(A short story by Sidharth Vardhan
First written on June 24, 2016)
“Papa, Pa-Pa, Pa, Pa” he has rolled the variations of the word;‘Daddy’ or ‘Dad’ too, but he wishes that Vani will call him papa. It has just the right kind of sound to it.
It has always felt like a big responsibility – inwardly he still has a lot of mischievousnesses, immaturity in him. ‘Will he make a good father?’This fear has been in him though he hasn’t shown his nervousness to Taruna – not purposefully; it is just that with her around, he just forgets his worries; there has always a reassuring wisdom in her eyes; as if she held a sort of secret, a secret that will ensure their happiness, which she has kept so gracefully from him. Even now, if only she was around, he would rather be focusing on –‘Today I’m going to be the father’ version.
But she is not around. She is in operation ward with doctors and he is waiting at the door of the room pacing up and down like a character in his position in a typical Bollywood movie would. He still can’t see her in pain. And especially not in the kind of pain she was in today. It scared him, how much she will have to go through for the sake of child – he doubted if it was worth it. There was that moment – just before she was being taken to the ward, while he was still telling her “everything will be all right” – though not feeling sure of it himself, when for a moment while being taken away from him, she had stopped screaming, using all her energy to do so to get the two of them a moment of quiet, and had looked at him with a sort of resolution; and suddenly he felt, just as she has made him feel in crowded places many times before, as if the two of them were alone in that crowded hospital corridor …. He had seen a finality in the moment and knew that she had a fear that they were seeing each other for the last time, that she didn’t expect to survive the pain, that she was saying goodbye. And as soon as he realized it, the thought scared him further – he felt guilt for the whole thing, stupid to for getting her pregnant and so was unable to reassure her as he felt duty-bound to. They should never have …. he should never have thought of conceiving the child, he should have said no when she had suggested the idea – but he knew it could never be possible; the sort of euphoria her smile brings has always made it impossible for him to think rationally… And yet, it was his fault – he would never forgive himself if something was to happen to her. “oh God just get her through this once, I will never try for another child.” He repeats the prayer in his mind over and over.
After a while fear lessened and he found himself losing in those same day-dreams that he has been having for days. Maybe everything will be all right after. How could it not be? Together they had turned their home beautiful into dream in last two months –painting the would-be child’s room, buying diapers, socks, clothes, toys for the baby; watching videos on Youtube about child growth – how are they to know its needs, how are they supposed to feed her, when do the child first start talking and walking; could he make her first word to be ‘Papa’ rather than ‘mama’ if he tries real hard. They couldn’t wait, wanted to know about baby as much as they could – and had taken sex-determination test, because although it was illegal; she, they wanted to know child’s sex; so as to decide which toys to buy, what should be the color of baby’s room, what name they should call the child but more than anything just to be more specific in their dreams…. And illegal doesn’t necessarily mean immoral, neither had a problem with having a girl. He actually preferred a girl, had joking told her to expect a divorce if it was a boy. And their happy hugging upon being told that it was a girl showed it.
For two months when he has taken unpaid leave from his office to take her care, they had spent their evenings in arguing pleasantly over her name before finally agreeing upon ‘Vani’ –it was she who had suggested it, out of nowhere. Once it was uttered, both knew that the there was to be no argument anymore. He has rolled the name several times on his tongue, amazed that a creature of this name shall soon be a part of his life, that he shall be uttering it, again and again, a thousand times over the coming years.Over last few days they had been spending extravagantly on all they assume the child will need –clothes, diapers, bassinets, a couple of bows – even now the memory attached to one of the last brings a smile on the face of this worried father. He had seen those butterfly bows lying around and, unable to resist despite the embarrassment he felt for buying the ridiculously girlish thing, he had bought it and when he showed it to her, still embarrassed; she had gone that ridiculous “Awwww” before dimpling into her lovely smile.
