THE ROAD TO HOME – VIII

Sagar lay on his bed staring at the ceiling fan. The Spiderman stickers were still there, though a bit shabby and torn now, but they reminded of his 5th birthday when Samar had decorated their room with Sagar’s favourite cartoon character- Spiderman. Samar knew everything about Sagar, more than his parents, more than Sagar himself.

What was his fault?” Sagar thought about the day his step brother left the home. He lay in remorse, filled with emotional thoughts and dozed off to sleep.

Around midnight, his dehydrated body woke up. He had started taking too much alcohol lately. He got up and walked to the kitchen to get water. The bunch of the flowers in the living room caught his attention. “Oh! I forgot their anniversary!” Cursing himself, he drank a glass of water in one go and picked up the flowers. There was a card attached to it. In the mayhem between Amish and drunk Sagar, Ruma had forgotten to pull out the card written by Samar.

I want to see you mom”, Sagar was shocked to see the card. “He’s alive, he’s there,” Sagar wanted to shriek, but his throat choked. Tears were dripping down his eyes and he was wiping them again and again to see his brother’s handwriting. Yes, he was his elder brother, his friend, his dad, his mom, his everything. Though he had labelled him as his step-brother, Sagar could not deny the fact that their bond was above any blood relation.

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With mixed sentiments, he hugged the flowers and kissed the card sent by Samar. Gathering himself, he stood up and went back to his room. He wondered where his brother could be- same city, somewhere nearby or any place far away. He looked out of the window. It had started raining. He recalled how he jumped into the puddles with his brother during childhood. Without wasting any minute, he went out in the lawn, getting drenched. He felt the rain washing all the pains of yesteryears. Like a little child, Sagar laughed after ages.

Sagar… Sagar”, Ruma was yelling at the top of her voice. Amish came running hurriedly to look into the matter.

What’s wrong? Is Sagar ok?” Amish demanded.

Ruma stood at the porch, pointing out at Sagar, who was soaking wet in the rain, unable to hear his mom’s voice.

Please bring him back, he will fall sick,” Ruma asked Amish, frantically.

Hold on a moment”, Amish said. “Just look at his face. How happy he is! After ages, we are seeing him smiling. Let it be, let him be himself.”

Amish held Ruma’s hands and brought her inside. The flower bouquet had filled the living room with a vibrant aroma.

THE ROAD TO HOME – VII

A flurry of thoughts rattled the minds of Amish and Ruma. How and what to tell Sagar? They considered telling Sagar that the lovely bouquet of flowers had been sent by Ruma’s friend. But then they were reminded of the disastrous consequences of a hidden truth several years before, that had shattered the family.

Sagar’s mood swings over the years had often scared them. After Samar left, joy and laughter were elusive to Sagar. His parents felt guilty for making Sagar go through it all. They had tried talking to him and making him understand. But, his anger had taken a better hold of him. He hated Samar for sharing his parents’ love. Intruder…yes, intruder was what Sagar had labelled Samar. He was angry with his father for marrying a woman like Ruma and giving shelter and the rights of sonship to someone who was not his biological son. He was angry with his mother for bringing a baggage called ‘Samar’ into the family.

As months passed by, Amish and Ruma tried their best to shower their undiluted love on Sagar. No mention of Samar was ever made in the household.

From being angry with his parents and Samar, Sagar had meanwhile turned his anger inwards. In the midst of blazing flames within, the truth was that he terribly missed Samar!

As years rolled on, Sagar remembered Samar at every step. Samar had been more than a brother to him. How could he have blasted him that way? But, the word that his friend had told him that day – STEPBROTHER – took away all remorse from within him. He no longer felt guilty. He felt that he had done the right thing by claiming his due position in the family.

Now there was no one to boss over him! But then, this was exactly what Sagar was missing! Samar had selflessly loved Sagar. He had been a father-figure, a friend, counsellor and guide. Moreover it was not Samar’s fault at all. He was completely unaware of his past himself. He was a victim of circumstances.

The storms raging within Sagar had created enough space for cigarettes and alcohol to enter into his life. As he grew up, he realized how childish he had been in dealing with the situation. But, then he was indeed a child that time!

