The Family

In continuation of The Assault - Revisited

“Sneha wake up” Ajay said shaking her shoulders. “Wake up … it is just a nightmare.” Ajay shook harder. Sneha was sweating profusely, large beads of sweat covered her face and the shirt she was wearing was soaked with sweat. Ajay had just walked out of the study when he had heard Sneha murmuring and then all of a sudden she had given a heart-wrenching shriek. Ajay had run down the stairs, two at a time to reach her. “Please… please… please … no!”
“Please God, no!” these were the words Sneha kept repeating, as if pleading.
The face being covered with sweat, Ajay could not spot the tears but her facial expression told him that she was crying. She was having a nightmare and Ajay knew what it was about. She was re-living the assault.

It took some time for Sneha to open her eyes. She was disoriented for a moment and then she saw Ajay standing next to her. In an instant, without really knowing what she was doing, the first involuntary reaction of Sneha was to stand up close to Ajay and move her fingers through his hair.
“You are safe. Thank God you are safe.” She whispered and sat back on the couch. That moment, Ajay realized that she was pleading not to the guy to leave her alone but that had been desperate whispers of her because she thought Ajay was hurt.

When Sneha calmed down, she realized that her white shirt was soaked with sweat and the backrest of the couch on which she was sitting was soaked with her sweat, too. Ajay switched on the air-conditioner for her and then she told him about her dream. It had seemed so real. Ajay convinced her that it was all over because the guy had been arrested and soon would appear in the court of law where he would be rightly punished.
How many years of imprisonment? Sneha wondered. And… what after that? Another voice in her head questioned. Sneha did not want to think about that. Not now. Not ever.

Trying to take her mind off her nightmare Ajay said, “I am hungry”.
“I will be right back.” Sneha said, getting up. She needed to change her shirt.
When Sneha returned wearing a fresh shirt, she saw that Ajay had already arranged the plates and bowls on the dining table.
He signaled her to sit and then began serving their plates. Sneha assisted. They finished their dinner in silence. Sneha collected the dishes in the sink and Ajay went to the guest room to ready it for Sneha.
Oh right! Sneha thought. She had not bothered thinking of the additional rooms in Ajay’s house. It was different in her house where they did not have any other option but to share her bedroom. Finally, when she retired to her room for the night, Sneha slept peacefully.

When Sneha opened her eyes in the morning, it took a while for her to remember where she was. Though she had slept peacefully, her entire body ached. She dragged herself out of the bed and into the living room where she had kept her duffel bag with her stuff, whatever they could grab before coming to Ajay’s house. The rest of the stuff was still there in her house and she knew she would need to keep some clothes there…

After she cleaned herself up, she walked to the kitchen. Even before she entered the kitchen she could smell fresh coffee and sandwich. She smiled remembering how she used to keep Ajay’s sandwich ready, in the hospital cafeteria.

“Good Morning” Sneha said as she walked in the kitchen and grabbed a mug.
“Good Morning” Ajay replied taking a sip of his coffee.
“Early riser?” Sneha asked.
“Yup! I am the one who is supposed to make coffee and breakfast in the mornings, including Shreya’s tiffin” Ajay replied.
Sneha nodded. She remembered Ajay had told her about the tiffin. Without saying anything further, she poured coffee in her mug and took a sip. Ajay offered her the sandwich and she took a bite. She had to admit that he was really good at it. Actually, better than she was! She smiled.

“I have already called Smriti’s father and told him we would be reaching by afternoon.” Ajay said taking a sip from his mug. Sneha nodded.
That was the last conversation they had before leaving the house. As Ajay no longer preferred driving a vehicle they had to take the public transport. The bus took longer than they had expected and when they reached Ajay’s in-laws, they were exhausted. When they stood there at the main door, waiting to ring the doorbell, Sneha could feel her heart beating in her throat. Ajay held her hand and that calmed her.
“It must be them.” They heard a voice even before the door was opened. Sneha’s heart skipped a beat. The door was opened by Smriti’s mother and the moment it was opened, Sneha saw a girl rushing down the stair towards them.
“Mom!” the girl yelled. She almost ran into Sneha’s arms, which Sneha had extended to welcome her. But, before reaching into her arms, the girl stopped and looked at Sneha.
“Oh my God, No!” Sneha thought “The girl has recognized that she is not her mother.”
But, after a while, tears welled up in the girl’s eyes and she embraced Sneha
“Mom!” That’s all that she whispered as she hugged Sneha tightly.
“Hey! It’s okay, I am here now… stop crying.” Sneha said lifting up Shreya in her arms. With the girl in her arms, Sneha entered the house. The house where Smriti had grown up! Even this house radiated positive energy though it was way lesser than what Sneha felt in Ajay’s house.

Smriti’s mother stared at Sneha. Watching her holding Shreya did not please her much. She pushed aside her thoughts and called out for Smriti’s father telling them that Ajay and Smriti were home to take Shreya with them. All of them then entered the living room. Sneha put Shreya down who then walked to Ajay and hugged him.
“Missed you dad.” She said.
When Smriti’s father came to the living room he looked at Sneha and Ajay who were sitting next to each other on the couch, with Shreya on Sneha’s lap. The family, he thought. Just like he would have wanted it to be, except that the woman on whose lap Shreya was sitting was not his daughter. But, he had let her go. He had now accepted Sneha because his daughter had wanted it that way. But, that could not stop tears from gathering in his eyes. He turned away quickly and Smriti’s mother placed a hand on his shoulder, understanding exactly what he was going through. The same emotions gripped the mother’s heart as she saw another woman wrapping her arms around her daughter’s daughter.