This is the second and final part of this story. Catch up with the beginning here!
Do let me know your thoughts!
The loud red balloon seemed completely out of place amidst the metallic darkness of the car and the mental darkness of our hearts. It bobbed merrily in my hand as if it was excited to meet the tiny hands that may never again hold it.
Sucheta was reading the email again.
“Sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to tell you in person or over the phone.
We tried our very best. I am truly very sorry.
Dr Raj Mohan Das”
I put my arm around her as gravity plucked the brine from her eyes.
“We know Dr Das very well. He has gone out of his way to help us so many times. This time, we just weren’t that lucky.”
Sucheta looked lost. She scrolled through the photos on her phone. Paro laughing at a joke. Paro next to Santa Claus. Paro on the new metro train. She then stopped at one video. Paro’s birthday – the day everything changed.
“Akka, I am so happy you took us both in. You are too kind. I never thought I would ever see Paro’s birthday being celebrated!” Devi chatted gaily as she taped the colourful festoons to the wall.
“I will be truthful with you, Devi. It was a tough decision for me, but I already know what a child is to a mother. I can’t imagine them being separated. After all the sacrifices you have made for her, I did not want to be the constriction of your motherly love.”
Sucheta got down from her stool and held Devi’s hands.
“In fact, I must thank you for being brave enough to give her to me.” She smiled and both women stared into each other’s eyes, gratitude flooding them.
They then continued working on the decorations. I sat in one corner, diligently performing my balloon-blowing duty and observed their open conversation. It was a safe time to talk about ‘the matters’ as Paro was sleeping in her room upstairs. They could never speak freely as she was always around helping Amma or Devi Akka (as they called her in The Home.)
“Your husband, does he still trouble you?” My wife enquired.
“He stays in a separate house now, five streets away. Sometimes, after a heavy drink, he knocks at my door fiercely and demands to be let in. Usually, I do not open it and pray for the daylight to seep in. But at times, he is too powerful despite his drunken stupor and barges in. Such nights are the worst. The things he did to me, no one should ever face. Especially my little girl. I am thankful that my daughter can grow up in such a loving atmosphere.” A lone tear escaped her eyes and Sucheta lay a comforting arm on her shoulder.
“Your daughter?” A tiny voice came from behind me. All the occupants of the room froze.
“Your daughter? What are you saying Devi Akka?” She stomped in.
No one replied. We were all too astounded to react.
“Why aren’t any of you answering?” She walked towards Devi and glared at her fiercely.
“Am I to believe you are my mother? How can you be? Why would any mother put her child in that horrible place? Why?”
“Because our house was even more horrible,” Devi answered quietly.
“We are going to be late! They are going to finish all the ceremonies by the time you reach! Can’t you go a little faster?” I screamed at the driver.
Sucheta rubbed my back and asked me to calm down.
“I’m trying my best, sir! There has been a fire accident! That’s why we are moving slowly! See, you can even see the fire now!” The driver ranted innocently. What he didn’t know was that fire had a new meaning to us. It meant death.
“Are you sure about this, Devi?” Sucheta voiced, worry clearly evident in her quaver.
“Yes, Akka. Even when I worked in the orphanage, I longed to show Paro her thuli (cloth cradle), the house where she was born and most importantly, myself as her mother. Every day, I used to look out for Paro as I swept the grounds of The Home. My heart would flutter at the very sight of her. How I longed to hug her and kiss her. Fate prevented me from doing that but was at least kind enough to allow me to see my angel every day. Not anymore!”
Paro was visibly excited about spending a night at her birthplace. For a person who was never told stories of her birth and infanthood, for a person who never knew the face of her birth mother, this was indeed a very big deal.
“I’ll be back tomorrow, Amma. Don’t you worry.” Paro pecked at Sucheta’s cheeks and gave me a hug.
“What about your husband, Devi?” I asked.
“He doesn’t come these days. I don’t even know what he is up to. Don’t worry, I will guard Paro with my life as I always have.” With that, Devi bid us her goodbye and walked away cheerfully with her daughter.
Next day, we were woken up early morning again by the frantic ringing of the doorbell. A dishevelled lady, her saree hurriedly draped around her and her hair in a messy bun awaited us impatiently.
“Sir! Ma’am! Please hurry up! Devi and her daughter are in the hospital! They want to see you!”
“What has happened?” My wife asked, suddenly awakened from lingering slumber.
The lady hit herself on her forehead and wailed, “That bloody drunken rascal lit their house on fire!”
As expected, we were late for the ceremony. We never got to see that wonderful person’s face again for the last time. The last memory we have of her is she treading away with her daughter cheerfully.
We arrived just in time to see Paro being hoisted into one of the jeeps of the ‘Women and Child Welfare Department.’
“Paro!!! Paro!!!” Sucheta screamed as she saw our daughter lifelessly clamber in. At her voice, she turned around with a sudden spurt of energy. She broke free from her apprehenders and ran towards us.
As the balloon soared in the sky, the three of us hugged each other in full audience of the policemen, the department folks and the crematorium workers. We did not care. This was the last time we would be together as a family. And we would do anything to extend it as long as we can.
We were roughly pulled apart by the department men when Sucheta begged them for one more minute.
“Paro, here is something for you.”
She handed over her sheet of paper where she had written Thiruvalluvar’s wise words of self-respect and bravery.
“Be brave my heart.” She kissed her on the forehead as we were tugged away.
We would never adopt any other child, even if the negligence case against us is dropped. There would be no one like Paro, our daughter.
Just as she boarded the car, she shouted, “I will miss my mother.”
I wanted to know which one. Both mothers had sacrificed too much. One lay lifeless, the other lay lifeless in a living body. But then, I did not. Some doubts are never meant to be cleared.
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