The Penance

The Penance

The woman Rajeev had known all his life had transformed into a stranger. The stoic grim disposition she was associated with was no longer discernible. And the eyes that ever harboured a melancholy expression shone in excitement. She was lost in a realm of cherished recollections of her short marital life. 

Rajeev was beholden to her forever for raising and providing him the best against all odds. The evidence that she could forget the past 21 years’ anguish and forgive the man who abandoned her with a 1-year-old son distressed him.

The son watched in amazement as his mother swirled, exposing a new bride’s delightful demeanour. She cooked her husband’s favourite dishes while humming a melody. She never doubted if he would prefer the same things which fancied him all those years ago. In two decades, the world had changed over. The man she would greet might well be a stranger.

Wrinkling his nose at the flavours that wafted from the kitchen, Rajeev addressed his mother who appeared to have mastered the art of reversal of age, “Amma, how can you welcome that man into our lives? Where was he these 21 year’s while you struggled alone!”

His rancour clouded her bubbling mirth. She crushed the dried fenugreek leaves in her palms and sprinkled into the curry, “I can understand your anger. You are hurt, but he is your father. He may have had his reasons to abandon us. I am thankful that he is coming back to us, better late than never.”

“Reasons! I am not a wimp to grovel at his feet because he fathered me. I hate the irresponsible man.”

“You are young and do not understand love. Promise me that you will be kind to your father. Our family will be complete once he moves in with us.” The son brushed his mother’s attempt at caressing his face and slammed the door of his room. 

It was lost on the son that the mother had observed penance for 21 years, hopeful of her husband’s return. 

As his anger abated, guilt crawled into his heart. Rajeev reproached himself for the harsh words. Calling out to her, Rajeev opened her bedroom. As the doorbell buzzed, he strode to the front door.

A silver-haired man bearing a stark resemblance to Rajeev gawked awkwardly. Leaving the door open and not asking him inside, Rajeev shuffled to inform the mother.

She sat in front of the dresser resplendent in a red silk sari.

“Amma, your wait is over. He has come.”

The eerie stillness sent a shiver down his spine.

“Amma…” He touched her shoulder; her head lolled lifelessly.

The bleak reality stared at Rajeev. He was destined to an incomplete family, and the last conversation with his mother had been cloaked in bitterness.
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