Who is Sheryl Varghese?
Who is Sheryl Varghese?9 mins 275 9 mins 275
Charu opened the book to page 67 again. She checked it carefully, but there was no imprint on the pages to indicate that the photograph had been there from a long time. This meant that the photo had been placed there fairly recently. Being a law student, she was being taught how to observe things very carefully and from the time she came back from the book shop, there was something niggling at the back of her mind, which she could not put her finger on. So she tucked her feet under her, took her cup of coffee and sat back to recall the events of that morning.
Everything had been normal till she had reached the bookshop. It was something that happened at the bookshop that was troubling her. She carefully recalled picking up the books she liked, spending a long time gazing at the cover of the book with the abstract lady’s portrait and then taking them over to the billing desk. The person behind the person was a wizened old man and there was a little girl about 6 years old standing next to him, helping him wrap the books. It was possible that the girl had slipped the photograph into the book. When the girl had looked up at Charu, she had been mesmerised by her eyes. They were a unique blue-green colour and Charu had felt that she had looked into them countless times before. Suddenly Charu sat up in her chair, the coffee in her cup sloshing over the rim. Of course, she had seen those eyes countless times before..in her..in her…father’s face! Charu was thunderstruck. She had not inherited her father’s very unique blue-green eyes which were now dulled out and bloodshot due to old age and excess liquor consumption, but the little girl had the very same shade of eyes.
What was the connection between the little girl and father, Charu wondered. She decided that the only way to find out was to speak to the little girl and hurriedly made her way to the bookshop again. But the little girl was not behind the counter. When Charu asked the shopkeeper, he said , “Her mother drops that poor little girl, Sheri to my shop sometimes when she has work in the city. She loves books, so she spends her time looking at pictures or simply flipping through some pages or sometimes helping me behind the counter like today. But I don't know who she is or where they come from.”
Charu was disappointed, but she gave the shopkeeper her phone number and asked him to call her if Sheri came back again. She also gave him Rs 250 and asked him to buy Sheri whatever books she wanted. The shopkeeper was happy to comply.
It was dark by the time Charu reached home. She thought of asking her father about Sheri, but knew that he would be deeply inebriated to get a straight answer from him. Her grandmother’s condition also remained the same. After dinner, Charu sat down with the old photograph and her laptop. The alphanumeric code would take some time to crack, but Charu wanted to see if she could find information about the hotel and the route to the house called “Home”. She entered a google search for Hotel Ab***, but most of the hotels seemed to be new. Searching historical websites also did not yield any results. Her grandmother was in no state to answer her questions and so Charu decided that the old shopkeeper was the best person to ask.
Early next morning found Charu making her way up David Hall Road again. The shopkeeper nodded a friendly hello, but answered in the negative when Charu asked if Sheri had come back. Charu then showed him the old picture with the map at the back. The old man felt that he had seen the house before but he could not recollect the location. Charu then asked him about Hotel Ab***. He pondered over it for a while and then suddenly his face brightened up. He got up and went inside a room separated from the shop by a curtain. Charu could hear some rustling sounds and then he came back with an old and dusty book whose pages had been yellowed due to age. He said that it was an old registry of businesses in the area. Charu was excited and both looked over the handwritten entries in the book. Finally, they narrowed down their search to three hotels which began with the letter AB. The location of Hotel Abad was just down the road where now stood a cinema hall. The shopkeeper was sure there had been no such house in this area. So they crossed it off their list. Charu took out her cell phone and keyed in the location of the second hotel, Hotel Abrose. It was located on MG road and the building still stood. They traced the route from the hotel to “Home”, but it did not lead anywhere except straight into the sea. Another dead lead. The third was Hotel Abirami, it was located a few miles away on the road to Ernakulam. When checking on Google Maps, they found that the whole area had been redeveloped. But by tracking all the possibilities, they were able to narrow down on a property which looked like it was the house mentioned as “Home” . Charu thanked the shopkeeper profusely and after promising him to keep him updated, she rushed to get her car and was soon one her way to the location.
When Charu reached the location, she was surprised to see that “Home” was now an Orphanage and an Old Age Home. Was Sheri an orphan ? Charu wondered. As she parked her car and made her way up the path, she looked around at the neatly maintained garden and could see a small group of children playing. One of them was Sheri! Charu immediately set off towards her. Seeing Charu approach, Sheri ran off towards the house and Charu gave chase. As she rounded the corner where Sheri had disappeared, she almost collided with a lady coming from the opposite side.