Deep down he wanted to know where Samar was. There was a creepy fear within – What if Samar had walked out of home and committed suicide! A young boy coming face to face with his past, yet not knowing the the story in entirety; accused and rejected by a brother whom he adored more than anybody or anything else; how much of a weight those tender shoulders would have carried that day!

During those initial few months after Samar left, Sagar knew how frantically his parents ran helter-skelter in search of Samar – calling up and visiting all relatives, several rounds to the local police, advertising in the newspapers and promising a reward to anyone who would give the information about Samar. However, Samar remained untraceable.

Over the years, the threesome had got used to the absence of Samar. But, none of them could get him out of their minds. Nightmares had haunted his mother for years together. She had turned an insomniac. And, how many times had she imagined the doorbell ring and rushed to open the door, with no one outside. Each one had quietly longed for Samar to take the road back home.

(Captured by Rajnandini)

And now as Amish and Ruma sat waiting for Sagar’s return, each was clueless what to do.

There was a sharp ring on the doorbell startling them both. Amish went and opened the door. It was Sagar. He was back from the day’s work, unusually late and barely able to maintain his balance.

“You are drunk again?”, shouted Amish. “You ought to have better stayed with those friends of yours. How unfortunate of me to have such a son!”

Ruma rushed to the door, hearing the commotion. Tears trickling down her eyes and a palm pressed to her mouth, she clung onto her husband.

Sagar staggered inside and headed for his room.

THE ROAD TO HOME – VI

Ruma stood rooted to the spot. An avalanche of emotions going through her. “How many times.  Oh! How many times had she imagined this very moment in her life.” “How she had longed for it. How she had prayed for it. Just one signal from God telling her that her son was alive and well.”

She clutched the flowers to her bosom. Just one sentence going round and round in her mind “I want to see you Mom“. “Samar … It was Samar’s handwriting. My son Samar. He has reached out to me. He wants to meet me. It means he has forgiven me.

Amish wondered who was at the door. Ruma had gone to open the door and not come back yet. Her tea has also gone cold. “Age is catching up with you Ruma. You are becoming forgetful. Where have you gone leaving your tea with me?“, he teasingly called out to her. Not getting any response he got up slowly and went in search of her.

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One look at Ruma and Amish realised something was very wrong. She stood like a statue and tears were flowing down her face. He saw the flowers and note in her hand. Amish read the note and was very relieved. “Thank God Samar is ok.” That was the first thought in his mind. He always had such a huge guilt feeling that he could not stop Samar from leaving the house. Amish had spent many a sleepless night reliving that fateful Sunday and wondering that maybe he could have avoided this outcome. He should have handled it better. But as they say there is no use crying over split milk.

Amish and Ruma both sat on the sofa. Their mind in turmoil. Ruma was ecstatic that Samar had contacted her. Amish was also happy but he was also worried. The confrontation between the brothers 10 years ago had shaken the very core of their happy family. It took a very long time for them to bring back semblance of normalcy in their life. He was scared that the status quo was about to be shaken again.

Their mind kept going back to that fateful day when Sagar had come home all bloodied. And had blurted out the secret that they had kept from their children for so long. “How could I tell them that they were step brothers when they loved each other so much? How could I tell Samar what kind of a monster his real father was?” Ruma thought. Ruma and Amish had decided very early on that they would never let the children know the truth about their birth. They had genuinely thought that they were shielding them from heart break. Never in their wildest dreams had they imagined that the boys would come to know about it in such a way. Or that the outcome could be so horrendous.

On discovering that Samar had left home they had been so frantic. Amish had run around the whole town searching for him. Police had tried their level best. Friends and family also pitched in but it was as though Samar had vanished into thin air. At the back of their mind there was always a fear whether Samar was alive or not.

Life was never the same again. When Samar walked out of the house it was as though he took the happiness and laughter of the house with him. Changed their life completely. Sagar had also changed. He was no longer the young happy Sagar. This was the major worry in Amish’s mind. It was evening Sagar would be back soon. How will he react to this?

THE ROAD TO HOME – V

Samar had difficulty sleeping that night. He twisted and turned on his bed but couldn’t find rest. Finally his eyes closed out of exhaustion. His slumber was deep and Samar looked peaceful as if all his worries had been put aside.

