The Daughter

In continuation of The New Life

Sneha was not aware how much time had passed, it was only after the door to the room opened did she bother to look away from the old man’s face and towards the door. As Ajay entered the room, she slipped her hand out from the old man’s grip and stood up. Ajay walked closer to the bed and instead of looking at the old man, turned to look at Sneha. “Did he say anything to you?” he asked.
“Yeah, he asked me to forgive him.” Sneha replied and Ajay arched an eyebrow. That came as a surprise to him! Ajay had expected Smriti’s father to lash out at Sneha just like he had done with Ajay. In a way, Ajay was thankful that he had not done anything of that sort.

“Does he know about Smriti?” Ajay asked and Sneha shook her head and Ajay nodded. He knew it was his responsibility to tell the old man about his daughter’s death. Ajay was just not sure how he was going to break the news. He genuinely hoped that the old man would take it calmly and not accuse Ajay of playing a role in Smriti’s death, because that – he would not be able to handle. Not after what he had already been through. The day had been really bad and he could not take anymore.

As if understanding what was going through Ajay’s mind, Sneha consoled him saying that everything would be alright. She felt that something had changed in the old man and it seemed like he had accepted what was about to come, hence, in a way, perhaps he already knows the news. Call it a coincidence if you will, but right at the same time Smriti’s father opened his eyes. Seeing the two of them together, talking he blinked a couple of times and then closed his eyes and asked, “When?” Ajay looked at Sneha. What was happening around them? The man who had earlier kicked up a storm regarding the situation was now so calm about it. He did not understand but he was glad. Both Ajay and Sneha carried the old man to Smriti’s room. He saw his daughter for one last time before the doctors covered her face and wheeled her out of the room for further formalities.

“What next?” this was the question that troubled everyone but was voiced by none other than Smriti’s father. I guess it is time to bring Shreya into the picture. Ajay nodded as the old man looked at him.
“How are you going to do it?” the old man asked.
Ajay explained what he had planned. Sneha had meant to ask him this but she was waiting for the right time.

When Smriti’s father left the room, Sneha reached out to Ajay and holding his hand said, “I want to say something.” Ajay looked at her. Sneha looked at him closely; his eyes were still teary even after shedding so many tears. She knew he had cried a lot. The puffiness of his eyes was the explanation.
“I want to apologize for sending you away, I am really sorry for keeping you away from spending last moments with your wife.” Sneha said, tears in her own eyes.
“Don’t” Ajay said and pulled out his hand from Sneha’s grip and walking away from her, his back towards her he continued, “You need not apologize. It is my fault. When you asked me to go, I could have decided against it but I went. In addition to that, after a few moments, I felt the urge to return and not carry on walking further but I ignored my own thoughts. It is my mistake, had I turned back when I felt the sudden urge, perhaps I would have been here at her last moment.” Ajay hoped that Sneha would believe him. This girl, who was a total stranger, was somehow capable of understanding Ajay. He feared that she would know he was lying and that was the reason he had turned his back towards her. He did not want her looking into his eyes. After a while, Ajay turned around to face her. Sneha was crying. She said nothing and Ajay did not know whether she believed him or not.

It was finally time for Sneha to step into Smriti’s shoes. Before the countdown started, Ajay told her a few more things about Smriti. The way she was when she was around Shreya. Told her a few stories of their time together, of Smriti’s time together with Shreya! It was not enough, they both knew but it had to suffice for time being. Shreya who was living with her grandparents knew that her parents were supposed to come to pick her up but they had postponed their plans because they wanted Shreya to spend more time with her grandparents, meanwhile Ajay attended to some important business matter at hand. She had wanted to talk to her mother but they had somehow postponed that too. It had not been easy and Shreya had spent several nights crying alone in bed. To fool a ten year old was a wrong thing to do but they were helpless. They all believed that whatever they were doing was for the good of the child. While doing that, no one had really bothered to understand how the child felt about not being able to talk to her mother. Sneha understood that.

Hence, the first thing she suggested was that she makes a call to Shreya. This was not a part of Ajay’s plan but he liked the idea. In addition to this, Sneha also made a small change in how Ajay had planned their meeting and everyone, including Smriti’s father agreed that Sneha’s plan made sense.

Taking a deep breath, Sneha took the cell phone from Ajay’s hand. He had dialed the number and the bell was ringing at the other end. The call was attended by Shreya and Sneha choke on her words. Suddenly, she was not sure what she would say, what she was supposed to say. Ajay stared at her and Sneha stared back, her breathing had become shallow and fast and her hands were trembling. And then, she started crying. The silent tears were soon replaced by loud sobs and then everyone were relieved to hear the single word that was spoken or rather shouted from the other end of the phone..
“Mom!” Shreya screamed into the phone and that filled Sneha’s heart with love and hope and she whispered “Hey baby, missed ya!”
After that everything was easy. Sneha explained to Shreya how they had meant to come and collect her but had to postpone because Ajay had some important work and they thought Shreya would love to spend more time with her grandparents. She then went further to tell Shreya that they had meant to come today but suddenly she had fallen sick and was bed-ridden. She promised Shreya that they would come soon. Shreya insisted that she wanted to meet her and would come with her grandparents and Sneha said she would think about it.

When Sneha disconnected the call she felt happy and sad. Her heart was burdened with the lie she had to tell to the little girl but at the same time it was filled with joy of filling a little girl’s heart with hope and joy and a happier future.

There were a few more things to be taken care of. It was the business of the adults to deal and for time being Shreya had to stay out of the picture. To start with, it was necessary to finish the rites to send Smriti on her final journey and after that Ajay and Sneha had to talk about the whole arrangement, the part that concerned them being together as a couple. That was something, Sneha did not know how to talk, how to bring out the topic, what to discuss and what to expect.