“How much does it cost? Is it the latest available? Can you offer any discounts?” Sheela didn’t want to loose hope. She knew that her daughter Prerna wanted to buy that mobile. She had seen her look longingly on the ads published in the newspaper many times.
“Madam, it is the latest version. Sorry, but we cannot give any discounts. We are selling it at the best price.” the salesboy replied Sheela. She knew there was no way she could afford it now. But she definitely wanted to buy it sometime sooner or later. She had already started saving some chiller-paisa every day by skipping her evening tea. She knew it meant nothing when compared to the hefty price that mobile cost. But still, Prerna had never asked her anything till then and Sheela knew it would help her stay connected to her few friends and in her job.
Sheela worked as a housemaid at a couple of apartments in the suburbs of Bangalore. Prerna was her only daughter and she was working with a grocery store as a salesgirl. Sheela lost her husband at a very young age and since then, with Prerna around, she has been working hard to make ends meet. Prerna was good at studies and wanted to become a graduate so that she could join some decent company and make their lives better with earnings. But they knew they were not fortunate enough and Prerna left her studies after school to help her mother with the chores.
Life had other plans though! Sheela knew that Prerna had an affair with someone though she never had the guts to ask her about it. Prerna knew that it wouldn’t bloom as she was from a very backward family and the boy was from a better background! Though she loved him dearly, she was mature enough to stay clear of any rumor that could affect her family and stayed clear of the relation. She wanted to study further but thought better to join a grocery store in the town which earned her a few thousands every month.
Sheela’s health was deteriorating but she wanted to marry Prerna off decently and hence wanted to save whatever she could to buy some gold and for the expenses of the impending marriage. Prerna on the other hand just wanted to earn enough so that she could see her mother settle down and get some rest which she badly needed! They both loved each other dearly, after all, each had only the other for company. But they never discussed their intentions to each other fearing the other would not agree!
It was a cold morning of January when Sheela fell really sick. She just couldn’t muster enough energy to go to work that day. Prerna called up her boss and asked for a day’s leave to take get some medicines for her mother. Her boss granted the leave but only after warning her of firing the next time she asked for leave! Prerna went to the doctor madam where her mom worked as a maid.
“I had told Sheela not to strain too much. She’s not keeping well for a while now. She needs some rest, or else you may lose her!” Prerna was alarmed at the thought of losing her only relative alive. It was her mom who brought her up with a lot of hardships and now she’s not able to give her back anything! She broke into tears at the thought. As she walked back home with the medicines, she was drowned in the thoughts of how she can make things better for her mom. But tears welled up in her eyes and her thoughts were totally blurred with grief.
By the time she reached home, Sheela was trying to cook some food. She couldn’t do much as she was quite tired. She felt sad that in spite of her hardships and efforts, there was little she could save for her daughter. When she saw Prerna walking without a shawl or sweater on that cold evening, she broke into tears! Prerna couldn’t hold back either. They spent the evening trying to console each other saying things will get better another day, soon!
The next day, Prerna went for work as usual because she couldn’t afford to lose the only hope she had of making things better for her mother. She tried to talk to the manager asking for a small hike but was blatantly refused. The manager even threatened to fire her if she demanded a hike again! She couldn’t afford to lose her only income. So she kept quiet.
She met a familiar face just as she walked out from the manager’s office. She was way too engrossed in her problems that she just got a glimpse of that face. It was very familiar and kept nagging her thoughts even though she wanted to turn back and find a solution to her actual problems.
“Prerna, did you ask for a hike to the manager?” Sethu’s question alarmed her. She got worried! “Will he fire me? How did you know that I asked? I am going through a very bad time now! My mom’s sick and I wanted to help her somehow! I even told him I would do overtime. But he threatened to fire me.” She blabbered totally tensed!
Sethu knew her situation well. He felt sorry for her but there was little he could do to help as this job was dear for him too! He had a wife and 3-year-old daughter to support. Sethu told, “Don’t worry Prerna. Things will work out soon.” though he himself didn’t believe it would! “Boss has asked you to meet him tomorrow morning at 10. He asked me to inform you!”
Her heart started pounding faster. Back home, Sheela was just recovering from the illness. If she loses her job, how would she manage the expenses? Leave alone the mobile, her thoughts were lingering over her mom’s medicines and some basic grocery for two! She found her feet getting heavier as she approached her boss’ cabin. He seemed busy talking to someone else. She had to wait outside for another 3 minutes, which seemed like 3 hours. All sorts of thoughts passed her troubled mind, but none that alleviated her pain. In fact, every single thought added to her agony.
