In continuation of The Studio
When Sneha stepped out of the studio, Ajay got up from the couch and walked towards her, the questioning look in his eyes. However, before he could ask her about the key to the studio, he saw the troubled look on her face.
“What happened?” he asked her. Instead of answering his question, she simply showed him the sketch book. Ajay took the sketch book in his hands and opened it. He knew that Smriti painted and made sketches and had seen a few paintings but he had not seen this book before.
“Look at the dates” Sneha said and it was then that his attention shifted to the right bottom of the page. Initially he did not understand what was it that Sneha wanted to point out but as he saw the sketches, page after page, he realized what it was. The oddness of the date of the sketches was what Sneha had tried to point out. He clearly remembered the day when Smriti and he had met, the sketch of Ajay was dated much before their meeting. The other sketches too, seemed to be have made before the event occurred. When finally Ajay reached the last few pages the look on his face changed as he saw the sketch of an accident, of a hospital lobby, Smriti standing behind Ajay, and the hospital room where Smriti stood watching Ajay as he cried and there was someone lying on the hospital bed!
It took a while for Ajay to realize that it was not Smriti in the sketch but Sneha. It was Sneha standing behind Ajay, following him to the I.C.U. and it was Sneha who stood watching Ajay as he cried and it was Smriti who was on the bed.
Ajay turned to look at Sneha.
“She saw it before it happened.” Sneha whispered, tears gathering in her eyes.
Tears welled up in Ajay’s eyes as well. He was speechless.
“This should not come as a surprise after seeing how she connected with her father and me in the hospital. How she helped me with handling Shreya.” Sneha said as she walked to the couch and sat down.
“What do you mean?” Ajay asked.
“Remember how worried I was when I did not know how to deal with Shreya? When I came to know that there were things which you were not aware of? Things only Shreya and Smriti knew? Well! That day in the hospital when I visited the I.C.U. room, I saw her extending her hand towards me. When I moved forward to hold it, I literally felt that I had made the connection. It may sound weird but I had a vision, I think. I saw the place where Smriti kept her diary and when I came back home from the hospital, I searched the place, the hidden compartment in her wardrobe and found the diary and it helped me with a lot of things, taught me how I can take care of Shreya. It was in the diary that I read about the key to the studio.” Sneha explained and waited for Ajay to say something. She knew he had meant to ask her the question about the key. She could see the question in his eyes. But, Ajay kept silent. He walked to the couch and sat next to Sneha. She held his hand and he let her. And then, they cried.
To the practical mind all of this would not make any sense but they both knew very well that what was happening to them was beyond natural. Smriti did not only know how to connect with people she also knew things before they happened.
Suddenly Sneha got up from the couch and rushed towards the stairs, climbing the stairs she walked to Shreya’s room and opened the door wide. Shreya was asleep. Sneha was glad that she was not awake because what she wanted to do in her room would have not been possible if Shreya had been awake.
She looked around the room and opened the drawers of her desk; she searched the drawers but did not find what she was looking for. She then spotted Shreya’s school bag and opening it she started searching the bag. And, just as she had expected, there it was, in one of the compartments, neatly folded paper. Sneha took it out and opened the fold with trembling hands. She did not know what she was expecting to see, but what she saw did not surprise her. Yes, she did know that it was definitely the page that was torn from Smriti’s sketch book but she was not sure what sketch she was going to find on it. On one side of the paper was the sketch of Smriti and Ajay standing at the door. The scene seemed familiar and Sneha knew instantly that it was not Smriti and Ajay standing at the door, but Sneha and Ajay standing at the door of Smriti’s parent’s house. The date in the calendar on the wall was the same when they had visited the house to bring Shreya back home. As expected, the date below the signature was the same as she had seen on the page of the accident. Sneha sat on the chair next to Shreya’s bed. She looked at Shreya who was sleeping peacefully.
If Shreya had this sketch with her in her bag, did it mean that Shreya knew the truth? Did that mean she knew about Smriti? Sneha covered her mouth with her hand and began weeping and a moment later started shaking uncontrollably.
She did not know that Ajay was watching her. It was only after he took the paper from her hand did she notice his presence. She turned to look towards him and saw his expression change to that of horror when he saw the sketch.
He had the same questions in his mind that Sneha had. Did Shreya know the truth? And, as if in an answer to her question, Sneha visualized the happenings of the day when they had gone to bring Shreya home. When she had seen Sneha standing at the door, she had almost rushed into her arms. She then remembered how Shreya had paused for a while, looked at something behind the door and then walked closer to her and whispered “Mom” as she had hugged Sneha and started crying. Sneha had assumed that Shreya was crying because she was seeing her mother after a long time, but the truth was Shreya had cried because she knew it was not her mother who was standing at the door. She had known that her mother was dead. Sneha did not have any doubts now that Smriti must have told Shreya about what was going to happen, Shreya had definitely seen the sketches. The torn page was the proof of that.
