clusters were standing up like Jack-in-the-box. His mother from the next room was threatening to leave him behind, as she was getting late for office. The more he hurried, the slower was his actions. He tried to tie up his shoelaces, but that simple procedure seemed to have become very complicated. For some unknown reason, they were just slipping through his fingers. His mother’s voice pierced the silence of their flat, “Tim, you have not even had your breakfast, I feel like walloping you, and that is actually what you deserve!” Tim flustered and panicking, stuffed the entire tomato sandwich into his mouth and started choking. His mother was at his side instantly and gave him two hard strokes on his back, a cocktail of first-aid, and temper. Tim recovered after a few bouts of coughing, and pulling his heavy backpack onto his shoulders, followed like a docile lamb behind his mother to the car. He was silent all the time he was in the car with her, lest she became angry again. At the gate of his school, he politely thanked his mother for dropping him to school, and with a farewell flying kiss, ran down the garden path towards his classroom. But as he sat right in the front bench, he found that what the teacher was saying, was not registering at all. He wondered whether all his classmates got the same treatment from their mothers as he, every day. He felt like crying; but no, he must control himself, because people told him that he was a big boy. The whole day he felt he had a lump in his throat which just would not go away.
The bell rang. Students rushed out of the school building like a swarm of bees when their nest has been disturbed. They ran out buzzing, their wings now flung open in the ecstasy of freedom. In the outburst of their pent up energy, they catapulted into the open arms of their mothers. Tim stood at a distance, solemn and reflecting. His mother would come to pick him up during the recess, the usual lunch hour, allotted to the bank officials. He was feeling hungry too, but he was not given pocket money to buy from the vendors at the school gate, for his mother felt her son should not have any unhygienic food. He had tried to coax his mother to allow him to buy at least a Kwality Ice cream stick, but even for that, it was a straight-cut refusal. He looked longingly at the ice cream, as his friends licked and relished the delicacies in front of his eyes. Again he felt the lump welling up his throat.
Then at a distance, he saw a figure. His face lighted up. He felt that he would explode with happiness. That figure was waving out to him, and giving a warm, welcoming smile. Tim shot into his arms and burst out crying “Papa, I love you so much. Where were you?” Then Tim controlled himself with difficulty, and wiping his eyes with the cuffs of his sleeve said, “I am sorry Papa, you see the lump had got stuck in my throat all day, but seeing you I could not stop it from coming out.” Tim’s father pressed him tenderly to his heart, and gently wiped his tears. He stroked his curly hair lovingly and soothed him by saying that everything would be all right because his daddy was there for him. He asked Tim whether he would like to have ice cream. But Tim shook his head vehemently in the negative and said that his mother would be angry if he did. Then Tim looked nervously towards the road, to see if his mother was already there to punish him, for even bringing the word to his mouth, leave alone putting the item into his mouth. Mukesh, Tim’s father, assured the boy, he had nothing to worry about, as it was his father who was giving it to him. He had actually seen the time and knew that it was safe for him to give Tim what he longed for, as there were still five minutes for Ritika, his divorced wife, to be there to pick up Tim from school. He watched the little fellow, just five years old, licking the stick with sheer relish, and slurping up the melting chocolate, trickling down the sides of his cone. Mukesh felt there was no happiness in the world greater than to see the expression of contentment on his son’s face!
At that moment they saw a red car slow down. A smartly dressed lady, in her thirties, alighted from the car. As she stepped out, her slender feet looked stylish in her tapering shoes. She wore a body-hugging dress, which went well with her stilettoes. Her sharp chiselled features were beautiful no doubt, but it robbed her of the feminine softness. She looked around and a deep furrow lined her forehead, expressing irritation, on not finding her son stationed at the designated bay. Then as she saw Tim talking to the person he had been forbidden to be in contact with, her lips tightened with anger. She grabbed him by the hand and unceremoniously dumped him into the car.
In another moment the car had driven off, and the man stood stunned; as if fossilized, speechless, and incapable of any reaction. His mind was full of misgivings. Seeing his son crying and unhappy, he felt miserable but helpless. Mukesh pondered whether he should have taken a divorce. There was no one to give protection to his son, so vulnerable but being compelled to face Ritika’s wrath all by himself. His heart went out to the little boy. He had always made it a point to meet Tim when Ritika was at the office, otherwise, all heaven would fall, and his son would have to face the brunt of it.
He remembered how madly he had been in love with Ritika. She was also a different person then. He had married her, despite his parents’ disapproval. They had felt that women, who belonged to the fashion world, did not make good wives, or mothers. But he had been confident that she would be perfect life partner for him. They had been very happy for the first three years. Ritika would be bubbling with fun and was a cheerful, caring person. Then their relationship soured. Ritika started getting phone calls. She would not talk when others were present, but she would respond in a subdued voice, from a secluded place, far from the earshot of Mukesh. These phone calls became more frequent. The next development was, Ritika would stay out for two-three days, on some pretext or the other. When Mukesh asked her where she was spending her time, she would shrug her shoulders, and say casually that it was her own affair, not to be discussed. When Mukesh would put pressure on her, and demand the information, claiming his prerogative as her husband, she would tell him, that marriage did not mean one was going to be an open book. Everybody had a right to privacy. This was the beginning of a lot of misunderstanding between them, which eventually turned out to be a little less than the Third World War!
Mukesh felt he could not bear the ordeal. Ritika would disappear, and she would not divulge where she would be. He spent sleepless nights, being tormented with anxiety. His blood pressure would go up. He felt he would become insane, imagining Ritika to be in somebody else’s arms, warming the bed for another man. Then finally he decided that he would give her the ultimatum, that if she went off for two to three days, he would leave her. But there was no change in Ritika. She continued staying out needlessly.
