I got down on my knees and beckoned to her.
“Go away!” She screamed. I could see her lower lip quivering. I could tell she wanted to be held and comforted.
“Pia, don’t be like this. I’m sorry. I should have been here with you. I am so sorry. Please Pia.” I was begging, but I didn’t care. I just wanted her to forgive me.
“Will you forgive me Pia?” I asked.
She watched me warily and then, when it got too much for her, she flung her arms around my neck.
I held her tight and felt an odd sense of calm fall over me. The six months of uneasiness left me temporarily and I knew I was doing the right thing.
“You sound just like her.” Pia mumbled, still holding on to me.
How many times had I heard that before? People could never tell whether it was me or my sister over the phone.
“I know baby.” I pushed her hair back and took a good look at her.
Swollen eyes, probably from lack of sleep or from too much crying. No color on her cheek, she probably hadn’t stepped out in the sun for a long time. Then my hand brushed past the scar on her chin. I titled her head and ran my finger gently along the long scar.
It wasn’t this scar that I was worried about.
“You’ve been crying too much?” I asked her.
“I try not to,” She was trying to be brave. “Gramdma told me mommy and daddy are in heaven now. So I shouldn’t be sad but I just miss them.”
The way she said it, so simply, it tore me apart. I choked up. Be strong, I told myself. She needs you to be strong.
“I miss them too Pia.” She let go of me and looked at me. Those big brown eyes, brimming with tears.
“Do you think they miss me?”. I smiled involuntarily. She was worried that wherever her parents were, they wouldn’t miss her. I chose my words carefully.
“Of course Pia. Your parents loved you. Of course they miss you.”
Her face broke into a smile, “Really?”
“Yes baby. They miss you like crazy and they don’t want you to be sad. They want you to be happy.” My answer seemed to have satisfied her and she looked visibly happier.
“What did you get me this time??” Her grief temporarily overshadowed by her desire to get a present.
I hadn’t got her anything materialistic, but I made a decision then and there.
“I have a surprise for you.” The word surprise worked like magic on her.
“Surprise?!? What is it!!” I laughed at her enthusiasm. It was contagious.
“I can’t tell you right away. You’ll have to wait okay?” I could see her mentally conjuring up images of what her present could be.
“Is it a puppy? Or Roller skates?? A cell phone???” The possibilities were endless and her eyes sparkled with anticipation.
“For what??” Pia was dismayed that she would have to wait for her present for longer than she already had.
“I have to talk to your Grandma before that.” I didn’t know what I was going to say to my mum. But I will think about it when I have to. Right now, I was busy pampering Pia.
Pia chattered on about something. It didn’t even matter what she was saying. I was so relieved that she was talking to me. I just sat quietly and let her talk. I heard the door open and saw my mum and dad peeping inside. They hadn’t heard Pia laughing for a long time.
Relief was apparent on their faces. They both stepped inside gingerly, worried that any moment Pia would see them and stop talking. Pia did see them, but she grabbed my mum’s hand and took her somewhere, most probably trying to sweet talk her into agreeing to my conditions for Pia’s gift. I could hear my mum laughing on her way down.
I looked at my father and suddenly I was nervous. I had ignored his earlier calls, desperate calls to get me home.
“Dad..” I started. I had no explanation to give, but I had to try.
“Don’t.” My dad put up his hand and stopped me.
“I was really mad at you Khushi,” he continued, “ I was wondering what kind of a heartless daughter I had.”
I looked at him, suddenly hurt. I knew I had done wrong, but I was trying to make things better.
“But today, I heard Pia and Poonam laugh for the first time since the..” He steeled himself, “ since the accident. And I’m very glad you came.” He smiled at me.
There’s no better place to be, when you are hurt, than in your father’s arms. And that’s where I was.
Just like that, the house became whole again.