Wind Chimes15 mins 12.1K 15 mins 12.1K
The leaves were turning a slow golden in the late autumn wind. The stars twinkled overhead, just barely visible in the darkening twilight sky. The hills in the distance had blanketed themselves in a layer of fog, and there was a slight chill in the air. A silver of moon glistened in the western sky, casting an ethereal glow to the surroundings, and Neil had to brace himself before entering the familiar house, which had just turned into a mighty stranger.
It was an autumn of despair for Neil, an autumn of loss, misery and pain. Somewhere in his house he could hear the faint music of the piano, unruly, yet musical, and somehow, it was the music that made his heart twist with overwhelming grief, the sorrow he had managed to suppress until now. But he could not breakdown, not yet. There was still someone who needed him, and knew Koel would have wanted the same, only if she would have been here with him. With shaking hands he unlocked the door. He took a deep breath as he walked through the door, barely managing to keep the tears at bay. A little figure sat at the piano, her tiny finger tickling the ivories, trying and failing to create a proper rhythm to the tinkling music. It was the piano that Koel used to play when she was sad, and watching his daughter play the same way brought back a lot of memories.
"Hey, Dad." Rhea looked up from the piano. "Come here, I have almost managed to play this piece Mum used to play. Would you like to hear it?"
Neil could not speak through the lump in his throat, but choked out, "Yes, darling, I'd love to."
Neil was not sure if his seven year old daughter knew what had happened. (If she knew that her mother was not coming back, she hid it well). 'But she is too young to be hiding her emotions, isn't she?' Neil wondered idly as he sat staring at the bookshelf that Koel had arranged so beautifully. It was stacked with books to the point where the shelf could hold no more. Koel used to love books, and if she ever went on a shopping spree, it was usually to buy more books. Her all-time favorites were books by the Bronte sisters, Neil recollected vaguely, and she would sometimes read out a few lines from the Tennyson too. Though Neil could never understand her love for books, he valued and respected it a lot, and knew that books were Koel's best friends. Now that Koel was gone, he wondered who would smell the pages and feel as if everything in her life was perfect.
Neil wondered who would open the windows instead of closing them during a storm, who would tousle his hair after he had combed it neatly; who would stuff the shopping list in his shoes just so he won't forget to take it and would give him a cup of steaming coffee first thing in the morning. These were the memories that he knew would never go. And now as Rhea's fingers finished their dance on the piano keys, the kaleidoscope of memories flashed through his mind, and he vaguely realized that he was not strong enough to face a world without Koel.
Absorbed in his thoughts, he had barely heard Rhea play the piano. Rhea knew it; she knew her father had not heard it, for if he had, he would have come to her and hugged her and said how wonderful she was..... Right? Rhea sighed before turning to face her father. People at the funeral yesterday had told her, had explained her that her mother was not coming back. Ever. Though she refused to believe them and tried to remind herself that the mourners were all fools, deep in her heart she knew that her Mum wouldn't be back with such a certainty that broke her heart. Dad had told her to say goodbye to Mum at the funeral, and although she did so, she did not realize that she has really lost her mother. But she did not want to know that, in the process, she has lost a father too.
"Dad, can you hear the wind chimes?" she asked, in a voice that resembled Koel's. "When I was four, Grandma used to hang these in her patio. She believed that when a wind chime tinkled, it meant the passage of a spirit. Does it mean that Mum is passing by right now? If so, I can tell that she will be very disappointed to see you like this."
Neil looked up from his fisted palms and wondered how Rhea has matured so much within the time span of two days, when he himself had not been able to wrap the idea of Koel's death around his head.
"Mum is here, honey. She has not left." Neil said in a barely stable voice as he walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her.
Sobs raked through Rhea's tiny profile then, for though she had understood that her Mum wouldn't be back, the realization hadn't actually settled in until that moment. She had wanted to cry the night before, but somehow, the tears wouldn't come. She had been lost in an impenetrable doze, numbed, for all she knew.
But now with her father's arms around her, she does not have to worry about her heart splitting into a thousand pieces, and she cried to her heart's fill.
Unable to keep the tears from forming anymore, Neil felt a tear trickle down his face, and then another, and another, until streams of tears ran down his cheeks.
Wrapped in each other's arms, the father and the daughter cried as minutes ticked by, cried for the days gone by, cried for the memories left behind, cried for someone they both knew would never return.
As autumn faded to winter, the regular streams of tears evaporated to occasional ones, and as the world went rolling outside the window, that nightmarish autumn slowly blurred into a distant dream.
Rhea grew up into a young teenager in a blink of an eye, or so Neil thought. Once, when he thought he was almost healed, Neil had braced himself to sit with the photo albums, but contrary to his beliefs, his hands shook so much that he couldn't even flip the cover.
