Saturday morning: it was holiday for Prakash. He picks up the copy of newspaper from the study table and sits in front of the television. Flipping channels he stops on an English news channel. ‘Ah, politics…where is science?’ He asks himself, switches off the television and begins to flip through pages of the newspaper. It drizzles outside as he sees droplets of rain coursing down the window panes. ‘Beautiful,’ he mumbles and calls his wife. ‘Ritu, darling come here.’
Ritu twists the knob of the burner and slows down the flame. She enters the drawing room and finds her husband glued to the window pane. ‘What happened dear, what’s there at the window? She smiles and walks near.
‘Look at the dripping water on the glass, isn’t it lovely?’ He smiles and wraps his hand around her shoulder.
‘Yea.’ She pauses and looks towards his smiling face. ‘They look beautiful.’
‘My love towards you is like those silvery beads of rain: sincere, simple and profound.’ He gives her a squeeze.
‘Wao, pleased to hear, honey.’ She pinches his back.
‘Ah, nice.’ He tries to stifle a flick of smile. ‘Anyway, how does your driving training go on?’
‘Fine, I can drive now.’ She gently brags.
‘So you used the period of my absence to the maximum. Brilliant.’ Prakash embraces her and plants a kiss on her forehead. ‘Love you honey.’
‘Oh I see…how this silent and busy man finds time for love. Soon Sri will return from school.’ A ray of smile develops between her lips.
‘Oh come on, throwing cold water on the ember of my romance. How can I express in presence of a teen girl.’
‘Okay, I too love you.’ She nudges his cheek with her long nail painted with pink nail polish. ‘Now you please go to the market and bring some essential grocery items. In your absence I managed somehow but failed at times.’
‘That’s why you’re a darling. Mwaah.’ He wraps her and gives a deep squeeze. ‘Okay, how’s Kapil brother? Did you visit him?’
‘He’s fine. While he was in the clinic for his bypass surgery, I’d talk with your sister every other day.’
‘Good.’ He nods.
Ritu silently walks towards the kitchen as the pressure cooker whistles while he changes his suit and gets ready to go out.
‘Ritu, where’s the key?’ he asked folding cuffs.
She hands over the key-ring and with a gentle pat on his back. He opens the garage and pulls out his Eon car to the portico. Locking the garage and he checks out his wallet for cash and cards. ‘Good.’ He drives out of the bungalow and comes to the main road.
Ritu becomes happy for getting a chance hug while he feels happy finding time to express his love. She gets busy in cooking while he reaches the market.
As the car stands beside the store, he grips the steering wheel. ‘No I should pay a visit to brother.’ He thinks and gets down. Walking to a store, he buys some apples, pears and dry fruits for Kapil and walks to the other section to buy grocery items. ‘Ah, finished,’ he murmurs a satisfaction to himself and with carry bags walks to the car. He throws the bags to the back seat and slides into the driver seat. ‘Ah.’ He switches on the AC and grips the steering wheel. He pauses for a moment and dips his head to the groove of the wheel and his hands.
Prakash sighs and starts the engine. The vehicle moves on criss-crossing jungle of concrete building, cars of different kinds, traffic posts and some boards reading, ‘Men at Work, drive slow’. The drizzle happens to be off and on, as the sun loses and gains ground. He switches on the wipers and negotiates a herd of cattle though a back wheel falls onto a pothole.
‘Bloody hell, on the main road of Mumbai, this is really atrocious.’
As he hears frantic honking, he changes gear and presses the accelerator pedal. He moves on and negotiates a capsized man-hole though he fails to foil an abrasion of a tyre with the round iron cover. Swoosh, the car moves on and stops in front of a white bungalow at the outskirt of the suburb.
Prakash brings out the bag meant for Kapil and walks to the front gate. He moves the latch inside and he walks through the garden and moss infested tiles. Leaves still hold the rain drops as he feels some drops falling on his head from a high rising Neem tree. He reaches the door and looks at it. On the middle of the upper part a small image of Lord Ganesha sticks to the wall and below it hangs a five bell tied with red ribbon. On a corner a horse bow shape made in iron remains pending on a nail. He reads ‘Subha’ and ‘Labha’ under Swastika mark respectively on the side of the door. And on the middle of the threshold in place of a doormat a drawing in white welcomes all.
He presses a switch with a bell sign and a delicious chirp of a bird buzzes inside the home. ‘Ah, soothing.’ He cranes his head to have a cursory view of the garden while someone opens the door.
