The Studio

In Continuation of The Promise

Sneha rested her elbow on the hand-rest of the chair and held her head in her palms. It seemed as if her life was like one big pendulum swinging from happy moment to sad. One moment she was so very happy and the next moment sadness gripped her heart. The problem was that the pendulum was swinging too fast for her to cope-up with. She turned to look at Ajay, hoping that she would get some strength from him. But, he himself looked devastated. She hoped he did not regret what had happened. Finally, she extended her hand towards him, asking him to come closer and hold it, without saying a word.
Ajay walked inside, held her hand and squatted next to the chair. Both watched Shreya silently.
After a while, Sneha spoke aloud what she feared, “Do you regret what happened between us?”
Ajay was silent for some time, he then looked at her and Sneha got her answer even before he spoke the word, “No.”

The comfortable silence followed. Finally Sneha got up and walked towards Shreya and woke her up. It was well past her time but Sneha wanted to watch Shreya sleep because she feared she might perhaps not get the chance again.
Ajay walked out of the room, making up his mind to talk to Smriti’s mother.
When he walked to the guest room Smriti’s parents were having a discussion which they stopped abruptly on his appearance at the door.
“I need to talk to you mom.” Ajay said as he sat on the chair in the guest room.

“What happened should have not happened and what you did was wrong and unforgivable but I would still say that I sympathize with you considering your confusion because of the face.” Smriti’s mother said.
“No. Please don’t say that. You need not sympathize with me; you have the entire right to be angry because what I did yesterday that was with a clear mind. I knew I was kissing Sneha when I kissed her, I knew it was not Smriti but Sneha when I got in bed with her. Stop telling me that you understand when the fact is that you really don’t. I cannot understand your pain of losing your daughter; similarly you cannot understand my pain of losing a wife and the pain it causes me to keep her alive for the sake of my daughter. Had it not been for Sneha’s presence in my life, I would have kept mourning Smriti for the rest of my life and perhaps that would have been the right thing according to you. Does my love for Smriti depend on how many days, weeks and months I mourn her death? I know that she would have never wanted this. I would have not wanted this for her, had the places been reversed. In these just few days that I have spent with Sneha I have learned that she can be the best mother for Shreya, after Smriti. I feel there is a reason that Sneha has Smriti’s face, do not ruin it. What would you achieve by telling Shreya that Smriti is dead and the one who stays with us is not Smriti but just a woman who looks like her? Is your pain, my pain not enough that you want to put Shreya through the pain we are going through? The first time I saw Sneha, I knew instantly that there had to be some supreme plan involved. Even though earlier I tried to, I could not differentiate between the two because maybe it was not meant to be. I never knew when Sneha stepped out of Smriti’s shadow. Yes, she does have her face, but she is Sneha and not Smriti and that I can make out every time I look at her. Sneha’s connecting with Shreya has shaken me completely. I do not have any explanation as to how did it happen. Don’t you see this as a sign? Sneha is meant to be here, for Shreya. And, as much as you would want me to deny, or as much as I would refuse to accept it, I need her too.” When Ajay finally stopped talking, he realized he was crying and Smriti’s parents were staring at him. He did not wipe the tears; he let them flow down his cheeks. Finally, without waiting to hear what Smriti’s parents had to say, Ajay got up from the chair and walked out of the room. He walked straight to his study and locked the door.

