I tell her that I need to talk to her about something and request her to not to get angry. I could imagine her mentally screaming ‘What more bad news has this girl got?”
“Don’t worry. It’s nothing bad.”
I heard a loud relieved sigh from the other end.
“I need a help.”
“Help?”, she sounded perplexed as if I asked her whether there was water on Mars.
“I want to talk to your mom.”, I said.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you properly. Come again”
“I. want. to. speak. to. your. Mom”
“Are you serious? I hope you’re sane. I don’t understand you right now”, she starts shouting.
“You don’t have to. Just give her the phone”, I say firmly.
After few seconds, Chubby’s mother comes on line. There is this uncomfortable silence prevailing between us. With much difficulty, I break the ice by saying, “Aunty, are you on the line?” to which she replies with a “Hmmm”. I feel glad that she is not talking much. It would be hard for me if she talks well. I just want her to listen to me and then if it’s not much, I hope she agrees to it.
“I am sorry I came back and caused a chaos there”, I begin. Without acknowledging or discouraging my statement, she says that she is glad that my book is doing well and she was about to say she was proud of me but then stopped while pronouncing the word ‘proud’. It was a bit of a relief that she didn’t hate my visit. I don’t know whether she was really happy about my book or just pretended to be but I am glad that she could at least ‘pretend’ to be happy.
“Thank you”, I pause for few seconds before I continue, “I need a favour from you. I know I am not your real daughter and I have no rights to ask you this but“
“Tell me beta. What should I do?”, she says and a tear tries to come out of my eyes after which my mind warns that she was responsible for all the mess. But then the better part of me overrides that thought and tells me that she isn’t responsible for all the problems. She just wanted me to be away from Chubby. It was my decision to leave Jhanakpur and stay with Biba for few days. It was my situation that I couldn’t come back all these years. I am responsible for my life and the chaos in it. I shouldn’t blame her for it. How could she know just trying to keep two childhood friends apart a little would result in a high-voltage drama like this?
“Beta”, she says again.
“I want you to talk to Chubby’s father. Please, I know it’s difficult for you. I want him to know it’s not Chubby’s fault. I can’t go on with my life peacefully unless this gets sorted out. I know we shouldn’t talk about the dead but I want him to know that Bua had a hand in this. I want him to forgive Chubby.”
I can feel my voice going creaky when I say, “Please, can you do this for me? Ummm… I mean for Chubby.”
She doesn’t speak for few seconds.
“Bye beta”, she tells me before hanging up.
I sit on the bed and rub my face in anguish. Was I wrong in talking to her about this now? But I can’t go to New York with this baggage on my shoulders. I know things can’t get resolved in a day. 3 years worth of mess. It would take time to clean. But I at the least wanted only an assurance; an assurance that things would get better and efforts were made.
“Don’t worry”, Karthik puts his hand on my shoulder. “She would take care of it”
“But she didn’t say anything”, I whimpered.
“You believe me, right? Believe my words. She would”
“You don’t even know what or how she talked to me. How are you saying all these things?”
“Why do I need to hear everything? Somethings are understood without saying. I can see it in your eyes.”, he says smiling like a Cheshire cat and sits besides me almost wrapping his around me before he sees the clock on the wall. “Oh No! You should be at Airport in 20 minutes. Get up”, he shrieks.
“Miss Chandni. We have admitted her in the emergency room as of now. She fainted because of hypotension.” Those words were like a slap on my face. You can’t even take care of your Mom Chubby.
I gathered myself and the words came out in a whisper “Will she be fine, doctor? I… She…she was so cold when i touched her.. I…is she fine?”
“Yes she is. She was underoxygenated to be more precise. That is why the cold hands. We will have to run some tests. Usually we don’t keep patients here for a problem like low BP. But then i suggest we should just go through a full body checkup. I hope you won’t mind?”
Samir knows I am not in a condition to speak. So he conversed with the doctor “Of course not. Please do whatever you want to. Just please take care of her.”
