Prachi and I stared at the picture for a long time. I was a splitting image of the lady in the picture.
“Ira,” Prachi said softly, “I think you found her.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t need to.
“Do you have any idea, where she is now?” I asked Aunty.
She shook her head slowly. “She moved out a long time ago. Sometimes, she came back to visit her family. But she never came and met me.” I detect a tinge of sadness in her voice. “We were best of friends, from school. And she just disappeared.” She sighed heavily and pulled the album on to her lap and started flipping through the photographs.
I turned towards Prachi, who nodded encouragingly. Could I dare to hope that this lady in front of me knew who my father was? There was no other way to ask her.
“Did you know she was going to have a baby?” I asked, I kept my head down. For some reason, I was embarrassed to ask her this question.
She looked up at me thoughtfully, “Come to think of it, no..”
“So there was no man in her life?” I asked.
She laughed, a little too hard, “Mili..” She paused, “Mili always had a guy around.” She said. I didn’t like the way she stressed on the word always. I stayed silent.
“Don’t get me wrong,” She said hurriedly. “Mili, was the kind of girl, everyone loved and adored. But she always wanted someone she knew she could never have. Why, half the boys from school would have married her, had she given them any signs.” She looked away, lost in her thoughts.
I glanced at the picture again. Sure, the woman smiling back at me was pretty, but she wasn’t of the “drop-dead gorgeous” variety. There was nothing, remarkably pretty about her.
Maybe Aunty was exaggerating, I thought to myself.
“Don’t you go on the photo..” She said, reading my mind. “Mili had a personality that could warm up a thousand hearts and a smile that could light up an entire city.”
Somehow, hearing nice things about her, made me feel nice.
“So is there no one that you can think of, who will know where she is now?” Prachi, who had been listening silently all this while, asked.
“No.. not really. I mean, she lost contact with all of us here, once her father died. And her brother moved out a month after
her his funeral. We ever heard from them again.” She sighed wistfully.
“A brother?” I asked, surprised. I didn’t know why the idea surprised me.
“Oh yes, Arjun, he was the star of the family. We all knew he was going to make it big. Good-looking, intelligent, he could have been anything he wanted to. But after his father’s death, he just faded away.”
“Did something bad happen to the family?” I asked dreadfully. I was afraid, that I was the reason, the family fell apart.
“Nobody knows. Their father died of high blood pressure.” She said. I relaxed visibly.
“Or, maybe that’s what they told everybody.” She added.
“Did you see a baby? Ever? I mean with the family?” Prachi asked.
Aunty shook her head. “Not that I can remember.”
“I’ll be right back..” Prachi announced, and walked out of the room.
As soon as Prachi left, Aunty placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Listen.. Your mother, was a very nice woman. She wasn’t the kinds who’d sleep around. The guy,” She hesitated “Must have been special.” She was saying the words I needed to hear.
I nodded. “You were her friend right?” I asked.
“Why would she leave me? At first, I thought, maybe, she didn’t have enough money.. But the family seems very well off.” I tried to hide the bitterness I felt inside.. The hatred towards this woman, who had left me, not because she could afford to raise me properly, but because she had made a mistake. She had left me to fend for myself.
“Ira, Mili loved you..” She checked herself. “I’m sure Mili loved you.”
I stared at her. “You’re lying.” I said in disbelief. “You knew about me. You knew that she had a baby!” I accused her.
“Of course not. I’m just trying to help. Why would I lie?” She defended herself.
Prachi walked in, unaware of what had just taken place. She was holding the picture from the wall.
“Here, ” She pointed at my baby picture, “This is Ira. You must have seen..” She paused suddenly, as she sensed the sudden tension in the atmosphere. “What’s going on?” She asked.
“She lied to us!” I said hysterically. “She’s lying Prachi!”
“Calm down Ira, what happened?” Prachi held me by the shoulders.
“What is happening is, that I want you both to leave now.” Aunty’s face had hardened and she closed the photo album shut and held it against herself. “Leave, now.” She commanded.
“I’m not going anywhere!” I shook off Prachi’s hold on my arm and glared.
“Come on Ira, lets go.” Prachi tugged at my arm, pulling me outwards.
“No! She knows something! I’m not going anywhere till she tells me.” I was shouting, but I couldn’t keep my temper in check. Why was she hiding things from me after being so forthcoming with so many details. I just didn’t understand.
“Ira. Please.” I heard the quiet plea in Prachi’s voice.
As I turned around, I became aware of all the other ladies who had gathered there. All of them were regarding me with hostile glances. The scene could turn from bad to ugly.
“I think you should leave now Ira.” Mrs. Gurung echoed what must have been on all their minds.
Quietly, I began to make my way outside when I heard Prachi talk.
“If you ever feel like talking, please, please call me.” Prachi handed out her card, which nobody took.
She placed it on the table and walked out.
As we walked away from my past, Prachi asked thoughtfully.
“Why was she so sure that you’re Mili’s daughter and not Arjun’s?”