It was a grand party, a birthday to remember. Kumar and Shobha’s only child, Vaibhavi, turned twenty that day.
As the last of the guests departed, Shobha grew teary-eyed. Her tiny baby was a beautiful woman now.
Complications during childbirth had ended her possibility of having another child. Vaibhavi was their world, their life.
The doorbell rang, interrupting her thoughts.
‘I am Ganga. Please, can you come with me to the Government hospital? My sister is dying and her last wish is to see you and your daughter,’ said the middle aged woman.
Where had she had seen her before?
‘Do I know you?’
‘Madam, the doctor says there is little time left, can you please come soon?’ she pleaded with folded hands.
An hour later, Shobha and Vaibhavi accompanied Ganga to the hospital room where her sister was admitted. Cancer had reduced her to a mere skeleton.
The woman caressed Vaibhavi’s hair with trembling hands.
‘Forgive me,’ she pleaded, looking at Shobha. Tears wet her sunken cheeks.
Few minutes later, she breathed her last.
Shobha couldn’t fathom who she was. She thought it inappropriate to pry Ganga at this time of grief.
A fortnight later, she met Ganga again.
‘Sorry, I couldn’t explain that day,’ Ganga twiddled her fingers.
‘I used to be an ‘Ayah’ at Sumukh maternity hospital.
You were still unconscious after the delivery. When the lights went off, I swapped your baby with my sister’s newborn. Her in-laws would have killed her daughter. They wanted a boy. She fell at my feet, begged me to keep her baby safe. I couldn’t think clearly, I had to act fast,’ she blurted.
‘Are you mad? ‘Shobha was unable to make sense of anything.
‘I swear on my son, it’s the truth.’
‘Vaibhavi……is …your sister’s child?’
The room swirled around and Shobha leaned against the sofa.
‘What about the other …I mean …my child?’
‘As I walked away with your baby in my arms, I was overcome with guilt. This was a sin. I retraced my steps
I was late.
You were awake, holding the baby, your family huddled close.
What could I say? That I had almost led your child to be slaughtered? I could get arrested. I was scared.
I left her at the temple, never heard about her after that.
My sister told her family that she had a stillborn girl. They were relieved, didn’t even ask to see the baby.
Punish me, Madam. I can’t live with the guilt anymore.’
Shobha struggled to get a grip on her emotions after Ganga left.
Vaibhavi wasn’t their daughter? What would she tell her husband? Could they ever find their real daughter?
‘Good Morning, Mom,’ Vaibhavi hugged her.
Shobha hugged her back.
The love she felt for Vaibhavi was still the same. Nothing had changed.
This was the child she had nursed, this child made her life beautiful, made her whole.’
The little secret she had learned would remain buried in her heart forever.
Nothing would change.
* * *
For more of such content follow us on Social Media: