Fiction

8-8-8

On a sunny morning Jiniya is invariably filled with zeal and her energy reaches its brim within minutes of waking up. As if the first ray of sun that touches her freckled face infects the half-hyper half-curious child in her with ardent zest. Zest to chase the only purpose of her life- fulfilling her semi-broken dreams.

Average looking with a visibly bloated face, Jiniya has always dreaded looking back at bygones. “I feel naked,” she had told her mother once. Her face is a blank notebook, neither exhibits the volcano that may have erupted within her nor does it show any signs of joy.

But she has her off days, especially when clouds dance aimlessly in the sky and hover around the mighty Sun. “Just like emotions, clouds and raindrops exude weakness. I feel powerless,” asserts the plain-faced marketing officer.

She is her 9-year-old self on damp days, as she would often jokingly call a rainy day, it magically draws her back to the golden days- days her mother thinks are testament to how lively and bright she had once been.

On that day, she slipped into a maroon-coloured pajama and requested her privacy be uncompromised with. Jiniya flipped through the pages of the book she was reading a couple of days back but couldn’t recollect the plot now.

And before she could keep the book back to where it belongs, she dozed off.

“Why are you coming home this late? Why did you not take an Umbrella?” enquired her mother who has long given up on trying to ‘infuse’ life in her daughter.

“Sorry, I know I should have informed you. Mom, I got drenched. Can I stay over? I have to leave for work early in the morning,” asked the 9-year-old in her.

“Your brother and sister are on my bed, don’t ask me why. They call it ‘cosy’ or something similar to that. Will that be okay,” Jiniya’s former ‘bosom friend’ asked hesitantly.

Jini assured her mummy that wouldn’t be a problem as the hall room was empty. One blanket. One pillow and she will sail through the night.

A thundering sound came from inside, as if the worn-out house had begun to crumble and will crash on their heads in a matter of few minutes. “Oh! Your daddy will never change. He is such a light sleeper that even an ant’s movement wakes him up.”

He staggered his way out of the house, each step a battle in itself. Daddy, despite the wrinkled forehead and saggy cheeks, looked concerned. With great struggle, he lifted the dirt-clad towel to rinse off rain water from her hair.

“My old man has really grown old,” she thought to herself as her kohl-rimmed eyes gave way to a teardrop.

As a juvenile, she had taken immense pride in her father. She would break into an innocent grin every time someone said she has inherited her father’s pointy nose or his soft curls. Her father had always been a man of few words and did not have even an iota of talent in showering love. He said the kindest of things wearing the bluntest expression imaginable to mankind. Like this one time when she had topped the class and he did the unthinkable. He brought her close to his face, combed her messy hair in clean plates and said, “You make me proud. I was the happiest the day you were born,” he said without a sparkle in his eyes. Not even a brief smile yet what he said  went on to live with her forever.

“How did you come home? It is pouring badly. Why did you not go to your place?” asked the concerned father who was happy as well as astonished to see his independence-seeking daughter standing at his doorstep, seeking shelter.

“Daddy, My house is situated at a distance of 8 minutes from our…your place. Anddd…my office is situated at a distance of 8 minutes from your place. So I came here, since it is the closest,” said Jiniya, awkwardly.

He gazed at her. She has known this gaze for eternity yet not been able to formulate a fitting response for it. The gaze of hopelessness, he wants to say something but he wouldn’t.

Every time he gave her that gaze, she looked away. She never bothered to ask what it meant, he never felt the necessity to explain.

“Here! Come to my room, sleep with me…This hall room cannot keep you warm.”

“Okayy”, she said, perplexed. She was right, she will never understand her old man.

With great effort he lifted his right hand, clutched it to her left palm and started moving towards the room. Each step reminded her of the times they went to school together and she would tell him tales of what had happened the day before.

Sure he was a man of few words but never forbade her from talking endlessly. He felt a sense of inclusiveness in those stories. He knew he was a part of whichever world she was living in.

“Go get the maroon-coloured blanket from my cupboard. It is the thickest of all,” commanded her old man.

She slept in no time as she had been working the whole week without any break.

He ran his cold fingers around her head.

“Don’t smoke baba (he lovingly called her, sometimes). Your heath has deteriorated.”

“I always see you smoke, at times standing at the balcony of your office, at times at the backyard of your house. Is something bothering you? Baba. Baba. Tell me.”

“I know you are unhappy but you are too proud a woman to accept that. Your eyes don’t twinkle anymore. What is bothering you, baba? Why do you smoke? Don’t”

She woke up like she had been battered in her dream. Reluctantly, Jiniya lifted the book from the edge of her bed and placed it on the table.

Despite screaming out a couple of times, Maa wouldn’t come. She walked to the kitchen and opened the window.

“You had always been worried for me Daddy, stop it now. You are old, rest well there,” she said looking at his tomb. Ten years have passed by but his last words still ring in her ears. Like his death has been a joke, a game, that he had always been around. Watching, crying, lamenting. Always around.

She wiped the corner of her eyes and reached for the cigarette. Then threw it away. No, she wouldn’t. She cannot. Her Baba has asked her not to.

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