The Beginning

In continuation of The Arrangement

A couple of people sitting on adjacent tables helped her on the chair; Sneha grabbed a glass of water from one of the tables and splashed some water on the woman’s face. It took a while for the woman to come out of shock, after that the conversation was easier than Sneha thought. It seemed that Smriti’s mother was more practical than her father, or maybe, she understood because she was a mother and she could relate to what Smriti would want for Shreya. She promised to talk to her husband and set things straight. Before that, she said, she would once like to see her daughter. Sneha understood that. It felt strange to Sneha that the woman was indirectly seeking her permission to see her own daughter. From her, the one who had absolutely no right what-so-ever to be a part of their lives!

On her way back home, she slept peacefully in the bus. The journey of 4 hours was tiring but Sneha was happy. How had she got involved in all of this? Why did she feel so happy about all this? Was it worth troubling herself with all these questions? She thought. She did not have any answers, so it was better that she just let it be and be a part of the grand plan that the One up above in Heaven had for her, Ajay, Smriti and of course – Shreya.

Sneha was looking forward to meeting the girl. Right now, she did not know how she was going to be planted in Shreya’s life as her mother but she did know that it would be soon enough. The voice in her head was telling her, it would be soon. This voice, which she had ignored earlier, was now becoming louder and stronger every passing day. Instead of going home Sneha decided to go to the hospital. Ajay and she had not shared their mobile numbers and hence whatever the news, Sneha had to talk to him personally. She made up her mind to ask for the number tonight. When she reached the hospital, of course she was not allowed to visit as it was way beyond visiting hours. It cost her 100 rupee note just to get across a message to Ajay. It took a while for Ajay to come outside. Meanwhile, Sneha took a deep breath. Fresh cool night air felt good. The breeze felt good on her skin. The moon was smiling down at her. Everything was good, everything was right, just the way it was supposed to be. She was sure nothing would go wrong. Not now, not ever. She did not know whether the solution Ajay was looking for would last long term but she was looking forward to a long term relationship. She had dated a few guys but none of them had been able to affect her the way Ajay did. She did not even know him properly. Maybe, she thought, she will know more about him and love him even more when she would spend more time with him, stay with him.

Ajay cleared his throat and Sneha snapped out of her reverie.
“You are back early. How did it go?” Ajay asked “I was worried, I did not know how to contact you.” He added.
“Oh about that … I am sorry, I know I should have shared my number” saying so she asked for Ajay’s cell phone. When Ajay gave it to her, she dialed her number so that he would get her number and she would get his, too. Sneha’s cell phone sprang to life for a moment. “There!” she said handing over the phone back to Ajay.
Sneha took a deep breath and said “And, about the trip – it was good, it was worth. Of course Smriti’s mother was shocked to see me but she seemed to be an understanding person. I guess she was already prepared to accept the loss of her daughter; she just needed to see me to make sure I was going to play my role without any wrong or selfish intentions.”
Ajay opened his mouth to say something but she continued, “I do understand her concern. I am a total stranger, so what if I look like her daughter. She is bound to be worried. And, the reaction of Smriti’s father, it was justified too. I was just too scared to say anything but next time I meet him; I will make sure that I talk to him. I don’t really know what I would say to him but I know I will do my best to set things straight. And, to you, I want to say this – I don’t know what it is that has possessed me, I cannot explain the weirdness of the entire situation. When I stepped into the I.C.U. I just wanted to see you, wanted to know you after watching you for a few days in the cafeteria. There is no explanation I can give for this, but it’s powerful. It is as if I am meant to do this and I Will do this.” Sneha did not know that she was trembling, tears had gathered in her eyes and her voice gave away the secret that she was about to have a breakdown.
“Let’s take a walk” Ajay said holding her hand. That steadied Sneha a little bit and she confessed, “I was just blabbering.” She gave a nervous laugh and Ajay simply nodded. They did not go far, Ajay had to get back to the room and she had to go back home and rest. It was getting cold, a cool breeze blew and Sneha shivered.
“Go home, we will talk tomorrow.” Ajay said. Sneha nodded and started walking after saying goodbye. She had walked a few blocks from the hospital when her cell phone beeped. She took it out from her jean pocket and saw that she had a text from Ajay. “Thank you for everything”. She smiled and replied “welcome”

The next day when she entered the hospital, even though she wanted to walk to the I.C.U. she forced herself into the cafeteria but she did text Ajay that she was in the hospital and would visit whenever she found time. She waited for some time for the reply but it did not come. What was she thinking! They were not lovers for Ajay to expect her to tell him where she was, what she was doing or to reply to her text messages. She kept her cell phone in the jean pocket, put on her apron and got down to work. She was frustrated with her own self for checking the watch for the time when Ajay would come to the cafeteria to have his usual. Finally, it was time and she readied his sandwich and coffee and waited. She walked out and searched the cafeteria, came back in and attended to other orders, Ajay’s sandwich and coffee left unattended. Her co-workers gave her skeptical looks and that frustrated her further. Where was Ajay? She wondered. She wanted to call him and ask where he was. She checked her cell phone. There was no text from him. Keeping her phone back she busied herself in work again, hence she was surprised when the guy at the counter came into the kitchen looking for her.

“Someone’s looking for you.” He said and Sneha knew it was Ajay. Wiping her hands hurriedly on the apron, she rushed outside. The man standing at the counter was not the Ajay she had seen the previous day. This man had aged several years in just one night. What had happened? She wondered. She looked at her watch, there were a few more minutes for her shift to end, she looked at the guy at the counter and he nodded. Removing her Apron, she walked across to the other side of the counter, towards Ajay. He turned and started walking and Sneha followed suit. She had expected him to walk either to the I.C.U. or outside the hospital, to the park. Instead, he walked to the prayer room. She was surprised, but she followed him in. Apart from the two of them, there was one more woman in the room. Bent on knees, she was praying to whoever she believed in. Sneha said a silent prayer for her. When Sneha turned to look at Ajay, he was on his knees too but he was not praying. His shoulders were trembling and Sneha realized he was sobbing. The silent sobs were soon replaced by loud ones and not knowing what else to do, Sneha knelt down next to him. “What happened?” she asked. That, she knew, was a stupid question. She knew what was happening but by the question, she meant what new had happened that had brought him to where he was now. Kneeling in a prayer room, sobbing.

“She is dying” the words echoed in the silent room and the woman looked up. “In a way, it is good that I do not have to kill her.” Ajay continued. Then, after a while he said, “I cannot believe I just said that!” and he hid his face in his palms and continued crying. Sneha put her hand on his shoulder and before she knew what was happening, Ajay wrapped his arms around her and placing his head on her chest, continued crying. Sneha held him in her arms, giving him the silent company. The woman decided to give let them be in their moment and she walked out.
After, what seemed like hours, but had just been a few minutes, Ajay corrected his position and apologized. Sneha did not say anything; she just held his hand and squeezed it, sending him some strength through her touch.
He then told her that the doctors who had come to examine Smriti had said that her condition was deteriorating. They had taken her for CT scan and a series of other procedures. The End had begun.