Drama Inspirational Tragedy
“Ma! Why is this tree taking so long to grow?”
The utterly curious voice of a seven year old boy came gushing from terra incognita like a fresh stream of water which had just found its way through the misplaced rocks. Another voice, an exceedingly soothing one, formed an answer that could satiate a seven year old mind.
“Beautiful things take time to grow, my child.”
The little boy collapsed down on the moist soil, his eyes still fixed at the half-grown mango tree, and his mind probably picturing ripe and fleshy mangoes. After a few moments, he asked his mother, “Will I take a lot of time to grow up, Ma?”
“Yes, if you want to grow into something beautiful.” She brushed his hair with her slender fingers, and the boy closed his eyes.
“I want to be beautiful, Ma.”
There was a loud creaking noise, and it was sudden, followed by the slamming of a door. Savitri woke up. She looked at the empty side of her bed, and the small pillow. She did not know why she did it; whether it was her reflex or just a vain hope lurking somewhere behind the darkness of her psyche. Anand, her husband, slowly walked into the room. “Come. I am serving dinner.”
Savitri kept staring at the wall for a few minutes. And all of a sudden, a few words formed the shape of a sentence before her eyes.
Om would have grown up to be a perfect man.
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 mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever. A single event changed the very colour of her world. Suddenly everything was just in black and white. Even the most valued things were now absolutely meaningless. It took a disease with a really weird name to shatter the palaces of dreams and hopes she had built.
Savitri looked at the photograph by her bed. Seven year old Om was smiling back, just like every other day. Savitri slowly crept out of her bed. Her back was aching terribly, and it felt like somebody was hammering relentlessly inside her head. She washed her face and joined her husband at the dinner table. A few moments passed in complete silence, and the only disturbance was the clinking of the silverware. Finally Savitri spoke, “How was your day?”
Anand slowly chewed his food, swallowed it, and replied, “Good.”
He kept staring at his wife for some time and said, “Are you not feeling well?”
“No, no, it’s the migraine again… I am fine.”
Anand knew what exactly was wrong with his wife. And the only thing that ached his heart more than watching his wife die bit by bit every single day was that he could do nothing about it… nothing that could imbibe even a tiniest speck of life in her soul. Exactly a year ago, their son Om was brutally snatched away from them by a disease. Om was the light they had been seeking all their lives. And now that he was gone, it was unbearably dark. Always.
Anand finished his food without uttering a single word, and so did Savitri. After washing the dishes, Savitri walked back lethargically to her room and popped a few tablets. Anand noiselessly sat beside her, placing his hand on her shoulder.
“We don’t talk much now,” he whispered. It was difficult to frame sentences in situations like this. It felt as if the pain in the ambience was choking his breath.
“Please, Savitri, talk to me. Tell me what you are feeling.” Anand’s voice was slowly breaking down. His teary eyes looked right into his wife’s. “I have lost my son… I don’t want to lose you too… believe me Savitri, I have no one else to live for…”
Savitri struggled to bring a smile to her lips, and ran her fingers through her husband’s hair. “I am not going anywhere.”
Anand picked the photograph of Om, kissed him, and whispered ‘Happy Birthday, son.” He placed the photo back to its place, wiped his tears and said, “Have some sleep Savitri. You really look ill. I…I will finish some work in the meantime…”
The next day went the exact same way. And so did the day after that.
Savitri was unable to find a doorway that could lead her to a new road, a new place, a place free from that seven year old voice, that innocent smile, that weirdly comforting sound of the incessant cackling of her little son, and the picture of him gripping at his mother’s thumb just when he was dying… Savitri wanted an escape. An escape from this aftermath of a tragedy. An escape from a world of false hopes and lies. An escape from this misery.
