I hear a lot of noise coming from downstairs as I open the bedroom door. What’s all the hullabaloo about? I thought Amma was alone down there. The partner bid me goodbye to go to work, so he’s definitely not home now. Maybe she’s on the phone; in that case, how am I able to listen to the whole conversation? She never uses the speaker mode. Perhaps someone has called her on Skype. That must be it because only yesterday she learned some of the functions and I bet she’s already using it. Still, where’s all the different voices coming from? How many people is she talking to?
I walk down and first lay my eyes on Amma’s Uncle and Aunt. When did they get here? I wonder if they are mad at me for not chatting with them properly the last time they were on Skype with Amma. I was pre-occupied with something else when they’d called and I appeared in front of the camera once to fix some issue Amma was having. I only said hello before letting them continue their chitchat with Amma. I hope they won’t drill me about why I disappeared so quickly.
I greet them with a smile. They smile back and ask me how I am. I tell them I am fine and go into the living room to ask them further about when they got here, if they are tired after their journey, etc. It’s a pleasant surprise, their visit to my place all of a sudden. Maybe because Amma is here; she may have invited them over and forgotten to mention it to me. It’s all good, they are here and let’s hope they have a good time.
My sisters and my father are here too. What? How come no one brought any of this up when they talked to me? Appa being here is a shock, actually. I wouldn’t, even in my wildest dreams, imagine my father ever standing in my living room. What am I missing here? He seems comfortable. I wasn’t expecting the day to turn out to be anything like this when I woke up this morning. Am I dead? Is this heaven? I have so many questions, all for my mother. Where is she?
Wait a minute… this voice that I am hearing right now, who is it? It sounds so familiar, yet so alien. A lot of memories come gushing. I know who it is, there’s no mistaking in this case. Who let him in? Appa? Amma, or even my sisters, sure as hell would never open the door for him. I haven’t heard his voice in so many years. I haven’t seen him in over a decade and half. I haven’t forgotten him, even though I haven’t been in touch with him all this time. It’s strange that he should be here. It could be that this is all in my mind. But is it? I can hear him, loud and clear. He’s singing; still as good at it as he used to be way back when. Should I go see for myself if he’s indeed here?
My heart is racing, but not in the way that I would have expected it to. Where is all that pent-up rage? Where are all those hidden tears? Isn’t that what I have always imagined would burst out whenever I bumped into him next – all those tears and all that rage? Then why is it so that all I feel is numbness, and also a sort of vague calmness? Weird. Why can’t I move? With only a few more steps I will be face to face with a man who was a Superhero to me once upon a time. Within a few seconds I will look into the eyes of the man who shattered the image that I’d built of him with that ignominious deed of his. Should I go? He’s here. In my house. Of course I should go talk to him. That’s good manners, right?
I wonder what I will do when our eyes meet. Will I, at that instant, turn into the happy ten year old I once was, always bristling with the excitement in his presence? Or will I somehow become that slightly older girl that waged a silent war against the devil that she found him to be? Will I merrily reminisce our mountainous happy past? Or will I focus on the one thing that went wrong, which to date affects me in the biggest of ways? Which side will I lean towards? Should I risk finding out? Sure, why not. Whatever may come next, he deserves it. I take careful steps, one after another. And there he is.
He’s smiling, as he moves around singing and chopping some vegetables in the kitchen. Our eyes meet. And at this point I would’ve anticipated for the waterworks begin from my end. Alas, my eyes are still dry. He grins wide. I hear him call out the same nickname that he’s always used for me, probably since I was days old. He made up special names for all of us in the family. Nobody else uses that nickname to address me. Ever. It’s always only been him. So, at least now I know for sure that it’s really my Chittappa that’s standing in front of me. Not that I had an iota of doubt before; I could never mistake his voice or his charisma for anyone else’s. ‘We’ve all been waiting for you. It’s so nice to see you after all these years’, he says. And the doorbell rings.
Suddenly I remember that it’s time for the partner’s return. The fact that Amma missed even hinting about this family gathering to me has taken me by surprise. What about the partner? He doesn’t have a clue, just as I didn’t as I walked down the stairs only a while ago. This will doubtless be an enormous revelation to him. I run and go open the door, before someone else does, so I can ease him into it.
The partner walks in, and before I can say anything, he listens to the sound variety of conversations from every nook and corner of the house, that too in a language he barely comprehends, and smiles. He sure doesn’t know who all are here, but he has a hospitable heart, and with that he puts his backpack down and enters the living area to warmly welcome everyone with his gracious smile. My mind runs wild again, with another set of million questions. Where in the world is Amma?
Is Appa still here? What should I expect from him, if at all anything? I make up my mind to keep my hopes low, as always, and let things roll in their own accord. It’s better that way. It has always been. But it’s hard, so hard, I tell you. Before I can even think of relaxing my curious mind, I get my answer, though. Thanks to Appa, he does precisely what I’d foreseen him doing. But, no matter how much I’d apparently prepared for it, it still comes as a blow. Oh well, he never disappoints, does he? His staunch stubbornness delivers every single time. Sigh.
Look who’s walking towards us as Appa is leaving. Oh my goodness, I can’t even begin to conceive what would come out of Chittappa meeting the partner. Only months ago when I’d already hit rock bottom I found a way to dig a little deeper and fall further in, as I opened up and shared with the partner the tale of why my relationship with Chittappa was strained / why it fell apart. And now he’s going to meet that man from my past. What good can ever come out of this? I hope, against all odds, that the partner’s elephant memory fails him now. Or, at best, he reacts the same way I did, freeze. And he does, or should I say he acts as if he does, as I introduce him to Chittappa. I guess he doesn’t want any unwanted drama to ensue from their first encounter. But his eyes – look at those eyes – it’s full of fury. I can tell because it’s like seeing myself in the mirror and finding all that wrath hiding there, turning red all that was white before.
Tears trickle down my cheeks, now. My ire, my melancholy – I see it all in his eyes. A burden shared, is that what kept me composed all this time? I pull him aside, hug him, and let him wipe my tears. He plants a peck on my cheek and that’s enough melt away all the pain.
From that kiss stems a happy ending.
Tell me, should this be categorized a dream or a nightmare?
*Chittappa – father’s younger brother.