A Ride That Was Destined

Sanika woke up with a start. Her throat was parched even as the Mumbai monsoon raged outside with full fury.  She threw back her sheets and got up to grab a glass of water. It was that dream again. The cool sip of water calmed her disoriented senses a bit. She got back to her bed where her husband Amol and her two-year-old daughter Anya were sleeping peacefully. She smiled at the serene look on Anya’s face that is so typical sleeping toddlers. She pushed back a stray curly lock from her forehead and planted a kiss on her chubby face. She switched off the lights, but sleep eluded her. She couldn’t get that face out of her mind. The woman from her dreams, pleading with folded hands to be forgiven. She made a note in her mind to google the interpretation of the strange dream.

The shrill ring of the alarm clock woke her when she had just managed to doze off. She wished she could press the snooze button and sleep till noon. But such wishes remain wishes for a busy working woman who had a husband and a toddler to attend to before leaving for work. Rubbing her sleepy eyes and stifling a yawn, she tiptoed to the kitchen; trying not to wake Anya till breakfast was prepared and lunch boxes were packed. She had a lot to do and a wailing toddler who wanted her to come back to bed wasn’t something she could deal with in her sleep deprived state. She opened her kitchen window and saw to her dismay that there was no sign of any respite from the unrelenting downpour. She checked her office email on her phone, hoping that there would be a message from her office declaring a holiday, but there was no such luck.

Once her chores were done, she took a hurried shower and went to wake Anya. Amol was up already and was reading the newspaper, waiting for his morning coffee. “Met department has issued a red alert for Mumbai for the next 48 hours, I think we should stay at home,” he said hoping to savor hot pakoras while watching the India vs Australia cricket match live on Star Sports. “Sorry Amol”, she said handing him the steaming mug of coffee. “I have a project deadline on Monday and I might have to work on the weekend if I can’t finish my work by tomorrow”, she said as she carried a half-awake Anya to the bathroom. She could have opted to work from home that day, her office allowed it in emergencies. But she knew how it would be impossible to get any work done with Amol asking for coffee and something to munch on every hour while he sprawled on the sofa watching cricket. Also, Anya would stubbornly ignore Sujatha, her caretaker, and not want to leave her mother’s lap the whole day. So much for flexible work options, in her case, they were of no use.

Sujatha called up to say that her area was flooded and she couldn’t come that day. Luckily Amol’s office had declared a holiday. He couldn’t decide if he was happy or disappointed. He could watch the cricket match, alright, but with Sanika gone, there would be no pakoras but only a toddler and her tantrums to deal with, all on his own. “Stay back, please, don’t do this to me”, he said imploringly hoping that Sanika would change her mind. But she was already dressed in ankle length jeans and a crisp light blue half sleeved shirt and was heading out with her laptop bag and umbrella in hand. “See you Amol”, she said after giving him detailed instructions for Anya’s breakfast and lunch and telling him that his breakfast was on the dining table.

She reached her office at 11 am. Mumbai monsoons are romantic and beautiful, but not if you commute by local trains. She was stranded for two hours at Thane station as they waited for the flooded tracks to be cleared. She forgot all about the dream and her morning ordeal as she immersed herself in reading and replying to emails from clients, reviewing code written by her team-mates and preparing documentation for the production release scheduled on Monday. She even skipped lunch to make up for the delay that morning. An announcement on the Office public address system jolted her back to reality. It was the HR lady urging employees to leave early as many areas of the city were flooded. She looked at her watch, it was 5 pm and she had a few more emails to send. She typed away at lightning speed and finally got up, clutching her stiff back after clicking the ‘Send’ button on the last email.

Her flimsy umbrella didn’t do much to shield her from the pouring rain. As she reached the railway station, she could see hundreds of commuters on the platform with worried looks on their faces. She cursed her luck when they announced that all trains were cancelled till further notice owing to waterlogging on the tracks. She quickly considered her options, going back to office, asking Amol to pick her up – No, that would mean he would have to bring Anya along in this deadly weather. He was worried and had called her more than ten times. She had assured him that she would manage and he should stay at home with Anya. She checked the cab service app on her phone; none were available, as expected in this weather. She stepped out of the railway station having decided to go back to office–that was always the safest option; there would be food, washrooms and safety. She might even complete all her pending tasks. Maybe she could leave by afternoon tomorrow and bring in the weekend early.

