Serial Novel The Second Choice11

Serial Novel
The Second Choice - Chapter 11
By Lakshmi Menon

Serial Novel - Previous Chapter 10

It was a bright Sunday morning after heavy rains the previous day.

Since the time Pavithra came into his life, Venu had been out for his work almost all Sundays. He wanted to make up for the lost time. His boss had been very adjustable and helpful to him in the past years in his time of need and now it was his turn to show his gratitude to him.

When she took bed coffee for him he had told her that he would rather like to take rest with the children than going to work this Sunday.

Pavithra was puzzled. If he was at home he would certainly come to know about Indu’s absence at home during the day and that she was hardly at home with Anu. Pavithra wished Indu stayed at home today.

As usual, Indu got ready to go to Vasanthi’s house. Unexpectedly seeing her father sitting with a newspaper, she hesitated to make a move and stood by the door. Unwillingly she stayed back.

At breakfast time Venu suggested: “What about going for a movie today?” He then looked at Pavithra and Anu. They smiled approvingly thinking that it would bring some changes in Indu. She thought his daughter would fancy that idea. But, to everybody’s surprise, Indu turned her face and got up from her chair as if she was not interested in the conversation. “Which movie do you want to see, Indu…….? Hindi or English?” asked her father as she went to wash her hands with a frown on her face. “I don’t want to see any movie,” replied Indu curtly. He laughed looking at her dejected face, assuming that his daughter was upset for not consulting her first, which had been the practice before. She was angry with him for asking Anu first, he thought.

As per his instructions, Pavithra got Anu ready to go for the morning show, and looked for Indu to change her dress and do her hair, but she was nowhere to be seen. None of them noticed her leaving the house quietly. Venu, after waiting for some time, sent for her to Vasanthi’s house, but she was not there.

After a forty-five minute frantic search, Venu found her sitting alone in the park under a Gulmohar tree, one kilometer away from home with a comic book in her hand. He brought her home with a sigh. “I’m not coming for any movie. Please don’t force me Daddy.” She made it clear to her father. “What happened to you, darling? I know how you love to go for movies.” Venu tried to pacify her. “Are you angry for not discussing with you first? Is it….? ………or not taking you out all these days? Tell me dear.” “No, I don’t want to see a movie today. That’s all.” “Why?” Aunt Vasanthi and her husband had promised to take her for a movie and had even bought a ticket for her. But she was scared to tell her father about it. “Poor Anu. Who is there to take her? You’re her elder sister and you must understand that.” Venu didn’t want to shout at her. He knew it would make her more upset. “Anu….. Anu… Anu! Now everything is for Anu. Indu is out of your mind,” Indu wanted to shout, but she knew her father wouldn’t like it. What Vasanthi aunt said was very true. How soon Anu and her mother had taken her father to their side!

Suppressing her anger with great difficulty, she kept silent for some time and finally agreed to go for the movie.

It was already late for the morning show. Venu was more concerned about Anu. He didn’t want to disappoint her any more. He decided to take them for the first show.

Towards one O’clock the heat became overpowering and the streets began to empty.

“Sound of Music” was playing at the Imperial theatre for the fifth time. Indu had already seen it twice. But her father wanted her to see it once again with Anu so that both the girls could enjoy it together.

On the way, he promised to take them to Cubbon Park the following Sunday. “I’m not interested in seeing Cubbon Park or Lal Bagh. I have seen it a number of times,” snapped Indu. Turning to Anu, he said, “You sister will be delighted to see the park.”

Anu smiled with a twinkle in her eyes and held his hand tightly and walked with him. Indu looked at her angrily and started walking fast, showing her irritation.

Throughout the movie, Indu kept unusually silent, but Anu was thrilled and was imitating the children on the screen and enjoying the music, forgetting all her sorrows for the moment. On the way back, Venu took them into a restaurant and ordered ice creams, though his pocket was almost empty. He wanted Indu to relish the strawberry ice cream as usual, but even there she kept her face sullen. Indu finished it mechanically as though her mind was brooding over some unhappy matter. Pavithra tried to pacify her. But she gave her stepmother an angry look that made her withdraw from her attempt, fearing Indu’s violent reaction in the public. When Venu saw his daughter’s protest he signed to Pavithra to keep away.

Shortly after that day, there was a slight change in Venu’s behaviour too as he realised that all his attempts to make his daughter happy had turned out to be futile. He spent less time with Anu and more time with Indu. He was trying to detach himself from the family. Was he also regretting his decision of second marriage?

Pavithra felt very awkward about the whole situation and from the depth of her heart she wished she had not married again. She began to feel guilty that it was because of her and Anu a gap had developed between the father and daughter, who were so close to each other before, though she knew very well that she had not behaved with her like a stepmother nor had hurt Indu’s feelings with any bad intention. Venu had invited her to his life as his second wife mainly for the sake of his daughter, apart from getting a platonic companionship for himself, which turned to be of no use now; instead it had turned out to be unpleasantness for all of them.

