[Chapter re-posted as the earlier post was deleted by mistake. No changes made.]
In continuation of The Giving Up
In continuation of The Giving Up
When Sneha walked out of the door, Ajay collapsed on the couch. He felt emotionally drained. He was tired of assuming and analyzing. Just a few hours ago he had asked Sneha how she knew the petty things the way Smriti did. And now, without even realizing what she had done, Sneha had left him thinking once again. This time, however, he did not need any clarifications. There was no need for assumptions and analysis. The message was crystal clear. Smriti had helped him figure out. As far as he was concerned it was now decided that Sneha was staying. Now, it was for Sneha to decide what she wanted to do about this.
Right now, when Sneha had walked out of the door, she was too occupied with the thought of reaching Shreya’s school. He wondered how she would react when she came to know what had happened. Sneha had responded to Shreya’s call even when they had not communicated directly. Exactly the same way Smriti used to connect. He did not know how it was possible, how Sneha could connect with Shreya like this. What mattered was that Sneha now had a strange connection with Shreya. And, this was big deal. He wondered how Smriti’s mother would react to this. He was not sure whether he should tell her about this in first place. He decided to let it be for a while. He closed his eyes as he rested his head on the backrest.
He had fallen asleep when Sneha returned home with Shreya. She walked straight to Shreya’s room carrying Shreya in her arms. After tucking her in, Sneha walked down to the living room. She placed a hand on Ajay’s shoulder and he woke up immediately.
“When did you come back?” he asked.
“Just now.” Sneha replied sitting next to him on the couch.
“Where is Shreya?” Ajay asked looking around.
“In her room, sleeping. She was running a high fever when I went to the school. The teacher said they were going to send her to the school physician. I went with her and the physician has given some medicines. The first dose was given at school itself. She needs to rest for a couple of days, the physician said.” Sneha explained. Ajay nodded.
“What’s this?” Sneha asked and Ajay knew that she was asking about the connection.
“This is something Shreya used to share with Smriti. The bond between them, the connection! Smriti could know whenever Shreya was sick or scared or simply too emotional about anything. She would then reach out to Shreya right on time. When you said you knew the school bus was coming, this is what I thought it was.” Ajay explained. Sneha listened, too stunned to say anything.
He continued, “This is a special gift that Smriti had and now you have it. This means a lot to Shreya, to me. I don’t know how you can connect in this way but the fact that you do matters the most.”
Sneha did not know whether it was appropriate to bring forth the same topic they had decided to put behind the back. She did not know whether it was necessary to figure out how she was able to connect all of a sudden, so she kept silent. It was Ajay who spoke aloud what she had been thinking.
“What happened in the morning might be the reason for the connection.” He simply said and Sneha nodded. She got her answer. They both thought that whatever had happened between the two of them before Smriti’s mother stepped in might be the reason why she could connect with Shreya the way Smriti did. She smiled. It meant a lot for Shreya and him, Ajay had said. It meant a lot for her, too. Made her feel at home after the way Smriti’s mother had humiliated her. It was as if Smriti had accepted Shreya completely while Smriti’s mother had rejected her. She wondered how Smriti’s mother would react to this news. Both Ajay and Sneha were engrossed in their own thoughts but the silence between them was no more awkward.
After some time, Sneha got up to check on Shreya. She sat in the girl’s room for a few minutes, watching her sleep. When Sneha had reached the school, Shreya was too happy to see her there; Sneha still remembered the look on the girl’s face and smiled. Sneha’s being there for her had meant a lot for Shreya, she could see it in the girl’s eyes. Apart from the happiness that shone in the girl’s eyes there was something else Sneha could not find a way to describe. Sneha’s thoughts were interrupted when her cell phone vibrated. She saw that it was Daniel’s call. She walked out of the room and answered the call.
“Hi! Where have you been? I have been trying to reach you for hours.” Daniel said.
“I am sorry, my cell phone was on silent mode; did not know about the calls.” Sneha apologized.
“You were supposed to be at the hospital today to complete a few formalities so that you could join in a day or two. I had left you a voicemail; I guess you did not know about that, either.” Daniel said.
Sneha rubbed her forehead, she had heard the voicemail but she had totally forgotten about it, thanks to all that happened at the house.
“Hello, are you there?” Daniel asked.
“Yes, I am still on the line. Daniel, I am sorry for being so careless and about the job, I cannot take it up, at least for a couple of days. My daughter has fever.” Sneha explained.
“Your daughter?” Daniel did not mean to ask but the words were out of his mouth even before he could stop himself and those words sounded rude and sarcastic even to himself.
Sneha felt the sarcasm too and decided not to answer.
“I am sorry, I did not mean it to sound the way it did.” Daniel apologized.
“I understand and you have every right to react because you took efforts to find me this job, I really am sorry, I need a few more days. Please understand.” Sneha requested.
“Fine, I will try and talk to the authorities but I need to tell you that I have my own limitations. I cannot assure you that I can save this job for you.” Daniel said.