Samar could see her, his mother, playing with a little boy. She pulled him close to her and nuzzled her nose against his. She lifted him high up in the air. The little boy’s eyes beamed with excitement and belief that her mother would definitely catch him. Samar saw that little child’s face. It was him. He was so happy and his mother loved him so much. His dad was there too waiting for his turn.  He would bring him toys and take him out for walks after he had learned to walk. Samar could hear his parents singing him a lullaby.

He could see his mother’s face clearly. Her radiant, compassionate face and then he saw his father approaching him. But as he drew closer his face distorted. It became a blur and he could not recognize him anymore. He could only hear a voice saying, “HE IS NOT YOUR DAD! THEY ARE ALL LIARS!

Samar woke up with sweat on his forehead. He had to do something about his past. He could not go on living like this. He gulped down a glass of water. The dream was fresh in his mind. He tried to understand Sagar’s reaction the last time he had seen him. He tried to remember his own feelings and his reaction towards his mom and his stepdad whom he had thought to be his real dad all along. He remembered how they had loved him and brought him up. Of course the job kept them busy but still they tried their best to spend time with their kids. And he thought about Sagar, his little brother, his friend; how was he doing? Will he ever be able to make things right with him again? So many things rushed through his mind.

The last ten years of his existence had been no less than a punishment. It was like living in an exile away from your home and your family. Samar had left everything behind. He wanted to meet his mother. He wanted to see her and ask her lot of questions.  The next day he sent his parents a lovely bouquet of red-roses as an anniversary present. And along with that he also sent a note for his mother. It read, “I want to see you mom”.

THE ROAD TO HOME – IV

The following morning, Samar woke up before the alarm went off. He took a quick shower to help revive himself then dressed for another day at the office. On his way, he picked up a strong cup of coffee along with a sweet bread. He had left a note for Harsh, wishing him luck in an interview he was scheduled for to move up in the company.

Samar finally made it to work and went through the stack of files left in his box. He worked diligently until it was time for lunch. Looking at his phone to see if there were any messages from his friend on how the interview went, he shut down his computer and locked the files away. Taking the elevator to the ground floor, he stepped out.  Umbrella in hand, he headed to a nearby cafe.

He was shown a seat inside by the window and gazed out at the people walking past, all intent on their own errands. He pulled the photo of the family out of his inner pocket and stared at it. He could feel his eyes burning but didn’t shed a tear. He wondered how is parents were, wondered if Sagar had stayed to take care of his parents. He had made some inquiries and knew that his parents still lived in the neighborhood but had moved to a different home. Ten years…ten long years of no contact.

The waitress brought him his sandwich and cup of coffee, asking if there was anything else she could get him. With a shake of his head, he began to eat but again was lost in thought. Over and over again he saw the look on Sagar’s face. The looks on his parents faces. Maybe he should try contacting them, send them a card at least. Their wedding anniversary was coming up, maybe he could send them a gift of some kind…the moment the idea popped into his head it wouldn’t let go.

He would search for their address when he got back to the office. Finishing his lunch, he paid his bill and made his way back to the office. Just as he settled back down into his seat his phone vibrated. It was a text message from Harsh. :: Interview went well.  They will call when a decision is made.  Did you have lunch ? ::

He couldn’t help the smile that showed on his face.  Leave it to him to ask that question. Harsh was worse than a mother hen at times.

Setting his phone down, he looked at  the files stacked neatly on his desk and took a deep breath. First things first.  He did a quick search of his parents names and found their current address. Writing it down carefully he placed the paper into his inner pocket along with the photo.

That done, he turned his attention to the files on the desk, working until it was time to go home.

THE ROAD TO HOME – III

Samar found himself stuck in the massive traffic jam while looking up for a shortcut. But all that he could find were crawling cars, people on two-wheelers and bikes snaking their way to the front, vendors selling oddball but attractive merchandise and a few beggars walking across the busy roads adding to the hustle and bustle of the big city as loud honking made it perfectly chaotic. He felt like the emotional chaos within him was reflected outside too. He was being restless but he knew his impatience won’t help him anyway. Finally, after a torturous hour he arrived where Harsh has summoned him, ‘the over bridge square’. Without further delay, he got out of his car and made his way to the tea stall where he saw Harsh waiting for him as he constantly glanced at his wristwatch. His spotted Harsh’s car with a flat and punctured tyre car that had been pulled and parked on to a side.

