Anjum lay crying on the easy chair as memories played havoc in her mind. It was three weeks after Sanjeev’s death. Relatives and family had left just that morning. She wanted to be alone. She could no longer tolerate the sympathetic looks.
“What will the poor girl do now? Who will look after her? Such a big flat and nothing to look forward to anymore. What a pity.”
She pleaded, “I want to be alone, dad, please.”
Reluctantly her father asked everyone to leave and made her promise that she would take care of herself and call him if she needed anything. Some protested saying that she might hurt herself if left alone. But he trusted his daughter.
After everyone left she switched off the lights and sat on the easy chair in the balcony. The evening breeze was soothing. Their 12th floor apartment faced the sea. Far away she could see ships docked, birds flying. The sea was calm. She sat blankly staring at the sea for a long time till the view blurred before her eyes.
Her face broke into a smile.
“I knew you would fall in love with this place the moment you laid your eyes on this view,” he had said wrapping her in his arms. They had just moved into the apartment that morning.
Sighing Anjum got up from the easy chair and slowly walked through their flat. They had shifted a year ago and had decorated the place with antiques bought from various auctions. Even the furniture had the appeal of an era gone by. She had wanted every room to have its own identity. They shifted during her summer vacations so that she could decorate the place at leisure. Tripping she almost knocked the lamp from the side table.
Settling it down carefully she could almost hear Sanjeev scream, “I’ve never felt so stupid before, did you have to create such a fuss?”
They were walking out of the departmental store where a sale was on. In a corner window she had seen a champagne bottle, which she thought, would look perfect as a table lamp for their sitting room. The play of light through the green glass created an illusion of mystery. She went to the counter to ask if she could purchase it. The girl looked at her blankly and replied that it was meant for window display and not on sale. Her persistence led her through every rung of authority in that store till she was almost willing to break the bottle on the manager’s head! She failed to understand why they wouldn’t even allow her to replace the bottle in exchange.
Sanjeev had tried his best to pull her away but to no effect. He knew his wife could be very adamant at times. As they finally walked out of the store, all Anjum did was smile sweetly at her husband with her arms wrapped around the champagne bottle.
The memory made her laugh. Sanjeev was always good to her. He did vent his frustrations but always put up with her tantrums.
“What will I do without you?” she cried aloud.
She walked into the study. Sanjeev’s handsome face stared down at her. That was a result of her experiments with the digital camera he had bought her recently. Anjum loved to experiment and often flitted from one hobby to another. He always indulged her, never wanting to stifle her free spirit.
In those days she dabbled in photography. All the framed photographs in the house were taken by her except the wedding ones, of course. She had enlarged two photographs of the sea, which were breathtaking. They now hung on the living room wall. He had goaded her to send some of her pictures of street children to the newspapers. One was even published. To celebrate her new-found celebrity status, he had taken her to the local pub.
They had to hire a car as the office car was unavailable and theirs had gone to the garage. When they left the pub they saw that someone had pasted a sticker for a sari advertisement on the rear.
“How can someone do this at a private car park? Sticking a sari advert over the hiring agency sticker?” Anjum fumed and both tried to remove the sticker.
The hiring agency wouldn’t like this at all. After a few desperate scratches they were still unable to remove the sticker completely. Muttering under his breath Sanjeev decided to fetch some water thinking that might do the trick. Anjum agreed to accompany him. As they turned to go, Anjum stopped and clutched Sanjeev’s hand.
For a while they just stood staring very confused till it dawned on them that a similar car was parked just beside and had the label of Manjit’s car hire stuck on the bumper. They turned to one another and as the realisation dawned that this wasn’t their car! They burst out laughing.
The stark emptiness of the study gnawed at her. She left and went into the bedroom. Her reflection on the full-length mirror stared back at her. The last time she saw him, he was getting dressed to visit his uncle who had been hospitalised with malignant malaria.
“We’ll have dinner early. They’re screening The Godfather on Star tonight.”
She looked up. He gave her knowing smile. She had just nodded and went back to her books. She could have seen him off but continued to concentrate on her work. She heard the door click shut.
Little did she know that he would be gone forever.
She prepared dinner and then sat watching television. She started worrying when the clock struck eleven. He should have been home by now. Sanjeev was a stickler for time. She tried his mobile but couldn’t connect. Then she called his uncle’s house.
“Beta he left more than an hour back,” said Sheila auntie. Trying to sound casual Anjum had bid goodbye.
This was not like him. She tried his number again but still couldn’t connect. As the minutes ticked she breathed harder. Something was not right. She left the apartment with her keys and mobile and went down to wait for him in the garden.
