The Second Choice
Her eyes sparkled with hope. If Anu got a seat in Indu’s school she would be relieved of her tension. Getting a seat in a good school without huge donation would be a great blessing in Bangalore. Venu was sure that he would be able to get a seat for Anu in Indu’s school. Her Principal would help him. The Principal always had sympathy and great respect for Venu. Besides, Indu would take care of Anu like an elder sister.
Pavithra found that she felt lonely at home in Venu’s absence though she was unable to love him as a wife. Venu had told her that he would be able to return only after six o’clock. After a while, Pavithra switched on the radio to divert her attention.
She engaged herself in rearranging the house, talking to Anu on and off. Indu wanted to go and play with her friends whom she was missing for the past few days. She asked her step- mother’s permission to take Anu with her, but Anu refused to go. So Indu went alone.
There were six houses in the same lane. The compound in the front portion was left open. There was a fence separating the narrow passage which was used as a road to those houses and the compound. Behind the compound, was a nunnery. The narrow passage led to the main road after a few yards. By the side of the narrow passage, a beautiful yellow Cassia tree was in full bloom.
Venu’s house was the second house in the lane. The first house belonged to a Brahmin family who had locked the house and gone on holidays. They were too orthodox to mix freely with the neighbours.
The occupants of the third house were a North Indian family. Joshy’s family consisted of his wife, aged mother and three children- two boys and a girl. Mrs. Joshy, a timid North Indian woman, had also come to see her along with other neighbours. Pavithra remembered that she had not made any comments when the other women were talking rudely to her. In fact, she had eyed them with a warning that meant to say ‘you should not talk in this indecent way’. She had just given her a friendly look with a smile. Mr. Joshy had been working as a bank employee in Mysore, and recently was transferred to Bangalore.
The next house was of an ex-serviceman, doing some small business. His wife was employed in an insurance company drawing a handsome salary. People called her an arrogant woman. Whenever she was at home, her presence was indicated by her loud voice, shouting at her husband and mother-in-law. She left her naughty and disobedient children with the aged mother-in-law with whom she always found some fault or the other and picked up a quarrel. She treated her almost like a servant.
Vasanthi was staying in the next house with her husband. They were married for almost ten years, but had no children. Most of her time was spent on entertaining Indu. She had spent a fortune for her infertility. But she was not lucky enough to know the pleasure of motherhood.
Towards noon, the heat became overpowering and the streets began to empty. Gazing out, Pavithra and Anu waited for Indu’s return. It was already one O’clock and still there was no sign of her.
By half-past one, Pavithra became restless. Why hadn’t Indu returned home? Though she knew Vasanthi’s house she had no courage to go straight to her house. From the moment she had set eyes on her yesterday, she had disliked her. The way she talked to her, the way she stared at her, Pavithra didn’t find her a friendly neighbour. She was the woman who talked more cruelly to her for having come as Indu’s stepmother.
After waiting impatiently for another half-an-hour, Pavithra slowly moved towards Vasanthi’s house.
Vasanthi was combing Indu’s hair into two plaits, which she had done neatly in the morning, sitting on the steps of her drawing room. When her stepdaughter saw her by the gate Indu whispered something, probably about Pavithra’s arrival, into Vasanthi’s ears and both of them went inside at once secretly.
“Indu…. Please come home now.” Pavithra called her gently. “I’m not coming now,” came an obstinate voice from within the house.
She recognised her stepdaughter’s voice. The tone of her voice was very clear that she was not willing to return home immediately. It seemed as though she wanted to be in her aunt’s company the whole day or at least till her father’s return. Pavithra made a futile effort to take her home with her, but she was very adamant.
Pavithra thought that Indu wanted to make up her few days absence in the neighbourhood.
“Indu, it’s two O’clock. Please come home and have your lunch. After food, if you want you could come back again.” Pavithra pleaded with a mother’s concern. “I don’t want your lunch. I already had my lunch here. You can go home. I’ll come in the evening,” shouted Indu in a rather unfriendly way.
Pavithra felt as though an arrow pierced through her heart. It was not the voice of the usual innocent and affectionate girl she knew. There was hatred in her voice. What had gone wrong with her all of a sudden? She wondered.
“Vasanthi, could you please send Indu home now? She can come back later, if she wishes,” Pavithra tried to be as polite as possible. All that she was worried was her stepdaughter’s lunch at home. If Indu wanted to spend some more time with her aunt she had no objection. But why did she talk so strangely to her?
Even Vasanthi had no manners to call her inside and talk to her. Though Pavithra felt very rejected, she tried to persuade her stepdaughter in vain.
“If she doesn’t want to come why the hell are you forcing her to go with you? All these years I looked after her like a mother and most of her time was spent in my company. She’ll be always safe with me.” A woman’s voice came from inside followed by a loud laughter.
She recognised Vasanthi’s voice. Moments later, they came out and sat on the same steps and Vasanthi began to comb Indu’s hair again, chatting with her with a victorious smile and ignoring Pavithra standing outside.
Vasanthi should have sent the innocent girl when her stepmother came to take her. She would have stepped into Vasanthi’s house with a friendly smile if only she had not closed the door before her. Why did Vasanthi behave in such an indecent manner? Pavithra thought nervously.
Suddenly, Pavithra recollected her challenging look and authoritative talk on the first day when Vasanthi came home to see her.
With a wounded heart, after having waited for about two minutes at the gate, Pavithra decided to return home alone.
On the way, for a moment she was puzzled. Wasn’t it her duty as a mother to take her daughter with her? How could she ignore this? But something inside her told that it would only create unnecessary problems and misunderstandings. For once, she felt that it was not all that easy to play the role of a mother when she was actually a stepmother. Whatever it might be, she realized one point with a heavy heart: A stepmother would always be seen as a stepmother. The world would never approve of a stepmother however good she wanted to be.