“Yes. She will be fine. We are just transfusing dextose to her. And then you can meet her. Wait here.”
Thank God. The moment I saw Mom lying their on the stairs, I could feel my whole world collapsing. It was all so sudden. I am so glad that Samir was there with me otherwise…..
When I saw my Mom’s pale face and touched her cold hands, my own soul ebbed away from my body and I stood their like a statue. I was just crying the whole time we were in the cab. My mom was trying to speak. She was trying to say sorry and everytime she said that I felt as my heart is being stabbed again and again. I am the worst daughter in this world. I was choking with my own tears of embarrassment and terror of losing her. Just then I came back to reality and saw Samir completing the hospital formality. We sat in the waiting room.
“Hey Chandni…. she is fine. You.…will you stop crying?”
I hate crying. All these years when Chutki was away, I never cried. I hardly shed a tear. Except the day when Dad accused me for being the reason for Bua’s death. And now I have turned into that moaner again. “I am not crying.”
“Oh you are shedding pearls from your eyes..I see! Shall I be collecting them?”
“I could have lost her. 60/40. Seriously, that was her blood pressure!!! I was so much into myself, I never gave it a thought about how much stressed she might be! You know I hate hospitals. And I cannot even bear the thought of my mother inside that room. On that filthy bed.…….I was being so selfish Samir. I was just thinking about me and how I was wronged by my Mom. When the truth is I have only let down everyone in my life. My dad, Chutki, Baba and now Maa.” And then I saw Samir’s face working. He looked at me disappointedly. And then stood up and left the waiting room without saying a word. All that happened in mere seconds and I couldn’t comprehend why exactly he left? I was already so exhausted. Just then I thought about Samir and how in a way I have let down him too! He has always been there for me. Tolerated all my tantrums but still helped me in every way he could. And I, in return, have never even hugged him back. I am a lost case. I am just prone to problems and I give an exaggerated response to every damn thing and by the time I realize how effed up I am it’s always too late.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t realized Samir is standing over me. I looked up and he was still carrying that look on his face. “They said you can meet Aunty Ji.” I don’t even know if I want to meet her or not. Can I face her? She must be so wistful right now. “Are you listening Chandni? You can blame yourself later!” Samir IS disappointed. He is definitely hot under the collar. What have I done now? Aughh.
“Samir..??? Are you… Alright?” He nods his head….DISAPPOINTEDLY! “Do you want to go home? You can if you want to. I think you…. ”
“Do you want me to g… ?”
“Ofcourse NOT. ” I didn’t even allow him to complete the question. I swear he was just about to smile after hearing my mendicant answer. But then he just said “You Are So Messed Up Chandni.” And I couldn’t agree more.
New York! Uff… This city feels beautiful even from inside a hotel room. New York Library Public Library! I can’t wait to go there. My guide for this trip, Mr. Arjun has agreed to take me there. I just have to call Chubby and make sure she’s fine so that I could be at peace in the library.
Out of the habit that I developed since yesterday night, I call Chubby and as usual, no one picks it. Every time I convince myself that it must be night for them, it must be early morning, it must be lunch time or whatever time that could be used as an excuse for not attending phone calls though I feel otherwise. I fear a fight at Chubby’s home. What if her mom and dad had a fight because of Chubby’s mom revealing the truth? I shouldn’t have asked her through phone. I should have talked to her about face to face. I asked Karthik to check on Chubby but what’s the use. No one was picking calls. He would receive the same empty response if he called.
The phone rings and it’s him.
“Karthik! Did you speak to Chubby? Everything’s fine, right?”, I am dying to hear him say ‘yes’.
“Hmm. First tell me how did the launch go?”
“Yes, it was great. I would have almost embarrassed myself before the press but thankfully Arjun came to my rescue”, as I continue to talk excitedly, something in me reminds me that I was asking him about something worriedly and I stop in guilt for being distracted.
