Savitri lay immobile under the blinding lights of the operation theatre. Beads of sweat lined her forehead as she stared at nothing. Her hands were frigid. She could not feel most of herself. Doctors in lime green overalls rushed in and out. She just lay there. Not that she had a choice.
“Breathe”, whispered a voice from behind her. “I am going to help the doctor push the baby out.”
An eternity seemed to pass before she heard it.
The sweetest sound in the world. A cry.
Then the doctor said something that seemed to be lost on her. She must have been mistaken.
Through moist eyes, she looked at her little miracle for the first time. She smiled as she counted ten little fingers and ten little toes. Then she laughed. A big throaty laugh. A laugh so loud that it seemed to whirl around the room and bounce off its white walls. The ones in the lime green overalls turned to look at her. Now, it was their turn to look bewildered.
Fate had had the last word after all.
In her neatly-pressed crisp cotton saree, Savitri quickly walked from the bus stop to her office. She liked to get in before anyone else so that she could get some work done in peace. She deeply disliked idle chit-chat and small talk and was happy this morning to have the entire floor to herself. She went over her to-do list in her mind as she waited for the computer to power up.
She started by sorting through the mail in her systematic manner, starring the ones that were important, trashing the spam, replying immediately to ones that required her to respond. Suddenly, an email with a familiar name, one she had forgotten long ago, jumped out at her. She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life–the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build–begin to crumble around her. A feeling of dread started to creep up her back.
How had he found out? How had he found her after all these years? What was she going to do now? Why did he contact her? What did he want? Questions without any answers flooded her brain, firmly took root and spawned a cocktail of emotions and memories that threatened to suffocate her, right then and there. She was truly thankful no one else was around her. She sank deeper into her seat and put her head down on the desk.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone, amma?” Savitri shouted as she put on her shiny pink lip-gloss and combed out her hair. “I haven’t even finished my degree yet. Marriage is the last thing on my mind. I don’t really care about anyone coming to ‘see’ me like they are coming to buy me at a market. Why are you trying to sell me?”
“It is such a good Rishtha, Savi. The boy’s family loved your jataka so much, they aren’t even expecting a dowry. They have a bungalow in Trivandrum, you know? The boy is getting groomed to run their family business. You can finish your studies at your own pace. I am not even asking you to marry him, only meet him once for my sake,” her mother pleaded.
Savithri picked up the plate of murukkus and coffee which her mom had painstakingly arranged with a huff and walked out of the room to where the guests awaited her.
She stared intently at the paint peeling off from the ceiling of the one-room clinic as the man in a lab coat that used to be white fumbled around with the gel.
“Stop fidgeting, Savi”, her husband chided.
“Firstly, I never wanted to find out. What’s the hurry, anyway? It is only a few months. And secondly, I did not want to come here. What place is this anyway? The bed smells funny, if you can call it a bed! What if I catch a virus here? How long is he going to take to do this?” she said and made a face just to make sure she got her point across.
“I am just curious. Can’t you do this one thing for me?”
“Well, it is supposed to be illegal. I am here anyway, am I not?” she grumpily declared.
Suddenly, the man in a lab coat that used to be white declared meekly, “It’s a girl”.
Savi smiled triumphantly. Her intuition had been proven right. Her husband smiled back at her, but the smile did not reach his eyes.
“How did you do it, Amma?”
Savitri searched for the answer in her mother’s face in the glow of the night lamp.
“How did you manage to bring us up all on your own?”
Her mother just looked back at her. The deep furrows under her eyes spoke volumes, her worn-out palms told the rest of the story.
“I’m scared”, she confessed.
When her mother remained mute, she pressed on.
“I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if we will make it. Sometimes I wonder if this is all worth it. I hate it. I hate this life. I am tired all the time. I wish I had studied to become an IT professional, not an accountant. No one was there to guide me when I was choosing. Now, I am late paying the bills every single time. And I am angry, angry at my fate, at God. I get so frustrated sometimes that I take it out on Suman. Then, I feel guilty. Then then..”. A tear rolled down her cheek. “Will it ever get better?”
“Shhh”, said her mother.