“She knows I am not her mother.” Sneha whispered and looked towards Ajay who was still standing near her, holding the paper in his hand. Without saying a word, he walked out of the room. Sneha wiped her eyes and got up from the chair. She wanted to wake up Shreya and hug her tightly. She wanted to tell her that she loved her. Obviously, she could not love her like Smriti but nevertheless, she loved Shreya and Shreya had to know that. She sat next to Shreya on the bed but did not wake her up. Different scenes flashed in front of her eyes. Incidences when Shreya and she had conversations, matters Shreya must have tried to check on with Sneha. She remembered how Shreya had questioned about her grandma and had said that she would come around. She remembered how Shreya had defended Sneha in front of her grandma. Was it possible that Shreya wanted to see whether they told her the truth? They thought Shreya was not ready to hear the truth but they were wrong. Shreya was a lot more mature than they assumed she was.
As she looked at Shreya once again her gaze fell on a notebook partially hidden under the pillow. Sneha pulled it out slowly without disturbing Shreya. She opened it and realized that it was a diary. Not a dated one, just a notebook but the first page was decorated with drawing of flowers and the words “Shreya’s Diary”. Sneha felt guilty for scanning through Shreya’s personal diary but she had to read it to confirm the fact and to know what Shreya thought of the entire arrangement. She opened a page randomly and read. For a ten year old the diary was well kept and maturely written. The first entry dated back to the beginning of the year. Shreya’s point of view about Smriti and Ajay and their life together. She read the entry and smiled. She looked at Shreya and saw the girl stirring. She closed the notebook and watched. Shreya seemed peaceful yet again.
Sneha got up from the bed without disturbing her and after watching her for a moment, she walked out of the room with the diary in her hand. She saw Ajay sitting in the living room with his head held in his hands. Smriti’s parents were not seen around; perhaps they were still in the guest room. Sneha wondered how Smriti’s mother would react to the news. She would definitely be happy that she could now get rid of Sneha. Or maybe, she would accept Sneha because Shreya had accepted her. She did not want to be the one to tell her the news, obviously there was no chance of them coming face to face without a new showdown. She wanted to go to the living room and ask Ajay whether he would tell Smriti’s parents about the sketches, but before that she wanted to read the diary. Instead of going down, she walked to the master bedroom and closed the door.
She read the entries that were dated after the accident day:
Dad and mom did not come to pick me up. Grandma said she called home but no one answered. I want to talk to mom. I am scared.
There is still no contact with mom and dad. Grandma says there must have been some change in plan. She wants me to stay with her for a few more days. I like it here but I want to go home. I want to meet mom and dad. I am scared.
Mom called today, I am so happy. She told me that dad, as usual, went out of town for meeting. She said she is not feeling well. I want to meet her but grandma says I should not or else I will fall sick. I don’t mind falling sick, I want to meet her. I think it is time, just as she had said. I want to meet her before she dies. I hope she does not die. God, I do not want her to die.
Grandma told me that dad had called. Mom is feeling well. Thank you God, for not calling her to meet you! I need her more than you do. Please let her live. I am so very happy that dad and mom are coming to take me home. I am bored staying here. Earlier Grandpa was so angry and Grandma was crying. I think it is because I am going back home. I want to go back home. I want to hug mom.
They came today to pick me up. Dad and her, just like mom had said! It means mom is dead. I did not meet her, why did you not let her meet me, God? She looks just like mom but she is not my mom. I could feel it when she hugged me. She is scared just like I am. I came up to pack my bags and I am writing now. She, dad, grandma and grandpa are all downstairs. I just saw the sketch again; the same one mom wanted me to keep with me. Yes, it is her. Mom told me she would come today and she did. Mom said she will love me just the way mom loved me. But, she cannot become my mom; she is just as scared as I am. How will she take care of me when I am scared? I cannot write more, I am crying, I did not want her to see my cry but I cried in front of her. Sorry mom, I could not help it. I want to stop crying now. I hear someone coming up the stairs, it must be her. I want to stop crying. I do not want her to see me crying.
Grandma and she are fighting. Grandma is yelling at her. I feel sorry for her. I want mom back, God. I am scared.
So many times I saw her watching dad. She looks at him with the kind of looks in her eyes as if she is scared of losing him. She is scared, mom how can she take care of me when I am scared? I want you to come back, mom.