“Chandrika?”, he says. I know that voice. Something is definitely wrong. What is it?
“Don’t beat around the bush! Tell me what’s the matter. Chubby is fine na?”
“She’s fine but…”
‘But’. This word is a dangerous word. It doesn’t let you experience experience any emotion wholeheartedly be it happiness or sadness.
“Please tell me Karthik. What happened?”, I beg him.
“Chandni’s mom is not well. Actually it’s not a serious problem. She’ll be discharged tomorrow. It’s just-”
My heart twists hearing this. Wasn’t she fine two days ago?
“Discharged?? She’s admitted to the hospital? What happened to her?”
“Now don’t panic. She just fainted due to stress. Chandni said that they want to be on the safer side so they’re doing a master checkup for her. She’s alright now.”
It relaxes me a little.
“When did this happen? Is this because she talked to Chubby’s father? Did they have a fight?”
“Chandni’s father was out of station. He wasn’t there when I talked yesterday, but Chubby said he was on his way. He must be there by now. I don’t know he knows anything about you Chandrika”
“If the truth is not the problem, what else could be the problem? Why did she faint? Does she have any health problem?”
“I wouldn’t have told you if I had known you’ll bombard me with questions.”, he says with a stupid sigh. I. Just. Can’t. Understand. This. Guy.
“Can’t you be serious now?”, I ask him.
“Why? Do you want me to be admitted in hospital?”
“Mr.Karthik Varma”, I say in frustration.
“Ms.Chandrika Iyer”, he mimics me.
I put the receiver in its place.
After few seconds, the phone rings. It must be him. I attend the call. It’s him.
“Won’t you talk anything? Why are you making me pay for hear your silence? You know how much it costs a minute for an international call?”, he continues.
I remain silent.
“You’re so stubborn”, he sighs.
“It happened day before yesterday”, he says in a low voice.
“Day before yesterday? That means it happened before I came here! Why didn’t you tell me?”, I say in disbelief.
“Okay, let me explain. 1) You were in the plane when I called Chandni to inform about you boarding the flight and that’s when she told me about this. 2) Yesterday was an important day to you. I didn’t want you to be crying in the launch event. 3) It’s a big event and there would have been photographers-”
I hung up again. He called again.
“You’re irritating me.”, he says.
“So are you”, I reply.
“I didn’t want you to be tensed. It’s a milestone in your life. I didn’t want you to mess it up. You don’t know what you do when you’re emotional. What if you ran away from the event? I didn’t want that. Chandni also felt the same.”, he says in an apologetic tone.
“Thanks. I’ll talk to you later”, I say in a breaking voice.
“Are you crying?”
“NO! I am jumping in excitement!”, I shout.
“Why are you being emotional now? It’s not like something serious happened-”
“Nothing serious happened? Really? Her mother was admitted in hospital. You’re saying nothing serious happened. She fainted because of ME! Because of me asking her to talk to Chubby’s father about Chubby. IT’S BECAUSE OF ME. I shouldn’t have went there.”
“Don’t start now!!”
“Yes, I won’t talk. Or else my bad luck will rub off on you too like it did with my parents, Chubby and her mother.”
“WILL YOU STOP THIS NONSENSE?”, he shouts in a voice that makes me still.
“Everything is not about you. Okay? Chubby’s mother is not well. It has nothing to do with you. You didn’t know she would get sick. Did you? If you still feel responsible, take responsibility for your actions. Don’t put it on your bad luck. Your bad luck didn’t stop you from working. It didn’t stop you from writing a book. It didn’t stop you from going from New York. Bad luck is not an excuse.”
“Okay”, my stomach shifts uneasily.
I can’t see him but I could feel that he’s rather surprised at my reaction. He might have expected me to shout at him or cut the call. I guess that’s why he could be my friend even after knowing everything about me. He knows all my flaws and yet doesn’t despise me. It’s because he doesn’t have high expectations from me. He is always prepared for the worst when it comes to me. Why don’t people expect from me? Maybe Chubby is the only person who does.