He had expected the reply, although it still charmed him in its lack of surprise, perhaps more because of that. When they weren’t still in the relationship, he had thought of it as one of those things that girls do to to get noticed. Maybe – who knows? It was exactly that but it didn’t matter, the fact is he had come to get used to the reaction, even felt the need of it; he would have felt sad if she hadn’t reacted that way, maybe even a bit offended.
But she had done just the right thing – once again. And that, after all, is their reason for their happiness. Some people take their marriage passively – expecting it to bring them happiness by itself or wanting their spouse to take care of the whole thing. Not they, they have both strived to make each other happy and made sure that the other know that their little gestures are appreciated.
And now, now Vani will add to their happiness (he will later be regretting giving a name to her). And their little family will be complete … he will make sure that she will not go through all this again. No more. ‘Oh God! Just save them once’ – he prayed, feeling weak for having to depend upon God’s will for their well-being; He could see himself playing with the child – she will be her papa’s daughter, he will make her mischievous, he will get her best of education, but he can’t see himself as a strict father, except at times he will pretend to, just for fun….
At this point his fantasies are interrupted when a nurse came out of the room with a tired look on her face, he approaches her with the question and his heart trembling in his chest, “The mother … The mother is safe.” The young, probably inexperienced nurse, says confusedly. “And the baby?” The nurse looks him in the face, resolving to accomplish the hard task, and replies in a sympathetic voice, saying what he is already fearing even while he is hearing the words “The child is dead – and I’m sorry she won’t be the mother again.”
He turns away from the nurse in shock without taking her leave and she practically runs away still nervous. What is it he feels? Shock, grief –yes, but there is something more – a dumbness, he doesn’t weep, why? he thought where are the tears? didn’t I already love her? he doesn’t know how to react, clueless as to how to grief a loss that feels so strong and unreal at the same time. Besides sorrow, he realizes that there is a very strong fear in him – but he isn’t yet conscious of, or tries to find out, the source of fear.
He stands there facing the wall for a few moments barely recovering the shock when he notices another nurse carrying a child, or rather a child’s body. in a white blanket come out of operation ward. It was her … it– Vani; but the one look that he had of her from distance, he doesn’t wish for more, tells him that it isn’t the look of the child he has dreamed of. It doesn’t matter, he realizes – he has no wish to see the child he is dreaming of for months, in that moment he decides that Taruna should not be shown the dead body again.
A few minutes later, the first nurse, the one who had given the bad news, announces to him that the mother is now conscious – it feels cruel that the nurse should still call her ‘mother’. “But she doesn’t know yet.” The nurse adds cautioning him. And now he understands why he is feeling the strange new fear. How will I face her? How will I tell her? He has no answers but he doesn’t stop to prepare himself, the thought of doing so doesn’t even cross his mind. Rather, with irresolute steps, he follows the nurse to the room. While he was still at door-step, Taruna sees him and just one look at his worried, exhausted and smile-less face is enough for her to assume the worst. “Where is the baby?” she asks him still trying to delude herself. He stays quiet, still stupified by the grief, as he approached her; and not getting the answer she repeats “Where is she?”
With an indescribable cry, she bursts into weeping.He is now with her, holding her hands. The doctor and nurse leave the room. He holds her in his arms still clueless as to what else he can do as she told him “It can’t be, it can’t be…” and what can he say? She is right – it can’t be. He wishes that they should both fell dead at this moment, they have their fill of pain for a life. She is apologizing to him, as if it is her fault, saying they will have another baby – should he tell her that she shouldn’t start dreaming all over again? That there won’t be any more babies. Or should he wait? He doesn’t say anything – not to relief her but because he has no energy to.
It was all finished – and yet, he didn’t want to return home to the pieces of shattered dream that they will find there; all those things they had brought and he doesn’t want her to return to the flat, to the reminisces of their grief – he can no longer call their flat home, their home too was blown away by the winds of this storm and, maybe, those mourning winds will blow them away too if they fail to hold on to each other.
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