Flash fiction piece ending with the words "The memory haunts me."
|It was a Tuesday. Why do I remember that? It was my movie night with the girls. For reasons unfathomable, all of us were free on Tuesdays. Moreover, the theaters would be empty, and we got great seats.
A particularly horrible summer made way to a healthy monsoon. I loved the rains. Months of dirt and grime wiped out by clean water. That night it rained. We girls were already in the mall by then and chatted away in the food court, as tiny rivulets fought with themselves to create erratic patterns on the transparent glass windows.
As usual, we were the loudest but not to the point of being obnoxious. A few reprimanding looks and some judgemental head-shakes did little to dim our exuberance and silliness.
That’s when I saw him. My father.
My eyes wandered as they were wont to do during my favorite pastime at the mall. People gazing.
‘Moghul Darbar’ read the intricate text atop one of the food stalls. Psychedelic lights danced around the proclamation. There was one person behind the counter, a bored-looking college girl whose heart was obviously not in it. A man approached her. Something about his gait struck a familiar chord.
I strained to get a better look, but Vimala blocked my line of sight. Still laughing at some joke, her eyes met mine. Her head went up, questioning.
Vimala and I had gone to school together and ended up in the same university too. I’ve known her twenty-five years of my life. She’s the bubbly sort, the energetic presence in my life, but also the voice of reason for all the petty messes we had gotten into.
I shook my head. She is the action first kind of girl. I didn’t want to create a scene with the mild feeling of recognition I had.
At that moment, Poorna spilled her drink, and Vimala got busy cleaning her.
The man remained at the stall, his back towards me. All I could see were a black leather jacket and a hat covering his hair. He must have been well over six feet as he towered over the girl who was on an elevated platform inside Moghul Darbar.
His transaction complete; he turned towards me. I gasped. There was no mistake.
Everyone still fussed over Poorna’s white jeans that developed a growing dark patch near her knee.
I stood up without intending to. There weren’t many people between him and I. He saw me. I couldn’t see his eyes, but his body language confirmed what I dreaded.
Vimala noticed me yet again.
“Is the national anthem on or something?” her musical voice floated around me as I stood upright.
I looked at her and said something incoherent.
She turned back towards where she saw me staring. Only the girl, busy watching the gigantic screen with prancing dancers in a Hindi song.
By now, the three others knew something was up. And it was graver than Poorna’s pants.
Vimala came across and held my hand.
“What is it, Shruti?”
Poorna, Amulya, and Jharna were at my side.
“What happened?” Poorna enquired, eyes full of concern.
I forced words out.
“I saw my father.”
Almost in unison, the women gasped.
A few years ago, my mother, in one of her weaker moments, blurted out the story. My father was an abusive man. In one of their fights in the kitchen, she had pushed him away. Fortuitously for her, he slipped over ice cubes on the floor. His head hit the countertop, and he died instantly.
Her vivid narration hit me again with a vengeance. I steadied myself, holding the small round table, around which we sat.
No one spoke.
The sounds of the mall receded to a dull drone. Even the rain gods paused to take it all in.
Vimala gently rubbed my shoulders. She hesitated for a second.
“I know you believe you saw him. But how are you so sure? He died when you were a child.”
My eyes, moist with confusion, I replied in a whisper.
“I found his photograph while cleaning the basement a couple of years ago. He had a slight limp and stood at an angle. And there’s no mistaking his height.”
I continued, my words tumbling over each other.
“He stood the same way at the counter there. And I can never forget his eyes. They’re the same as mine. Green.”
I hated to spoil the evening for the girls, but I needed to rush home to my mother. Vimala offered to drive me back, and I agreed. I needed her support. The other girls reluctantly went for the movie.
“I won’t come in. Go talk to her,” Vimala said, patting my head.
I nodded and took my time getting to the front door, my mind in a whirl.
My mother was watching TV and turned around as I entered.
One look at my face and she switched off the set.
For the second time that night, I got the same question.
“Mamma…I…,” I broke down sobbing.
She rushed to me and held me in her arms.
“Talk to me, baby, please tell me what’s wrong.”
“I saw my father,”
My mother stiffened. Her voice had an edge to it I didn’t recognize.
“What do you mean?”
“I saw him, mamma. I know what I saw. I didn’t imagine it.”
A sea seemed to separate us.
I staggered back. I must not have heard it right.
“He’s not dead. But I never thought he would find us.”
It made no sense.
“I don’t understand. You told me…”
She cut me off.
“Now that he’s here, I might as well tell you the truth.”
“What truth, mama?”
“I stole you from him. He is your father, but I am not your mother.”
Dizziness overtook me, and I dropped on the sofa.
She continued in the same toneless voice.
“The memory haunts me.”