I sit on the chair by the balcony and close my eyes.
“Please be fine. I haven’t told you this but every time you said you wish I were your daughter, I wished you were my mother, Chubby was my sister and I was a part of the family. I wish you had known that, if you had told me to stay away from Chubby, I would have done it happily. For you. For Chubby. If you had thought that was good for her, I would have happily obliged. But I know why you didn’t. I always looked like an immature crazy girl. I have always called you ‘Aunty’ but for once, I want to be honest with this. I want to know how it feels to say the word. With the hope that you don’t mind me calling you ‘Maa’, I am saying this. Maa, I owe you my life. I owe you a lot for bringing Chubby into my life. For bringing Baba into my life. For showing me what a mother and father could do for their child. For showing me what a family is. For bringing up Chubby as the wonderful she is. The last time I prayed to God was when Biba died and I was praying that God would give her life again. It didn’t happen. Please don’t make me think that God doesn’t hear my prayers. Please be fine. For Chubby. For her father. For Me. I can’t lose another loved one. If you want, I would even promise that I would never interfere in your life again. I won’t contact Chubby. I would go to a place somewhere where no one can find me. This time, I’ll make Chubby understand that it’s good I leave. I won’t tell Chubby’s father anything nor would ask you to tell him anything. I would make sure Chubby doesn’t tell anything too. Anything you ask! Anything for you to be alright. Please. I need you for Chubby. Please.”
I should go to India soon. It’s already late. I wish tomorrow comes sooner. Chubby, I hope you’re fine. Why is it always that I am the reason for your pain? I am terrible friend. I am a very terrible friend. You deserve better.
“Mom, I won’t listen to you this time. Your soup is ready. Drink it.”
“It is bitter. Yes I know. But I have tried my best to make it tastier than the last time. And please. No more arguments.”
“huhhh. Okay. Fine.”
When I see my Mom, sitting here on the bed, peacefully-with all her love and little bit of annoyance-I swear I feel so exempted from the guilt of the scene that passes over me every now and then. Pale face, cold hands. My God! That was so terrifying.
“You are again thinking about the accident Chubby, aren’t you?” I am so effing transparent. No wonder how these people always know what I am thinking.
“Yes I am Mom. You scared the hell out of me that day.”
“I am sorry. And no, I am not saying sorry for the accident.” I know where this is going. I was avoiding the conversation. We brought Mom home yesterday morning. She was unconscious for most of the time because of the sedatives. She was willing to do the conversation last night but I diverted the topic to the days when I used to get sick and mom used to make those bitter kaadhas for me. I still remember that big proud smile on her face from yesterday when she said ‘Those kaadhas always worked on you chipkali’. “Are you listening Chubby? Where do you always go? Samir was right about you. You are a day dreamer.”
“Mom, you don’t have to say sorry.… Well yes you should be sorry. But I am sorry too. But no. I don’t want to be sorry and I don’t want you to be sorry….Ughhh.. Can we just not talk about it Mom?” And there from far away my tears are waving their hands. Stay there you bitches.
“Chubby, do you know why you got this name?”
Yes I know. I hear it everytime, when I am on the verge of crying. “No I don’t know.” But I love hearing it from you.
“Because when you are too angry or too sad or too happy or too excited or…..”
“Okay Mom I got it.”
“Right, so your cheeks flushes and you look chubby. And you are always overwhelmed with some kind of emotion. Hence, Chubby.”
“Wow, that’s interesting.” Not.
“I know what I have done cannot be undone by a sorry.. But… ”
“I hate this word sorry. Bandaids can never fix bullet holes. Neither can sorry bring back a dead person or furbish up all the broken dreams. Nor can it undo the past two days of your life. And all the stress you were dealing with. I can never understand why we use sorry.”
“I am sorry, i didn’t meant to be rude.”
