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Before the Sunset - 2

by Lakshmi Menon
(Bangalore, India)

Back to Chapter 1 of the novel

Outside, the weather was scorching with the blazing sun ahead. The sky was clear and bright, with no trace of clouds.

After finishing the hospital formalities the next morning, Suresh took Raju and Tarun to his house. Ponni took the responsibility of taking care of Tarun on her shoulder.

"Don't you want to inform Viji's parents?" asked Suresh, slowly placing his hand on his friend's shoulder.

Raju didn't utter a word. He had absolutely no hope in her parents. They had severed all ties with her, the day she had left with him.

"They won't come," said Raju in great disappointment.

"Whether they come or not we should inform them. That’s our duty," stated Suresh, who had already fathered three children and believed in relationships.

Raju didn't respond to it. Sitting in the plastic chair, outside Suresh's house, he looked afar with vacant eyes. Suresh got up from his chair a few feet away, and came and stood before his friend with a piece of paper and a pen.

"Give me the phone number of her parents. I’ll call them," he said.

Looking at the pocket diary that he pulled out from his pant pocket, Raju scribbled the number on the paper and gave him quietly.

Without a moment’s hesitance, Suresh immediately went out and dialled the number from a telephone booth. He was stunned to hear the response of Viji's parents. "We had a daughter called Viji, and she died three years ago." He heard her father's voice from the other side. The phone call was cut abruptly, giving him no chance to talk another word.

Is it possible for a parent to disown his own daughter even after knowing about her death? Suresh wondered.

He had also hoped that if Viji's parents came, they might take her kids with them. Their anger would melt with their daughter's loss. After all, the kids are innocent, and their grandparents can bring them up the way they want. But what he heard was beyond his imagination.

Raju was not surprised at the news. A sense of emptiness filled his mind.

The same day itself, Viji was cremated quietly.

The following few days, Raju spent most of his time sitting at home completely lost in his thoughts, and sometimes came and stood near the mud hump where his wife was laid to rest. He was neither interested in going to work nor in taking care of his motherless son. He was not even interested in going to the hospital to find out about his newborn daughter in the incubator. It appeared as though his whole world had come to an end, and there was nothing more that he could do.

Being true friends Suresh and his wife Ponnu went to the hospital and saw the baby who was still in the incubator. During one such visit, Dr Manoj told them that the baby was alright now and they could take her home. The doctor felt a pang of guilt sending away the baby to a motherless home when he thought of his wife who could not give birth to a child.

Suresh went home and managed to bring Raju to the hospital to decide about taking the baby home.

"What will I do after taking her home? How will I take care of her?" asked Raju.

Suresh had no words of consolation to offer his friend. He was already a father of three kids, and now, by circumstance, Raju's two-year-old son's responsibility also had fallen on him and his wife.

"For some time the baby needs good care and attention. With great difficulty, we managed to save her life. Please remember that," said Dr Manoj. The good- hearted doctor, seeing the condition of Raju, had already waived off the hospital bill including the incubation charges, which had grown to be a huge amount.

When the nurse stood before Raju and Suresh with the baby, Raju’s hands didn’t extend to receive her. Instead, he stared at her for a long time without a word.

Suresh opened his mouth to speak on his behalf, "Doctor Sahib, (Sahib is a salutation of respect) Raju won't be able to take the baby home. My wife and I have already taken charge of their son, and can't take this newborn also. We will be very grateful if you can find a place for her."

As though Dr Manoj was expecting this answer, he said, "If you don't mind I will take her home. My wife, who could not bear a child, would be thrilled to take care of her. Any day you want her back you’re welcome to take her. We will not say No because I can understand a father's feeling."

Raju sighed and folded his hands before the doctor who came as a saviour at the crucial moment.

He instinctively stepped forward to kiss his baby daughter on her forehead; as if to silently convey the love of a helpless father, with tears rolling down his cheek, he begged her in his heart to forgive this unlucky father.

A speeding car entered the gate and stopped. A young man and an older woman helped a young pregnant woman get down from the car. She was groaning with pain. Giving instruction to the nurse to take care of the baby, the doctor rushed to attend to his new patient.

All of a sudden, to everyone’s surprise, Raju turned towards the Nurse and demanded. "I want my baby."

Dr Manoj heard Raju's demand, but moved swiftly towards the new patient, without any comment. Suresh had never expected such a change in Raju at the last moment. He placed a friendly hand on his shoulder.

Raju grabbed the baby from the nurse's hand and kissed her, with tears. With the baby in his hands, he asked his friend to follow him, and Suresh just did that - mechanically followed him, unable to utter a single word.

After a few steps, Raju abruptly stopped.

"No, I should not stop my daughter's future. Come, let's go back and give her back to the Doctor Sahib."

Suresh was stunned again.Now, he was in a dilemma. Should he reprimand his friend, or should he appreciate his decision?

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