“I appreciate it” Sneha said and then added, “Listen Daniel, I will call back later okay? I need to go now, something urgent has come up.” Sneha said and without saying goodbye she disconnected the call. Daniel did not deserve this but she did not have a choice, she had to disconnect the call because she saw Smriti’s parents walking in through the main door. She saw that Ajay did not move, he was still sitting on the couch, his head resting on the backrest, obviously he was sleeping.
She hurried down the steps to face Smriti’s parents. When Smriti’s mother looked at Sneha, the expression on her face told Sneha how much Smriti’s mother loathed her.
Without wasting much time, Smriti’s mother came to the point, “Ask her to get out now.” Hearing Smriti’s mother’s voice, Ajay woke up with a jolt.
“What are you doing here?” Ajay asked. He had not meant it to sound rude; he simply wanted to know what was happened. Why was it so necessary for Smriti’s parents to be here at this time? He should have known better.
Smriti’s mother was obviously hurt by his question and reacted, “So now you do not want us here so that you can have as much fun as you want.”
Sneha closed her eyes. She knew, by the end of the conversation, she was going to have a headache.
“I did not mean it that way, I just...” Ajay tried to explain but Smriti’s mother stopped him midsentence.
“We want her out of the house.” She said and sat on the couch, folding her arms across her chest.
Smriti’s father explained, “Smriti’s mother called me and told me that she saw something she was not meant to see. She wanted me to come here as soon as I could. We discussed this before coming here. We both have made up our minds that we are going to let Shreya in on the secret. She needs to know, and then it is for her to decide whether Sneha stays or she does not.”
“That is not what we discussed.” Smriti’s mother interrupted. “She needs to walk out of their lives, now!” she spat the words once again glaring at Sneha.
It was enough, Sneha finally decided; she could no longer tolerate it.
“I am not going anywhere.” She said firmly and Ajay turned to look at her and so did Smriti’s parents.
“Oh yes, you are!” the old woman screamed.
“Enough!” Sneha screamed back. “I have already told you it is not my fault that your daughter is dead. It is not my fault that I look like her. I also want you to know that it is not a sin to love someone. Yes, I love him and I do not regret it. So please, get over the past and just let me be!” Sneha threw up her hands in exasperation.
All three of them stared at Sneha completely at loss of words. Sneha looked at Smriti’s parents. The old woman had the same expression on her face, Smriti’s father however seemed to have softened. Earlier, in the cemetery, he had told Sneha that he knew she loved Ajay and he had confessed that even though he had accepted her in Ajay’s life, he was not sure whether he was ready to accept that she loved the man who belonged to his daughter once. Now, the look in his eyes filled with tears told Sneha that he understood what she was going through and he was ready to accept her.
Sneha’s own eyes filled with tears and she did nothing to stop them.
“Let’s just sit down and talk it out.” Smriti’s father suggested.
In a calm yet dangerous tone Smriti’s mother said, “There is no need to talk about anything. I want this woman out of this house. I am going to talk to Shreya once she is back from the school.”
“Shreya is home and she is sleeping.” Sneha said.
“Oh good, then, I am going to talk to her right away!” the old woman said and got up to go.
“Oh no, you are not” Sneha was surprised herself by the determination in her voice. Even though Smriti’s mother was taken aback for a moment, she tried her best to not show it and started walking again and Sneha had to stand in her way to stop her. Both men looked at each other.
“Shreya is not well and you are not going to wake her up.” Sneha said firmly
“And who are you to stop me?” Smriti’s mother said angrily.
“I am her mother.” Sneha whispered maintaining eye contact with the woman. Smriti’s mother laughed aloud and pushed Sneha to the side and began climbing the steps. Sneha turned around and grabbed the old woman’s wrist and she had to stop and turn to look at Sneha.
“I mean it. No one is going to wake up my daughter. She is already sick and I won’t let anyone squeeze the strength out of her.” Sneha said in an angry tone and Sneha could feel the old woman losing some of her courage. Now, it was Smriti’s mother who seemed a little scared of Sneha.
“She’s awake.” Sneha said suddenly and let go of the woman’s wrist and began climbing the steps, she stopped and turning around to look at Smriti’s mother added, “I am leaving because my daughter needs me and I am still firm on my decision. I am not going anywhere and no one is going to talk to my daughter when she is unwell. Feel free to stay here or leave. But, dare not to talk to Shreya, I mean it!” And then she turned around and walked to Shreya’s room leaving the three of them speechless.
Smriti’s mother walked back to the couch and when she was seated she said, “Did you see how rudely she behaved? And, what is all this ‘my daughter’ business. How does Shreya become her daughter? Did she forget that she is meant to act like one and not be one?” She looked at Smriti’s father, hoping that he would add a few more sentences to her complaints but he was silent, perhaps deep in thoughts. She turned to look at Ajay and even though Ajay had made up his mind earlier that he would not mention the connection to Smriti’s mother, he said to her, “Sneha connected with Shreya today, just how Smriti used to.”
“Would you please stop the comparison?” Smriti’s mother said but the power in her voice was lost. Deep down she knew that Ajay had his reasons for saying what he had said.
“Sneha went to Shreya’s school in response to her call and found out that Shreya was having high fever. She took Shreya to the doctor and then brought her home.” Ajay said and Smriti’s mother was left speechless. Smriti’s father nodded, as if he had figured out what had happened.