I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just opened the door and stared at her.
“Aren’t you going to ask me in?” She asked stiffly.
“Yeah,.. sure.. come in..” Prachi moved past me and invited her in.
I didn’t know how I was supposed to be with her. Yesterday, she had thrown me out of her house, today I found out, she was the reason that I was abandoned. At the moment, I couldn’t think up of one person I liked lesser. I kept my eyes down, hoping she wouldn’t notice the confusion and anger in them. Why had she come?
“Ira.” She called me. “Please don’t misunderstand me. I loved Mili very much.” She was looking at me with this look in her eye. I couldn’t understand what it was.
“Whatever I did, I did it for her.” She continued.
“So you made her give up her baby?” I couldn’t hide the bitterness in my voice. “What kind of a person are you?” it was out before I could stop it.
I was glaring at her now. “Why did you come here anyway? Its too late to apologize now.”
“Ira! Stop it” Prachi stepped in between the both of us.
“Let her be Prachi,” Surprisingly, she didn’t looked perturbed by my accusations. “Let her get it all out once and for all. Then maybe she’ll listen to me.”
Her calmness was agitating me more.
“Ira, I think you should listen to what she has to say. What is done, is done. You can’t change all that now. Just give her a chance.” Prachi was trying to be the moderator.
I turned away silently. Taking my silence for approval, she began.
“Mili and I were best of friends. After I got married and moved in next to her house, we were inseparable. And I watched her whole family collapse. There was nothing I could do. Her father died, her brother disappeared and all the responsibility fell on Mili’s slender shoulders. She was practically living with us, because I didn’t want her to stay in the big house all by herself. Then she met your father, ” Her tone was becoming gentler, her voice soft. “They were very much in love, but then things started falling apart and Mili,” She stopped for a moment to compose herself. “Something died in Mili with the end of that relationship. She changed overnight. And then she found out about you.”
I turned, I wanted to look at her when she was telling me this part. To my surprise, there was no guilt or remorse on her face.
“I knew she couldn’t keep you. It was still taboo and Mili was so young, there was nothing that was stopping her from settling down, except you.” She looked directly, as though blaming me for ruining Mili’s life. I started to protest when she silenced me with a hand. “No,” She said, “Don’t interrupt me. I have just come to tell you what happened. I don’t expect you to like me, because you’ll never understand how the situation was back then. So let me just finish what I have to say, and then I’ll leave.”
“So I took her in, for all the time that she carried you. Her work suffered, because I couldn’t have her walking around. People in small towns can be particularly vicious. And as soon as you were healthy enough, I sent you to an orphanage far away. I knew Mili would search all around for you and I wanted to make sure she didn’t find you and she didn’t. Of course, she hated me for doing it, but I was right. Pretty soon, Mili settled down with a nice man, raised a nice family.” She looked at me, almost daring me to challenge her decisions.
“And then killed herself.” The unsaid words were heavy in the air. I had nothing to ask her. I would never find out what had gone through Mili’s mind. I was exhausted and emotionally drained. And then I recognized the look on her face. She was looking for acceptance. She wanted me to tell her it was okay, that Mili’s death wasn’t her fault, that she had done nothing except try and help.
I stared at her blankly. She sighed deeply and rose out of the chair.
“I better get going then.” She was slowly making her way to the door when I heard myself say, “Stop.”
She turned around hopefully. I sighed, I didn’t know why I was doing it, but it just felt right.
“I’m sure, deep down, she knew, you were just trying to help. Thank you..” I said. “Thank you for loving her so much.”
As her eyes welled up, she reached into her bag and pulled out a bundle of unopened letters.
“Even though she never spoke to me after that, she sent me a letter, every year. For you.” She handed me the old letters. All of them were addressed, in a petite handwriting ‘To my darling daughter’
I held on to them, they were soon to become my most prized position.
“Take care Ira. Call me sometimes,” She gave me a half smile and walked out of the room. The aura in the room had changed. I know I am going to sound crazy, but I felt as though some good spirit was passing through the room. Maybe my mother would have witnessed the whole scene and was glad, that finally, I got all her letters.
I was ready to leave. I had decided not to meet Vishal. There was no point upsetting his family with the news of an illegitimate daughter. I did, decide to call him and let him know that I was leaving.
“You’re not going to come, are you?” He asked, even before I said hello.
I smiled, “No, I got to know whatever I wanted to. I don’t want to intrude anymore.”
“But..” he started.
“Please don’t try to stop me, I have to leave now, when things are clear to me. If I meet you I might get all messed up again.” I pleaded.
“Promise me you’ll keep in touch?” He asked.
“I promise.” As I said it, I knew this was a promise I was going to break.
“Hey, by the way,Lyka littered.” I heard him say as I hung up.
Eight hours later, I was home, where I belonged. I still hadn’t opened the letters. I wasn’t sure whether I should open them and be disappointed if they didn’t match up to my expectations or keep them sealed and change the contents of the letters in my imagination each time.
Life quickly went back to normal. It was as though nothing had changed. I was even beginning to forget what had happened.
Three months later, there was a special delivery for me.
There was an adorable pup who had been sent all the way from the hills.
The card said, “Love, mum & dad.”