Samar bobbed his head and greeted him with half a hug and half a handshake, apologizing for being late. “Chill Yaar, its fine. Allow yourself to breathe, you are human after all, not a machine. Cut yourself some slack”, chided in Harsh with a casual grin on his face. But before he could finish, Samar dialled Tushar’s auto garage number and asked the boy to have the car repaired for him.

Harsh smirked to himself and stuffed his hands in his pockets with his coat hanging on his arm. He knew Samar was overcritical and hard on himself. It was like he was chasing something or running away from something but Harsh could never figure out exactly what.

BOOOOMMMM!!! Rumbled the thunder followed by a branched flash of lightning. And just then, a cluster of dark and clouds spread over the sky, casting a grey shadow over the city. And then fat drops of  Rain pelted them drenching and soaking them to their bones. However, they hurriedly turned around and splashed through puddles of water as they hastened to get into the car after handing over Harsha’s car key to Tushar who just arrived.

“WOW!! What a feeling!” Said, Harsh, as shook his head to get the water out of his hair. Samar looked at Harsh, he enjoyed the small things in life like a good cup of coffee or the smell of the first rain and sometimes Samar felt jealous of his capacity to stay happy for no apparent reason. To Harsh it was joy, the silvery pearls pouring from the heavens above that brought with them soothing scent of Petrichor. To Samar, it was just one more nuance in many and he felt the movies have highly glamourized rains.

“What a vision, the smell of the rain, the sound of the water, different on road, different on trees. How captivating and delightful it is to be kissed by these bewitching drops of the very elixir of life. How amusing! Isn’t it, Samar? What do you say?”, asked Harsh with a profound enthusiasm.

To Samar, they seemed like skies were crying with him, that these were the unshed tears that have been welling up inside him for a decade now. Never once he cried, and that pain has turned to a sleeping volcano that was hidden under a snowy white peak of cold and indifference. He was lost in thoughts and was busy reminiscing about his childhood days when he and Sagar used to dance around out of glee and excitement in rain, making paper boats as they turned deaf ear to their parents calling them over and over to join them in high tea with hot Pakodas and extra sweet Jalebis. His eyes blank, staring into nothingness with the sound of music in his ears as he went down the memory lane of happy days, the times of innocence, ignorance and carelessness.

“Samar? Samar??…Samar????, yelled Harsh shaking Samar by his shoulder.

“Ye..Ye…Ye…Yessss! Yessss! Harsh, what happened? Have you just said anything to me?”, replied Samar who just jolted out of his reverie.

“Are you fine, Samar? I mean, is everything alright with you? You seemed to be lost somewhere.. You are feeling unwell mate?”, enquired Harsh with a concerned and sceptical look on his face.

“No, nothing like that. I was just……Just thinking about the meeting today. Nothing to worry”, replied Samar not meeting Harsh’s eyes. 

“Hmm okay.” Harsh said and then added  “Samar……I know that you will never hide anything from me so I am not at all worried but still assuring you that I will always be there with you irrespective of the situation”, said Harsh as he gave Samar a meaningful look. 

“Yeahh, I know you here for me, in this car. And to be honest I am really doubting if you are liking the rain enough to spend the whole night in the car itself?” Samar rebuked him with a fake smile as he looked into Harsh’s eyes with a naughty look.

“Oh!!! Look, people, Samar just made a joke.” Harsh said taking a dig at Samar and they both had a laugh over it.

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And with that little bit of laughter, they pulled into the parking of their society’s parking and went up to the flat which they shared. Bidding a goodnight to each other they went in their respective rooms. Harsh was asleep before his head hit the pillow but sleep was proving to be elusive to Samar.

THE ROAD TO HOME – II

Samar returned to his room with a heavy heart. He could not concentrate on his work. He had an important presentation for the next day. He was supposed to take up his father’s business. But after that not-so-pleasant revelation, a decade ago, Samar never turned back and eventually joined the Gupta Industries. At present he was the marketing head of Gupta Industries.  Finally, Samar somehow managed to complete preparing his presentation. He set the alarm and fell asleep as he was dead tired.

Ooouucchhhh!!!”, Samar woke up with a loud shriek, next morning. “Alarm has gone off twice, and I am tired of calling out your name since half an hour, so the idea of dipping your index finger in my steaming hot tea, graced me”, said Harsh in one breath with a mischievous grin, leaving no room for Samar to backfire. Samar got up from bed with a look of disgust on his face. He secretly thanked Harsh in his heart for saving him from being late.

