“Daddy, daddy”, the little girl squealed excitedly, as she wrapped herself around his legs. The tall man looked down in surprise and smiled at being mauled by two tiny hands. Sonal rushed towards them and apologized with some embarassment, “I’m really sorry…Rhea…my daughter…I’m sure she didn’t mean to disturb…she mistook you for someone else…”.
“That’s absolutely fine, she’s adorable !”, remarked the handsome stranger and gently detangling Rhea, chucked her under the chin and turned around to continue shooting darts at the stall, trying to win a stuffed puppy for his son.
“Baby, how many times have I told you…” Sonal started off, and two bright little eyes fast filling up with tears looked back at her. “Awww” She stopped herself, instantly pinning a smile on her face and suggesting “come on now, let’s have some yummy yummy ice-cream, shall we?” After mother and daughter had finished enjoying their strawberry cones, and whooped with delight on almost all the car and train rides, they were finally exhausted. They left the fair, sat into their car and drove home.
Within moments little Rhea, now exhausted by the days excitement, moved to the back seat, cuddled her favorite teddy bear and slowly nodded off to sleep. Sonal smiled indulgently at her daughter’s sleeping image in the rear-view mirror and absently switched on the tape recorder. It was playing one of their favorite songs, “Kabhi alvida na kehna”. She froze, her gaze fixed on the road ahead, but her mouth was twitching and her throat was beginning to hurt terribly. Was it the ice-cream, she wondered. “I hope I’m not getting a cold, I have to get back to work tomorrow….have an important meeting with the CEO…then there’s the audit next month…and school fees to be paid…there’s so much to do! I can’t afford to fall sick right now!” her palm slammed the steering wheel, even as her eyes pricked.
“Drive slowly, Dhruv, what’s the hurry?”
“Sonal darling, why don’t you enjoy the ride and leave the driving to me?” smiled Dhruv, speeding down the expressway.
“But with Rhea around, we must be more careful”
“Ok fine, now please will you let me concentrate on the road….hmmm…chaltey chaltey, meri yeh geet yaad rakhna….” Dhruv hummed in his baritone voice, as the tires ate up the road.
Suddenly, without warning, a lorry overtook them from behind and shot past them, and Dhruv swerved wildly. The last think Sonal remembered before slipping out of consciousness was that Dhruv and Rhea were lying unconscious in their badly damaged car, the beige seats now tainted with bold splashes of a deep red.
A month in the hospital and Sonal and Rhea returned home. Yes, the same beautiful home Dhruv had built for them. It looked the same but didn’t feel the same. Someone had put up lots of pictures of Daddy and Rhea on the walls now. The house was just as it was, the same huge widescreen TV, big comfortable sofas, bright yellow curtains… but somehow, it seemed too quiet, and vacant.
“Honk ..honk”, a jeep bellowed from behind, and jolted Sonal out of her reverie. Her eyes shone with unshed tears, she was too tired to cry. She swallowed down the lump in her throat, yet again, and softly whispered “Why me, why my child?” the anger building up within her. Pulling the car to the side of the road she slumped onto the steering wheel and cried out “How will I complete this journey, this long journey, all by myself? No, I’m too tired. I can’t do this any more. Help me, please!”. Deeply troubled with no answer to her constant questions she looked up to the skies, and almost screamed “You are cruel! Mean, heartless!”.
Sonal hoarse whisper must have been louder than she thought, because Rhea suddenly stirred in her sleep, but then, once again cuddled her teddybear tightly and smiled in her sleep. “My angel..” sighed Sonal, composing herself. She could not have Rhea seeing her in this condition.. broken and her spirit bruised. She turned around to watch her daughter’s serene face .. her beautiful mop of curly black hair inherited from Dhruv, her lovely dimpled cheeks, her pink lips curved in a small smile, her plump little arms wrapped tightly around Teddy. “Wonder what she is be dreaming of? It must be something pleasant..Ice-cream, probably. Toys ! Or her Daddy ?”
Sonal took a deep breath, stole one last look at her daughter and changed the tape. “Dus bahane kar ke le gayi dil” lifted her mood and she mustered enough strength to complete her journey back home, just as the setting sun set the roads awash with it golden rays.