I was skeptical about the change, but figured, we had nothing to lose. We accepted her invite and made our way inside her modest house.
“Mrs Gurung says you stayed here when you were a child.” She asked before I crossed the threshold of her house. She must have called Mrs. Gurung to confirm whether she really knew us. Gossip spread like fire in small neighborhood like this and a child looking for her parents was the kind of stuff that would provide the fodder for generations to come.
Prachi rolled her eyes. “We’re not sure about that yet.” Prachi answered for me in a brusque manner.
“Be nice!” I whispered in Prachi’s ear as she passed me.
Prachi shrugged and followed the lady in.
“I am not sure,” I started “Maybe I’m completely off course. So, I was hoping you could tell me more about the family that stayed here.”
The little lady turned towards me, her smile was a little hard to interpret. “Well, of course. I wish I could have told you something of use. But I moved in here some ten years back. This house was abandoned even then.”
My face fell. Every time I dared to be little hopeful, it turned out to be a dead end.
“Anyone who you think will remember?” Prachi asked.
“Well, I could certainly ask around, but why don’t you just ask your parents?” The lady was trying to extract information out of us. Neither of us fell for it.
“Thank you for your help.” Prachi said, getting up. “Maybe we should ask the other neighbors too?” Prachi turned towards me.
I nodded, trying to hide my disappointment.
“Why don’t you stay a while? Mrs. Gurung is coming over.” The lady insisted.
Prachi looked positively livid, “Absolutely no..”
“We’d love to.” I finished the sentence for her. Prachi glared at me.
“Oh.. You know what, I’ll call some other ladies over, maybe they’ll know something.” She said gleefully and disappeared into her room, presumably to call all her friends.
“What’s wrong with you?” Prachi asked me in disbelief. “Don’t you know what this is? They are just going to gather here, listen to your story and pass it on to somebody.”
I smiled, sometimes, Prachi could be so naïve. “Isn’t that great?”
Prachi looked at me as though I had lost my marbles. “Great??? What’s so great about it?”
“Prachi! Don’t you see? Maybe one of those women will know something. Or somebody they talk to, might know something.”
“Ummm.. Aren’t you worried about what you might find? I mean..” She hesitated. “Ok.. never mind.”
The unspoken words were heavy in the air. I knew exactly what she was thinking. I was perfectly aware that there was a very high chance that I was an illegitimate child. But really, was I to care about my birth mother’s “reputation”?
Why should I anyway? She had abandoned me. What did I care what people in her old neighborhood thought of her.
Prachi suddenly grasped my arm.
“Ira!” She exclaimed.
“What, what is it?” I looked at the wall Prachi was staring at. It was adorned with old pictures.
“What happened?” I glanced at the pictures and then at Prachi. Color had all but drained from her face.
“Look at this picture.” She pointed at a picture hung on the wall. Nothing special about it. The picture focused on two little boys playing in the lawn, happy faces. I couldn’t understand what had captured Prachi’s attention.
“What, Prachi?” I asked helplessly.
“Don’t you see?” Prachi took the picture off the wall and pointed. And then I saw it. In the background was the house. My house. And in front of the house was a woman with her back to the camera, holding up a baby.
There was no doubt about it. I had seen a million of my baby photos.
The baby in the picture in the woman’s arms was me.