“No, Mumma, no…please!” Ayushi whimpered in her sleep.
Rakesh turned over to see her move restlessly. His eyes filled with tears. Lifting his hand, he gently caressed her hair, praying for her to settle. After a while, she turned to her side and hugged Ellie her doll, drifting off into deep sleep.
He sighed, not knowing what to do. Every night, it was the same story in a loop. And he felt helpless each time.
He looked at Esha’s picture hanging on the wall. It had been taken on their wedding day, ten years ago. She looked resplendent in the picture as a bride. But a dry flower garland adorned the picture now.
It had been three months since the fatal accident. He recalled that Esha had called him as she had picked up Ayushi, their eight-year-old, from her dance class. As they were heading home, all that he had heard was a crash and the line went blank. He was later informed that a drunk driver had had a head on collision with their car. The air bag in the driver’s seat had activated, but Esha in a bid to save Anushi had launched herself to try and cover the front passenger seat which didn’t have an airbag. The result was a fatal head injury and she had died on the spot.
To say Anushi was shaken, was an understatement. She had been her mother’s pet. Rakesh loved her too, but like a typical dad, failed to express it. He thought that it was enough to provide for the child by paying for her education, classes, all her needs. Hugs and kisses were a mother’s job.
The next day…
“Mr. Sharma, Ayushi is devastated. I won’t lie to you. The therapy hasn’t helped much. And I don’t blame her. Ayushi is a sensitive child. And to her, her mother was the world. With her gone, Ayushi finds it difficult to express herself. I think there is only one recourse left now,” the child psychologist suggested.
“And that is…?” Rakesh let the question hang in the air.
“I think you and Ayushi need to go away on a holiday. I think that a change of scene will do her good. I am sure it will help you too. The last few months haven’t been easy for either of you,” she added, eyeing the dark circles around his eyes.
As he headed back home, Rakesh thought about what the doctor had prescribed. He realized that she was right.
Armed with the thought, he broached the subject at the dinner table.
“Ayushi, I can take a break from work for a week. I was thinking that we can go to Goa. You like the beach. What do you say?” he mentioned casually.
Ayushi nodded her head and continued to pick at her food. She was a fussy eater and Esha was the one to feed her, spending an hour at times at the dinner table, regaling Anushi with imaginary tales. Try as he might, Rakesh couldn’t bring himself to take over. Finishing his dinner, he sat down with his laptop to check out the options in Goa.
They would fly, of course. He knew Ayushi would not be comfortable with a road journey in her current state. He tried showing some images of resorts to her as well, but she wasn’t interested. He had no choice, but to rely on his own judgment. If only Esha were here, she was so good at choosing the right options…
Five days later…
Bags packed, Rakesh and Ayushi stood at the airport terminal. As they checked in their luggage, Ayushi looked at her surroundings wide-eyed. For the first time, she seemed genuinely interested in the happenings around her. Holding Rakesh’s hand, she headed to the gate to board the flight.
Yet when the plane took off, she was frightened and shut her eyes tight. Sensing her fear, Rakesh reached out instinctively to hold her. She stiffened for a moment and peeked at him through half closed eyes. But as he continued to hold her, she didn’t resist. This awkward hug captured the hearts of the cabin crew as well as the other passengers who thought that the father-daughter duo were sharing a priceless moment.
At the resort, they headed to their room. It was a peaceful and quiet place with many activities for children including chess, swimming, movie room, etc. Rakesh was glad to see that his choice hadn’t been wrong.
Ayushi opened the door leading to the sit out and recoiled in horror as something leapt down from the railing.
“Meow,” the grey kitten cried.
“Oh, look what we have here, Ayushi! A grey cat. See she likes you already,” he smiled as the kitten circled around Ayushi who flinched and hid behind Rakesh.
“I don’t like cats. They are scary. Mumma knows that. And that is not a cat, it’s a kitten. Shoo it away, shoo, shoo!” Ayushi wailed.
Rakesh was surprised to hear that. Esha had never mentioned Ayushi’s dislike. Or maybe I had been too busy to notice.
Gently picking up the kitten, he set it free outside in the garden.
In the evening, he got to know that the kitten was a ‘She’. And her name was ‘Grace’.
At dinner, as both father and daughter enjoyed their meal of chicken, a familiar voice piped up. “Meow, meow,” she cried.
“Ah, there you are, Grace. Ayushi, feed her some chicken. She looks hungry.”