A girl waved at her from a black and yellow taxi – “Didi, there is a seat, where do you have to go?” she said screaming to be heard in the deafening rain. Sanika accepted her offer and stepped in. The cab was heading towards Panvel and she could get down at Vashi and take a rickshaw home.

After moving at a snail’s pace for about an hour in bumper to bumper traffic and feet deep water, the driver gave up. “Madam, I am taking a detour and heading to my friend’s place, it is insane to try to navigate the roads in this condition”. Sanika and the girl looked at him in despair. “How will you get home?” she asked the girl. “I might just stay at my Aunt’s place. It is a ten-minute walk from the next signal”, she said. “You can come with me and stay till the weather improves”, she offered. Having no other option, Sanika reluctantly agreed to join her. “I hope I won’t be imposing on your Aunt”, she said hesitating. “Didi, Don’t worry she’ll be glad to help”, assured the girl.

As they rang the doorbell of the modest one bedroom apartment, a woman in her fifties opened the door. “Come in”, she welcomed them warmly. Her niece had called to inform her in advance. She gave them towels to dry their dripping hair as she brought parathas and steaming mugs of tea. “Thank you, Aunty, I hope I am not troubling you”, Sanika said taking a bite of the heavenly parathas. Her stomach growled with hunger. She hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.  “Not at all, what is the use of being human if we can’t be of help at times like these?” Sanika liked the woman instantly. As they got talking, Sanika told her about her husband, her job and about Anya. When she showed her a cute photo of Anya on her phone, the woman smiled. “You are lucky to have such a lovely daughter… I wish I was brave enough that day” she said sadly, more to herself than to Sanika. Sanika was curious but remained silent as she didn’t want to appear too inquisitive.  The woman continued “It was the third time I was pregnant. My first two pregnancies ended in miscarriages that left me devastated. I was overjoyed and shared the exciting news with my husband and in-laws. My mother-in-law whispered something to my husband and he nodded. During my second trimester, they took me to get an ultrasound done. Those days, revealing the baby’s gender was not illegal, you see?

‘It’s a girl’, they said. The atmosphere at home that day was that of mourning. I cried and begged them to let me keep the baby, their minds were made up. I gave up finally and woke up in my sterile hospital bed two days later clutching my barren abdomen that had housed my baby girl not a long while ago. I became withdrawn and depressed, but when I conceived again after a few months, I slowly started getting back to my normal self. The radiologist pronounced that it was a girl again to my utterly shocked husband and in-laws. I was scared to death for my unborn child, but this time, I wouldn’t give in. I booked tickets to Indore where my parents lived. With only two saris and fifty rupees in my purse, I left that night, never to return. I threatened my parents with suicide if they forced me to go back. When they failed to convince me, they gave up. Unfortunately, I miscarried that child too a week later. There isn’t a single day where I haven’t wondered what my daughter would have looked like had I given her a chance at life. She would probably be the same age as you”, she looked longingly at Sanika. I wish God would give me a chance to say “Sorry” to my unborn daughter who lost her life because of my cowardice.

Sanika had tears in her eyes and didn’t know what to say. She wished she could comfort the lady, but was at a loss for words. As she looked up, her eyes fell on a framed photograph of a young woman with a middle-aged couple on the bookshelf. Where had she seen her before? “That’s me with my parents; it was taken on my 25th birthday after I had just divorced my husband”. Sanika could sense her pain and loss even in the lifeless photograph. The expression on her face looked eerily familiar.

Suddenly, everything was crystal clear. The woman in front of her was the one who haunted her dreams. Everything fell into place like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Getting into that cab, getting stranded in the rain and landing up at her doorstep wasn’t a coincidence, she was destined to meet her mother from her previous life – a life that was too short to be even called a life.  A mother’s heartfelt regret at not being able to save her unborn child and her all-consuming wish to seek forgiveness had brought her here. “Mom, it wasn’t your fault, you were helpless, a victim of their cruelty. Here I am today and I promise that you won’t ever shed a tear again”, she said hugging her mother who looked at her wide-eyed with disbelief.

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Shailaja Pai
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