Sandhya’s fingers flexed and extended rhythmically, deftly creating a shadow puppet on the wall. Adi squeaked mirthfully. Sandhya stopped to answer her phone. Mother’s voice was quivering on the other side, “They have taken Usha to the hospital. She is positive.” The pandemic that seemed to live in headlines suddenly felt real.
Sandhya interrupted her, “You should not be travelling across cities right now, it is not safe.” Mother did not seem convinced, “I will ask Usha what to do”, she said. “Fine”, Sandhya spoke in the same resigned tone that she used at the end of almost all conversations.
Sandhya listened stoically as Mother informed her each day about the worsening of her elder twin, who was now shifted to the ICU.
One morning she walked over to Mother’s house, a few streets away from her own. Over tea Mother enquired of her grandson and son-in-law.
“Oh, Umang just left for office. And Adi is fast asleep.” said Sandhya.
Alarmed, her mother exclaimed, “All alone?”
Sandhya waved her hand in dismissal, “No, Chiya is watching over him!”
Mother pushed her to the door, “How irresponsible! Go over to him this very instant. When would you learn to use your brains?”Sandhya walked away as if by habit, staring blankly at the road ahead.
Back home, Sandhya smiled indulgently. Adi had woken up and was calmly playing with Chiya. She looked in the mirror, and saw herself, on her sixth birthday, preening around in her new dress. Alongside was Usha, in same dress as hers. Like chalk and cheese said everyone. They sat at their habitual places at the table, Sandhya left a seat unoccupied between her and her identical twin. Usha chattered on about her plans for their birthday party in the evening. Sandhya listened quietly, dividing her poori into bite sized pieces. Mother glanced at her and said, “There she goes again! How does she manage to spill food by her side each time? Could she not learn something from her sister?”
Wordlessly Sandhya picked up the bits of poori lying in front of the empty chair next to her. Even as she left her plate in the sink, the leftover poori and a little of every single item remained intact in her plate.
“Is Adi alright? Foolish girl!” the same reprimanding tone broke her reverie, as Mother entered. Adi hobbled next to his grandma, munching on a cookie, “Nani, can Chiya have a cookie as well?”
“Bah, this pretend friend of yours!” Mother exclaimed, offering another cookie.
Two weeks after Usha’s demise, they were sitting quietly sipping tea. Memories and tears incessantly rolled down Mother’s cheeks,” Oh my golden daughter, what would I do without you?”
In an uncharacteristically sharp voice Sandhya said, “But you still have two living daughters, Ma.” Mother looked up, confused. “Me and Chhaya. You were always occupied with Usha, but Chhaya has been by my side, even helping me raise Adi”, Sandhya mumbled.
“She has always followed me, like a shadow.”
Author’s note: Mental illness is a lot more common than accepted by society and has diverse manifestations .It can sometimes be inherited. Sudden or gradual change in personality in adults and children alike should be viewed with concern. Awareness and acceptance are both important in detecting and managing these conditions.
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