“Is there anyone in your life?”
She mulled over the loaded question while her mother looked at her searchingly, and in typical motherly fashion, where only mothers can guess what their child is going through, she prodded cautiously, “Why do I see regret on your face?”
She was jolted out of her reverie by Maa’s astute observation. Am I so transparent to her? But aching as she was to shed the deluge from her eyes, she gulped it down. Maa shouldn’t see me break down. It won’t be good for her.
“Regret, yes Maa, because I can’t find a prince charming yet. Maybe I’ll die a spinster with a few hundred cats,” she joked while faking a laugh.
“If that is meant to amuse me, it doesn’t. I’d like you to find someone like Diana did. Find a good man. I know why you hesitate to marry. Beta, not every marriage turns out like my own. Look at Diana….” the twin exertion of talking and worrying produced a fit of coughing in Maa and she immediately curled up in pain on the bed.
“Maa please don’t exert yourself for me. I know what you’re saying is right. I know you’re concerned about me but please, don’t worry. I’ve managed just fine till now and I will even in the future. Maybe when the time is right, I’ll find my Mr Right. Besides I have you now,” she smiled while she handed Maa a glass of water, plumped up her pillow and made her lie back down. “Just rest for me, please. Before I leave, I’d like to see you back in your own home and standing on your own two feet.”
A frail smile graced her mother’s face and Nina felt satisfied, no, content in the knowledge that her broken home was repaired at last. She didn’t care if she spent the rest of her life as a spinster, she had prepared for that eventuality for the past many years. But now she knew she won’t die lonely with her regrets. She had the love of a family, the love of a parent. And love does not have to limit itself to a love between a man and a woman. Love came in such varied forms. She knew she’d be just as happy with that kind of love because up until now she had nothing and no one.
Her mother looked like she was dozing off, so she kissed her forehead and tiptoed out of the room, where the doctor found her and gave her the welcome news that Maa was recovering well and would be discharged from the hospital soon.
A week went by when Maa was eventually discharged and in the midst of family and in the comfort of her home, she got better in no time. Meanwhile, Diana and her husband never once let Nina feel that she was an outsider. Her nieces were always vying for her attention, but what made Nina most happy was that her mother, it seemed, wanted to spend all of her waking hours with her, like she wanted to make up for all the lost time. So did Nina. So they happily indulged each other in small excesses of family life that are born out of love and affection for those we care for.
While at the same time she and Nisha had become more than mere acquaintances. Their frequent phone calls and Whatsapp chit-chats from time to time revealed to Nina how warm-hearted Nisha was. She had come to care for Nisha a lot in a short span of time and it was all owing to how open and kind Nisha was.
“You have to come to Bangalore first and have dinner with my family before you leave for Kolkata, or else I won’t talk to you ever again!” Nisha had commanded Nina and though it came as a surprise to her how quickly Nisha had begun to exert herself in their friendship, this was the most endearing quality of Nisha’s – that she was so trusting and trustworthy. Nina promised her she would come.
The day of her departure from Mysore was a teary-eyed one. Maa kissed her cheeks profusely, there were never-ending hugs and solemn promises that Nina would try to shift her place of work to either Bangalore or somewhere closer to Mysore so she could come and visit Maa and Diana as often as possible. Throughout the drive back from Mysore to Bangalore, she only thought of how bright the future with her family looked. It seemed she had found peace and love at last.
When she arrived at Nisha’s plush apartment, after checking into her hotel room for the day, she received a warm welcome from Nisha and her daughter, Myra. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Myra resembled someone but she couldn’t remember who, that is till ‘her’ Ankit walked in and she realized that Ankit was Myra’s father!
Time froze as they stood looking at each other. A part of her told her that she shouldn’t stare at him like so because he wasn’t ‘her‘ Ankit anymore, but it was as if her eyes had a mind of their own. They would not stop staring with open longing, regret and sorrow at him.
His own eyes spoke volumes about how he still felt. It seemed the passing years had taken their youth from their faces but the effect they had on each other had not faded.
Nisha was bewildered, offended as well, as a married woman should be who finds her husband openly gaping at another woman. She cleared her throat and addressed her husband, “Ankit, this is…”
“Nina! Nisha this is the Nina I told you about.” He looked at his wife guiltily, while Nisha clapped a hand over her face in horror.
Nisha’s reaction to this information made Nina realize just what her presence must be doing to this otherwise happy family. Regaining her senses, she stammered, “I… I’m so sorry. I… had no idea she… she was your… I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be here at all. I’ll leave right away…” and she began to retrace her steps to the elevator, but a hand stalled her.
It was Nisha’s.
