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The Old Lady.....contd

by Rinu Antony
(India)

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The lady broke the silence, “They are my children but I’m not their biological mother,” she repeated, “I was a teacher in a school in Delhi. I had rented an apartment and lived alone. My parents were very unhappy with that. You could imagine a woman living alone in that era. My parents wanted me to marry but I didn’t want to marry. They couldn’t understand me. I couldn’t blame them. I never gave them a good reason why I didn’t wish to marry.” Evak couldn’t help but wonder the reason for the lady to remain unmarried. To his disappointment, she didn’t explain and continued her story, “Every day after returning from school, I had a habit of taking a walk around my locality. In one of such jaunts, I decided to walk further and came across a slum area.”

A yelp followed by laughter drew their attention towards the playing kids. One small boy was sitting on the ground showing his bruised knee to his playmates. Instead of being concerned, his friends were laughing at him. Evak sighed and shook his head. He looked at the old lady and noticed her eyes on the kids. Did she ever mention having grandchildren? Evak wondered.

“So, what happened then?” Evak asked.

“Huh?” The old lady turned to him with confusion.

Evak smiled, “You were saying that in one of your evening walks, you came across a slum.”

“Oh, yes. Yes.” The old lady smiled and turned her attention towards the kids again. “Yes, the slum. Outside one shack, one man and a woman were fighting fiercely. People from other shacks were looking on, smiling, and enjoying the scene. I kept walking and quickened my pace. The slum dwellers are different from us, aren’t they? But what stopped me on the track was when I heard the cries of two children. Reluctantly, I turned and noticed the woman trashing two small kids. Probably out of frustration. They were her children. That’s when I realised, I had noticed them before while I was busy putting a distance between me and the slum area. They were huddled together, a boy and a girl, gazing at their parents with fear. Probably, they knew what was coming.

The old lady fell silent. Once again, the fragments of the story recounted by the old lady amazed Evak. He was also worried. Is she exhausted? Will she continue the remaining bits of her past? He couldn’t wait till tomorrow!

That would be torturous!

Evak checked his watch. It had been seven minutes since silence imbued the air between them. Evak fidgeted in his seat. But he decided to wait.

Then, his wait came to fruition.

“I don’t remember how many days had passed since I decided to walk by the slum area again. The same scene was playing on. But this time I decided to intervene when the woman began to thrash her kids. I asked her to stop but she continued to beat her kids despite my pleas. I remember some men telling me not to worry since this was the daily
drama of the family. But my heart went out for the kids. Some days later, on my way to work I noticed those two kids loitering on a street, begging passers-by for food. I remember I was getting late for the school, yet I couldn’t bring myself to leave the kids to their plight,” the old lady drew a loud, audible breath and resumed, “I remember approaching my children. My daughter was so tiny, barely three and my son was nearing six. I wondered how their parents could leave them alone. I bought them food from a nearby food stall and decided to skip the school. I ended up spending time with them, talking to them….”

To Evak’s annoyance the old lady stopped again. She even closed her eyes. Evak gazed towards the luminous, yellow streetlight attracting nocturnal insects to it. His position was somewhat like those hapless insects, even he was drawn towards the idea of spending time with the old lady. Amid the banter and giggles of the playing kids, Evak could hear the foliage of surrounding tree rustle. A sudden calmness engulfed him, and he wished the moment to freeze.

“What happened then?” asked Evak, like a child asking his grandmother to carry on the nightly tale.

“I brought them to my apartment.”

Evak looked at the old lady. Her eyes were still closed, and her shoulder were hunched over.

“Then?”

Reluctantly, the lady turned to him and met his eyes. There was no warmth in her eyes. “They stayed with me.”

Now confusion pricked Evak, “What do you mean by that? They had parents! How did they stay with you? Why did you allow that? Did you talk to their parents about adopting them?”

The old lady turned her eyes away from him and her gaze fell on her folded hands on her thighs.

“I didn’t talk to their parents. I didn’t go to the slum area ever again.”

“That is kidnapping!” Evak couldn’t believe he said that.

“Both my children are doing well in life.”

“That is kidnapping,” Evak repeated again and felt annoyed at himself for doing so.

“I often wonder how their life would have turned out to be if they had lived with their parents.”

Unbeknownst, Evak began to wonder that himself and didn’t like the scenarios playing out in his head.

Slowly, the old lady rose and winced. Suddenly Evak’s limbs felt leaden, and he remained seated.

“I must get back to my house.”

Evak forced a smile and handed the bag to her.

“Thank you, child.”

Evak watched her hobble down the street towards her house.

Evak decided to call his parents. It had been months since he talked with them properly. Their affairs weren't sitting well with him. It was also the reason he shifted to another house. He had come to hate their presence or even their sound. So, whenever they called him, he would make some excuses and end the call within a few seconds. But he decided to have a long conversation with both now.

As long as they were happy, Evak shouldn’t complain.


*****

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