Something has changed, she seems different. The way she hugged me today, it felt so good, so much like it used to feel when mom used to hug me. Is my mom back, God? Please I want mom to be back.
Yesterday I slept in dad and mom’s room because I was feeling scared. She held me close and hugged me just like mom used to hug me and I felt good. I did not feel scared anymore. I caught her staring at dad once again. I think she likes dad. We talked and giggled like we were best of friends. She can become my best friend.
I am sick. I thought of mom in school, just like I used to and she came to me. She came to school to bring me home. She could hear me, just like mom used to hear me. She sat in my room taking care of me. I know she loves me. She has become my best friend. No. She has become my mom. I heard Grandma yelling at her again. Grandma really hates her. I hope she does not take her away from me just like God took mom away from me. I had walked to the door to see when I heard her voice, she was telling Grandma to not disturb me and then she said she knew I was awake. I had to rush back to the bed and get in bed before she entered the room. She had nightmare some time back. She was fighting with Grandma she said and she said something about hurting me. She told me she pushed me in the dream but I know it must be something else. She won’t tell me. She went down to make coffee and when she came back dad followed her and they kissed. Dad loves her too. Is it wrong mom for dad to love her like this? She loves him too and that is why Grandma hates her so much. I know this. Will Grandma now hate dad too? I do not want her to hate dad, I do not want Grandma to hate her also. They both love me and I love them, God. Please tell Grandma not to hate them. Please mom let them love each other. It is okay, right? This is as it is supposed to be, right? Just like you told me? Please let Grandma know this too.
I told Grandma that I am feeling better because of mom, I mean her. I think Grandma did not like it. I also told Grandma to forget the fight and start talking to mom. I hope Grandma does not scold mom for that, I mean her. I think I will mention her as mom from now onwards. I know mom would want that. Right, mom? I am feeling tired, I will sleep for some time now.
Sneha closed the diary. Her vision was blurred because of the tears that were in her eyes. A lot many tears had already escaped from her eyes and wet her cheeks and neck. There was a knock on the door and Sneha wiped away the tears.
“Mom” she heard the voice and immediately she was on her toes. She hid the diary under her pillow and opened the door after making sure she had wiped away the tears properly.
“Are you crying again, mom? Did Grandma say something?” Shreya questioned walking close to Sneha.
“Yes, but this was the last time. I promise we would not fight again. Now that you have told Grandma not to fight with me, I think she will understand.” Sneha said moving her fingers through Shreya’s hair.
“I hope so. I do not want you both to fight.” Shreya said and hugged Sneha.
Sneha wondered how she was going to disclose to Shreya that she had read her diary and was aware that Shreya knew she was not her mom. Was it really necessary? She thought after a while.
Her cell phone vibrated and distracted her mind from the torturing thoughts.
“I will go back to my room, now.” Shreya said and then added, “Can I have my diary back?”
Sneha was taken aback. Without saying a word she walked back to the bed and pulled out the diary and handed it back to Shreya.
“I love you” Shreya said and after a while added “mom” and fresh tears welled up in Sneha’s eyes as Shreya turned around and walked out of the room.
The cell phone vibrated again. She saw the display. It was one of her friends from the cafeteria. She was not in the mood to attend the call.
She walked out of the room and saw Smriti’s parents and Ajay sitting on the couch together. It seemed as if Ajay had finally made up his mind of telling them about the truth. Was it really necessary? She thought but then told herself that it was Ajay’s life and entirely his decision as to what he wanted to do with the information.
When she reached the living room, Smriti’s mother looked up at her and smiled. For a moment, Sneha was confused. She thought it was a smile of acceptance but what Smriti’s mother said later felt like a huge blow in the pit of her stomach.
“Now that Shreya knows you are not her mother, I think it is time for you to pack your bags and go back to your lonely life. Good riddance.” And she smiled again.
Sneha turned to look at Ajay who was sitting with his head in his hands, too dejected to say anything. Sneha realized even she was not in the mood to argue.
“Fine.” She said finally and then added “I will go right-away but I want you to do one thing for me…” she knew Smriti’s mother would not reply so she continued anyways. “You have to be the one to tell Shreya that I have left because you wanted me to go and I want you to read her diary.” Saying so Sneha walked out of the main door. She was relieved that Shreya knew the truth and she knew that she would be coming back. The last sketch was still to happen. Sneha smiled as she realized that even Smriti’s mother knew it. Ajay had obviously shown her the sketch book. Sneha had walked out of the house but she did not mean to walk out of their lives. Ajay and Shreya meant the world to her now and she was where she was supposed to be. She needed fresh air.
.. The Freeing
.. The Freeing