Short Stories

Living to Exist

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Goa February 13, 2017

Sia coiled her hair around her fore finger, resentfully, and tugged on it, in an attempt to straighten the intricately curled locks. Her gaze fixed on the distant horizon as if she was frozen in time. The scent of the sea breeze played a catch-me-if-you-can game on her.

“We’ll share the expenses Sia. This is the best place we can keep him. We definitely cannot take him along with us”, Joe’s compassionate, but soulless words haunted her again and again.

Her eyes welled up making it difficult for her to differentiate between the horizon and the vast ocean. The fishermen and their boats too became hazy. An adamant lady that she was, she refused to let the tears spill out, blinking continually and letting her eyes absorb the tears in protest, the lump in her throat became harder and harder.

Crying was something baba always hated, Sia reminisced. “Be a strong woman Guddu!! You have better things to do in life than crying over those bruises”, he would say and just walk away.

She had hated him for doing that. “How insensitive can someone be, wish ma was alive. I could at least run to her and allow her to wipe off my tears. She would stroke my hair and tell me its ok. She would ask me to cry to my heart’s content until I felt lighter.”

“How on earth will he understand a little girl’s emotions; after all, his kingdom; his rules”.

Nita finished her bath and came out looking refreshed. Wiping her hair roughly, she said. “You looked stunning today honey, and that restless guy could not take his eyes off you.”

“Tomorrow is your big day, now stop dreaming and get some sleep, just a couple of hours more”, she said impishly.

Sia gave her a fake smile and continued looking out into the distance. Thank God for the darkness, Sia’s face was only vaguely visible to Nita. There was a lot of noise coming out from the lawn that stood right below her balcony, looked like a family reunion. Goa was the perfect place for such reunions. The carefree air, the tall coconut trees with their leaves nudging one another and whispering a familiar secret, there was a peculiar kind of freedom in nature’s demeanor that allowed one to breathe easily and unrestrained. And that was the very reason she wanted a beach wedding in her favourite holiday retreat.

There was something else about this place that kept pulling Sia and her father back year after year. It was on her 18th birthday that Mr. Shantharam told Sia, why he chose to holiday in Goa every year on her birthday.

Sia had blushed when her father told her coyly that before he got married to her mother, they had spent a couple of days at his aunt’s place in Calangute all by themselves. His spinster aunt would leave the cottage to the young couple and loiter around with her friends. That was where he proposed her mother and that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

For the first time in 18 years, she saw that his eyes were moist. She saw his rigidness wane away into an innocence that was held captive inside a fragile heart for so many years.

“Give her all the love in the world, your mother told me while she lay in the hospital bed. You have my quota also, but make her a strong woman; These tiny hands are my parting gift for you”.

His voice wavered and he held Sia’s hands. They sat silently for some time and watched the sun set like a live canvas before them. The vibrant blue sky turning into an orangish one and then fading into a much sober shade of yellow.

“I hope I have loved you enough and have made you strong to face the world. Forgive me for being harsh on you. I know I have failed terribly in playing a mother’s role but I want you to know that you are the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me and that will ever happen. Bless you my child”

At that moment, Sia cursed herself for not having acknowledged her father’s love. All these years, she had thought of him as an impassive human being with an air of insipidness around him.

“You are the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me”. His words echoed in the darkest chambers of her mind.

This time she could not stop those tears from finding respite. Like an uncontained river, she wailed with all her might. She thought her cries would be drowned in the cacophony outside her room. But Nita came running and held her tightly.

“What’s the matter Sia?”

“Baba, baba”, she whimpered.

“Baba is fine Sia. We are missing him too. But you know right, he cannot travel this far”.

Sia was inconsolable. “I want to go back. I don’t want to marry that man.”

“Sia, do you even realize what you are saying. Baba has lived his life. You are just stepping into a new life, and you want to ruin it all for someone who does not even recognize you now?”

“No Nita, he never lived for himself, and when it was time for him to do so, he doesn’t know who he is supposed to love, or who he is even supposed to be. He cannot live anymore he can only exist!!”.

“I cannot do this to him, how could I have listened to Joe and abandoned him. He is all alone, strangers all around. They might hurt him the next time he becomes violent.”

“He was always there when I needed him. And now, when he needs me the most, I am out here all prepared to start my life with a stranger who I only met 6 months back. How selfish can a person be.“

Sia’s emaciated words struck hard on Nita. “Sia, you have not abandoned him. Joe was kind enough to find him the best place in this country.”

Sia looked at Nita scornfully and headed straight to her laptop, “Wow, thank you for that but I am not used to such kindness”.

“Nita, please let your brother know, that I loved him, but that I love baba too. I don’t think I have the courage to face Joe or even speak to him.”

“If he loves me and wants to spend the rest of his life with me, he must grow out of himself. I cannot think of a life beyond baba and his new world.”

Bangalore, Feb 14

As the car drove past the wrought iron gates of the Center for Ageing and Alzheimer’s, Sia saw a couple of elderly women, mostly in their 60s, huddled together. They waved out to Sia and she hesitantly waved back at them with a frail smile and an unwarranted expression of pity. She refuted the allegations of her own conscience that she had no right to feel sorry for those ladies or be enraged at their families for leaving them here. She was no less self-centered…

She climbed the stairs to the second floor, her heart beating faster and faster. She could not hold her excitement to meet baba. As she entered room 201, she felt relieved to see that Mr. Shantharam, was curled up in his bed like a caterpillar, he looked as peaceful as ever. He was dressed in his night gown with the blanket only covering his bare feet.

“Baba…. baba…”, Sia patted gently on Mr. Shantharam’s cheeks in an effort to wake him up.

“He went to sleep only some time back. Hope you are aware that you can take him home only tomorrow once the doctor visits, you could finish the formalities in the meantime,” said Mrs. Mehta, the caregiver.

As Sia turned to step out of the room, she noticed a black board at the corner, which had something sketched on it.

“He wanted something to write on, so we got this for him”, said Mrs. Mehta, smilingly.

She walked towards the board and saw that he had drawn a messy maze, and there were two stick figures holding hands together. A small figure and a tall figure. Her lips quivered and her heart felt heavy once again. This used to be her favourite game as a child. Whoever drew the toughest maze, would be the winner. And Sia always drew the toughest maze making it difficult for her father to find his way out. In the end, she had to help him find his way out…

“Guddu, you are home already, how was your day? Finish your homework soon. Shanthi di has prepared your favourite Pav Bhaaji today.”, Mr. Shantharam shouted out from his bed.

Sia smiled at her father and nodded her head. She let her tears roll out effortlessly and went up to him and put him up straight on the bed. She kissed him on the head and said, “Yes baba. I will be a good girl. Once I finish my homework will you play the maze game with me?”