“Come lie down on my lap, Savi. Let me tell you a little story. When I was small, I used to visit the temple near my home with my grandmother every single morning. One day as we were on our way, a stray dog came barking and hurtling towards us out of nowhere. I was just 5 years old then. I shrieked and hid in my grandmother’s pallu. The dog tried to bite me, but she valiantly shooed it away with her walking stick. Then she told me something I remember to this day. Don’t show them you are afraid. If you had just walked on without screaming, the poor dog wouldn’t have attacked you. Don’t show the world you are afraid, my dear Savi. Just walk on. Keep walking forward, eyes on where you want to go.”
“Mom, are you a virgin?” Suman questions loudly sitting at the dinner table.
Savitri dropped her plate in astonishment. “Huh? What did you ask me? Where did you learn that word? I am coming down today to talk to your teacher. Was it Sunil? Don’t know what kids these days are coming to! How dare you ask me such things?”
“Mom, why are you getting angry? Sunil said that if someone does not have a father, then their mother is a virgin. Isn’t that true?”
Savitri softened a little looking at the innocent smile on her child’s face, “You have..had a father darling. He is.. he is in heaven”.
“Where is heaven, mom? When will he come back from there?”
“I get really sad when I talk about him, dear. So, let’s not discuss this anymore. Alright?” Savitri pleaded.
“Mom, did he have a mustache? Was he very tall?”
“It’s time for bed, Suman”.
“My friend Anita’s dad is also in heaven. She told me she plucks a pink rose from her garden and presents it to her dad every Saturday. I think I also want to do that”.
“No more questions”, she declares quickly getting up from the table. “I said, time for bed! Now! Hurry up. Otherwise, the tickle monster is going to get you!”
When she looked up, many of her colleagues had come in. She did not really care who saw her like this, in this state. She had more important things on her mind.
How dare he contact her after all this time? Any trace of good in him, if he had ever had, had disappeared from her mind, the minute he had asked her to murder her baby. Before it was even born! The scars of the months of abuse that followed ending in their divorce would not be washed out from her mind even in lifetimes to come.
She was grateful to have come out of that hell-hole in the name of the marriage, alive. It had taken her years to get a grip on herself, cope with the loneliness and it was a constant struggle to keep herself strong for the sake of her child. And now this!
The tone of the email, though terse and to the point was best described as a plea. What do you say to someone you have sworn as your enemy for life and forever? Do you feel pity for them just because they claim to be ‘dying’? Yes, she did not believe he was dying, not one bit! That man had the capacity to go to any lengths to deceive her. Hadn’t he blatantly lied when he said that he was just curious? He just wanted to know?
And what will she tell Suman? Suman, her SON! Fate had a twisted funny bone hidden somewhere indeed! It had unleashed every inch of the devil in the man she had called husband by just one false result. She might have still been with him if not for that. She would have never known what he was capable of. The night he had tried to get her to drink the medicine man’s concoction, gave her nightmares even to this day.
Had he at last found out that she had had a boy? He couldn’t have. How would he feel if he found out he had tried to kill a boy! And now, that he was dying and had had no other kids he wanted an heir? Someone to write his money to in exchange for knowing the kid for the few months that he ‘apparently’ had. If they got an inheritance, Suman’s education and future will definitely be better. Her greatest guilt stemmed from the idea that she did not earn enough to give him everything he wanted. She hadn’t been able to send him to that football camp last summer. She couldn’t send him to a reputed school, which now charged more than a lakh each year in fees. As a rule, they ate out only once in a month. If they got some money, she would be able to provide him with everything he had ever wanted, everything that he rightly deserved. And that little one, he really yearned to know more about his father.
She felt sickened to her stomach as she realized she was actually considering letting the kid meet his father. The one who had tried to kill him! The one she had led him to believe was dead. Yes, she had lied to her son. Because she did not want to tell him the horrible truth about the man who had done nothing more than donate his sperm and then tried to poison her. What will he think of her, if he ever finds out?
She looked up slowly at her screen once again. The office was bustling with noise now.
Her hand hovered over the DELETE button. Instead, she typed in 5 words as a reply.
The child died during childbirth.
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