Further on, the relationship between them worsened when a car started drawing up in front of their flat. A gentleman would be driving, and Ritika would go and sit next to him. Mukesh had asked her many times who the gentleman was, but Ritika had always hedged the answer. Suspicions mounted day by day. The molten lava of anger and distrust finally swept over their once happy family life, leaving Ritika a psychological case, their small child panic-stricken, and Mukesh, a broken man. The violent eruption perhaps could have been avoided, if only there had been transparency and trust in the marriage. The innocent child had been needlessly crushed and maimed, for no fault of his! Not comprehending the issue, Tim had asked Mukesh, “Papa why don’t you stay with us?” His father had told him that his mother and he were no more friends. Then Tim had asked whether the man in the car was his mother’s friend. After that Tim had commented “Papa I don’t like him. He could not be as good as you are. How can mummy be friends with him? ”All these thoughts sped through his mind as he stood there, feeling guilty for not thinking of Tim’s happiness more than his own. Then very slowly, still deep in thoughts, he proceeded towards his one-room flat. He had not cared to live in luxury, for with his depressed mental state, anything was all right for him. He was heart-broken; he had loved Ritika intensely, and he still loved her as much, but things had got out of control.
Now we come back to Tim once more. When his mother had pushed him roughly inside her posh, immaculate car, he had withdrawn into his little shell, like a tortoise. Unreasonably, a lump again had got stuck in his throat. But he was a big boy. He must not cry! As Ritika pressed the accelerator harder than required, almost with vengeance, she gave Tim a meaningful look, and said under her breath, “Wait till I skin you alive, when we reach home!” Tim felt he was choking, trying not to let the lump come out.
As they got home, Tim rushed into his bedroom to take off his school backpack. He had hardly taken off his shoes when he saw his mother approaching. She looked as if she would literally skin him alive, as she had promised, for suppressed anger was blasting out of her eyes. She had a belt in her hand, and Tim knew he was going to be flogged with it. He dodged her, and tried to escape, by running to the opposite side of the dining table. It became a game between mother and son, the boy trying to escape, and the mother bent on giving him a sound whipping. This continued for a minute or two. Then the unexpected happened. Ritika slipped on the marble floor and hit her head against the wooden edge of the table. She fell like a log flat on her face and stayed motionless. When she did not move for quite some time, which seemed to Tim an eternity, he panicked. He did not know how to bring her back to her senses. He was certain when his mother got back her breath, he would get the promised thrashing, but even then he did not want his mother to be in that state. Then a thought struck him. He could ask his Father for some advice, though he knew his mother would give him a harsher punishment for calling up his father.
With nervous, trembling fingers he dialled his Father’s number, “What is it my Pet? Is there anything I can do for you? ” His father asked anxiously. Tim narrated the whole story, between sobs. Mukesh told him not to worry, as he would be with him in a few minutes. Mukesh himself became so worked up that he came down to his car with the wrong set of keys. He felt his feet trembling, for though he had taken a divorce, he loved Ritika with all intensity, and if anything happened to her, it would mean death for him!
As he entered the elaborately furnished flat, he saw Tim kneeling by his Mother’s side, sobbing his heart out. He turned Ritika on to her side and picked her up in his arms. He felt love welling up in his heart, having her in such close proximity. He asked Tim to get some water and sprinkled it on her face. Slowly she opened her eyes. He was surprised to see a flicker of a smile on her lips. Softly he asked her,” Ritika, are you feeling all right?” It was then that she put her arms around him. Mukesh felt he had been transported to heaven! He could not contain his happiness and instantly felt electricity pass through his body. But he was dazed. He did not expect this kind of response from her. He felt he was dreaming.
Ritika then slowly poured out her heart to him. She confessed that she had been praying to God to give back Mukesh to her. Perhaps this was his answer to her prayers. She knew she had become a psychological case, as she could not bear the separation from him. She missed him terribly, and her frustration on not being able to be with him was taken out on their son. Besides she could not hit back at him for suspecting her unjustly, so she gave vent to her fury on his son. Mukesh heard all this without comprehending, as she had had all the opportunity to tell him how she felt, before the divorce. He pointed out to her, that it was a big shortcoming on her part if she had loved him all the time.
Ritika sat up and asked Mukesh to help her to stand, as her head still felt queer. Then she asked him to guide her to the sofa, where she could sit comfortably. Mukesh did the needful and then went to make a cup of coffee for her. Tim, who was much relieved, came and hugged his father, and Mukesh pressed him to his heart and deposited a kiss on his cheek.
As Mukesh sat down beside Ritika, with a steaming freshly brewed coffee for her, she asked a very direct question; “Do you still love me, Mukesh?” When he replied that he did, with all his heart, she decided to tell him the secret behind her past actions. She said her brother had given her permission to tell Mukesh, as Sashi, had not expected that her silence on the matter would lead to his sister’s divorce, for which he held himself responsible.
Sashi did not want anyone to know; not even his wife. He had contracted such a disease that he wanted to keep it a secret just between the brother and sister. He had been diagnosed with Leprosy and had to be hospitalized in Purulia. But he needed her help, as she would have to buy all his requirements from time to time, and also be in Purulia when she was needed by the Doctors. Once or twice the inmates were allowed to come out with their relatives, and it was then that he came to pick her up. She had expected Mukesh to have implicit faith in her, and therefore she was extremely hurt for his having doubted her. That was the reason why she did not give an explanation even when matters became serious, and led to their divorce. Even though Mukesh did not see eye to eye with her, in a moment’s happiness, he forgot the past; it was erased forever in their close embrace.
Little Tim came running and put his arms around both his parents and shouted out, “I am so happy today! I love you both so very much, even more than Ice Cream.”
A secure knot.