It has been 2 years now. You may think that I have gotten used to his absence, but the reality is that it hurts my heart to see him go. What hurts the most is that I can’t make him stay, here, with me. After all, we did agree on this a long time ago. I knew a time would come when I would have to let him go.
10 years ago we shifted to this neighbourhood. We had a long and tiring battle with our family. The judge had passed the verdict in our favour. So, we gathered what was left of us and came here, to start a new. I thought that the change in the environment might help him to forget the ordeals of home. Home! What is home? Honestly I don’ think I know. The place where we used to live was like a Nazi concentration camp.
Home, a place where people related by blood or law live under a common roof and help each other grow. Indeed, the place where Sarita lived had people related living under a common roof but growth occurred for all except those two. It was an abusive ambience. Always the 8 members would outnumber these two.
I was a homemaker, in charge of all the household duties. It wasn’t that I chose to be a homemaker, I was told to be so. I had done my B.Tech in computer sciences and had wanted to take admission in M.Tech when this proposal came and I got married. I had wanted to work after marriage. Technology was my lifeline, but my in-laws had disapproved of it. I tried talking to my parents about my dreams but they wouldn’t listen. I still remember that day when I had told my mom that I wanted to work. She had said that after marriage a girl’s only dream should be to build her family. My own mother did not understand my dreams. How could I expect the same from anyone else? So I never brought up the topic. I had devoted my full energy to the house but never was any day better from the others. He, on the other hand, could escape the ordeals as he’d be out for most part of the day but I had to suffer. Day and night. And I did, for him.
I had been so oppressed in that house that I feared everything. I had lost my confidence, my dignity, my dream. My very soul had been lost. I no longer knew this person who greeted me every day in the mirror. The girl Mr. Grewal had married in this house was no longer the same. I didn’t recognize myself. It was as if I had no identity, and it was true. Who was I? Among the ongoing mess, the only person that kept me together was he, Aakash. He was my only source of joy. He was my strength and also my weakness. One day he was listening to a song called “Night Changes”, and it got me thinking. Changes. It was my least favourite word from the dictionary. I don’t like changes because they are never for the good. Always it’d be that I am trying to get use to one way of life and then suddenly something would happen and life would take a 180 degree turn. And before I know it, I’d be drowning. It would take up all my energy to stay afloat and continue on this journey called life.
But now that there was Aakash, I wanted to swim. It was as if I had a strength surging through me, however feeble may it get at times. It was this strength that kept me going, then and even now. They say that love is powerful. I know from my experience that it is.
Sarita got up to Aakash’s room. She was missing him. She took a piece of cloth and started dusting the bookshelf while humming a song. She headed for the upper shelf when she lost her balance and something fell down. Aakash’s cricket bat. She picked it up and sat down on the bed. A tide of memories came rushing to her.
I still remember that day very clearly. It was a day I could never forget. Everyone in the family had eaten food and were preparing to sleep. I had been abused and criticised for my cooking. The rotis got a little burnt. It had been 3 days since Aakash had fever. It was not decreasing at all. I gave him antipyretics but they were of no use. I had been nursing him and lost track of time. I hurriedly prepared dinner. I was juggling between cooking and taking care of Aakash, who, by the, had started vomiting. The rotis got burned. Although there were other women in the house, I was the only one designated to do the household chore. We were well off and could afford a maid but still there was none because I was the one. I had asked my mother-in-law if we could take Aakash to the doctor. She just gave me a cold shoulder. That night after dinner the men of the house sat down for their drinks. I had put Aakash to sleep and came back to my room. I mustered up courage to ask my husband to take Aakash to hospital.
“Suraj can you take a leave tomorrow? Aakash is unwell. We need to take him to the doctor,” I had said.
“What is it that you are saying? And how dare you call me by my name. Call me Sahab ji. Give respect. Have your parents not taught you basic manners!” Suraj growled at me.
“It has been 3 days since Aakash’s fever. It is not subsiding. Today he has started vomiting too. He is sick. He needs medical attention,” I said quaveringly.
“Why are you constantly bugging me about Aakash. Let him be. Do your duties. You can’t do even a thing properly and are asking me to take a leave. Do you even know how much I have to work in the office and I am not a boss that I can take leave whenever I want. What would you know about work. All you do is stay home and sleep. Now go away and let me rest.”
“Did you not hear me!? He just has a fever. He is not dead. Actually it’d be better if he died and if you died along with him too. At least my life would be peaceful.”
“Suraj how could you say such a thing about your own son!”
“You ungrateful bitch, how dare you talk to me like that.”