The cool breeze soothed her frayed nerves as she walked into the garden. Unable to remain calm she called her father. She chatted with him mindlessly till he asked her what was wrong. She could never lie to him. He always found her out. Holding back her tears she told him. He asked her to go back to the apartment and wait for him.
As she returned to the apartment the clock struck twelve. She felt calm, now that she had spoken to her father. Then she made herself comfortable on the easy chair in the balcony. The soothing breeze lulled her to sleep.
Feeling chilled she woke up. Shaking her head she realised she had dozed off. Turning on the light in the living room she gaped. It was three o’clock. Where was dad?
Just then the doorbell rang. She stood rooted to the ground. A cold sweat trickled down her spine. She forced herself to open the door after the fifth ring. Her father stood at the door. She looked around for Sanjeev. He wasn’t there. She looked at her father.
She shrank back. They blankly stared at each other. He came in and stretched out his arm unfolding his palm. She knew it. She felt it.
She shook her head, “no, it can’t be…it’s not true…no…”
Her eyes caught something glistening in her father’s hand. It was a ring, Sanjeev’s ring, his wedding band.
“A bus lost control while swerving round a bend on the highway. It hit Sanjeev’s car which crashed though the railing on the rocks below killing him instantly. There was a crowd blocking the road. I had to stop. The police were there and had brought out the body……” his voice trailed off.
“Where is he now?” she asked.
As she came out of the building she saw a crowd gathered in the garden. They moved away. She walked towards the body wrapped in white. She knelt and pulled down the sheet. A collective gasp went around. She sat down beside him.
After a while, she looked up searchingly. Her father came and sat beside her. She raised her hand unfolding her palm. He laid the wedding band on it. She held it for a long time, then slowly took Sanjeev’s hand and slid the ring into its rightful place. Someone let out a cry.
Then getting up slowly she returned to the apartment. She locked herself in the bedroom for a long time. Her father took care of all the arrangements. Family, friends, neighbours poured in to pay their condolences. She met them without uttering a word. She never shed a tear. Everyone was afraid to see her like this.
“She has to cry,” said Sheila auntie.
Anjum mechanically carried on with her daily work. Students, colleagues at the school where she taught asked her to take a break but she did not heed their advice. Her father simply let her be. Some relatives stayed back to take care of the household chores. She stayed aloof. She never heard when spoken to nor did she speak to anyone. The only time she spoke was when taking classes. The students seemed to understand, as they behaved matured for their age. The only thing missing in class was the constant laughter, which had made her popular amongst her students.
Last evening on her way up on the lift she heard her neighbour, Mrs. Mehra’s 2-year-old daughter say “godhphather” in her childlike voice. She looked up stunned. Then she heard it again.
Mrs. Mehra was chatting with her companion, “my husband missed watching The Godfather when they were screening it a few weeks back so he was thrilled when they repeated it last night. Savi picked it up from him.”
Hearing the word a third time, a cold sweat trickled down her spine. She choked unable to breathe. She wanted to break open the lift door. She had to get out. She pushed them and started pounding on the lift door. Concerned, Mrs. Mehra wanted to know if she was alright. She pushed her hand away and looked at the child very scared. As the lift door opened she dashed out running to her apartment.
Mrs. Mehra followed.
By the time Mrs. Mehra reached her, she’d unlocked the door. Anjum turned to stare at Savi and then slammed the door shut. Mrs. Mehra heard a heart wrenching wail. The cry scared Savi who clutched her mother’s hand and started howling. Mrs. Mehra gathered her in her arms, went back to their apartment. After she’d calmed Savi, she dialed Anjum’s dad. As soon as he answered, she blurted out, “I don’t know what happened. She was coming up with us in the lift. I was just explaining how Savi had picked up the word ‘godfather’ from my husband who saw the film yesterday. Then suddenly Anjum started pounding on the door, breathing hard.”
Anjum’s father understood. He thanked her and said he’s on his way. He had his own keys to their apartment.
When he arrived he let himself in. Anjum was sitting in the balcony. When she saw her father, she flung herself on him bursting into tears.
“Dad he was rushing back to watch The Godfather. You know why, don’t you?”
Her father held her close and nodded his head. Whenever Sanjeev advised Anjum bearing one of his serious looks, she teased him calling him ‘godfather.’
“I am so sorry, love. The past few days, you wouldn’t allow yourself to mourn him. You must let go. Sanjeev has gone away physically from our lives, but he will always be there for you. His love will keep you strong.”
Anjum cried out even louder. The dam of denial had broken overwhelming her with an immense sense of loss. But her father knew she was strong to weather the blow. He held her close.