She saw a couple of familiar faces walking out from the cabin. She was way too engrossed in her troubling thoughts that she just ignored them and walked into the cabin like a robot. The boss seemed serious, but not angry! She was relieved to some extent. But the next moment, she was wondering, then what else could it be?
“Sit here Prerna.”, said the boss. That was new to her!!! She hesitated.
“Don’t worry, I am not going to fire you. You can sit down.”, she felt relieved. But not yet convinced, she sat half-heartedly on the chair.
“Do you need some water to drink?”, asked the boss. Prerna found it very strange. “What is happening? What does he want to tell me? Whom did I just saw walking out?”, Prerna was full of questions.
“Listen to me, drink some water. Your neighbours just came to see me now. Your mother is no more!”, said the Boss. Prerna felt like the chair just moved back and she fell straight on the floor.
“Prerna, have this. Open your eyes! Can you hear me? It’s Sethu.”, she heard that voice faintly first. One second later, she found herself drenched in sweat and the boss, Sethu and a couple of her neighbours beside her looking at her anxiously.
She thought for a moment. Things fell into place now. The familiar faces were her neighbours who had moved in recently. They had come to inform her that her mother is no more. The boss just broke the news and she had fainted listening to that.
Sethu helped her get on her feet. She had no clue what to do. She felt like crying aloud. But couldn’t! She felt totally numb. Everything happening around her seemed surreal. She knew she was walking but where to, she had no idea. Her face was pale. She couldn’t cry. She just stared infinitely.
At home, her mother was lying down, covered in white. She was frozen. She just sat there in a corner, not able to cry or mumble a word. People came, looked at her mother’s body and her sympathetically, spoke to her, sighed and left. After some time, someone poured some cold water on her and helped her change. Then, her mother was not there anymore. They took her to the crematory and burned her into ashes. She was not bothered what they did with the body! She had lost it completely!!!
A couple of days went by with people coming in and going back without her responding. She hardly ate or drank anything. After a week, there was no one around her. She was all alone. That’s when it struck her hard!!! She realized the vacuum. She realized that she had lost the only kin ever she had on the earth! She realized she was all alone now – at home and in life. She cried and cried till it became night. No one came asking for her.
She cried herself to sleep. She felt a strange pain deep within. But was too tired to even get up from where she was lying the whole day. She was drained out – mentally and physically. The next day morning, Sethu came looking for her. Her boss had sent him there asking whether or not she was coming to work. Prerna was too shaken. She couldn’t think or decide. Sethu understood her condition and demanded that she joined back to work the next day. Like a small disciplined child, she obeyed!
The next day morning, she got up, mustered some strength to make herself a tea and something to bite with whatever was available home. There wasn’t much since they were anyway broke a week back itself. And since she was not going to work, she also didn’t have a penny with her. Nor did she feel like going out to buy something!
A month went by and Prerna was adopting a new routine, one without her mom, without any laughter or life. She was living like a machine. She worked, went home, cooked up something very basic, eat, slept and went to work. She would hardly speak to anyone, not even to Sethu. She became very detached. Sethu soon left the city to seek better opportunities to support his own family. After he left, there was no one who would even smile at her or ask her anything! She didn’t feel anything. She had lost everything along with her mom.
One evening, while she was walking back home, she heard a faint cry. A 2-year old girl was crying on the roadside. It was getting dark and she didn’t know what to do. Though she never bothered to look around her these days on her way to and from work, she couldn’t run away from that cry. There were people moving around, but no one was paying attention to the baby’s cry. Something struck her heart and she went near the child.
She looked down at the crying child who was getting exhausted by the heat and incessant crying. Just as she was wondering what to do, the child looked up at her and asked to be carried by her. She got numb for a moment, but recollected herself quickly and took the child in her arms. They went home first. She gave the child a decent bath, wrapped her in her mom’s saree and fed her with some leftover rice which was all that was available at home.
It was dark outside and the child slept off after it hungrily gulped down the food offered. She kept staring at the child through the night and wondered what to do with her. The next day morning, before the baby woke up, she got up and made some tea and rice with some dal. She woke the baby up so that she could drop her off at the police station on the way to her office. That was her plan.
