The long waitGyan Kumari could not make much of Gauri, for she didn't speak much, but her eyes held a deep sadness.
“I will massage Dilip tomorrow. Old Gauri had advised me to do so. It will make Dilip more healthy. Get mustard oil from the market when you return home from your work. Also get him warm blankets. It’s getting cold.”
Gyan Kumari was making a list of things to get for their newborn son from her husband. It had been a long wait for the couple. After 15 years of marriage, they were finally blessed with a son.
Like all mothers, Gyan Kumari took care of her baby the best way she could. Although she had no experience of caring for a baby before, her natural instincts kicked in and she was the best mother, always fussing over her baby boy. Every morning when her son woke up, she smiled at him, and her smile lasted for hours. She could spend all day just staring at him. Her fingers never felt tired taking care of her baby. The son would giggle each time he felt the gentle touch of his mother. There was an unconditional love between the mom and son. Dilip was everything Gyan Kumari ever wanted.
Fall had been nearing its end when Gyan Kumari had gone into labour. Days were becoming shorter. For 39-year-old Gyan Kumari, carrying a child was not easy. On days the sun was out, she'd sit out in her yard, lying on a bedstead adjacent to priest Hari ‘s house. While she'd be sunbathing, she'd hear Gauri, Hari’s wife, coughing in pain. With the cold weather, Gauri’s asthma was getting worse. Listening to Gauri's coughs, Gyan Kumari felt grateful she was in good health, and so was her baby.
Gyan Kumari had come to this house after she got married to Hemant. Since she came here, she had seen Gauri and Hari living in the big house alone. Their only son had moved to Australia after completing his Chartered Accounting. He had married an Australian lecturer. The priest’s family was blessed with all material things. But Gauri and Hari were lonely people.
Gyan Kumari was perhaps their only visitor. She could not make much of Gauri, for she didn't speak much, but her eyes held a deep sadness. Gauri and her husband often invited their son to meet them, but he would always say that he would come the next season when his project would end. Gyan Kumari had never seen him. Only big pictures of a nice man, a fair girl, and two kids hung on the wall in Gauri’s living room.
Dilip had been insisting on getting a new ball. He had thrown away his paper ball in anger and now wept bitterly for a new one. The sight of his son crying was something Hemant could not stand. He rushed toward him, picked him up in his arms, wiped his son’s tears and consoled him that he would bring him a new ball in the evening. He had asked Gyan Kumari to give him the amount she had kept away in her sari, around her waist. Nodding her head, she handed him the 200 rupees she had saved during this week.
“I will bring you a beautiful ball. Which coloured ball would you like to play with?” he asked Dilip, kissing him. Gyan Kumari looked on with love-filled bright eyes. She was happy that she had already been saving some amount to meet the demands of “the apple of their eyes”.
“A blue ball and bat in yellow,” came a prompt reply.
Cleaning the frame with her saree’s draping, Gauri was hanging some new pictures her son had sent to her of his kids on the wall of her living room. Hemant had got the pictures printed for the old couple. Gauri’s son had also sent a beautifully wrapped golden box of candies for Dilip. But old Gauri did not let Dilip have the full box. Instead, she would give him one candy daily to make sure he would come visit her.
Gyan Kumari was looking at Gauri hanging the pictures when Dilip suddenly said, “I too want to go to the garden where these fair kids in pictures are playing.” A sudden fear gripped Gyan Kumari immediately. She would never let Dilip go there, to the land of fairs. Her big, black eyes were filled with fear. She abruptly dragged Dilip away from the wall, pulling his arm, saying, “My food is burning in the pot, maybe. I'll have to leave now, Gauri ji.”
Gauri was surprised a little without understanding much. She had continued to hang the pictures on the wall.
The evening bells were ringing in the temple. There was an air of mourning. Gyan Kumari was mixing rice with milk for Dilip, who was playing with his small puppy under the tree. Gyan Kumari experienced a sense of anxiety. She listened to Gauri coughing violently over the wall.
The sound of coughing and breath-whistling replaced the dying noise of bells. Since Dilip expressed that he wanted to visit “the garden of fairs,” Gyan Kumari had limited her frequent visits to Hari’s. She didn't want her only son going away to foreign lands never to return, like Gauri's son.
But Gauri's health had been failing her. Thus, she decided to see old Gauri. Hari had taken Gauri into her room and she was lying on the bed. The setting sun had thrown its amber rays on the gloomy walls of the room. Her 70-year-old face had turned pale; her grey hairs were stuck on her sweating forehead. Suddenly the roar had turned into a dim whispering. Her eyes had widened, looking at those golden framed pictures hanging on the wall. Following her eyes, Gyan Kumari looked at those pictures in which people were happy and smiling. She turned her face instantaneously and looked at the dead face of poor Gauri.
The funeral was arranged. Her son had arrived to see the dead, wrinkled face of his mother. He was a tall, well-mannered, impressive, quiet man. He had to go back to Australia the following week, he said, just as the rites were completed.
“Why don’t you go with me, father? You will have a peaceful life there with me. The weather is very nice there,” he said in a formal tone. But Hari was adamant he would not leave his home. His son insisted no more. Instead, he asked Hemant if he could look after the house and help him pack Hari’s luggage.
The only light now was burning in the verandah of Hemant’s small house. It was as though the old priest’s house had been covered in a blanket of darkness. Dilip had slept early. He had been talking about the son of dead Gauri and his big black car. He too would get one once he became older, he had been saying. Gyan Kumari was sitting on the hearth, folding her arms around her knees. Hemant was looking sadly at her face. Both of them were numb. Only mournful silence was prevailing.
Gyan Kumari had seen Hari being taken by his son in a big, black car. The son said he was dropping off his father at Kathmandu’s old-age residence, and perhaps they could visit him sometimes.
Tears rolled down her cheeks thinking about old Hari.