After a while, he hears a licking sound coming towards the door. Click opens the door, he sees his sister beaming with a smile.
‘Namaste,’ he says and joins his united hands to his bosom while his smile clashes with that of hers.
‘Ah, great to see you here.’ She half embraces her and they walk into the house. ‘Your brother was just asking about you.’
‘Ah, so nice, how’s he?’
‘A bit fine, recovering.’
‘Good. How was the operation?’
‘It was good as doctors were specialists.’
They enter an illuminated room where his brother-in-law sleeps enjoying soft music. ‘Brother Namaste.’
Kapil nods while his wife drags a chair and asks Prakash to sit beside him.
‘Sister, take this bag, some fruits are there, give them to brother.’
‘Oh formality.’ She opens it to check the contents.
‘Good to see you.’
‘You know my job brother, always touring foreign countries, attending seminars, presenting papers and conduct research. Just a week ago I was in France.’
‘Yes scientists are so, proud of you.’
‘Life is so hectic.’
‘I was expecting you,’ she says. ‘but everyone came to see your brother except your wife Ritu.’ She pauses. ‘I’d always call her from the clinic but she…no, never.’
Prakash feels a shock as his sister spoke against his wife. He becomes upset and angry, but the next moment he tries to defend his wife. ‘She must be busy sister. I was on tour when you were in the hospital. I only heard from her.’
‘But she should have…we’re so near and so far.’
“She’ll come dear. Had I told her today, she’d have come with me but I came here without informing her. She knows I’ve come to the market for some groceries, you know. Unless it’s Sunday, she does not find time.’ He defends.
‘Okay leave it, your sister is like that, always complaining. Tell me how’re you doing? And how is your daughter Sri?’ Kapil tries to change track.
‘I’m fine brother, a bit hectic but I enjoy. Sri is okay. You tell, how your recovery is?’
‘Fine.’ He tries to smile. ‘A check up is due, but I feel fine. Yesterday, we’d a long talk session over Skype with son.’
‘Ah, yes, how’s he in the US?’
‘He’s doing fine, due to job pressure he expressed his inability to come. But that’s okay, no problem.’
At that time, cell phone of Prakash buzzes. He knows it’s from Ritu as the customized ring tone and voice prompt say. He disconnects while his sister brings tea and some snacks. ‘Ah, it’s not time for tea.’
‘Please,’ Kapil requests.
He sips tea and says, ‘Now I must go brother. We’ll come on another day.’ Prakash salutes and leaves them.
‘Yes come with Ritu,’ his sister says.
‘Yes.’ Prakash again bids farewell from his sister and walks towards his car. He sits on the driver seat, pulls the seat belt but fails to concentrate. The laughing Buddha on the interior wall looked pale as if he lost his smile. He ducks himself on the steering wheel and begins to think about the complain of his sister against Ritu.
‘But, but…how come she ignores my brother-in-law. She should have paid a courtsy call.’ He grips the steering wheel, taps the sponge around it with his fingers and thinks about Ritu. With a pensive mind, nursing anger he switches the ignition slot and moves on the car to the main road.
‘No, she should have.’
Prakash reaches home and puts brake under the portico. He click opens the door and without carrying the groceries, screams. ‘Ritu.’
The crying stunned Ritu and she asks from inside, ‘What happened darling.’ She begins to think, ‘What has happened to my silent man, while going he was smiling?’
Prakash walks on while she comes out and they meet inside the corridor. His face looks pulled and tightened. She marks the looming anger in his eyes. ‘What happened? Met with an accident or…? Where are my orders?’
He glares at her and throws the key that bangs on to the wall with a jingling sound. ‘On the back seat, bring them.’
She picks up the bunch of keys and asks. ‘But why’re you so angry? Has anyone told anything?’
‘Oh, shit I feel humiliated. What have you been doing all these days, you should have paid a courtsy visit to brother-in-law in my absence.’
‘I don’t do anything only sit idle, okay?’ She nods.
‘She said, ‘everyone has come but your wife.’’
‘What hmm. I felt belittled, you know.’
‘That’s a trifle.’
‘No,’ he fulminates. ‘This is a big issue and it happened only for you.’
‘Okay, I’ll go. I only waited for your return. You came back and again went to New Delhi. How I could have? I made a call to your sister every other day...in fact I spoke to her yesterday only. Huh.’
