The Promise

The Promise

7 mins 20.9K 7 mins 20.9K

Some of Meera’s earliest memories were of the several times she had stolen mangoes from her neighbours home that was a stone’s throw away from her own. The man lived alone and was old and rather deaf, and so she found absolutely no difficulty in jumping over the boundary wall and quickly climbing up the tree. It was an old tree, and rather easy to climb- with lots of little crevices and branches that were solid footholds for little children wanting to steal some mangoes. Every summer, the tree was so laden with fruits that no one ever missed the ones she took; In fact, most of the fruits were left for the birds to feast on, for the old man hardly ever ate any.

Quite often she would simply come to the tree to escape the harsh tropical heat- she would sit quite comfortably onone of its branches in the shade of its leaves. She quite liked the solitude that her little spot provided, and so was most unpleasantly surprised one day when she found it occupied by a young impish looking fellow who was probably the same age as her. He shot her a grin as she climbed up, and when asked to move quite obligingly shifted over. She was mollified enough to strike up a conversation- they shared a mango, and their friendship was solidified.

They met each other almost every day- she found herself going to the tree for the company rather than the fruit. Summer passed, so did winter and the monsoon-their friendship grew deeper and sweeter. They played many games, swinging around like little monkeys and teasing the birds and squirrels that lived in the tree. They had gradually fallen into a little routine of their own when the old man died.

They watched from the secrecy of the tree as some men carried the body away. It had been covered with a white sheet.

“What are they doing?” The boy whispered to her.

“ Don’t you know? He’s dead- they’re going to burn him.” She replied a little smugly, pleased to know something he did not.

“Burn him?” The boy exclaimed, eyes widening in horror.

“ Quiet, you idiot! Yes, burn him. Haven’t you ever seen it?” she replied.

He shook his head. “ When my grandfather died, we buried him.”

“That’s even worse than burning, Isaac!”

“Is not, Meera!” They squabbled for a while.Then, as children are most likely to do, they forgot the matter entirely and began to play a game of tag in the tree. The next day when they met up he told her quite sadly that he was moving away from Dehradun- his father had been transferred to Delhi. A morose silence eclipsed them both. All of a sudden with all the naiveté of childhood Meera piped up with an idea she had read about recently in a book- “Well, let’s meet up right here again in twenty years!” Isaac nodded quite happily, and so they parted.

 

 

Time is a strange thing. It turns castles to rubble, creates great mountains and seas and turns fond memories into fuzzy, faint recollections. Isaac and Meera too, were subject to its power and in time forgot each other and the promise they had made.

 

 

Meera heaved a sigh of relief as her husband packed the children into the car and drove away. She loved her twins a great deal, but two seven year old girls are not easy to entertain and she was more than happy to hand that job over to her mother in law and husband for a few days. She relaxed, enjoying the sound of silence reigning in the house.

However, in a few hours the welcoming silence began to feel almost suffocating and she itched for something to do. She launched a cleaning spree- scrubbing all the nooks and crannies that were usually ignored in favour of two little children. She opened the door of the store room, determinedly rolling up her sleeves as she surveyed the mess before her. She began to clean, and after few hours noticed a small book covered in garish pink. She opened it, and realized that it was an old diary of hers. She began to flip the pages, then suddenly set it aside, remembering her vow not to be sidetracked in her cleaning. So she went on with her task, when suddenly the book toppled over and opened at a page. As she picked it up, she noticed the date, and read in her own scraggly writing her promise  that she had made all those years ago- to meet at the mango tree twenty years later. She cast a glance at a calendar conveniently hung up on the wall- the entry had been made nineteen years and three hundred and sixty four days ago, which meant that  the very next day was the day of the promised meeting. She played around with the idea in her head for a while- it was such a fanciful, absurd thing! She finished her cleaning, and sat down to a nice cup of tea. The thought kept nagging her though, and she remembered that she had not seen her parents in some time- they would be happy to see her.

Her mind made up, she left the next day. The drive to her childhood home was long, but easy- and she had much to occupy her mind. She greeted her parents and spent a few hours with them before leaving to see the tree.

It stood there- old and proud and as laden with fruit as she remembered it. Nostalgia struck her as she climbed to a low branch within reach. She was no longer a child and quite out of tree climbing practise, so she slipped- someone steadied her from behind.

The boy had become a man- tall and slim and handsome .His clothes were fine and looked expensive- he smelt of cologne. Still in his smile she could see a glimpse of the impish grin she had been so familiar with. Isaac had kept his promise.

They spoke for many hours, exchanging news of their families and jobs. She showed him pictures of her twins and was deeply saddened to know that his wife and children had died in a car accident years ago. When it started to get dark they got ready to say goodbye after exchanging their phone numbers- as she turned to leave, he gripped her arm tightly and begged her in a tone that was so earnest it was frightening to call him the very next morning. She agreed, but wondered at his strange manner.

 

 

So she called the number he had given her. Instead of the smooth, baritone voice she expected she was assaulted by a grumpy growling.

“ Kaun hai?” the man on the line asked. She gave her name, and asked to speak to Isaac and was informed irritably that no one of that name lived there.

“O, but there must be! Please check!”

“Madam, I’ve worked here for four years- yahaan vaisa koi nahi hai.”

She asked him to check again. Cursing, he got hold of the landlady and asked Meera to speak to her. The landlady was a polite, gentle middle aged woman who listened to her patiently before replying- “ Well, beti- I’m sorry to tell you, but the man you’re looking for is dead- he died four years ago, a year after his family died in a car accident. The doctors say it was a heart attack, but if you ask me, it was plain grief. Such a nice boy too…..was he a friend?”

“That’s….that’s impossible! I met him yesterday…..” Meera trailed off.

“ I assure you, my dear- there is no mistake. I attended the funeral myself, you see. Would you like the address of the cemetary?”

Numbly, she wrote in down. Her mind was too full of shock and a hint of fear. The cemetery was not very far off- she left immediately. She wanted closure.

She bought a bouquet of flowers and made her way in- sure enough, she found him buried next to his wife and children. Trembling, she laid the flowers down.Her legs refused to hold her up any longer and she knelt, frightened and shocked. She became as still as a stone uet her mind ran in a thousand different directions all at once. Suddenly, a warm breeze brushed over her and inexplicably the sour smell of mango leaves assaulted her. Distantly, she heard children laughing. Her terror melted away and she fancied a familiar voice reassuring her gently. Comforted, she trailed her fingers over the engraving of the epitaph on the gravestone. Tears rose to her eyes, but she smiled through them, for she read-

   “Do not stand at my grave and weep.

       I am not there; I do not sleep.”

 

 

Whoever said that death had to be the end?

 

 

Note- the lines at the end are not of my creation, but are part of the poem-“Do not stand at my grave and weep” written by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

 

 

 


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