by Lekha Dey.
“Dad!” I tried to call my father but I couldn’t. I couldn’t utter a word. I tried to speak, to scream but as in a dream or nightmare I could only emit a silent, desperate call for help.
The seven year-old was looking at me intently and smiling her strange smile. And now I noticed that the snigger had been wiped out and replaced by a sadness.
And I noticed that she was not the same seven-year-old I know but someone else. She looked the same but her expressions were someone else’s.
“Let go,” she said as though in a trance. Her voice emanating from faraway. Heavy and deep like a man’s. Then mellifluous, like a whisper, “let go.”
“Did you say something, dear?” Dad asked, looking at me through the rear-view mirror and switching on the radio. “I thought everyone was asleep. We are almost there.”
“Where have we reached? What time is it?” My mom woke up and said.
“It’s almost two,” my dad was saying. “I almost fell asleep myself but didn’t want to turn on the radio. Thought everyone was sleeping.”
“The long and winding road………..that leads to your door……….will never disappear.” The Beatles were singing. The radio jockey interrupted. Lowered the volume and said, “For all you motorists……….out and about at this……….what time is it?……….Oh me God hour……….this song is for you……….”
“We should have left earlier,” my mother grumbled. “You have work tomorrow. She has school. And it’s me who has to get up and do everything.”
I noticed that my friend had fallen asleep. And I noticed that her expression had returned. Even with her eyes closed, I could tell.
A lump formed in my throat. Tears streaked my cheeks. I wept silently, inaudibly so that my parents didn’t ask. Because I wouldn’t be able to tell them, explain to them, why I was crying.
“Many times I’ve been alone……….and many times I’ve cried……….anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried.”
“You two girls okay back there?” Dad asked, looking through the rear view window again.
Mom looked at her. “Shh, poor dear, she’s fast asleep.”
We reached our neighbourhood. We stopped at the gate in front of their house, a gardened enclosure, where grew roses and where butterflies flitted.
Her mother walked up to our car. My dad got off and opened the back door, where my friend was sleeping.
“She’s fast asleep, poor dear,” My mom said leaning from the passenger seat to speak to her mother.
“The boys are wide awake and creating a ruckus,” she laughed.
My friend didn’t wake up. Her mother leaned over and carried her out.
“See you this weekend,” she said, bending over to speak to my mother. “Come early.”
“Yes, I will. Will call you about the lemon rice, still haven’t figured out the recipe.”
She left. I could see my friend’s father park their car and step out. He walked to their gate, waving at our car. My parents waved back. “Goodnight”. The boys, looking sleep-deprived, followed. The ten-year-old, looking groggy and irritated, strolled over to his mother, who was walking back from our car and followed her, holding his little sister’s foot in his hand.
“Aren’t you gonna say goodbye to your girlfriend?” the fourteen-year-old said.
“Why don’t you say goodbye to your own girlfriend?” the ten-year-old shot back.
“At least I have a girlfriend. You’re too ugly to….”
“Boys be quiet,” said their dad. “It’s late.”
My friend didn’t come to school for a whole week. Their parents called off the weekend dinner party which was to be held in their house. The next week, the teacher asked us to say a little prayer for our friend who was in the hospital.
“Please pray for her,” I could hear her mother telling my mother on the speaker phone. “Please pray that my daughter gets back home soon. Please pray that I can take her back home.” She was weeping inconsolably. She was at the hospital with her daughter, who had a fever. “They haven’t been able to diagnose it. But she is flitting in an out of consciousness. Yesterday she seemed fine. We gave her colouring books and crayons. Do you know what she did? She wrote a ‘will’. A ‘WILL’. She left things for everybody. Here it is. Wait. Let me take it out of my purse. Where did it go?” She was sniffling. We could hear she was shuffling through her purse.
“Oh here it is.” She read it out, crying. “ ‘For daddy I leave my drawings, especially the waterfalls. For mommy I leave my dolls (she can give it to who she wants). For my brother Neel, I leave the music box though sometimes he is mean. For my brother Jay, I leave the bicycle even though he has another one. For my brother Bobby I leave the soft pillow he tries to take away from me. For my best friend I leave the golden treasure.’”
(To be continued…)
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