‘Don’t count excuses, it was your fault. She was right in blaming your absence.’
They walk into the home and sit down apart. ‘Come on, be mature. Why don’t you ask what obstructed me from going there. And why did you go there without telling me? I’d have accompanied you.’
‘Huh.’ He stares.
‘Your presence only made my absence obvious. And when you met him, where is the relevance of my going there?’
He keeps silent and stares. ‘I only did my duty.’ He enters his study room and she enters kitchen, both nursing anger against each other. Cicatrices are still raw and they part to scratch them more.
The call bell rings, he gets up and walks to the door. He sees Sri standing with her bag with full of sweat beads on her face and forehead.
‘Oh my darling.’ He hugs her.
‘Papa, where is mom?’
‘Oh I feel hungry Papa.’
‘Let’s have lunch together.’
Ritu smiles and plants a kiss on her cheek and asks. ‘Go and wash yourself, I’ll serve the lunch soon.’
She deals lunch to father daughter duo sporting a fake smile. It pains but she smiles while he too tries to hide his feeling and they would not see to each other directly.
‘Ritu please bring some more chicken for Sri.’
‘No, thanks,’ Sri says.
As they eat, Ritu sits inside the kitchen and ponders over the anger. She dabs her stole and tries to hide her teary eyes. Dealing chicken to them she keeps the bowl on the dinning table.
‘What does his sister thinks her? My calling her every other day has got no value. Why people intrude into others life, why they snatch peace of others? God knows.’
Prakash finishes but waits for Sri to finish. ‘So dear what was taught today?’
‘Maam told a story about parents quarrel.’
She finishes eating and walks to the faucet to wash. Prakash enters his study room and Sri sits down before television.
Ritu washes her eyes and walks to Sri. She sits with Sri and after a while says, ‘Go and have a siesta, we’ll go to our holiday home in the evening,’ she says.
‘Is it mom?’
‘Yes darling.’ She pats and flicks a smile.
‘But have you finished lunch?’
‘Oh yes,’ she tells a lie wearing a fake smile.
Sri walks into the room to sleep and Ritu brings out a spiritual book. She tries to read and forget but her eyes again flow.
In the meanwhile Prakash sleeps with Sri. He rues and analyses his behavior towards Ritu. ‘Ritu has got some valid points. How could she have drove alone to the outskirt of the town in my absence? And when sister’s only son’s absence is pardonable, why she should count who comes and who does not. Further when I went there, what was the relevance of telling about the absence of Ritu?’
‘Oh I should not have shown my ire. Me duffer. Shit.’ He rues and fails to sleep though Sri unknown to the quarrel sleeps soundly.
In the evening, Ritu prepares tea and calls Prakash. He looks at her and silently bags pardon while sipping tea. He calls her but she leaves. Everyone gets ready and he drives back the car to the portico. Sri sits behind and he asks Ritu to drive.
‘No, no you drive.’
‘Oh come on.’ He presses her hand and flicks a smile. ‘You need to practice as your training is on. I’m next to you...no problem.’
Ritu reluctantly slides into the driver seat while he sits beside her. Slowly she drives on. No music, no chit chat as silence rules inside the car. This pinches Sri.
‘Momma, Papa, what happens, no one talks, have you quarreled in the morning?’
‘Oh come on darling.’ Prakash smiles. ‘It’s just like that, nothing like you think.’
They reach their holiday home when the sun sinks in gradually. Ritu enters a room while Prakash enters a different room. This shows the detachment and Sri’s doubt gets corroborated.
‘Momma, papa, come here,’ Sri calls them. ‘What happened, tell me. You both seem detached. Look Papa, she has not eaten lunch and I sensed something wrong then.’
‘Sri, I’d taken lunch,’ Ritu says.
‘No, don’t tell a lie. And what’s this you’re having tears in your eyes.’
Ritu checks and wipes her eyes.
‘This is good. Who loves also quarrels at times but what’s this since morning you’ve not patched up?’
She looks towards them one by one. ‘Moma, give your hand,’ she commands and stretch her hand. Ritu keeps one of her hand on that of hers. ‘Papa, what do you think, come on.’ Prakash also gives his hands on that of Ritu’s. Sri keeps her other hand on them and says. ‘I love you papa, love you mommy.
They embrace her and say, ‘We too love you darling.’ Prakash looks towards Ritu and says,’ I’m sorry darling.’
Ritu smiles and nods while Sri looks towards them.