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The loud music helped her get away, even in the midst of honking, and in the middle of a traffic jam. She checked her phone for any new messages, there were no one.  She hated crowds, and people in general. If she had her way, she would move out of the city and live in the hills, in the quiet and serene! But the traffic was nowhere ever near serene. She couldn’t even drive at 20 kmph on these busy Delhi roads.

She saw the signal go red and stopped her car. A beggar woman knocked on her window. Her clothes were tattered and a baby clung to her chest. The infant was frail, as was she. Her eyes met the lady’s for a moment, then she suddenly increased the music volume. The car speakers vibrated loudly. She pretended to focus on the car dashboard. When she glanced at the window again, the lady was gone.

She had never joined group dance classes as a child. She had learnt tango and salsa, but only from a private tutor. She wanted home tutoring, but her parents didn’t think too much of it. Sticking to the last bench in every class, she made sure she had a reason ready not to go for school trips, functions, or picnics. She just stood and listened, how congruously people chatted away, all the time! While eating, studying, playing. It was like an addiction. She could bet none of the people around could be quiet for even an hour.

She reached home and left her car in the driveway. She looked at Caramel, her Spaniel running in the lawns and tearing all the rose bushes with all his gut. She laughed, “Yes Caramel…come on!” She hated the lawns and the perfect flowers in them. She hated her picture perfect Jorbagh bungalow with her father’s name inscribed in gold. As a child, she had often scribbled on the furniture and made sure they saw it. But they had said nothing. She wished they said something. But the silence had been terrifying. That was the time when she took it as her sole accomplice.

It had happened everyday for the past 22 years. All she heard was a “Hi beta.” No more, no less. When she was five, she had asked her parents for skates, they had got 5 pairs home delivered. When she turned 13, she was given a valuable plastic card which she could use like a magic wand to get anything. When she turned 18, a convertible was waiting for her in the driveway, ready to be driven.

She removed the bandage from her back, it still hurt a little. She had to cover it for a few more hours. At the end, she had decided on a fiery mask design, and it looked great. She had got it done near her shoulder blade, the pain was piercing but fun at the same time. She ran upstairs and closed the door. She kicked her shoes and jumped on her bed. Caramel followed her and climbed on the bed.

It was at that time she saw the green envelope. She tore it open and began to read the most shocking revelation. By the end of it, she was as much in shock as she was in disbelief. The address mentioned had been scribbled off. She looked at the envelope. It still had an imprint of the letter. She took it near the lamp and shaded it with a pencil. She noted the address on a piece of paper.

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It was night when she returned. It was raining heavily. She had bumped into a lamp post and almost gotten herself killed. “Come amma.” She opened the door for the old lady to step out. The lady was plump and short, a round face with a mole on her forehead, and small lines of age now showed on her face. She wore a white saree with kolhapuri chappals. She held her hand and climbed out of the car.

“It is not right. I should have never written to you.” “Come inside, you will get drenched.” Reluctantly the lady held her hand, and followed her into the mansion. “Radha, get fresh towels please.” The housekeeper was surprised, more by her name being called rather than the presence of a stranger.

She guided her to the staircase, leading to her room. Caramel followed quietly, without any barks. When they sat down, she looked at her in disbelief. Amrita had been just like her. The same round face, the same almond eyes, the same flashy smile! “Where were you both? Mom and Dad don’t even let me mention you. I have been trying to trace you all these years.” “After her father passed away, we could no longer live in this neighbourhood. You girls were just five and too young to understand. Your parents refused to help us. Jammu was a difficult place to live in, but it was the only piece of property I had in my name.” Tears streamed from her eyes and stared at the stark shallowness of the room, the house! She knew her father had taken over their property. When she had asked where Amrita was going, they told her they went to another country to settle down. They never answered any of her other questions. They pushed her to Radha, who took her up in open arms and sang long hours of lullabies. But that was years ago.....

“Amrita is really sick. She has leukemia. She wants to see you. Amrita said you were her only ….” And words could not sprout from her grieved heart anymore. “Amma, I am here. We will fight for Amrita. Nothing will happen to her.” And she held her in her arms, consoling her and protecting her, like a tigress ready to protect her cubs from any harm. Amma had loved them both equally; she had called them her two angels. The only form of love she had ever known, the only motherly care, the only voice to tell her right from wrong, had been Amma. She had been devastated when they had left. Running away to their empty house, she used to sit at their porch and cry all day. And no one had come to take her home…

“Hello, is that Dr Bedi?” She held the telephone for twenty minutes, after which she booked three flight tickets to Jammu. “Dr Bedi will be here soon, he is coming with us. Don’t worry Amma, we should not leave her alone for too long.” She packed warm clothes, for Amrita and Amma. She opened the big cupboard where she had saved up gifts for Amrita each year. Whenever she had bought something for herself, there was a counterpart for Amrita. She had always purchased two of everything. She stared at the skates, and the golf clubs and the clothes. She had always kept the cupboard locked, but she knew this was the time to open it!

“Let’s go Amma. Radha, I am going with Amma, take care of Caramel.” “But what do I tell Sir and Madam when they return.” “Don’t worry, they won’t even notice I am gone.” She opened the safe and took out all the money. She packed her plastic cards well. And as they set out in the car, she looked back and a strong feeling to never return took over her. She felt free and alive the first time in ages….

 


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