The Missing One
by Annapurna Sharma
(Vijayawada, AP, India)
Her eyes shut she attempted to nap, but the noises coming from inside the house made it quite difficult. Swinging in the hammock tied to two sturdy trees in the garden, Shraddha was enjoying the cool afternoon breeze. The trees gave ample shade and the winter sun looked quite considerate.
She tried desperately to get some sleep by covering her eyes tightly with the palms of her hand. Yet she couldn’t. Finally, she gave up, opened her eyes and gazed through the garden. The lush green lawns were neatly done. The flowering pots stacked in rows looked like a military squadron, a splendid sight. The rose bushes had their own revered place in one corner of the garden. Colourful flowers everywhere – red hibiscus, colourful roses, chrysanthemums, dahlias and marigolds looked pretty and awesome. Sparrows, doves, parrots and mynahs having their last drink from the bird-bath, before flying homeward. One might feel mesmerized by the beautiful ambiance. Shraddha thought the gardener did a remarkable and wonderful job of tending the garden. The garden looked manicured (a beautician herself she felt ‘manicure’ was the apt word). Such a lovely garden, yet something were amiss. Shraddha kept thinking. What?
She was jolted from her deep thoughts with the ascending noises, which seemed to come closer.
Shraddha’s five year old daughter Purvi came with lightning speed from the house towards her. She was crying. Behind her was Shraddha’s father laughing and trying to pacify the little one. Shraddha quickly jumped from the hammock, knelt beside Purvi and enquired why was she upset.
“He told me he will keep everything ready,” sobbed Purvi.
Shraddha didn’t understand what Purvi was telling and looked at her father questioningly. Mr. Kumar, a retired bureaucrat, was 70 years old and slightly bent. Age made him look like that, but he was quite healthy and fit for his age.
“It’s been more than a year since you two came. We packed all her playthings and kept them in the store room upstairs. I told her over the phone that I would get them down by the time she comes. You know my knees and this winter makes them more painful.”
“Boo – hoo – hoo – hoo”
“Look first thing tomorrow morning we both will get them down. Now you don’t cry, we’ll play with the ball,” offered an equally upset grandpa.
“Boo – hoo – hoo”
Shraddha now understood the gawky and precarious situation in which her father was and for a moment she looked steadily with admiration at the grandfather-granddaughter duo. The older one trying all means to pacify the younger one; while the younger one increased her howling. When her father couldn’t handle Purvi any longer, he looked at her for help. Finally, Shraddha intervened and agreed to get the toys from the store room upstairs. She made her way indoors. They too followed her.
As she ascended the staircase, “See the brown coloured carton, get that one down,” yelled Purvi behind her from the living room.
Once she reached the store, she opened the door and peeped inside. There were many cartons, neatly stacked and in order. Immediately she could identify the brown carton on which was marked ‘Toys’. It was below another unmarked carton. She lifted the unmarked one and placed it down. Curiosity got the better of her and rummaging through the assorted
carton, she gazed rapturously through the aperture, at what she intentionally lost a year back. Thoughts percolated with a lump in the throat. Was it a deliberate attempt to erase out memories that caused dyspnea? Why?
A bemused Shraddha was enthralled by the beauty, as an elegant face looked questioningly. She took out the picture, which was a semblance of yesteryear heroines. The curly short hair braided meticulously and adorned with jasmine leis. A jaunty face with big, kajal-lined eyes that depicted innocence. The stark vermilion on the forehead was a distinctive indication of authentic traditional and cultural roots. A well-defined jaw and steep neckline permeated into a strong character and persona grata. The smooth, delicate and spotless skin made one guess her age.
For nearly four decades, this bust size, black and white picture was an adornment of the white washed walls of the living room. This demure woman was none other than Shraddha’s mother. She travelled to supreme bliss and left them to endure her loss. Yet they chose to misplace the picture purposefully. Was it inconsolable grief? How long could they sever the strong umbilical ties?
Her mother was a perfectionist in all spheres. A strict regimen of diet and exercise was ever followed in their household. As children, she and her brother had a pleasant time with a doting mother who took great care of them. In their growing years she was their sole source of guidance and inspiration. Their father was always away on tours and spent little time with them.
With marriage, Shraddha moved on to her husband’s place. Later her brother went abroad for higher studies. Loneliness engulfed her mother who laxed her daily routine and neglected her failing health. Two years back, to make matters worse, she was diagnosed with lung infection. Everything went haywire when she was hospitalised and kept in the ICU. In a very short span they had become bereft.
Shraddha carefully carried the picture down to the living room. Shravvan, her brother seated on the sofa, was busy with his work. He looked up from his laptop at Shraddha, but said nothing. There was little discussion, but a unanimous feeling of little choice but to place the picture in its designated place.
By then Mr. Kumar successfully pacified Purvi and left her to play in the garden and came inside in time to see Shraddha with the picture. He too remained silent, but his eyes revealed the deep emotions within.
She carefully dusted and placed it on the mantel, its rightful place. After a hiatus of two long years, the picture was manoeuvred to its original place. However, offspring-made hibernation could not withstand the amalgamation of emotions. The picture rustled the just healing wounds. Yet she believed that time certainly would act as a healer of deep distress. With moistened eyes she glanced at her father and dashed to the garden to get a flower. With a red rose matching the vermilion, it resurfaced to stay permanently. It portrayed perfect womanhood and charisma that can never bid au revoir. The initially hesitant loved-ones, feeling heartbreak could no longer deny its position.
It dawned on Shraddha what went amiss both in the garden (her mother was a vehement nature-lover, and spent all free time in the garden) and in the house. Perhaps nothing in this world could replace ‘the missing one’. *******