Some intuition told her that she was the sole reason for the unhappiness in their life and she must quit this place as early as possible. Her absence would bring the father and daughter together again. This was not the life she was looking for. Definitely not at the cost of an innocent child. Her heart ached seeing their strained relationship.

Venu pretended to be happy with his new wife and daughter, but Pavithra often heard him sighing heavily in the next bed. He slept less and spent more time staring out of the window.

One night, she sat with a sheet of paper thinking to write to his wife Soumya about the recent happenings at home. It was just a house now and couldn’t be called a home. She completed one page in a hurry and concluded with her plan of leaving her husband and his daughter alone as before and regretted her inability to keep up her promise to Soumya.

Vimal was playing on the road with his kite. Pavithra wanted to call him to post the letter. Just then the postman arrived with a letter addressed to her. She wondered whose letter it could be. She was not expecting any letter to the home address. All the letters she had received were only from her father who always wrote to Venu’s office address only.

With a great anxiety, she opened the cover and soon recognised the handwriting of Anand’s father, her former father-in-law. As she read the letter her face whitened. “We are happy to know that you are married again. We don’t think there is any sense in keeping our grandchild with you now. We cannot think of Anu growing up at the mercy of her mother’s husband. We strongly feel that you brought bad luck to our family, taking away our son’s life. You got another husband so soon, but remember it is an irreparable loss to us. At least his daughter may be able to bring some consolation to us. As soon as you have decided to send her here, please send a letter or telegram to us so that we can arrange to come over and pick her up.”

She read the letter again and again, finally burst out into streams of tears as she read the sentence, “You brought bad luck to our family, taking away our son’s life”. All that they were bothered was their loss. They had no atom of feeling for this unlucky woman who was their daughter-in-law. “Mummy, what’re you crying for? What happened to you?” Anu came running to her.

Seeing a letter in her mother’s hand she asked, “Grandpa is not well?” She held her toy in one hand and with the other held her mother tightly. Anu was very anxious to know about her grandpa’s welfare. Looking at her innocent face Pavithra wept silently biting her lips uncontrollably. “Nothing happened to grandpa, sweet child.” She was not convinced. Then why was her mother looking suddenly very upset and crying? As she could do nothing for her mother she too wept with her.

How could Pavithra share her problem with her little girl? If she was told, she was sure she wouldn’t agree to leave her mother and go. She wanted to leave Indu’s house. It was an old story. Now she was happy with her newfound father, who loved her enough to stay back there.

A sudden change of thought came to Pavithra’s mind. She decided not to send the letter written to Soumya for posting. All she could do was weep quietly for a long time, cupping her hands in her chin. The very thought of separation from Anu, the only reason for her living, made her lose all her senses. But other thoughts flashed through her mind.

Anu’s absence would help Indu to change for the better. Perhaps this house would again fill with Indu’s chatter and laughter as before. A satisfactory smile would play on Venu’s face too. Like her, Anand’s parents also have got every right to their grandchild. She would be able to grow there in a better way. Anand’s brother Vijay and his wife would give her love and attention like their own child, as they had no child of their own. She would grow up there in a better atmosphere rather than always living here with a feeling of being unwanted and growing “at the mercy of her mother’s husband” as her father-n-law rightly put it.

After a while she carried Anu in her arms and went to the bedroom. She decided to make her understand the situation and prepare her to go and stay with her grandparents who were looking forward to her arrival, though it was very painful to leave her. Even so Pavithra thought that it would be better for her to agree to send Anu to her grandparents’ house.

Pavithra told her daughter about the contents of the letter. Soon Anu got to know the reason for her mother’s worry. She immediately began to cry. She was not prepared to stay away from her mother.

Anu burst out into uncontrollable sobs saying, “I won’t go…. I won’t go. I want to stay with my Mummy.” No amount of her mother’s tactics helped her to keep quiet, until she was assured that she would not be sent away to her grandparents’ house. “I won’t go…. I won’t go anywhere…. I’ll stay only with you.”

“If you don’t like I’ll not send you there, my child. Okay? Now sleep.”“Sure….? You must promise me.” Lifting her head from her mother’s chin, she asked. “Yes, dear daughter. I won’t send you aywhere. I promise.”With her mother’s assurance, Anu slept peacefully holding her tightly as though for security.

Pavithra felt ashamed of herself for having thought of sending her daughter away, even if it was for her own good. For the first time, she regretted for having thought of parting with her dear daughter. What’s the use of being a wife to someone and a mother to another child, and losing your own child to somebody else? - Her conscience bothered her greatly.