Sneha sat in Shreya’s room as Shreya brushed her teeth and showered. She did not want to leave Shreya alone fearing that Smriti’s mother would take the chance and talk to her. When Shreya got dressed, they both walked to the kitchen together. Smriti’s mother had already prepared breakfast and was serving Smriti’s father.
“Good Morning grandma, good morning grandpa” Shreya said as she sat next to Smriti’s father. When Sneha made eye contact with Smriti’s mother she tried to understand the look in her eyes, but failed. The anger was still there and so was the hatred, but there was something else in her eyes that Sneha could not understand.
“How are you feeling today, Honey?” Smriti’s mother asked Shreya.
“I am feeling a lot better, thanks to mom.” Shreya said turning to look at Sneha and smiled. Sneha’s heart skipped a beat. She waited for Smriti’s mother to say something but she did not. She placed cornflakes and milk in front of Shreya and served her own plate. Smriti’s mother did not make any efforts to be good to Sneha, in front of Shreya. She did not even bother that her cold approach might set the little girl thinking as to how a mother can behave like this with her own daughter. Sneha did not have courage to start a conversation. She walked to the kitchen counter and made some coffee for herself.
Shreya looked at Sneha with a question in her eyes and Sneha shrugged not knowing what else to do or say.
“Grandma, I think whatever it is; you need to end it and talk to mom.” Shreya said and Sneha coughed out her coffee. Smriti’s mother looked at Sneha and Sneha could not breathe. She knew that the old woman would blame her for Shreya’s statement. She had not expected Shreya to bring out the topic like this.
“Honey, you don’t be bothered by this, we are having a small misunderstanding and it will soon get resolved when your mom realizes her mistake.” Smriti’s mother said moving her hand over Shreya’s head.
“Mom is having nightmares, grandma” Shreya said eating a spoonful of cornflakes.
“I am so sorry to hear that. Your mom is not happy with my advice and all I can do is just wait and watch. But, I would say you must not get involved in this and stress yourself out, I will talk to you once we have sorted things out.” Smriti’s mother said and smiled at Shreya.
“Okay” Shreya said and continued eating. Sneha forgot her coffee and stood, resting against the kitchen counter, watching Shreya. As Shreya finished her breakfast Sneha suggested that she got back to her room and take some rest.
The moment Shreya was in her room, Smriti’s mother said in a low menacing tone, “How dare you use my own grand-daughter against me?”
“I never asked her to say what she said.” Sneha explained.
“But, you did talk to her about our fight. Didn’t you?” Smriti’s mother asked angrily.
“I had to. Shreya overheard us a couple of times and asked questions. I was helpless.” Sneha said, getting tired of the conversation.
“Why don’t you just leave us alone? Go somewhere and die!” Smriti’s mother said angrily but making sure her voice was not loud enough to be carried either to the study or to Shreya’s room.
Sneha could not believe what she had just heard. How could Smriti’s mother say what she had just said? Sneha could not believe that the old woman’s hatred for her had reached the point where she wished ill for her.
“Get lost and make sure you never show me that face of yours.” Smriti’s mother said and walked away. Sneha turned to look at Smriti’s father who was looking at her with concern in his eyes. He had heard what Smriti’s mother had just said and even though he had not interfered now, Sneha knew that he would definitely talk to her later. She was in fact thankful to him that he kept quiet, she did not want Smriti’s mother blaming her for Smriti’s father’s lecture to her.
Sneha climbed up the stairs and walked to the study. She knocked on the door and tried to open the door, but it was locked. She knocked again and waited for Ajay to open the door. When the door was opened she walked in without saying a word and Ajay closed the door behind her. She walked to his desk and opened the top drawer.
“What are you doing?” Ajay asked.
“I am looking for the extra set of keys that you keep in here.” Sneha explained. Ajay stared at her and then said, “They are in the second drawer.”
Sneha opened the second drawer and found the key set. She took the keys in her hand and closed the drawer and without saying a word walked out of the study. Ajay watched her speechlessly. After a while he walked out of the study to see where she was headed. When he saw her walking towards the studio, he rushed down the stairs and walked to the studio in time to see Sneha select a key from the extra set of keys and insert it into the slit in the knob of the studio door. Sneha turned the key and the door clicked open. She opened the door and stepped inside, when she turned to close the door, Ajay had almost stepped inside but she stopped him placing her hand on his chest.
“Please leave me alone for some time.” saying so she gently pushed Ajay back and closed the door.
Ajay stood outside the door, speechless. He could not believe that the key to the studio had always been with him in the extra set of keys of all the rooms of the house. He knew Smriti wanted her privacy but she had shown enough trust in him to leave the keys with him in the extra set. She had never really blocked him out, he realized. Now, the question was – How did Sneha know where the key was? He was about to knock on the door and demand answer when he visualized Sneha’s face. She was on the verge of crying. Had it been Smriti, he would have given her the space and finally he decided to give the same space to Sneha. He walked to the couch and sat there, waiting for Sneha to open the door. He assumed that she would take time to come out and he was ready to wait.

When Sneha locked the door and turned to look around the studio, she saw family pictures on the walls. There were photos of Ajay, smiling. There were photos of Ajay and Smriti, in each other’s arms, smiling. There were photos of Ajay, Smriti and the just born Shreya. She walked closer to that photo and looked at it closely. The happy parents, she thought. Neither of them must have known what life had in store for them. There were few more photos of three of them together and a couple of photos of Shreya alone.
There was a round wooden table in the centre of the room on which rested a flower vase with artificial flowers in it. There was a single chair next to the table.
In one corner of the studio was a canvas stand with a blank canvas placed on it. Adjacent to it was a desk. Sneha walked towards the desk and saw that a few painting were neatly arranged in a plastic folder. She took out the paintings and went through them. Smriti was an artist, Sneha realized. The paintings were too good. She had done portraits of Shreya but none of Ajay. Sneha looked closer. Smriti had painted portrait of Shreya with the room background and Sneha realized that the room in the painting was none other than the studio. It meant that Shreya had the permission to come in.

Next to the plastic folder of the paintings she found a sketch book. Sneha opened the sketch book and went through the sketches. They were done by Smriti. There was a signature with date on the right side bottom of the page. The first sketch in the book was of Ajay and was dated 11 years ago. She turned the pages, observing the sketches and then the dates. It seemed the sketch book told Smriti’s life story. She was really good at it, Sneha thought. She found sketches of Ajay and Smriti getting married, Smriti standing in front of the mirror, her hand placed on her swollen belly and many more. When she turned the page and saw a particular sketch, the look on her face changed. She saw the date, she turned to the next page and was shocked to see the sketch and the date on that page, and she turned the page again and saw the family sketch. Smriti, Ajay and Shreya, but the date on the page confused her. She also noticed that a page from the sketch book was missing. The page before the family sketch had been torn. She also realized that the family sketch was the last sketch in the book. Sneha steadied herself taking the support of the desk. Suddenly she could not breathe. Once she regained composure, she turned to walk out of the studio with the sketch book in her hand.