Token of Friendship
by Jisha Rajesh
I stepped into the air-conditioned compartment of the train with both my hands laden with heavy baggage. I trodded through the compartment until I reached my seat. A lady and a child occupied the berth opposite to mine. I heaved a sigh and was about to thump myself on the seat when one of the packages that I was carrying broke open and the oranges scattered everywhere on the floor. I placed my bags on my berth and bent down to pick them up.
"Here are your oranges, Aunty," the kid who was sitting on the seat opposite to me said with an innocent smile as he picked up those oranges that had rolled under his seat.
"Thank you, son. God bless you," I said as I placed a hand on his head. I was as smitten by the charm of his smile as by his benevolent nature.
"Thank you, Aunty," he said as he took his seat near the lady.
"What's your name son?"
"My name is Aniket Sharma. I'm a 1st standard student of St Xavier's School..." he paused to take a breath and then went on, "...and this is my Mom. Her name is Aparna, and I love her so much."
Aniket parted his little hands as far as possible to express the amount of love that he had for his Mom.
Both his mother and I laughed at his innocence and he joined is with his very own coy smile.
The train moved ahead as the three of us got engaged in conversation. I didn't even realise when the twilight got coloured in the shades of a moonlit starry night. I was so mesmerised by the ardour of the bond that the mother and son shared. After having dinner, Aparna put Aniket to bed.
"You are lucky to have a son like him," I said.
"He is not my son," she said in a cold and distant voice.
"I mean..." she paused to clear her throat and resumed, "I'm not his biological mother."
I looked quizzically at her as I was unable to understand anything.
"He is a token of friendship," she said calmly making me even more perplexed.
"What do you mean?" I asked as I finally found my voice.
"Ani is the son of my best friend, Ankita." Aparna said as she took a deep breath, "Ankita and I were classmates since our school life. Life was not always a bed of roses for me. My father
had to toil hard to make both ends meet, but still, he got me enrolled in one of the best schools in the town. And it was there that I had met and bonded with Ankita, who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was the daughter of one of the wealthiest man in the town. A few years later, my father died and with that our only source of income ceased. There were no means of paying my school fees. As Ankita didn't want to lose me, she decided to use her pocket money to pay my fees. And when she ran short of money, she approached her Dad for help. The kind gentleman readily agreed and hence owing to the benevolence of Ankita and her family I was able to complete my studies.
After graduation, I landed on a good job and was able to support my family. Ankita got married and soon was blessed with a son. A couple of years later we started our own bussiness firm. Everything went well, and our establishment bloomed like our friendship. But as they say, happiness is always short-lived. I still remember the day when destiny had played its cruel game.
The salary of our staff was due next week. I was at Ankita's house to discuss the bonus for our employees. As everything was finalised, we decided to withdraw the money from the bank.
"I am going to the bank," Ankita said.
"No Ankita, you don't have to bother. Ani can't do without you, be with him. I will go to the bank."
"It's so cold and foggy outside. And I know for sure that you will catch a cold." Ankita said in a voice drenched with motherly affection, "Stay at home with Ani and take care of him for me."
"No more arguments Aparna, it is me who is going and not you. Moreover," she tilted her head and flashed a smile at her husband, "Varun owes me a treat. Isn't it hubby?"
"Of course, honey," Varun said as he pocketed the car-keys.
She waved me goodbye and went out, never to return. Both of them were killed in the car crash. I decided to dedicate my life to keep the promise that I had made to her - to take care of her son while she is away." Aparna said sitting as still as a statue while a silent tear made its way down her cheek.***