A shadow crossed Raman’s face. Even now remembering the past brought back the now familiar guilt and pain. He looked at the expectant face of Mrs Lal. She was looking forward to a nice chit-chat. This kind of tete-a-tete had become very uncommon in their life as they didn’t have many visitors these days.

Let’s just say “I was not there for my granny when. She needed me the most.” “What happened Raman?” Mrs Lal asked in a concerned voice. Raman went back into his past. “My parents were both successful lawyers. They were a part of a very big law firm. As they were usually busy with their careers. My childhood was spent mostly with my grandma. She was always there with me when I came back from school, when I won my first athletics trophy, when I was studying hard for my exams. I could share almost everything with her. I told her about my first crush in school. She would listen to all my stories and then gently tease me later on. We were actually friends.” Raman kept on talking oblivious to the look of sadness and understanding on the old couple’s face. It was almost as though he was talking to himself. “She was an excellent baker. Whenever I was feeling low she would make my favourite Chocolate Chip Cookies. That was my favourite smell.

Grandma was not feeling too good that day. Ma and Pa had to go out for an urgent meeting. They had specially told me to stay with Grandma as she was not feeling well.  Just as they left, my best friend called me they were giving a send-off party to one of our group mates. He was leaving for the US in a couple of days. They had planned an impromptu party for him. My teenage mind could not resist the temptation. I told granny I would be back in sometime. She too didn’t stop me. How I regret leaving her alone that day.

My parents and I got back at almost the same time. When we opened the door with my mom’s keys. Granny was lying on the floor. The phone just a few steps away from her. She had a massive fatal heart attack. She must have tried to reach the phone to call me. But I was not there with her. I was out there enjoying myself, while she must have suffered alone.” He could not continue. He looked away and wiped a tear.

Raman felt a little self-conscious. He was never comfortable talking about himself. He never spoke so much about himself. There was something very warm about this old couple and their house which made him open up.

Raman looked around, one of the walls in the living room caught his attention. The wall was covered with smiling family photos. He could recognize the younger versions of Dr. Lal and his wife. They made a very handsome couple. There were a lot of pictures of kids in their different stages of growth. He could count four different kids. One look at the wall. And you got an impression of a loving family with lots of fun, laughter and camaraderie around here. But the rest of the room had a different story to tell.

Dr Lal and Sudha Lal followed his gaze and exchanged a glance.