“No please, stay. This wasn’t your fault. This isn’t anyone’s fault. You had no way of knowing. And besides, what does it change? You liked him and he liked you but that’s in the past. The future is that you and I are friends and I don’t see any reason why the past should have any effect on that.”
Oh god, why is she so sweet and simple minded? Nina wished Nisha would rebuke her, tell her to leave, tell her that she wasn’t welcome in their cosy lives, but instead Nisha wanted to be friends. What kind of woman is she?
“No please I can’t. I won’t…”
“You will.” Ankit’s voice boomed out from behind them, “Because otherwise, you’ll break Nisha’s heart. And because you owe me an explanation.” His voice may have been gruff, but there was a hint of hurt in it. Nisha tugged at Nina’s hand and after much cajoling, Nina came back to their apartment.
There was an awkward moment when neither knew what to say or where to look but then Ankit turned to Nisha and asked, “Can I have a moment alone with her, if you don’t mind?”
“Why would I? I trust you and her unconditionally.” Nisha smiled up at her husband and then, without a word, without a glance back, went away to another room, shutting the door behind her, leaving them alone in the spacious living room that felt too small because of the suffocating silence that inundated it.
Ankit began, “How have you been?”
She smirked and shrugged, “As you can see, I’ve been good, I guess. And… you?”
“I think you can see too.” His lips smiled but his eyes didn’t.
Nina sighed. Yes, she could see he was very happy and led a blessed life. Till she came around with her sorry self, dredging up memories of a sad past. She felt like a useless piece of furniture that needed to be discarded.
“You’re very lucky you have her. She’s a great lady – warm, loving and accepting. She trusts you so much,” she looked down just then because she couldn’t stand being stared at by his searching eyes.
“I know. But you never did,” he accused and her head shot back up to his eyes. But he wasn’t done with his assault, “You never gave me a chance. You never told me why? And today I want you to tell me because I don’t think I’ll ever have closure unless you tell me why.”
A tear rolled down her cheek and she swiped at it with an irritated hand. She didn’t need any more embarrassment, but God, it seemed today her body was not under her own control. “Why?! Why indeed! Maybe because I didn’t want a marriage like my parents had. Because I didn’t want a broken home. Because I wasn’t sure if I could survive after suffering another heartbreak…”
“You thought I would walk away from you just like that? Nina, you never trusted me or my love to give yourself up to me…”
“Yes!! Yes, I couldn’t trust you Ankit, because I didn’t trust myself! I didn’t want you going through what my father did. I didn’t want to be a mother to a child who grew up in the fear of being rebuked, beaten and abandoned. I didn’t want to turn into my mother!” She was crying openly now, uncaring whether her mascara and kohl ruined her face or not, or whether his neighbours heard.
“So this was why you rejected me? Because you couldn’t trust yourself to be better than your mother? Bad families do not run in the genes, Nina! Love, togetherness, effort, sacrifice…trust, that’s what makes a happy family.”
“Yes, I know that… now. My sister has a wonderful family of her own and I know now that broken homes can be mended as well. And you… look at your own family. It’s beautiful, just what you deserve! But it’s too late for all that now,” she looked past Ankit to his home, his happy abode, his life, and then with the solemn understanding of someone who has come to terms with their loss, she said, “I love your wife. She’s the perfect partner for you that you deserve. I think it was destined for you to marry someone like her who had no issues with trust. I wish you two all the luck in the world and I want you to know that I’ll never, never, never bother either of you again.”
Alarmed, Ankit said, “But why can’t we be friends? Nisha is not the sort to bear grudges, Nina. She likes you immensely…”
“And so do I but I can’t live with my regret staring me in the face everytime I see you or her. And neither of you deserves that kind of burden. We can’t be friends!”
She started backing away from him and he opened his mouth again to say something but Nina cut him off with a staying hand, “No Ankit, there’s nothing you or Nisha can say to convince me that staying friends with you will be of any good. I’ll only cause problems if I stayed. I was the past, she’s your present and your future, and the past has no place in the future, Ankit. So please don’t stop me. I won’t be stopped. I’m so happy that you’re happy, believe me, I am and I’ll always pray that you stay this way with your family. Farewell.”
Clutching her handbag to her heart like it was her lifeline, she hurtled down the stairs. Ankit called out to her, but she didn’t answer. Then Nisha called out to her, but she didn’t turn back. She knew what she had to do. She knew her place and it wasn’t as anything or anyone in their lives. She knew what she had found back in Mysore. She knew there would be no happiness for her unless she let go of the past. Her past had only regrets and regrets had no value. She had vowed she won’t lead a life of regrets anymore and she knew letting go of this regret was the right step into the future.
Onward she went and never looked back.
Image Source: CC0 Creative Commons at Pixabay.