There was no one around at the time near the building, just like every other day. The cool breeze rustled a few leaves and kissed a feeling of tranquility into anyone who passed by. The darkness and isolation made one of the two girls seated on the bench more courageous than usual. “Appdi podu podu podu…….” , the mobile sang. Devi sprang to her feet and started dancing merrily, unable to hide the bounce the song gave her very soul. Just then a middle-aged couple passed by and smiled gently at the young girl who was dancing joyously. Devi blushed upon being caught and all of a sudden, didn’t know what she was supposed to do with her hands or legs that seemed so disobedient now.
Having walked further away from the girls, the husband said to his wife, “Now that is what you call innocence. Her dad is in deathbed and yet this kid is here dancing with no worries whatsoever. What a pity!”
Devi’s father had been suffering from throat cancer for eight months now. Her mother was forced to admit him in a well-known hospital in Chennai after all the hospitals in Bangalore turned out to be way too expensive. Devi and her younger sister were left behind in Bangalore under the care of trusted neighbours, so they wouldn’t have to miss school. Devi’s father was a driver and a gardener at the colony they lived in, while her mother was a domestic helper. Both of them were hard-working and their only dream was to give their daughters an education. Devi too was a smart and responsible girl and studied well.
Having taken care of her husband day and night for months together, Devi’s mother had to return to her girls to make all the necessary arrangements for the groceries that had run out at home. She left her husband with close family relatives and came to Bangalore. On returning, none of the neighbours needed to ask her about the status of her husband’s health. The poor woman’s face communicated all the suffering that cancer brought with it, which she had been a witness to, for eight months. Enquiry, to these concerned neighbours was not a necessity. But a mere formality. That one and only night, when she was away from her husband for the first time in eight months, she got a call from her relatives in Chennai. Her husband had passed away.
Devi’s mother cried. She cried. She fell. She hit herself frantically. Her only support, her only partner, a man she always thought would be a part of her life, was gone. But more importantly, the father of her two young daughters was gone. And poverty never does much to comfort a soul in such a desperate situation. She didn’t know what she was going to do alone. So she cried. And cried till everyone heard her. Till she would faint.
Devi and her sister couldn’t comprehend what was going on. They were told that their dad had passed away. They saw their mother cry in pain. They felt sorry for her. But they didn’t know what it all meant really. The tenderness of their age wouldn’t let their innocence disappear. Not yet. So the two girls just looked on as the adults went about doing what had to be done.
Devi’s father was given his last rites. The two girls played hopscotch at the funeral home. Relatives and family friends could only pity the little ones.
A few months later, Devi returned home at noon with an assistant from school. Her mother wondered why she was home so early. The assistant smiled and said, “It’s all good news. Your little girl has become a woman now.” The mother, overjoyed at what she had heard, held her daughter’s face. Seeing her husband in the eyes of her little girl, her eyes swelled with tears. “Her father would have been so happy had he been here now. He would have celebrated this in pomp”, she cried. Devi had just experienced womanhood for the first time in her life. She saw herself changing physically and it was not a pretty sight. She was confused if she was to cherish these changes or regret them. And for some reason, she felt insecure like never before. Insecure, scared, uncomfortable, confused. And the reminder about her dad’s absence by her mom at this hour, brought tears to Devi’s eyes.
Devi missed her dad.