Dr Mohan Lal gave Mr Raman Murthy an invitation to come over at 7 in the evening, as they ate early, and saw the visitor to the door after which he swiftly went in to see to his wife.
“Were you talking to someone?“, asked Mrs Sudha Lal who sat propped up against her queen-sized bed’s backrest. She had salt and pepper hair that were tied in a bun at the nape of her neck and bright brown eyes. One look at her told she must have been a vista in her youth. She welcomed her husband with a warm smile, and her whole face lit up, the years sat lightly on her, making her look younger than her 70 yrs.
Dr Lal beamed at her and wished her ‘Good Morning‘ as he sat on his side of the bed.
“Yes, we had a visitor. A neighbour. I have invited him over for dinner.” He filled her in knowing full well he was in for a scolding.
She grimaced at him and reasoned, “Why do you pile up more work for yourself when you know I can’t help you?” She sighed and went on, “and that too on a day when both Shambhu and Asha won’t come?“, she questioned bit indignantly.
Dr Lal knew she felt guilty for being almost invalid for the last couple of years owing to her Arthritis that had rendered her bed-ridden. She hated to be confined to her chair while he took care of her.
“Oh! Please don’t start na Sudha. Besides, you know Shambhu is a lousy cook and Asha can’t beat my Fish Curry.” He told with a twinkle in his eye.
“They are the only ones who keep our things in perfect order. One day a week the couple takes leave, and that very same day you get experimental.” She pressed her point.
He knew she wouldn’t give up easily, being cooped up inside had made her restive and short on patience. “Oh come on now Sudha. You very well know both of them are imbeciles who live in their own nincompoops’ corner. Just this Sunday Shambhu broke your glasses and yesterday Asha burned the rice. Even black rice would have looked fairer.” He quipped in to lighten her mood, and sure enough, she chuckled.
She shook her head giving up and extended her hand towards him. He got up and held it in tacit understanding. He helped her stand up by supporting her at the waist and shoulder and walked her to the washroom.
Leaving her to her business, Mohan Lal made his way to the kitchen. Since the domestic help was not available that day, he decided he will make a simple breakfast of toast, easy eggs and tea for his wife.
He whistled an old tune as he nibbled on a biscuit and the sound carried all the way to the bedroom. Sudha called him and just like that he helped her in her power wheelchair and went back to the kitchen. She was combing her hair while looking in the mirror when she stopped and looked at her reflection closely. It was like gazing back in the eyes of a stranger in the mirror. She picked up the family picture from her dressing table and ran a hand over it. There she was, standing by the waterfall with her family as the gem blue water rolled down in cascades behind them, water spraying them all as the air made a rainbow behind them. She remembered the day so well, just like yesterday. It was after the final exams and before the results that the kids insisted on going for a picnic and Mohan had taken them for a three-day weekend trip to Mahabaleshwar.
There to her left, looking straight at the camera and holding a beach ball was her eldest daughter Palak and pulling on her ponytail was her younger son Prateek who wanted to climb up the waterfall. On her right, holding her hand was Saransh sipping on a coke and behind him, making Devil’s Horns with her hands was Dhara, her youngest one. At her back stood Mohan with his arms spread across all his children as he wore a beach hat and dark glasses.
She ran her thumb over Saransh a bit longer as a tear rolled down her cheek and fell on the picture. Her children, her treasure, each one lost to the sands of time. Weren’t they all supposed to be her retirement plan? Where did they go wrong she wondered. She heard her husband’s approaching footsteps and at once wiped her eyes and placed the picture back, combing her hair once again.
He wheeled her out on the porch where Dr Lal had perfectly laid out her breakfast along with another set of the same laid out for him. She smiled to see the plates and gave an appreciative nod. They both ate in companionable silence, taking their own sweet time.
Dr Lal burped loudly and guffawed at himself. “I feel so full.” He announced as he started clearing away the dishes.
“Your appetite has gone down considerably“, she said absentmindedly.
He came back from the kitchen and sat down next to her looking bit worried. “Sudha….you know something. I already had breakfast in the morning and forgot about it“, he told her with a bothered tone.
“How do you know that?“, she asked.
“I saw the dirty dishes from the morning in the kitchen sink“, he replied making her heart sink.
She looked at him anxiously. She knew what this meant. He was showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. She had seen him forgetting things more and more these past few days, and he was failing to solve his daily crossword and sudoku quiz in the newspaper. She swallowed, he might be the doctor, but she had lived with him long enough to study every nuance of his.
It was her turn to sound chirpy, “Nice excuse to give me company while eating; you shrewd old man“, she piped in looking breezy.
He sighed in relief to read the unperturbed look on her face and laughed once again, “No, actually it was an excuse to have a second breakfast.” He retorted, and she joined him in laughter knowing full well that he read his life in her eyes. She must not let worry show in her eyes.