“But you hate the word sorry. Now why are you using it.”
“Because I know I was being rude and stupid.”
“That’s it. There is your answer. I was also being selfish Chubby. And No I don’t want you to forgive me for what I have done. Because I am a mother, and I very well know that even though I was being selfish, my intentions were not bad. What I did was definitely the worse way to deal with the situation. But I don’t want you to blame yourself for anything that happend.” I stare at her for a while. Trying to soak in whatever she is saying. It is too much. Too much for me. “I told your dad the whole truth the very next day Bua died.”
“Whattt???? But.. He wasn’t…he was still avoiding me.. ” No wait… He wasn’t only avoiding me. He was avoiding Mom too. Our conversations weren’t as normal as it used to be. But he wasn’t ignoring me like he used to do when Bua was alive. “Momm, why did you even listened to Bua? You could have directly talked to Chutki and me.”
“I know beta, I know.. I wasn’t in my senses. One day when I was seeing your report card-you got terrible marks that year-your bua came and just filled me with nonsense and I being the selfish mother agreed with her. I am so sorry.” I don’t know what to say. I am not blind to not see the terrible guilt on her face and her tears. Whatever happened was wrong, I wasn’t there with Chutki in her struggles and she wasn’t there with me. But now we have sorted out everything. All the misunderstandings and fights and scars are bygone now. If I will stay angry with Mom, I will be clinging to the past and I have to let it go.
“It’s okay Mom. It’s fine. Let’s forget it. Everything is good now. I have got a job. Chutki is a successful writer now. Sami…..Everybody is fine. Now please rest your mind and body and soul and whatever. We are good. Okay? ”
“Okay. I love it when you act like my mother.”
“You mean Nani? Awww I miss her now. But we should call baba. Let’s plan a dinner tomorrow. Chutki will come tomorrow morning. And you can call if you want someone. I will do all the preparations. Once my job will start, I won’t be getting much time.” Why is she staring at me like that!!
“What about Samir, call him too!”
Samir…. He hasn’t called me since he left yesterday. The last conversation we had was in the waiting room. And then he left the hospital. Came back yesterday morning, picked us and then…..
“Mom, did he asked or said something while leaving yesterday? I remember I was in the kitchen and you two were talking.”
“Yes, he asked to call him if we need something.……”
What even! I should call him when I need something. What does he think of me?
“I am calling him.” Why is she tensed?
“Mom, I hope you don’t have problem with that.”
“Ofcourse not. I am just tensed because..…i am just afraid. I don’t want you to…..be alone you know.”
“I am 21 only. I can stay alone till 40.”
“Ahhh.…” Oh god Mom.. What happened now? “You hurt.” Such a drama queen.
Let me call Samir. I don’t even know the reason behind his gloomy eyes and disappointed face.
“Hello, Give the phone to Samir.”
“What?” What are you doing Chubby? He is not a prime minister.
“Can I talk to Samir please? You must be his room partner.”
“But he has left the hostel…he must be in Pune right now.” Whattttt.. What is…Noo.. Not again. I….”Give me the phone, who are you talking to? Hello Samir speaking…”
“…….” What the hell??? Who does that kind of horrific prank? I am gonna strangle that guy and I am gonna fry him in hot oil and….
“Hello?? Chandni? Is everything alright.”
“Your friend is a dork. Do you hear that?” he is laughing and I am just cold here.
“Whyy would you say that?”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes but why are you asking?”
“Because you were not in the hospital.” Gone silent again. I am sure he is standing there with the same You-Are-Impossible look. “Are you leaving for Pune?” I can no more hide my disappointment.
“Do you want me to?”
“Do you want to?”
“Oh so are we playing the question game again?”
“Do you think so?”
“Will you stop flirting with me?”
“I am not flirting…” God I lost again. “Stop laughing. We have dinner tomorrow night. My mom invited you.”
“I…. Won’t be able to come.”
“But why? ”