8-year-old Mia came running. She jumped up and down with excitement and announced, “Mummy, Biju Chettan has finished building the Treehouse. Can I ask Rini to come and play with me there? You must make something for us to eat. Can I take my barbie up?”
Neetu smiled at her enthusiasm and replied, “Yes Molu. I will make some unniappams. I will call Rini’s mom and arrange.
Later, Neetu heard the car leave and was surprised. Rini was a chatterbox and would always linger on, talking about what was happening in their family.
She called out for Mia and realized that Mia lay slumped on the easy chair. She ran to her and asked “What happened Mia? Did you hurt yourself?
Mia looked up at her silently with tear-filled eyes. But did not reply.
Rini’s mom called the next morning. “Did both of the girls quarrel? Rini has not spoken a single word after coming back. She is not eating. She simply cries when I ask her about it.
Neetu replied “Same with Mia. She seems dull and dejected. She is not answering my questions. Maybe they had a tiff. Let’s wait and see what happens.”
Three days flew by. The girls had improved. But their old ebullience and exuberancy were missing. They were listless and despondent, not replying to questions about their time at the treehouse.
Neetu decided to go check the treehouse herself.
She climbed the tree with difficulty.
She squeezed herself into the treehouse and sat leaning on the wooden wall. There were remnants of unniappams lying on the floor. Other than that there was nothing there to indicate what had transpied that day.
She was breathless after the climbing. She must have put on some weight. With all the chores of farming life, Neetu hardly got any time for herself. Anand was of no help too. He was busy with his business and hardly spoke to her beyond day-to-day matters.
Her life was slowly turning monotonous. She had been doing very well in her career before she got married. Now there was hardly any achievement or joy. Cooking, cleaning, and looking after Mia. Repeat next day. And the next. She knew the pattern her life was going to take. She would grow old in this estate, continuing her joyless life. Finally, where was it all going?
Anand noticed that Neetu was very silent. Not the angry silence in which any question from him would result in a barrage of angry words. But this was a morose and dispirited silence. Almost as if she was undergoing depression.
Suddenly the word struck a chord in him. He called Biju and asked “Which tree did you chop down to make the treehouse?
Biju looked furtive. He reluctantly replied “That neem tree from which Chacko hung himself because of depression! I had cut that down after the incident. So I used it to build the treehouse.
Anand immediately understood. He instructed the confused-looking Biju, “Chop the tree-house up, take it far away, and set fire to it. If there is any wood left over, burn that too.”
Anand regained his happy family soon.
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