The baby woke up with a smile first. Then it started looking for her mom and crying. She felt panicked! But she consoled the baby sweetly while still wondering what she was doing and fed her. She wrapped her in another dupatta of hers and carried her to the police station. She bought her a new set of dress from the footpath though she couldn’t really afford it.
When she went to the police station, they refused to accept the baby! No matter what she told, the station couldn’t accommodate a baby and the constable wouldn’t let her leave the baby there and go. She finally had to take her to her work where everyone gathered around her and the baby. She had no clue what to tell them and the boss first. But she finally mustered enough courage to narrate the incidents. Everyone, including the boss, was surprised to hear her out for so long after so many months. She had stopped talking altogether since her mother’s death.
The baby kept her and others busy through the day and the boss didn’t find it disturbing. On her way back, she had now a new problem to solve – what to do with the kid?!! It suddenly struck her mind that there was hardly anything to cook at home. With a baby for a company, she decided to stock some food at least to feed the baby. The shopkeeper was surprised to see Prerna after a while, that too chit-chatting with a baby. He had heard from some others that Prerna had taken the baby along with her the previous evening. He felt happy that Prerna was changing a little positively, at least for the baby.
Once back home, Prerna realized that she need a name for the baby now. She had no clue how long the baby would be with her. So she needed to buy a couple of clothes to change. She made a comfy mattress for her with her mom’s sarees. She could feel her mother’s smell and warmth in the sarees even months after she was gone. She made a quick dinner and fed the baby who was tired after the whole days’ outing.
She was totally engrossed in wondering what to do with the baby when she crawled into her lap and cuddled her. She felt a strange happiness. A smile bloomed on her face looking at the happy child that was smiling at her. She kissed Prerna and soon slept off on her lap. Prerna couldn’t believe that sudden transformation that just happened. It had been months since she smiled or felt anyone’s love. This baby had conquered her heart overnight!
She knew that someone might come looking for the baby anytime. The next day morning, she checked with the station if anyone had come asking for the baby. As expected, no one had! She made some calculations in her mind and met the boss once she reached her workplace. The boss was surprised to see her come to talk to him.
“Sir, can you shift me to your factory? I don’t want to live here anymore. Now that my mom’s not here, I want to go away.”, Prerna asked her boss. He was shocked first. But quickly responded, “Give me a day’s time Prerna. Let me see how I can help you out. I understand your situation.” He hesitated whether or not to smile, but Prerna’s smile relieved him of the trouble. She seemed happy. After
After she left, he checked with the factory supervisor and arranged a job for Prerna there in the neighbouring village. He was considerate enough to arrange an accommodation too as he understood that she wanted to start a new life with the baby there. By afternoon, he called up Prerna and said “Prerna, I couldn’t be happier! I have arranged your job in our factory and also an accommodation where you can peacefully stay nearby. Don’t worry! We are there with you.” He felt content for having done something for that poor soul.
Prerna felt relieved. She sold whatever she had to the neighbours and shifted to the new home soon. She named the baby Supriya, a name Sheela loved a lot. With Supriya around, Prerna soon became a doting mom like Sheela. She woke up to see the smiling bright face of Supriya and felt her warm hug all day through. Her boss was very considerate and allowed her near the factory premises where it was safe for the kids to play. Prerna could attend to her anytime as long as she made sure her productivity was never down. Within a month’s time, she had totally transformed into Supriya’s mom. None of her co-workers could guess that Supriya had adopted Prerna as her mother.
Prerna was back to being a happy soul once again. Though she managed to save enough to buy that mobile she always wanted to, she instead happily spent it on some dresses and toys for Supriya. She would play with Supriya just the way Sheela used to play her. She would wrap herself in Sheela’s saree whenever she wanted more strength. The sarees still had Sheela’s scent which gave Prerna the motivation to keep going, for the sake of Supriya if not anything else! The vacuum was always felt in her heart. But she found herself too engrossed in keeping Supriya happy.
Sheela was happy too, to see all these from above the sky! She wanted to shout out to Prerna that she too had adopted her one day decades back. That she was also in despair, till Prerna came into her life. She was happy that this little angel had found her angel who had helped her come out of her despair. She knew that just like her, Prerna would also soon become the real mother of Supriya.
Sheela was smiling from the sky, just as Prerna was pointing at the brightest star to Supriya during dinner time.