A Twilight Tale

In the Evening

It was 6.00 PM and the days were getting shorter already. Winter had set in earlier than usual.Related image

Hardly a week after Diwali, and I was beginning to feel cold.

Who would have believed that I had led a battalion in the icy cold conditions around Kargil?

Ram Singh my faithful personal attendant from the service days came with a shawl. Draping it around my shoulders he asked

“Sir , shall we go inside”?

But I wanted some more time to engage with the world outside .. After all what else can a man do when he is bound to a wheel chair?

“A little later” I said

I looked out at the park opposite my house.  The lamps around the pathways had come on.

The voices of the playing children had reduced.  A mother  could be heard shouting somewhere “Come on , it is getting dark, let’s go home”

My eyes looked through the descending darkness and found what they were seeking.

She was sitting on the same bench under the tree! A thin young woman in track pants and a jacket.

I had spotted her about a month ago. It was the early days of when I had moved into the flat. I was still coming to terms with my disability, sitting in solitude and refusing to meet anybody.

Grief, they say can spot its companion easily. So may be, that was what had drawn me to her. Like me she was sitting all alone, staring into space. I wondered what was bothering her so much. Going by her dress and general appearance it looked like she was from a well to do family.

And then it had become a pattern, I would sit every evening and observe her. She would come around 4.30 and would sit there bathed in the twilight, until darkness descended.

She never looked up at me or at anybody who passed by. Sitting up on the balcony I often wanted to ask her what it was that was bothering her so much. But then even in the days when I was fit and able I was never the type to engage in conversation with any stranger.

So I let it pass.

Ram Singh was back now fussing around and saying that I needed to come inside and eat.

Eat?

Hell!! I wanted a drink!

I let him wheel me inside the house and asked him to pour me a drink! He looked at me doubtfully… I told him to stop behaving like he was my mother..! I immediately felt bad about being so harsh with him. But I know he understood because so many years of working with me had made him accustomed to my moods

As I took a sip from the glass he brought to me, my mind began to replay once again, the events that took place not so long ago. A war where I had lost a lot of my men and my limbs! They had offered me a medal for bravery while at the same time discharging me from service.

A fat disability pension was small compensation for a life like this!

I had known no life outside of the Army. An only child, I had lost my parents early in my life. After finishing my  education at the Sainik School, I joined the National Defence Academy. I was seventeen at that time.

Since then the army had been my home and family. And today after twenty three years I suddenly found myself all alone.

Ram Singh was back again, asking me if I wanted to eat. I agreed…more to relieve him of this responsibilities for the night. I knew  he would not eat or retire for the night until I was fed and settled in my bed.

At Night

I lay in bed, tossing around, to the extent my limited movement would allow. It was like this  every night nowadays. I lay awake until late into the night before dropping off after midnight. I was up again early in the morning.

I tried to read but nothing seemed to interest me these days. The music that I used to once love also failed to soothe my disturbed mind.

I wished, Ram Singh hadn’t drawn the curtains around my bedroom window. I would have liked to look outside. But he was of the opinion that a dark room with curtains drawn would help me sleep better.  He also felt that going out of the house for a drive to do some mundane things might help me. But then where would I go?  I did not know the ways of the ordinary folk or the “civilians” as we service people liked to refer to them.

May be, I would go shopping for groceries tomorrow. May be it was time I started getting interested in the price of rice, wheat and vegetables I thought, wryly as I closed my eyes.

That Afternoon

To say Ram Singh was surprised when I told him that I wanted to go to the market, was an understatement! But he composed himself quickly and said he would get the car out for me.

It was quite a manoeuvre, trying to get myself out of the wheel chair and into the car. But the ride did a lot to lift my mood. The weather was fine and the traffic light as it was in the afternoon that we went out.

We parked outside the market and I watched Ram Sigh bargain with a fruit seller asking him to reduce the price of the oranges. Strange, how I had never been part of these mundane domestic tasks!! Having never been married, it was Ram Singh who ran my household. I wondered if it would have been different had I been married? There was a time when I had considered marriage .. but that was quite some time ago.. Another one of those things that was beyond me now, I thought bitterly turning my head to look out of the opposite window.

And then I saw her ! She was walking with a little boy who looked like he was about 5-6 years old, holding him with one hand and  balancing a shopping bag on the other.  The boy wanted some roasted peanuts from a vendor whose cart was parked next to my car. I watched  them both walk in my direction.

I made eye contact with the little fellow as she was  buying the peanuts. He smiled at me.

“Do you want some peanuts Uncle ?” asked the boy extending the packet towards my window.

“No thank you” I said smiling.

Ram Singh was back with the oranges. As he opened the door to put in the basket I called out to the woman “Can I offer you both a lift Ma’m?”

She looked surprised

“Thank you.no its okay we live close by’ she said with a smile.

I was amazed by how that smile transformed her plain face into something beautiful!

“It is no trouble. We will drop you home” I said asking Ram Singh to open the door for her. I don’t know whether it was Ram Singh’s formal demeanour or the aura of chivalry that I seemed to exude, that convinced her to accept my offer for a lift.

We drove along quietly, with the little fellow sitting between the two of us in the back seat.

“What is your name?” I asked him.

“My name is Vishal and my mummy’s name is Neha” he answered.