Anand, on the other hand, was the optimistic root that was holding the whole tree together. Spending sleepless nights and getting pushed to the brink of depression and insomnia, Anand somehow managed to hang on to his senses. He did so not because he was a man, or that he was stronger, but because he knew one of them had too. No matter how badly broken he was from the inside, he never let it out. Especially to his wife. He tried hard to pull her back from the oblivion she was slowly approaching, but failed. Often he would find Savitri sitting in the garden, staring at the half-grown mango tree, or gaping at the montage of clouds in the sky with a weird smile on her face. Most midnights he would wake up hearing Savitri mumbling to herself in her sleep. Anand had even considered the need of a psychiatrist for her, but somehow he could not do it. He still believed she could find her way out. She could live again. But Anand had to find her the elixir.
A few more months dragged by, and nothing changed. Anand’s parents and Savitri’s father tried hard to convince them to have a second child. “How long will you cling to a person’s memories, my child?” Savitri’s mother had repeatedly asked her. “You will have to let it go. This house, this emptiness, this will kill you. You have to bring Om back, and you and Anand know how to do it. Please. You need someone to live for. That ‘someone’ should be a person in flesh and blood, and not a shadowy figure built with all your broken pieces of your memories.”
Even Anand had given this idea a lot of thought, and somewhere deep within he felt this was the right advice. “The two of you can’t possibly plan to living alone all your lives like two silhouettes of once happy persons?” Anand’s father had said. “I cannot even imagine what you and Savitri have been through, but trust me, you need to find a way out of it. You need to help her. You two complete each other now. You are all she has now, and so do you.”
All the advice seemed to land into deaf ears. Savitri never even raised the faintest of hints that she craved for a second child, and Anand never dared to impose the idea. One afternoon, one of Anand’s colleagues at work gave him an address. “This is the place you want to be. Trust me Anand. There are people who are more unfortunate.”
Anand went to the place scribbled on the paper. It was an orphanage, and he had pretty much guessed it beforehand. He walked into the small but meticulously decorated white building. He knocked on the door that had the most relevant sign. Inside the office, a very old woman was sitting on a small wooden chair, sipping at a cup with utmost caution. Anand shook her hand and settled down, and he suddenly realised he had not planned what to say. He did not even know why he was here. After a few minutes of silence, he said, “I…I have come to… take a look around. If that is okay with…”
“Son, you can take as long as you want.” The old woman offered a toothless smile, and it was the most assuaging thing Anand had seen in the last two years. “I won’t ask you any questions, but I would expect you to come and tell me what you have been trying to for the last three minutes.”
Anand smiled and stood up. A young boy took him out to the quarters, where the children were playing. Through the clean curtains fluttering wilfully with the breeze, Anand saw some of the most colourful images of his life, and it felt like he was reliving some of the moments that were carried away by the tides of a hungry river for good. His legs paused as they reached at the threshold of each room. He saw little boys, wearing colourful half pants and shirts, building lego structures and arranging races with tiny cars. He saw little girls, some of whom had stunning ribbons that held their hair together, dressing their dolls and painting their eyelashes. The smell of crayons pulled tears out of Anand’s eyes, but he kept fighting the reminiscences. The colouring books, the small football, the plastic bat, everything seemed to conspire against his weak mind. The thought that finally dawned upon him was that all these beautiful kids could say every word in this world except ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’.
The boy then took Anand to the garden where around fifty children were playing together, and it seemed to be the happiest place on Earth. Two elderly women were playing with them too, but they had their eyes on everybody. Anand did not realise for how long he had been standing there, watching the children who were free from the chains of human bonds. A few moments later his eyes fell on a boy who was not quite agile as the rest. He was trying to dig a small hole with a plastic knife. In his left hand he had a small packet. Anand walked towards him, sat by his side and asked, “What are you planting, young man?”
“An orange tree.” The boy replied without even turning his face.
“And how will you do it?”
“I have the seeds. I had an orange yesterday.”
Anand smiled and said, “You are doing a good thing.”
The boy now looked at him and smiled. A tooth was missing, but that only made it the most innocent smile ever. “There was a tree here once”, the boy continued, “…but it died, they say. And they did not even plant one here after that. This place looked so empty… So I am planting one. It will grow big, very big, and the oranges will be the sweetest in the world!”
