In continuation of The Daughter
Surprising her yet again, Ajay took out the topic of their future together. It seemed as if he was aware of each and every emotion she was going through. This, Sneha thought, was something she was not sure whether she should be happy about. At least for now, when Ajay had lost his wife! Would it be appropriate for him to know that she loved him and the love continued to grow each and every day as she spent more and more time with him! If now was this case, she wondered how much emotions she might give away when she started staying with him.
“Sneha?” Ajay asked for her attention and Sneha realized that he had been talking while she was engrossed in her own little world.
“Sorry. What were you saying?” she apologized.
Ajay had put forth an idea. Smriti’s father seemed to be okay with it too. Everything was supposed to be on paper. It was somewhat like a contract marriage that they were entering into for Shreya’s sake. It was meant to be carried out till Shreya was old enough to understand and accept the loss of her mother. Sneha wondered how much time did that mean. Right now, Shreya was ten years old, this age, truly speaking, was old enough for a child to accept the death of one of her parents, was it not? If they did not tell her now, when would they tell her? And, what was Sneha supposed to do after that? Just walk out of their lives? The end? She was not happy about this and it showed on her face because immediately Ajay asked her what she had on her mind.
“Nothing.” Sneha lied. Smriti’s father looked at her, a strange expression on his face but when Sneha looked at him, he looked away.
“I think, for time being we should talk about the beginning of the set up and leave the progress and the related decisions for later.” Smriti’s father suggested and looked back at her.
Sneha knew what that meant. He was trying to comfort Sneha with a thought that it was not necessary she would have to leave after Shreya was told about her mother. How had this happened? The man who had hated her so much earlier was now supporting her and giving her assurance of her future with Ajay. Ajay nodded. Sneha closed her eyes.
After completing the paper work, Smriti’s dead body was handed over to them and Ajay fulfilled his duties as a husband. While they stood at the funeral site, watching Smriti turn to ashes, all of a sudden Smriti’s father held her hand and squeezed it. She turned to look at him. He had tears in his eyes and it seemed that the grip was not to give comfort to Sneha; in fact it was the other way round. The old man was seeking comfort from her. Sneha tightened her grip and stared deep into the man’s eyes. She felt strong emotions towards the old man, emotions she could not describe. Earlier she used to be scared of him, now she felt strong love for him, love of a daughter for her old man. She looked at him closely; he was old and tired, wrinkles on his face and the hand that gripped hers. He seemed older than the first time she had seen him in the hospital. No father wished to have a life more than that of his children. He was not good in display of emotions, had he been, he would have been on his knees, sobbing. But, here he was, accepting the facts with teary eyes.
“You know” the old man said and waited for Sneha to come back to reality and pay attention to what he was saying –
“Yes?” Sneha asked. Smriti’s father turned around to face her and continued, “When I went to the I.C.U. room to meet Smriti.. when I saw her face, she seemed to be so much at peace and then something happened which I am not sure whether to believe or not. She opened her eyes and spoke to me. She held my hand and requested me to let her go and accept what was happening. She told me to forgive you and accept you.” The old man shivered and Sneha tightened her grip on his hand.
“It’s not possible. It cannot be.” The old man was whispering, more to himself than to Sneha.
“The doctor said that you walked close to Smriti, looked at her for a long time and then just collapsed on the floor. It is possible that you went into shock and imagined all this..!” Even though Sneha said this to convince the old man, she herself was not convinced with the explanation. Even she had experienced what the old man had experienced. Was it possible that even she had imagined it happening? But, it seemed so real.
“You do not believe in your own explanation” the old man stated matter-of-factly and then he smiled.
“She connected with both of us before leaving her body.” That is what I would say. Sneha looked surprised.
“She connected with you too, didn’t she?” he asked. How could he know? Sneha nodded. The old man looked towards Ajay and the fire turning his daughter to ashes, but it seemed as if he was looking far beyond that.
“She loved them a lot and all she ever wanted was for them to be happy. She knows you can make them happy.” The old man released the grip on Sneha’s hand and even she let him go. He walked to the nearest bench and sat down and Sneha sat next to him.
“Your eyes are windows to your soul. They are so expressive. When you were telling me that I must have imagined it happening, I saw the flicker of doubt in your eyes and I knew that it had happened to you as well. Your eyes tell me yet another thing, that which you want to be a secret.” The old man was looking deep in her eyes and Sneha looked away.
“I am a father who has just lost his daughter. It might seem strange to believe that I have accepted everything so easily but truly speaking what option did I have? What is the use of holding grudge against you? Is it your fault that you look like my daughter? Is it Ajay’s fault that Smriti is dead? Should I really blame him for finding a replacement for my daughter so soon, for the sake of his daughter when I know in my heart that I would have done the same thing for my daughter if I was stuck in the situation Ajay was stuck in?” Smriti’s father explained and took a deep breath.
Sneha was speechless. So much had changed in the old man. Earlier it had seemed that he had merely given up but in reality it was much more than that. The old man had become wiser and accepted the change because he was convinced that his daughter wanted that. His daughter had brought about the change of heart. Sneha looked towards Ajay and then back at the old man. He was staring at her, a look of understanding in his eyes.
“I know you love him.” he finally said and Sneha looked at her hand resting on her lap. “I have accepted that I had to let my daughter go. I have accepted that someone else will now take her place in her loved one’s lives. Though I do not blame you for being in love with him, I am not sure whether I can accept that as yet.” The old man said patting her hand and they both looked at Ajay who was now walking towards them.
.. The Contract