This story was part of a nation wide short story contest organised by a leading daily newspaper in India. Acclaimed authors in India gave a passage prompt and readers had to incorporate it in their stories. The story that I wrote was to have an intonation of loss in it.
It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
The silence of the house hit her like a stone as she struggled to get up. She waited for the familiar rustle of footsteps. Everything looked the same but for the sounds of the house. She was afraid of death ever since she understood the concept. She was always scared for his safety. Wild thoughts ran through her mind every time he was late from work or flying in a plane or driving on road journeys. He could not take her everywhere and that's why she worried more for him. Literary treatise on coping with death and loss of loved ones couldn't contain her restlessness. She read a lot of books. This love for reading was his gift to her. They read together sometimes; she preferred finishing a book in one go while he took days to finish one and eventually abandoned it until she completed it and prodded him to read it again. These little things made living easier for her. She knew it was impossible to stop worrying and her books provided her solace. He fed her growing love with unswerving attention. She did the same. She wanted to always please him, keep him happy. The nothingness of a claustrophobic conventional household didn't bother her. He was everything for her.
Looking through the window towards the garden, she remembered his presence among the flowerbeds. He walked through the dry areas, sprinkling water carefully while making a note of plants that needed more soil. She merely looked at him while he took to gardening. Her deepest fears were marked by a symbolic wilting of flowers overnight. The mango tree that they had lovingly planted together dreaming of orchards laden with fruit in a few years stood under the hot sun, unfazed. She wondered if the plants ever felt his loss as deeply as she did. Of course they did, she said aloud. The voice returned back from the walls to her with a strong thud. What was to happen next? Will she ever be able to live without him?
Reluctantly, she walked outside through the door. The morning itinerary of chores with him was to buy newspapers while walking towards the railway station. She never read them unless he mentioned some specific news article or editorials worth reading. She would then spring up and search for the newspapers and cut the articles aside. Everything seemed so sombre today. She felt her skin tingle from the sweat and tears into a frenzied fury. Will these memories haunt her forever? Would she always remember his reactions to situations? Her head felt heavy from the crying and thinking. Didn't he always hate crying? She cried in private when he wasn't around. Sometimes, she cried in her sleep muffling the sounds and just lying on the bed staring at a distant light seeping through the window curtains. Her mornings after the crying ritual at night carried the memories and lingered sadness over her day. He did not notice it or so she thought. She cried over books and cinema. Once, she couldn't stop the grief that engulfed her over the plight of children caught in war. He dismissed it saying, how would crying help? She should think of ways to lessen this suffering than crying for those who suffer. She never understood the concept of suffering and misery.
The aroma of tea awoke her from her reverie. He always made the first tea of the day. She would sit on the kitchen floor still fighting sleep in her eyes while he kept stirring the tea with a spoon. His tea took 20 minutes to boil, something she always moaned about to him. His response would be that milk and water must brew properly. After a bit of coaxing he would serve tea and she always complained about its taste. While he himself would say it had an improved taste than yesterday. How she laughed while draining the last remains of the tea in the kitchen sink. As the morning rays filtered through the kitchen windows, she looked at the rectangle of light embedded in emptiness. It was so close and yet the few feet of physical distance seemed to invade her personal space. Saddened, she turned away.
Every minute seemed to magnify his absence to her. She dropped down on the bed, hoping this was a dream and any moment now he will call out her name from the doorway. She looked around startled when she heard her name. Her chest was heavy with grief and she felt confused and angry. How many days has it been? Will this house ever feel like home again? Must she live amongst a ruin of memories forever by herself now? She pounded her hands angrily on the bed and let out a loud scream. Slowly, she felt a pair of hands hold her by shoulders, cajoling to stand up. She faltered and fought against the arms, trying to catch hold of the bed post. He was standing in front of her. She blinked her eyes as he asked her if she were hurt. He looked at her, and she looked back in disbelief at him. He made her sit down on the bed and went to the kitchen to get some water, questioning her about moving around without her leg brace. He handed her the glass of water and she sipped through the clear glass while staring at him. She involuntarily handed him the glass and it fell down with a crash. She awoke with a jolt and looked at the floor to see pieces of shattered glass strewn everywhere. She couldn't fathom what was happening.
A face peered through the window just then. She looked out of the corner of her eyes and swiftly turned back in its direction. It was a small kid looking at her with curious expressions. She tried to get up from the bed and the kid ran away trampling her newly leafed bed of gardenias. She shouted and then felt weak of all the excitement a kid had brought in her misery.
The sun was shining brightly throughout the room. She saw a design created by sun rays from the floor in front of her. The patterns were dancing on the wall and she tried to join the lines between them in her mind. She noticed the overflowing bookshelves in a corner flooded now with light and saw his books. They both had their own books. There were books lined up on the floor near the window. He always displaced the books from underneath the window sill. She insisted on keeping them there because it was easier to pick them off the floor than taking off the shelves. What will happen to the books now? How will she buy new books with no one to share them over? She plunged into misery once again at the thought of his absence. Every moment, every thing in the house reminded her of him. He was omnipresent, he joked once when she was angry about his uninformed disappearance. Of course you are omnipresent, she groaned weakly.
She brooded over the brevity of human life. She had to prepare for the coming days. She had never thought of a future without him although, she was dreading misfortune. He placed much more confidence in her than she credited herself. Now is the moment to utilize that trust and confidence, a voice said from inside her heart. She gathered her cool and walked through the room into the front porch. The sun lit up the garden harshly. She took the hose and carefully sprinkled water into the dry beds and pots thirsty in the heat. The mud absorbed water hungrily and became dry again. She watered the plants and flowerbeds till the earth became muddy. The fragrance of wet mud pleased her. She turned to the mango tree who with its darkened green leaves and trunk looked like a young boy from Malabar coast. The flowers were in full bloom although she did not know when they would bear fruits. He was the gardener, she merely an onlooker.
She held the hose up her head and let herself be showered with the cool water. A childhood memory that she often recollected with enthusiasm. Moments later, the hose sprinkle turned warm and she dropped it in a nearby bush. Her legs seemed to have gained strength. With the wet clothes sticking to her bones, she darted through the porch into the house and dripped water all over the floor. She surprised herself with laughter at her clumsiness of running through the house. He would have quickly mopped the floor and given her an earful of behaving like a kid. She felt so relieved from the dreariness of the past few hours. She changed into fresh clothes and pulled out the study table drawer for a sheaf of papers. The chair creaked as she sat down heavily and fumbled for a pen. Pulling aside her wet strands of hair, she began writing on the paper, Dear Daddy....