“And I am Arun” I said shaking his hand.

“I have seen you sitting in the park” I couldn’t resist myself from saying.

She looked startled. “I didn’t realize that anyone could see me there” she said

For the next few minutes, we rode in silence. I felt a compelling need to explain to her about how and why I had noticed her. But I was worried that I might upset her by talking about it.  I also wanted to ask her why she sat there looking so sad. What was bothering her?  But my courage failed me. So I held my tongue and sat quietly.

“Take a right from here and then the next left” she said directing Ram Singh.

We stopped in sometime before a red brick building- house no K 63.

“Thank you so much for the lift” she said getting out with the boy

“Bye Uncle” shouted the boy as we drove away.

I turned back to see her opening a door of a ground floor flat and going in. The little boy was still standing on the road waving at our car.

Afterwards

The next day, I waited for her to show up at the park. But she didn’t. When three days had passed without her coming to the park, I began to have crazy thoughts about sending Ram Singh to her house to find out why she hadn’t come.

And then  a week later I asked Ram Singh at 4.30 in the evening to take me for a drive around the colony. I did not want him to know where I actually wanted to go, so I made him take me two blocks away, make a U turn and get into K block. There was a peanut seller at the turning. I made Ram Sigh stop there and bought a packet of nuts.

“Shall we go home now Sir” he asked me

“Yes. But let’s just drop by that little boy’s house. I will give him these peanuts” I said.

Ram Singh reversed and tried to turn the car in the opposite direction.

“Where are you going Sir?” asked the peanut seller.

“Into the next lane” said Ram Singh

“You can’t go that side. There is a barricade there” said the peanut seller.

“Why? What is the matter” I asked pulling down the window?

“I don’t know Sir. The police have put up the barricade there” he said shrugging his shoulders

I was intrigued and asked Ram Singh to go there any way.

Sure enough, there was a barricade. I rolled down the window and called out to a police constable standing outside asking what was the matter.

“Suicide case Sir’ he said in a bored way

Suicide…! Where? Who?

A lady came out of the red brick building. I called out to her “Excuse me Ma’am what is this suicide that the police are talking about”

“Oh my God!! It was terrible!  Yesterday our neighbour, a lovely young lady on the ground floor, committed suicide. Sent her son away to her mother’s house and hung herself. Poor thing, she was in a very unhappy marriage. Her husband was a real monster. Used to constantly shout at her and throw things around the house’ she said clucking her tongue.

I felt my heart sink. I did not have to ask for the name of the woman who had taken her life. I just knew…

Anger was the first thing I felt and then a sense of helplessness. What could I have done, I wondered, even if I had known about what she was going through.

I don’t know when we reached home but when Ram Singh settled me on my chair on the balcony I couldn’t stop my tears. Oh, why hadn’t I spoken to her earlier! I blamed myself again and again for not reaching out to her. My own sadness had me so inwardly focussed ….!

Ram Singh was back again with a glass of whiskey…! The man was amazing at sensing my moods and feelings!

I took a sip, then another and another and soon drained my glass.

I don’t know if I was drunk by then or not but I saw her sitting on the same bench. She was bathed in twilight. This time she wasn’t looking away but up at me smiling sadly as if to say “It is okay. It is not your fault”

 

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jotiverma
    Aug 15, 2018 @ 23:03:34

    Couldn’t control my tears

    Reply

  2. Anu singhal
    Aug 16, 2018 @ 07:23:13

    Gripping story enjoyed reading and end was captivating

    Reply

  3. Parthasarathi K
    Aug 16, 2018 @ 08:28:17

    Very sad ending. If unhappy marriage and cruel husband were the causes, many women suffer the same.Neha seems weak minded.May be if the man had met her earlier and befriended her, he could have dissuaded her from the extreme step.
    Very nicely written.

    Reply

    • Meera
      Aug 16, 2018 @ 10:58:21

      Yes, I guess so. Hers was a sad life and each person deals with sadness differently. I suppose the man could have made his move earlier and spoken to her. It might have helped. Thank you once again KP for your encouragement. Readers like you make me continue writing

      Reply

  4. Gunjika Vishwanath Misra
    Aug 16, 2018 @ 13:47:45

    Sooooooooo brilliant. I love your stories, Meera! You are sooo blessed.

    Reply

  5. Syamala Chenulu
    Aug 16, 2018 @ 15:48:27

    Sad but possible. I love the way it ends. Keep writing Meera. Are there others?

    Reply

  6. anin2804
    Aug 17, 2018 @ 12:02:44

    Meera, I read this story two days back and re-read it again today.
    . It is so thought provoking. My thoughts and feelings go out for Neha and to Arun, both. Neha, like so many others are the victims of a bad marriage and ends up her life, in a moment of helplessness when she feels there is no getting away. And Arun, yes, how many times we think of meeting, talking, extending ourselves to some one. Sometimes we delay, we postpone, we think there is tomorrow when we can do it, maybe today its just not right. And then the person is gone beyond our own realm and we are left with remorse and ‘íf-only’ feeling.

    Loved reading this story and waiting for more.

    Reply

  7. Meera
    Aug 18, 2018 @ 14:48:33

    Ani, thank you so much for reading it closely. And ofcourse for empathizing with the characters.

    Reply

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