„What about these scars doctor? “she asked holding the mirror looking at her face.
“That’s alright; some scars take a lifetime to heal.” said Dr. Sunil in a pacifying tone.
“When can I leave, doctor?” She stared at the open window seeing the children play in the garden as the morning rays of sun fell on the freshly mowed garden.
“In a day or two Ananya.” exclaimed Dr. Sunil looking at the reports.
“Does she have the address?” he asked Bela privately. Bela nodded.
She gave one look at the hospital where she spent almost 18 months and picked up the bag filled with toys, a gift pack and a pair of her clothes that Bela had gifted her on Diwali.
“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”
“With closed ones too?”
“You don’t expect from strangers do you?”
She would have pulled the stuffed kangaroo and felt it and put it in her bag several times in the 5 hour train journey. She inquisitively looked outside the window thinking of how things get to normalcy, just didn’t seem that the state had the worst terrorist attack just 18 months back.
She was excited and nervous at the same time.
“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”
“But that’s my family; they will support me and make me confident.”
She reached the front courtyard, ‘Nayaks’ the name plate made by her still hung there. She felt it with her fingers before opening the gate to the front courtyard. She had replayed the scene of her daughter running to her, her husband so happy and pleasant hugging her so many times that she actually knew her words and had rehearsed them several times.
The door was open; as she entered she could see the toys lying in the living room giving her the assurance of her daughter will be in her arms in no time now. Her aunt came down the stairs and was frozen after seeing her. She took several minutes to react, followed by a forced hug.
“Aunty, aren’t you happy, surprised to see me?” Said Ananya looking at her aunt’s expressionless face.
After a long pause, “yes, Ananya, I am, in fact we did get a letter from the hospital just a day back of your return. Come sit in the living room.”
That wasn’t her aunt’s natural self. Why I am treated like an outsider, thought Ananya. She entered the living room; one look around felt as if the house was being taken care of. She each day would think how would they manage without her. In one corner she saw a small picture of her placed on the side table. She remembered the words of being confident and positive and after all it was natural for them to think she lost her life in the blast that took place when she had been to the market.
She sat on the edge of her sofa quietly rubbing her one feet on another, nervously clinging to her bag wanting nothing but to see her husband and daughter, she must have been 4 years by now.
After a while her daughter, Ira rushed in the living room, Ananya could no longer contain herself and broke down in tears as she grabbed her and hugged her hard. She swiftly removed all the toys she had got for her and placed her on her lap.
“Ira, did you miss mumma, my princess?”
Ira immediately rushed to her father and wrapped to his leg dropping the stuffed kangaroo on the way.
“Ananya.” called out Rohan.
She was jolted by the formality that wrapped the question. It was nothing like what she had thought it to be.
“One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.”
“Why would I want to think with my head, my family needs my heart?”
“Depends on the situation and the circumstance, now you will always need both.”
She brought herself to reality and handed the gift she had got in his hands.
“Rohan, honey, are you home?” she said as she entered the house.
The voice sounded familiar as she walked straight to the living room and stood next to Rohan.
“Oh…” giving a startled look, “Ananya….it’s you.” She looked at Ananya and immediately glanced at Rohan.
That was Ruchi, her first cousin, but what was she doing in my house? Her addressing Rohan as honey, Ananya was trying to put the puzzle pieces in place when her aunt broke the ice, “I think you must be tired Ananya, why don’t you rest?”
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
“What if I don’t like the change?”
“Then think what if you do not have a choice of changing the change?”
She picked her bag still blank at what was happening looking at the faces around knowing she was the unwanted one. She knew that Ruchi would have come to support her child as she was too young, but she had to know more. Ananya being an orphan was raised by her aunt and was not among those jump at things and seek explanations.
“We tried really hard to find you for several months. Hospitals, police, posters all, but no trace. We finally placed your picture on the market square and even joined the candle march to force government to act.” Rohan said trying hard to sound convincing at the dinner table.
“It was generous of Ruchi, to then come here and take up the family responsibility for Ira….”added her aunt.
“And Rohan…” Ruchi completed pressing Rohan’s hand sitting next to him at the dinning.
“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”
“Can reality hurt?”
“Depends if what you want out of reality is not a dream.”
She had not uttered a word but been a silent listener. The pain she had lived in the past few hours was more than what she went through in her treatment of 18 months. She passed by to keep her plate when she overheard…
“How long has she come for?” Ruchi said in a hushed tone.
“I don’t know, I don’t think you need to overreact.” Rohan replied.
“And did you see her face, it’s full of scars, Ira will have nightmares every night. I can’t let her be here in my house. Get that straight.” She came out slamming the door behind her.
Ananya washed her plate and tip toed to the room. She sat on the bed and picked up the book with the grey writings of her conversations with Bela over the 18 months which Bela had penned and handed over before her leaving. The last page was an address and two notes of INR 1000 each.
“If you ever reach this page and feel the need, the doors are open and you have the address.”
Next day there was no trace of Ananya in the Nayak’s house.
She left a note, “I wasn’t a pile on Rohan and will never be; now my life awaits me.”
She came back to the hospital and Dr. Sunil employed her as an intern at his hospital. Her life had just begun.