Just One Hug
by Eva Bell
Viola watched her daughter out of the corner of her eye. Over the last few months, an invisible barrier had insinuated itself between them. Tina was sixteen and raring to fly. She objected to restrictions of any kind. Overnight her mother had turned into a gorgon of sorts.
"No Tina, you can't stay out so late. Sixteen is no age to go pubbing unless you want to end up at the police station," Viola said.
"You're such a wet blanket. Other parents don't object. They treat their children like adults."
"Other parents may be rich enough to bail their children out of trouble. I have neither the means nor the inclination. Besides, I earn just enough to keep the wolf from the door."
Tina stood staring at the picture on the mantel piece. A tall handsome man with the most endearing smile looked out at her.
"Where is he anyhow? Shouldn't he be providing for us?" Tina couldn't hide the anger in her voice.
Viola stifled a sob. "I told you a thousand times. He lived just long enough to hold you in his arms."
"I don't believe a word you say. I'm not a kid anymore. I can put two and two together."
Viola bit her lip from crying. She must not let her daughter ruffle her.
"Whether you believe it or not it's the truth. It doesn't matter what you think. But as long as you live under my roof, I'll expect respect from you, and compliance with the rules I lay down."
Tina walked away even before she could finish, and banged her bedroom door shut. Viola sat motionless for a while.
"I just don't know what's passing through Tina's mind. Why would I tell her my husband is dead if he is living elsewhere?"
In her room Tina paced the floor, seething with frustration.
"I'm so angry I can cry," she thought, "How can any mother be so inconsiderate? She wants me tied to her apron strings, as though I can't take care of myself. What's a little fun with my friends going to do? Perhaps what they say about her is true. She doesn't want me to repeat the mistakes she made. I'm sure I was born out of wedlock."
The more she thought about it, the more she was convinced that Viola had been a teenage mother, jilted by her lover.
"The man in the picture must have disappeared when he found she was pregnant. She's never fallen in love again because she trusts nobody. But why must I suffer for her folly? No one can take me for a ride."
She decided to get to the bottom of this come what may. She would track down the man and tell him what a despicable creature he was.
Viola worked in a large boutique. She had been working there ever since her bereavement. Though the remuneration was not too high, she felt secure and happy in her job.
"Of course I can never afford to buy any of the clothes on sale here. But occasionally when there are discounts, I pick up some affordable pieces for Tina."
Viola was not yet forty. From her appearance no one could tell she had a sixteen year old daughter. She was well proportioned and always neatly dressed. There was about her a charm which made her attractive. Though many young men had sought to woo her, she had quietly turned them down.
"Why don't you go out on a date?" her friends would ask, "Do you want to turn into a sour old maid?"
"I'm not ready for dates as yet. Perhaps after Tina has grown up."
"Don't leave it too long. Time waits for no one."
That evening, she took a bus to the neighbouring village. Of late, the thought of going home bothered her.
"Our home has been turned into a war zone," she thought, "Everything I say has to be contradicted. Everything I do is wrong. I didn't realise that teenagers can be so cruel."
From the bus stop she walked a good fifteen minutes to Eden Garden. It was on the edge of a hillock
overlooking a valley. When Sam was alive this used to be their rendezvous point. When he died, he wanted his ashes to be scattered over this place.
"I don't want to be trapped in a cold grave. I want to be borne on the wings of the wind," he had said.
In troubled times, she often came and sat here for a while.
"Viola dear," he used to say, "When you're worried or in pain, look above the clouds and you'll see a rainbow there."
"If only I could glimpse that rainbow today!" she thought.
Tina was sure that her mother would not return till evening. She had never peered into her mother's cupboards before. Now she was determined to unearth the truth about Viola's past, so that she could blackmail her mother into giving her more freedom.
She ransacked the cupboard, but could find nothing incriminating there. Then she moved down to the bottom drawer. It was filled with a man's belongings. Hidden away inside the folds of a shirt, was a diary and an envelope with photographs.
Tina squatted on the floor impatient to read what was inside. It was addressed to "My daughter, when she turns eighteen. I'm sorry I cannot be there for her."
Now Tina was sure that the man had deserted her mother. But as she began to read, she became more agitated, and tears flowed down in rivulets.
"I had just won the gold medal for being the fastest athlete in the State. It was also the day when I met this charming girl. I looked into the limpid depths of those eyes when she took my hand to congratulate me. And I knew that one day I would hold that hand in mine forever. She became my inspiration, and I went on to become the National Athletic Champion."
But soon after this glory, Sam was diagnosed with a malignant testicular tumour. He was just twenty four years old. He would have to undergo surgery followed by radiotherapy, and would not be able to sire a child. The doctors decided that in view of his age, they would cryopreserve his semen, so that he could have his biological child at a later date.
"We'll call off the wedding," he told Viola, "You cannot marry me now."
But marry they did, soon after his therapy, and shared two blissful years together. "Now is the best time to have our baby. You're fine now," Viola insisted.
"No," Sam protested, "I might not be there long enough to care for the baby."
Viola had her way, and went through the IVF procedure. When she became pregnant, they were both overjoyed. Sam's excitement made him forget his illness.
However, when Viola was in her eighth month, Sam became very ill.
"I know I'm going to die," he wrote in his diary, "I'm never going to see my little one."
Viola had other plans. She was determined that Sam would see his daughter before he died. The doctors objected.
"She's too tiny. You'll have to wait."We can't wait," Viola pleaded, "He's dying, and he must see his child before that."
Sam's writing had become spidery. In some parts, words were almost illegible.
"Today I held our tiny baby in my arms," he wrote, "How beautiful you are my little doll! All I wanted was just one hug. Now I can die in peace. I'm your Dad. Will you remember me?"
Tina pulled out a photograph from the envelope.
"My God!" she cried, "Is this the same person whose picture is on the mantel piece?"
This was an emaciated man holding a tiny baby in his arms. Yet he looked so happy.
Tina hurriedly replaced everything in the drawer and ran out of the room. She was standing at the mantel piece, looking at her father's picture with tears in her eyes when Viola walked in, dreading more tantrums. But everything was so peaceful for a change.
"Is this the calm before another storm?" she wondered.
But before she could even think further, two arms were around her.
"I'm sorry Mother," Tina sobbed, "I'm so sorry I disbelieved you."The End