Suraj took out his belt and started beating me. I cried for help. I pleaded for him to stop but he didn’t. Aakash had woken up hearing the ruckus. When he saw what was going on, he quickly ran to my rescue.
“Aakash go to your room. Go. Go back to sleep. It is okay. I am fine.”
“No, mom I won’t leave you.”
“You are the root cause of all of this.” Suraj grabbed Aakash by the neck. “You are sick? Let me see.”
Suraj started beating Aakash. He grabbed him by the neck and threw him against the wall. Aakash was so weak that he could not stand. I pleaded Suraj to let go of Aakash. He grabbed him again. I tried to break off his hold but I couldn’t. By this time some of the family members had woken up. They came by our room but they did not do anything. Instead they were happy. My little boy gasped for air. Suraj was choking him. I went to Aakash’s room and got his cricket bat. I hit Suraj on the head. He started bleeding. He left Aakash and started towards me with rage in his eyes.
“Don’t you even dare,” I said holding the bat firmly in my hand.
I helped Aakash on his feet.
My mother in law came to slap me but I held her hand.
“Don’t even think about it. We have had enough of your tyranny. All these years you have treated me like a servant and I have said nothing. This monster, this husband of mine, hurt me and you people enjoyed, yet I said nothing. But today, you have hurt my son and I will not stay quite. You can’t get away with this. I and Aakash are leaving this house and I dare anyone stop us. Suraj stay where you are. If you take even a single step towards Aakash I swear that will be the last step that you ever take. You have seen your wife’s patience but you haven’t seen a mother’s rage. Now my lawyer will contact you and dear husband get ready to take a long vacation from that office of yours.”
“Get out of my house you whore! Go...the streets are waiting for you. Let me see where you will go. Your parents are dead. You have no one,” yelled my mother-in-law.
“Don’t worry about me maa ji. I am capable enough to support me and my son. Don’t underestimate me.”
We packed our belongings and left for Noida. We wanted be miles away from those people. During my college years I had been a bright student. I used to teach Aakash at home. He never felt the need to go to coaching centers and had always topped in all his classes. Aakash had one day, he recorded my lecture on “Force and Motion” so that he could review it when I was busy in household work. His friends had seen the lecture and liked it. So he had started recording most of the lectures, he gave me an idea to start an online coaching class. I didn’t believe that it would work but he had full faith in me. After 4 months of giving the ad we had started getting a good response. At first, we had posted Physics lectures but then there was a demand for other subjects too. In the afternoon when all would sleep, me and Aakash would record. My main concern was that Aakash’s studies should not be affected and they weren’t. I saved the money from this online coaching class in a new bank account, which no one knew about. 6 months ago, Suraj and his brother had bought a property here in Bangalore. They said it was a good time to invest, so I started looking for a flat. I found one in Noida and bought it. It was far. It was good.
All this happened 10 years ago. Aakash completed rest of his schooling from Noida. After everything they had been through, he had decided that he wanted a better life for himself and his mom. Sarita had joined a company as a computer engineer. Aakash wanted to be an engineer as well. He studied really hard and cracked the entrance exam. He got admission in IIT Delhi. It was a proud moment for both Sarita and Aakash. After BTech, Aakash did MTech. All throughout his college, he had been a brilliant student. He got a job in Google in USA branch. It had been difficult, but Sarita knew that one day, she had to let him go.
Sarita got up and kept the bat beside the bed. She came back to the living room. She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. Even though Aakash had gone, they had not lost touch. They talked quite frequently. In the past few days he had been acting strange. It had been three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not.
What was this?
There was just one line written to the numerous messages and voice mails she had sent.
“Open the door, Ma”
Was this a joke, she wondered. Why would he write this? What is the meaning? She couldn’t comprehend.
“What beta? I do not understand. What are you trying to say?”
Sent. Delivered. Seen. Yet no reply. She sat on the chair for a while and decided to go and open the door.
“It is so silly. Kids, never grow up,” Sarita was thinking as she headed for the door.
She opened it.
“Surprize!” came a voice from behind the bouquet.
A head popped. It was Aakash.
“Happy birthday Ma!”
She hugged him. They came inside.
“How are you here? What about work?”
“I took a leave. I know that you would have forgotten your birthday but I hadn’t. All these years you have made my birthday special and never once have celebrated your own. I wanted to do something special for you so I came. I missed you.”
“You shouldn’t have taken so much of trouble dear.”
“It is no trouble, Ma.”
The doorbell rang.
“Ma sit, I will get that.”
It was the postman.
“Ma, it seems like the government has sent you a birthday gift as well.”
“Your visa has been approved to America. Now you will stay with me.”
“C’mon let us cut the cake.”