Harsh was Samar’s closest friend. He had shared the hostel with him, they had done internship together and were now sharing the same apartment. Harsh had always been with Samar through his ups and downs. Samar finished his daily chores and galloped for office.

He was just in time. He had a wonderful day at work. His presentation was applauded and appreciated. Samar felt relaxed and happy for a change. He was famished by the end of it all. He hastily entered a nearby café and ordered his favourite hazelnut cappuccino and smoked chicken sandwich. To his delight, his favourite sports news popped up on the TV screen of that café. Samar was glued to the TV screen and was happily munching away the sandwiches. During the interval, he got up to pay the bill but had to wait for about five minutes at the counter as there was some technical issue. As he was looking out of those big crystal clear windows, an antique mirror placed neatly over a stand, beside the window caught his attention. He stood admiring the mirror and its carvings. He was about to brush his hair, but in the process, he dropped his wallet. He immediately bent down to pick it up. A handsome young man in dark blue suit caught his attention. He picked up his wallet in a fraction of second and gazed at the mirror with eyes wide open. He again took note of the young man; he was wearing a dark blue suit, had a well-trimmed goatee, walked very briskly and he wore a crooked tie. “Crooked tie!!”, exclaimed Samar. He immediately shifted his glance to the man’s shoes. The young man wore a pair of neat sneakers with messy laces. Now Samar went more close to the mirror to have a better look, not realizing that his nose was sticking to it and there was no breathable space between him and the mirror.

Samar’s sudden bizarre behaviour brought about hilarious whispers among the café staff and other people present there. “Excuse me, sir, is there any problem with the mirror?”, a sweet voice of a café staff interrupted Samar’s observations. “Uhh!! Ohh!! N… No! I…I’m sorry”, fumbled Samar, realizing he had already become center of attention. He immediately paid the bill and ran out.

He came out and looked left and right but to his utter dismay, he found out that young man was the son of a famous celebrity! Samar shoved his hand in grave agitation. He felt plagued! He could clearly see how some kids from the café were still staring at him in bewilderment. He could feel the stiff brim of embarrassment choking him. Without further delay, he stepped on the escalator. “How come I mistook someone else as Sssaa…!! How stupid of me to behave like that!”, Samar murmured to himself. But embarrassment apart, he felt shaken within. He just couldn’t peacefully settle with the thought of going home. There was something that kept bothering him deep down.  

He didn’t go home, instead took a u-turn and headed towards his bank locker. He arrived at the bank, took the locker keys for the first time and stood in front of that locker. He could not gather enough courage to open it. His hands and feet grew cold. He could hear his heart beating. He just stared at the locker, he was not in a state to decide whether he should open it or not. Somehow he managed to open the locker. When he was reaching out for its contents, his hands trembled and he felt nauseated.

The locker contained few photographs of Samar, his parents and Sagar and few gifts that they had given him. He had safely stored them in the locker and left it untouched for a decade. With trembling hands, Samar picked up one photograph. It was a photograph of summer vacation with his parents beside him and Sagar on his shoulders with his arms wide open. It was taken in their beautiful backyard. The photo revealed the ecstatic mood and a priceless smile beaming on their lovely faces. In short, it was picture perfect. Those people, those smiles, that place and that bond was something Samar missed terribly.

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He gently moved his fingers over the photograph, his father, his mother and Sagar! He hugged the photograph and wept bitterly. Once that first tear broke free, the rest followed in an unbroken stream. The torrent of his tears soaked through his shirt. He could silently hear himself scream. He felt engulfed in an avalanche of thoughts, queries that had no answers and felt a raging war in his head.  He felt lost, as if in the middle of nowhere.

Just then his phone rang. It was Harsh. He felt a lump in his throat and his voice cracked, still he cleared his throat and answered the call. “Samar can you pick me up from the overbridge square? My car has got a punctured tyre”, said Harsh, with a hint of urgency in his tone. “Sure,” Samar managed to answer and immediately disconnected the call. He made sure he didn’t give Harsh any hint regarding his well-kept secret. Samar wiped his face, brushed his hair, settled his suit and headed towards Harsh.