After her mother's death, Rhea became progressively reticent. Although Neil worried about his daughter, he knew that there was nothing he could do about it and with time, he was afraid that her mother would become more of imaginary character to her than a parent who had once lived, laughed and enjoyed life. And that was exactly the case with Rhea. Though she missed her mother sometimes, she never brought up the topic in front of her Dad. As Rhea stepped into teenage, she grew tired of the crushing misery that her father often made her go through, tired of watching Neil sit with a forlorn expression every Sunday, tired of the tears forming in the corners of his eyes when she played the piano or read out a line from a Tennyson poem. With time, she stopped caring, stopped playing the piano, stopped reading poems aloud, stopped doing practically everything Koel used to do. She knew it wasn’t her father’s fault, but she couldn’t help feeling angry on him. After all, she has moved on, so why couldn’t he?
She hated herself sometimes, hated her father, hated life for showing its tough side so early. But she thought she could handle it. And she did handle it, only in an inappropriate way. She started smoking by the age of fifteen, started going out with the kind of people she should not, and made it to the point to defy all rules her father had made for her. For if he had nothing to teach her, rules shouldn’t count. Neil watched his daughter’s metamorphosis in front of his eyes, yet he could do nothing about it.
So one spring morning, when Rhea had just turned sixteen, the inevitable happened. Neil knew Rhea was in bad company; listening to blaring punk all day long, locked up in her room, her changing fashions, black nail polish and colored hair. But whenever Neil wanted to talk to her about it, she would throw a tantrum and not eat dinner, or do something equally ridiculous. So after a point, Neil stopped.
But he didn’t expect her anger to reach such extremes.
“Dad, I am going for a trip to Ladakh with friends.” Rhea said at breakfast one Sunday morning, one of the rare-times when they talked.
Neil hesitated before asking, “Friends?”
Rhea sighed, as if exasperated, then answered, “If you must know, I am going with Dave, Sara, Felix and Hazel. Any probs?”
Neil felt cornered, as if challenged by his own daughter, but nonetheless, he would not allow her to go anywhere with those kids. “You are not going.” He finally said.
Rhea looked startled. It was not often that Neil refused her anything, but she wasn’t going to give up so soon. “I AM going.”
“No, you are not. I don't trust that Dave guy. Or anyone you named, for that matter.” Neil was equally obstinate.
Rhea could feel her temper rising. How dare he talk to her that way? “You know what? The thing is that it’s me you don't trust.” She said as she got up from the table.
“Sit down, Rhea.” Neil said in a stern voice, a voice he never thought he would have to use on his daughter.
Rhea did, but by now, she had reached the limit of her tolerance. “How can you talk to me like that? No one ever does!”
“I can. I am your father. I have every right over you.” He said.
“Not after not being a father for all these years.” Rhea argued through gritted teeth.
Neil flinched. His own daughter’s words were a slap across his face. He knew he had wronged her, had stolen her of a bright childhood, but he had never expected her to disagree him as her father.
Rhea continued, noticing Neil’s flinch, knowing that she had struck a nerve- “You weren’t there when I needed you- you weren’t there to support me. You never reassured me that Mum was with us. Throughout my childhood, I had to support myself. I had to console myself. You were never there when I needed you, so how can you expect me to listen to you after all these years?”
Neil’s expression had saddened by a minute. He couldn’t believe his daughter was telling him all this. In a voice barely above whisper, he said, “Because I know your mother would have wanted the same thing, Rhea.”
Rhea did not care anymore. She was boiling with rage how her father had dared to speak to her that way. “Huh, Mum. What an excuse to satisfy your own needs. You know what? I think it’s because of you that Mum died.”
With that, she went to her bedroom and locked the door, with the vermicelli on her plate only half-eaten.
Neil’s throat was choked. He had neither the energy nor the will to stop his daughter. But he knew that if he gave her up now, the slender thread of hope holding them together would break in a way that could never be repaired. So he got up, ignoring the odd echo of Rhea’s words ringing in his ears, and knocked on her door, again and again, until she finally opened the door. By now, she was dressed in torn jeans and a faded T-shirt, with her black hair around her face and the ends colored a bright copper. She had a rucksack on her back and another bag in her hand, which showed that she was actually paying no heed to her father’s refusal.
“Rhea, wait. You are not going. You are going to stay here, and we are going to watch movies together, and we are going to play the piano together and … we will do everything you want. Just… stay.” Neil said.
Rhea looked unmoved by her father’s words, quite determined to get out of this stuffy house, where nothing except weeping happened. “Are you done?” She said with a steely look on her face.
The words hurt more than Neil could ever have thought they would. He found himself slipping into the same daze he once had, when Koel had died. He had the vague notion that he was about to lose his daughter. "Do you really want to see me dead? If so, you may go." He said as he watched her open the door.
With her back to him, Neil watched his daughter hesitate on doorsteps, and for a moment, he fantasized her staying back. However, his hopes were crushed when Rhea whispered, "I have been through a mother's death, Dad. I think I can handle losing a father." Then with one strike of her arm, she brought down the wind chimes her mother had once hung there on the doorway, and stomped off, as Neil watched with teary eyes the wind chimes shattering into pieces, the wind chime that had once reminded Rhea of her mother. In that moment, he felt as if he had been defeated hopelessly. He knew he had failed as a father.