It was already dusk. Anand went back to the cabin and the old woman greeted him the same way. “So tell me son. I can see you are ready.”
Anand told her his entire story, and somehow he felt he was talking to his own mother. The old woman listened to him intently. Anand almost broke down during the part of Om’s death, but he gathered himself and said all the rest. When he was done, the woman smiled and said, “Poor boy… I am truly sorry. Believe me, I know how it feels. I have lost my children too. I had two, and I lost both of them. And now I am saying this to you – you can find happiness once again, if you know where to seek it.”
Anand asked, “I think I am in the right place now.”
“If you think, then probably you are.”
Anand did not know how to say this, but finally he mustered courage and asked, “Can I take a boy to my home tomorrow morning? For half an hour?”
The woman looked perplexed. “You don’t want to adopt one?”
“Yes. I do. I just want to see if my wife is ready.”
The woman looked displeased. “We cannot do that to a child. You see, he is not an item put up here for sale. What if your wife isn’t ready? Will you return him? What will I say to him then?”
Anand broke into tears. The woman understood she was pushing the troubled man to his edge. She walked to him and whispered, “There, there… I know what you meant. I understand.”
“I…I want a child… he looks so much like Om… he even smiles like him…”
“The woman picked up the receiver and talked to someone. Then she hung up and said, “I will send him with you to your house, son. But I won’t be telling him that you have plans on adopting him. I am doing this for your wife. I have been through similar phases, twice. I know how hard it is. I am doing this just for her. I hope she sees in the child what you saw.”
Anand held her hand in a tight grip and thanked her. The woman smiled and said, “Remember, if both of you agree, a child will get a new home, and so will you.”
Next morning, Savitri woke up with a terrible headache. She was walking down the stairs when she was startled to see a small boy sitting in front of the half grown mango tree. A jolt of lightning struck her and she somehow managed not to trip. She slowly tiptoed out in the garden and watched the boy keenly. She was not in a state of mind to wonder who he was, or from where he had come. When she reached him, the boy turned back and smiled. The smile gave Savitri a swoon. It was a smile that had an indelible picture in her heart. It was Om’s smile.
She almost collapsed down. The boy pointed towards the tree and asked, “When will this tree grow? Is it taking a lot of time?”
Savitri could not take it anymore. The words seemed to be ripped off from her dreams, from the colourful past she had bid adieu. A weak whisper emanated from her mouth, “What did you say?”
“I know how to make it grow faster.” He covered his mouth and whispered, “It’s my secret. You water it every day, twice.” And then he giggled.
Savitri’s eyes were running all over the boy, his hair, his nose, his ears, his voice… she had never felt more desperate, more helpless. It was as if the person she had been chasing in her dreams was suddenly right in front of her. The face was different, yes, but the innocence… she could see it was not different at all.
“It won’t take long to grow!” The boy giggled again. Savitri’s body was trembling already. But she smiled. Amidst the stream of tears, there was a smile. Like rain and sunshine, together. She cupped the child’s face in her hands and asked, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Veer.”
“Oh! And who gave you that name? Your mother?”
“I don’t have a mother, or a father. But I have a lot of friends, and I have Aunt B. Her name is really long, so we all call her Aunt B!”
Savitri kept staring at him. She felt like she was looking at the sun after spending two long years in the dark. It felt serene. She felt whole. With her trembling hand, she covered her mouth and whispered, “I have a secret too…”
The child eagerly moved forward, with a serious look on his face that assured his promise of confidentiality. Savitri, amidst hiccups, whispered, “Beautiful things take time to grow.”
Anand, who was watching all this from his car, wiped his tears and joined his hands to utter a prayer. He then dialled a number. When the old woman picked up, he said, “I can never thank you enough. I shall come with my wife today. I don’t know how it works, but keep all papers and everything ready. Veer is getting a home, today.”