“Indu, my child. You please stay at home and play with Anu for some time every day. She feels terribly lonely,” said Pavithra very gently when her stepdaughter returned in the evening as late as usual from Vasanthi’s house.

Blood rushed to her stepdaughter’s face. “You took away my father from me with your sweet words. And……. Now you’re thinking of poisoning my mind too?” Indu became livid.

For some time Pavithra was lost for words. She felt miserable at being accused unnecessarily by a little girl. The next moment anger welled up in her. How she had wished that Indu understood her mistake soon and came to realise that her aunt, who was supposed to be her well-wisher, was her real enemy and not her stepmother. Pavithra had wished that a desire to become friendly with her would soon begin to take root in her stepdaughter’s mind. It was too much for Pavithra to tolerate the unkind behaviour of her step-daughter any longer. She thought it was time for her to keep her in her place. “Be careful Indu. Behave yourself. Don’t listen to others and behave rudely at home.” She tried not to lose her temper. She was sure it was her wicked neighbour Vasanthi who posed as a well wisher of Indu and instilled in her innocent mind such wicked thoughts of hating her stepmother and stepsister. She sadly remembered how good a daughter Indu was in the first two days.

Slamming the door behind her loudly, Indu withdrew to the room weeping. More angry thoughts began to churn in her head.Fearing that she may go astray if left uncorrected, she decided to tell Venu, but something cautioned her inside - Would Venu be able to tolerate her accusation against his daughter? Would it not lead to more confusion?”

After pondering over the problem, Pavithra decided to stay quiet this time. But if repeated, she would undoubtedly bring it to Venu’s notice.

Just before her father’s return, Indu came out of her room. Her face had reddened like the scarlet rays of the evening sun. She washed her face and sat with her books, quarrelling in between with Anu. Her anger, though directed at Anu, was, in reality, meant for her stepmother.

In the late evening, Pavithra welcomed Venu with a forced smile. “Anu’s uniforms are ready, but only after getting my salary I will be able to collect them from the tailor,” said Venu while sipping coffee.

He made a list of things required urgently for the admission of the two girls, which included the monthly fees and admission fees, books and uniforms. Then he drew up another list showing his monthly expenditure.

Two days later he received his pay. “I’ve got my overtime allowance also. Still it’s not sufficient to meet this month’s expenditure,” he sighed and said softly to himself. “Don’t worry. Next month I can make up for this. I’ll be working on all Sundays and holidays,” added Venu with an artificial smile. “I hope you have sent the money order to Soumya”, whispered Pavithra with concern, as the helpless face of Indu’s mother flashed across her mind.

He looked up and his guilty eyes met her anxious face. It was clear that he had forgotten to send the usual money order to his invalid wife in the village, soon after taking up the additional responsibilities of a woman and her daughter.

Venu felt a lump rising in his throat. Poor Soumya! She would be waiting for the postman’s arrival! At the thought of his dear wife, Venu’s face turned pale.Pavithra couldn’t bear to see his worried look. She toyed with the half-finished cold coffee in front of her, while her husband sat absorbed in thought.

“Venu, can I ask you for a favour?” Her voice was soft and hesitant. Seeing his eyebrows raised questionably, she said softly, “If you try I can also get a job in this city. Then we can manage the expenses in a better way and you need not spoil your health working overtime every day." She looked at him hopefully.

He just stared at her for a while, and picked up the paper and lay in the bed. Pavithra slowly made her way to the kitchen after having waited for a while to get his answer.

In the kitchen, she was trying to decide whether his response was positive or negative. If it was positive where and what type of job would she be getting was her next thought. Immediately another question arose in her mind. Why didn’t he say anything? Suddenly she heard a whisper from behind.

“Are you planning to send Anu away?”She was stunned at the unexpected question. Finding no immediate answer to his question, she was silent, until he repeated the question and then she answered. “Not yet decided.” A wave of disappointment had come over her as she spoke.

He stretched his arms above his head with a yawn. “Then what made you think of taking up a job?”

Again without answering him Pavithra stood by the kitchen door staring out at the view as she always did in such a difficult situation when she could not find an answer.

A cool breeze swept through the trees nearby, and the leaves fluttered. Silent moments passed. “If you ask me,” said Venu coming closer to her, “I’d say that it’s always better for a child to be with her mother wherever she maybe. A child feels secure only with her parents.” Taking the coffee cup from Pavithra’s hand he sipped it thoughtfully and went out into the lawn.

Soon she realised that she had left her father-in-law’s letter carelessly and Venu had picked it up. With added strength, Pavithra wrote a letter to her father-in-law informing her inability to part with her only child, who was the consolation and hope in her life and requested Venu to post it the next day. After having finished it, she felt fatigue creep into her limbs. A terrible loneliness engulfed her.

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