“Pia!! Oh my god!!”
We had turned off the printing press and asked the construction workers to help us search for Pia. The building was suddenly engulfed in silence and Suraj’s panic stricken voice reached all of us.
I raced towards the direction of Suraj’s voice. He was at the bottom of the stairs, frantically moving some debris around. Then I saw her, Pia, her tiny form, underneath some stone and wood.
“Suraj!” I called out, running to catch up with him.. “Pia?”
I looked around and saw the broken handrail on the weak staircase, from where Pia had most probably slipped or fallen. The fall didn’t look that bad. Maybe she had fractured her foot or hurt her arm.. I ran downstairs, careful where I stepped. This part of the building was the first on City Council’s radar for demolition. I had told Pia to be careful and which parts of the building she was not to roam around in. Kids! Why don’t they just listen?
I reached the last step and I froze.
Pia was unconscious, her hair was caked in blood, her face a deathly white.. I didn’t say anything, just dropped to my knees and joined Suraj in the frantic digging. Pia had most probably tried to grab a lot of things to stop her fall and most of it had fallen on her. Maybe she had screamed, but none of us had heard her over the sound of the printing press.
“Go start the car, I’ll get her and come..” Suraj ordered. I bolted outside. The others were just making their way down. They too had heard Suraj’s voice..
“Is she okay?” Prasad asked.
“Call the hospital, tell them we are getting a very injured girl and to be ready for her.” I said while running past him. Prasad stared at me in shock for a while and then fumbled to get his cell phone out..
Suraj got in the back holding Pia. His shirt was soaked in blood. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Suraj was hurt and not Pia. I drove like a maniac, Shantanu had offered to drive, but I had declined. I needed to do something, to prevent myself from going crazy.
“Is she breathing?” I asked hesitantly, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to hear the answer.
“No..” Suraj answered softly.. I prepared myself for the worst.
The hospital air felt cold and clammy. I was sitting in the waiting room with my parents. We had been waiting for over an hour now. With every minute, our hopes increased. My parents were holding hands, gaining strength from each other.
I looked down at my own hands, stark white. I had clenched my fist so tightly that all the blood had drained out.
Shantanu came over and sat next to me.. He put his hand on my shoulder. I glanced at him, I wanted him to say something comforting, but no words came.. There was nothing to say.
“I’m sorry.. She’s no more..”
I heard what the doctor was saying, but I couldn’t comprehend it. It just wasn’t possible. I had let her out of my sight for only a couple of hours..
Shantanu led me to her room holding me by the hand. If he had let go, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the strength to walk inside. I felt zapped, devoid of emotions and feelings.. It all seemed like a bad dream to me. Any moment now, I was going to snap out of it.
I stood outside the hospital room and looked in through the window. I could see Pia’s slight form under the sheets. I bit my lips to stop myself from crying. I couldn’t break down now. I had to be strong, for myself, for my parents..
Shantanu followed me to the room, but I sent him out. I needed to be alone in my grief.
I touched her bandaged forehead. Her skin, so cold, so unlike her warm self. And then I held her hand and I tried to cry but I couldn’t. I felt nothing, except mind numbing emptiness..
I handled all the formalities, sparing my parents the gory details. My parents had completely fallen apart. Whatever strength they had regained after Di’s death was over in a whisper. They leaned on me for support and this time, I did not run away.
Through Pia’s cremation I accepted people’s condolences, entertained their curious harsh questions about how she had fallen. I was even asked to talk to the police because they thought Pia had committed suicide. They thought she had a reason because her parents had passed away, she was seeing a therapist and because she was having some trouble in school. I stayed aloof and untouched through it all.
I personally, still couldn’t accept that Pia was gone. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Pia was perfectly fine somewhere.. I didn’t know the girl who had died. It was sad, but she wasn’t Pia. Shantanu had another explanation for my numbness.. He called it denial. Effortlessly, he had transformed from being Pia’s therapist to mine.
Slowly with Shantanu’s help, things became better. I knew, wherever Pia was, Di would look after her now. He made me understand, that Pia’s death, just like Di’s was an accident. Nobody could have foreseen it. Some days, Shantanu and I would sit in his office and laugh about the things Pia would do.. Then eventually, we would realize that Pia wasn’t with us anymore and I would choke up, but I could never cry.
A couple of weeks after Pia’s death, when I was ready to pick up the broken pieces of my life, I received some legal papers. It was my adoption application for Pia. It had come through but I had lost my daughter before I even had her. I had stayed stoic through it all, through her cremation, through her death ceremony but now, as I held the papers in my hand, I felt the pain. It seared through me like a knife, leaving me cut open and dangerously wounded. I felt my eyes welling up and I welcomed the tears. Today, I would finally be able to grieve for my daughter.