Charu and the lady were shocked to see each other. "Charu Kutty… you have come". Charu gasped and said “ Ana Chechi !!!". Ana Varghese had come to work at Charu's house, just after her mother expired. It was she who had helped Charu to get over her grief. Then suddenly one day she had left. Charu was seeing her today after 6 years. Suddenly Sheri came out from behind a pillar and hugged Ana. Ana introduced Charu to her daughter Sheryl Varghese. Seeing Charu’s shocked expression, she took her over to a park bench and began her story.
A few months after Ana had come to work at their house, she had gotten close to Charu's father who was grief stricken over his wife's death. They had an affair and he had been willing to marry her. But his mother, Charu’s grandmother, had severely objected to the match. She had threatened Charu's father with dire consequences and thrown Ana out of the house. Ana had been devastated when she discovered that she was pregnant. Fearing social stigma, she could not go back to her house and so had made her way this Home. She had given birth to her daughter here and now was helping around the Home. When Sheri grew up and started asking questions about her father, Ana had taken her to the city where she knew the path that Charu’s father used to take to get to work. Sometimes they had seen Charu accompanying him. So when Sheri had seen Charu at the book shop she had slipped in the photo, hoping that Charu would come and find them. Charu was speechless. In her wildest dreams she had not thought that her search would reveal such secrets. She could not utter a single coherent word and somehow whispering to Ana that she would keep in touch, she drove away.
Charu’s mind was in a whirl. She drove on until she found herself in front of the Chinese Fishing Nets. She parked the car, got down and walked along the sea shore and sat down on the warm sand gazing out at the sea. She thought over the events of the past few years. How they had been a happy family and her mother’s deteriorating health had strained their relationship. Being in NY for the past 6 months had opened Charu’s eyes to extra marital relationships. But Charu’s mother had died, so her father had not really cheated on her. And now Charu’s father had become a shell of the person he was, always drinking and morose. Charu wondered if she could talk to her father and reconcile him with Ana. After all, Sheri was his daughter. He had to take responsibility for her and little Sheri deserved to know her father. Making up her mind, Charu got up and made her way home.
Reaching home she was greeted with the sight of many people gathered around her house. Her grandmother had passed away. The next few days went past in completing the final rites and Charu could not speak to her father. But a few days later, an opportunity rose and Charu made her way to her father’s study. She had just started drinking and he looked stooped and tired. When he saw Charu he shouted at her to get out of his sight. But Charu persisted and started talking to him calmly. She reminded him about all the wonderful things they used to do together when she was a child, the numerous trips to the beach, the rides on his shoulder, eating ice cream and paani puri. Very soon tears had started rolling down her father’s cheeks. He apologised for not being a strong parent, for not saving her when her grandmother was strict with her. He had not wanted her to go to New York because he would miss her terribly, but had been unable to express it. Soon Charu and her father were hugging each other and promising to be truthful and closer to each other.
Very slowly Charu brought up Ana and Sheri. Her father was shocked and looked guilty, both, for having an affair and for not knowing about Sheri’s existence. But Charu was the voice of reason. “ Acchan,” she said, “ You have lived your entire life the way other’s wanted it. You were always afraid of Grandma, but you respected her and never broke her trust. But she is no more. It is time for you to start living again. Ana is a good lady and Sheri is the sweetest child ever. They both need to be with you here. Will you consider accepting them?” Her father was very hesitant, but Charu managed to convince him to live his life only for himself.
Two weeks later, Charu sat at the departure terminal of the Cochin airport reminiscing about her eventful trip. She had said a sorrowful goodbye to her new family. Her father had married Ana a few days back and had begun proceedings to formally claim Sheri as his daughter. He looked much happier than in years and had cut down completely on his drinking. Sheri had been Charu’s shadow for the past few days and Charu had been sad to leave. But Charu knew that she had a family to come home to the next time she landed in Cochi.
As the plane readied for take-off, Charu pulled out the old faded photograph from her purse. MV02FK09 . “Hmmmmm.. Now what could this be ?” she wondered.