If it was Anu, she need not have thought for the second time, to take her home forcibly. But in the case of Indu, though she wanted to be a very good mother to her, she could not show any right of a mother here.
She had to be more patient, she told herself. Whenever Indu decided to return home she would tell her in a nice way and find out the reason for her silly behaviour. With all these thoughts weighing in her mind, Pavithra was back home and had her lunch with her daughter. Anu was very disappointed for not seeing Indu with her mother.
Her mind couldn’t rest when even after five in the evening Indu had not returned. At about five fifty, Joshi’s son who was also in the same class as Indu, came to meet her.
“Indu has gone to Vasanthi auntie’s house. Can you go and bring her?" asked Pavithra.
“Okay, auntie. I’ll go,” said Vimal. “I don’t think she will come immediately. You’ll have to bring her tactfully. Can you do it?” “Of course auntie, I can….. But why is she not coming home?” Vimal was surprised. Indu always liked to play with him. “I don’t know. But you shouldn’t say I asked you to bring her.” Pavithra cautioned him.
Vimal agreed and went to Vasanthi’s house humming a song.
Hardly five minutes had passed. Indu came home in a huff. “Why are you calling me all the time? What the hell you want me to do here?” she asked furiously as soon as she entered the house. She was burning with anger.
Pavithra was shocked. She couldn’t believe it was the same innocent girl to whom she was to be a mother. She was completely a changed personality, as though she was ready to fight with her enemy who had come in the form of her stepmother. Pavithra felt ashamed of herself for being insulted by a child. What’s the matter with this girl? She was startled. Could anybody change all of a sudden? She tried to reassess her thoughts and action.
Where had she gone wrong? Why was this girl behaving so nastily? Failing to find a reason to herself, she moved towards the bedroom with a wounded mind and paced there.
Many unanswerable questions cropped up in her mind, one after another. She felt giddy and was about to faint as she watched her little daughter Anu sleeping innocently after having waited for her sister for a long time. Pavithra somehow managed to stand there holding the chair tightly.
After a while, she recovered from her shock. “You’re away from the house for a whole day, dear”. She tried to rebuild her relationship as best she could. “You didn’t even come home for lunch. When you were alone I can understand that you cannot be sitting alone at home all the time. But now I am here to take care of you, Indu. You have Anu to play with you. Be a good girl.” Pavithra gave a motherly smile.
“Don’t talk to me too much. I know who you’re! I know what your intentions are.” Looking at her stepmother, Indu cried and squeezed her hands in anger.
Her stepdaughter’s words felt like a slap on her face. “Indu, what happened to you, my child? What’s wrong with you? Are you alright?” Pavithra closed her ears with both the hands in despair.
Hearing the commotion at home, Anu got up. “Indu Chechi…..” she called her with a pleading look. “I was waiting for you..”
“Idiot! I’m not your chechi.” Indu turned to her unkindly. She was not ready to accept her as her younger sister and she wouldn’t like to be called as her elder sister.
Venu would come at any moment now. Pavithra was afraid. It was almost six fifteen. What would he think of her? What could she answer him?
How was she going to face him? He would never tolerate anything that displeased his daughter. Even if she tried to hide it from him he could smell the unpleasantness at home. What would be his reaction? When he left the house in the morning everything was fine. Pavithra was terribly upset.
She approached Indu with a glass of warm milk, mixed with Horlicks, that she refused to take, staring at her stepmother as if she was given some poison to drink.
“Indu, my child” she leaned forward and placed a conciliatory hand on her stepdaughter’s shoulder. Indu pushed it off with a swift, violent movement. “Don’t touch me! I’m not your daughter.” She almost spat out the words. Indu stood up like an angry tigress furious and thwarted.
Losing all the courage that Pavithra had stored to face her, she went back to her room and cried silently like a defeated child, brooding over her fate, for a long time. Anu came along and sat with her mother sympathetically without uttering a word and staring at Indu. Silently she wiped away her mother’s tears and Pavithra enfolded her in her arms affectionately.
Should I tell Venu about this? Immediately she heard another voice from her mind - No. No father would like to hear complaints about his darling daughter from his second wife, no matter who was right. He would always misunderstand his second wife. She hoped that it would be only a temporary misunderstanding between Indu and herself which would soon be settled and hence decided to keep the painful incident to herself.
Indu switched on the tape recorder at the maximum volume, showing her anger. She was listening to some Kannada programme with interest. What had made her turn against her so soon, Pavithra wondered? She researched every nook and corner of her heart to see whether she had done anything that would have displeased her stepdaughter.
It was past nine when Venu returned home. Indu spent some time with him and went to sleep after having her dinner alone. He called Anu several times, but she stood away from him. As he was completely exhausted after a hectic day in the office, he went to bed soon after having an early dinner.
It was a great relief to Pavithra. Venu hadn’t noticed any change at home or in his daughter. Deliberately she took more time in the kitchen so that by the time she was ready to sleep both Venu and his daughter would be fast asleep.
Holding Anu gently, she lay on the edge of the bed wondering what would be in store for her in this unknown city with a stranger for a husband and his daughter whom she hardly knew.
To be continued
I've been a regular reader of "Second Choice" and I enjoy reading it. Eagerly looking forward for the next chapter.
By Sumathi, Coimbatore.
Thank you Sumathi for being a regular reader of this story. Hope you will continue to enjoy reading it.By Lakshmi.
My whole family members (myself,hubby,SIL and MIL) read this story regularly. One simple request from my MIL - Is it possible to publish the new chapter in the first week of the month?
Thank you Veena and family for being regular readers of this serial.
I will try to honour your MIL's request, if not by the first week, at least by the 10th. By Lakshmi.
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