“I won’t. You know I don’t like her, Papa. You feed her if you want,” saying so, Ayushi pushed her plate of food away. She had lost her appetite now.
Rakesh picked up a small piece of chicken and laid it down for the kitten. It was gone in a flash and Grace looked at him imploringly for more. Laughing, he handed out some more.
The next few days, Grace followed him and Ayushi wherever they went while in the resort. Grace sensed Ayushi’s dislike of her, so she stayed out of their way, but on their trail. As whenever he turned, she seemed to be around.
As Rakesh woke up the following morning, he looked at Ayushi, smiling in her sleep. The last few days, Ayushi had opened up a little to him, he realized. The spent hours walking along the beach and building sandcastles or wading in the shallow waters. She let him help her with her shoelaces and at times, he too sat telling her tales while feeding her. Even the nights were easier. The nightmares continued, but their frequency a little lesser.
Letting Ayushi sleep, Rakesh decided to take a quick swim in the swimming pool which was outside their room. That way I can keep in eye on Ayushi as well, he thought.
The temperature had dipped in the night and the water was ice cold as he stepped in. As he climbed down the ladder, his foot slipped on the bottom rung. He reached out a hand to steady himself, yet his head hit the edge of the pool.
Unable to decipher what had happened, he felt lightheaded out of the blue. The world around him blurred and he tried holding on to the ladder. Finding it a little difficult to breathe, he tried to focus on the sounds around him. Faint ‘mews’ could be heard, but he had no energy to turn in that direction.
“Meow, meow,” Ayushi stirred in her sleep. The noise persisted and she opened one eye sleepily. The cat was perched next to her on the bed. She thought she was imagining it, until a furry paw touched her hand.
“Aaaaaa, don’t touch me. Shoo, shoo…bad kitty!” she cried.
But the kitten wouldn’t stop pawing her. Ayushi sat up with a start. She looked around but caught no sight of her father. Maybe he’s in the bathroom? She jumped out of bed and padded to the bathroom, but it was open. There was no one around.
The kitten continued to follow her around the room, mewing constantly.
“What do you want? Papa isn’t here. Go someplace else,” she yelled, exasperated.
The kitten leapt towards the door and ran back to Ayushi. She repeated the action a few times in a loop. As she leapt towards the door again, Grace turned to stare at Ayushi again, wide-eyed.
Ayushi noticed that the main door was closed. How had the kitten gotten in? Papa would never have left the kitten here, knowing that I don’t like her.
Only the window was open a few inches. Maybe the kitten got in that way, Ayushi decided. As she opened the door, the kitten jumped down only to tumble down the steps. Ayushi laughed at the sight. This one was a goof ball alright.
Grace turned to pause a moment to look at Ayushi again. And then she ran to the edge of the pool and wouldn’t stop mewing. Ayushi followed her, keeping an eye out for her father.
There was someone in the pool. She couldn’t see the face since the person was turned the other way but he seemed to be drowning. The water was slowly turning pink. Without wasting a moment, Ayushi yelled, “Help, help!” as she had been informed by her mom to shout out when in a crisis. A minute later, a couple of helpers had pulled the person out. It was then that Ayushi realized that it was Rakesh. Papa, her heart cried. Shaken at the sight of blood, she sat numbed while the resort doctor came in. He was breathing but seemed to be unconscious. Soon with the help of the doctor, Rakesh was sitting up. There was a big gash and the doctor had stitched up the wound and bandaged it.
Ayushi hugged him, with tears rolling down her eyes. “Don’t ever leave me alone again, Papa! Promise me. I can’t lose you too. I was so scared,” she held on tight to him.
Rakesh was overcome with emotion too, hugging her back.
“But how did you find me?” he asked gently.
“The kitt..kitten. She was on the bed and wouldn’t stop mewing. If she hadn’t come….,” Ayushi shuddered at the thought and hugged Rakesh tight again.
That night, their dinner table was a different scene. Ayushi pulled off a small chicken piece and laid it down for the kitten. Grace pawed Ayushi’s leg, begging for more. And Ayushi complied, smiling at her new friend.
The kitten became their constant companion and was also free to roam their room when she felt like it. As their holidays were at an end, Ayushi and Rakesh arrived at a decision.
The kitten had found a new home. She was aptly named ‘Grace’, they both agreed in unison. It was only by her grace that the father and daughter had found each other. Never to lose each other again.
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