As Neil sat at the piano, he traced his fingers across the piano keys, the same way as Koel once had, and so had their daughter. "Why did it all turn out the way it did, Koel?” He thought to himself. "Our life was so perfect. Why did you go?”
Neil knew time passes, memories repeat themselves, but moments once gone never come back. It was a lesson he had learnt the hard way, and now this lesson has made reappearance, as he watched his world slip through his fingers.
Meanwhile, Rhea was not enjoying herself. Dave and the others had come to pick her up, and she was silent as they set out to the highway, planning to take a short break for a few hours in the roadside cafe.
They sang random songs, smoked joints and shouted like ruffians, but Rhea didn't have the will to join them. Her thoughts kept drifting back to her conversation with her father in the morning, and she wondered why she was letting it bother her so much.
They stopped at a cafe named ' Cafe Espresso ‘, and while the others took off to smoke and went to the washrooms, Rhea stayed back at table. The tables were set in a garden adorned colorfully with roses and bougainvilleas. A tree that Rhea didn't recognize stood in the middle of the garden, wearing creepers that gave an eerie green glow to the place. Lanterns hung from slender branches and the wrought iron tables and chairs added an undecipherable aroma to the place. A gentle breeze fluttered through the leaves, fighting its way down, as if to touch Rhea. As soon as the wind freed itself from the green canopy, it tinkled at something, playing an unruly, yet pleasant music. It was the way she used to play the piano as a kid, she remembered with an odd sense of déjà vu, as the wind continued to ring the wind chimes overhead. Her brief déjà vu changed to a long one, and she vaguely remembered the way she and her parents used to go on long drives on days like these. It was when her Mum was still alive... She sighed as the wind chimes continued ringing, reminding her of the blunder she had made that morning.
"Hello." A voice called from behind her.
She turned to see a woman in her mid thirties, with bouncy black hair cut just above the shoulder. She had a fresh face and sharp features, with a proud arch of a chin and a figure of one who exercised regularly. She looked familiar, Rhea thought, like a hazy image from a long forgotten dream.
"I don't think you remember me Rhea, but I am also surprised that you don't." She said in a confident voice, a voice so familiar that she stood unmoved on her tracks. But still the memory would not free itself from her scattered thoughts. The distant memory of this mysterious woman struck there, as if forced to, while the woman continued in an eerie voice, "Do you realize the pain you are causing your father Rhea? What are you making him go through?" She asked.
No, I have no idea, Rhea wanted to say, but didn't.
"What is your exact definition of anger, by the way?" She asked.
"I don't know. Irritation, I guess." Rhea said, surprised at herself for answering the stranger.
She shook her head and continued, "Dear Rhea, think about what I am saying, alright? Behind anger lies a fear- a fear of loss, of emotions or even of a specific control, in your case."She paused then, as if to measure Rhea's reactions.
"Happiness is nothing but a blissful facade to cope with the underlying emotions. Everyone who is happy has to make themselves happy. They too have fears, fears of losing the love that makes them happy. Do you realize that your key to happiness is love? The love of your beloved father is the mast of happiness that you can afford. I believe you know what you should do now?"
"I know. I should go back and apologize. But...." Rhea said, lost in the charm of this whimsical lady. "But it won't be easy."
"Nothing that's worthwhile is ever easy."The women said with a smile Rhea knew better than her own heart. A smile she would have known anywhere. It was the smile of her mother.
"Mum....." She whispered, but in the haze of tears, she watched as the silhouette of her long lost mother disappeared with the wind.
The wind chimes tinkled once more, but this time, with the gentle wind of Koel's passage.
Neil was still playing the piano when the doorbell rang. He got up slowly, aware of the pain it caused him, and wondered if he was rusting like a machine left unused for long.
He opened the door, and gasped to see the same torn jeans and faded T-shirt, with black hair around the face and the ends of hair colored in a distinct copper. Only this time, the red eyes and the smoke eye liner showed that the young women had been crying.
Rhea threw himself into her father's arms while Neil hugged his daughter with frantic zeal, hysterically laughing, crying and hiccuping against each other's shoulders.
"I am sorry Dad." Rhea sobbed. “I am sorry for every mean thing I told you. For all I did to you."
“I am sorry too, baby. I should have been a better father." Neil whispered against his daughter’s shoulders.
As Neil looked into the distance with Rhea still in his arms, he could just barely make out the woman he had once loved and lost. She stood smiling at him, and maybe he had just imagined the moment, but he whispered a silent 'thank you' to her, for all the mistakes he had made, and she'd covered up for him. He realized with absolute certainty that everything that had once gone wrong has come right again with the distant tinkling of an nonexistent wind chime.