“Do you ever miss your father?” I ask my 9 year old student Lhaki when she is taking a bite of sandwich that I had offered her. She shakes her head halfheartedly.
“My angay says I don’t even look like him.” She says after few more bites.
“You are so pretty.” I tell her passing a glass of juice. “Where did you get those cute dimples?” She answers back with a bashful smile.
“My aie has it too.” She says blushing pink in the face. “My baby sister has just one on the left cheek. I think I got it from my mother. I am not sure whether I should be missing him or not. But sometimes I lie wide awake at night and wonder why he left us without even an appropriate goodbye. ”
I stare at her for a few minutes opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish. Okay, a speechless, stupid silly looking goldfish. I have been living with my parents for like, forever. I couldn’t picture how it felt to be raised by a single mother or a single father or just by a loving grandparent or none at all.
It was like deciding to despise everyone I loved.
“Even though he is your father, I think he is one of the most irresponsible human alive.” I tell her. “If he had even a bit of manliness in him, he wouldn’t have had the guts to leave the woman he married to and a very lovable daughter behind and disappear into thin air like the coward he is. But in a way you are lucky. You have the world’s bravest mother to look after you and your grandparents who place you above all the others and love you more than anything in the world while the few others I know have none of these people. ”
“I was just a baby when he left.” She mumbles quietly, sadness etched in those vibrant eyes.
“He missed the chance to watch you grow up into this fine-looking girl. He could have stayed back and witnessed the beauty of your babyhood but he didn’t. If there is anyone I feel bad about, it’s him. I feel sorry for him.”
“My agay says he left behind his useless phone. Maybe he thought we are stupid people after all. “She shakes her glossy hair uncertain, whether to be angry or just let out an empty laugh. ”The one time I met him he barely recognized me. How stupid of me to expect that he might, somehow. It’s my angay who introduced me to him. He hardly said anything. No ‘how are you doing’ or ‘What class are you in’ questions. Just gave us a nod and an awkward glance away from me. And when he did look at me, he stared at me as if I was that one ill-fated coin he’d tossed away which somehow found its way back to him. He placed few hundreds on my hand and left hurriedly. I later offered that money to some of the temples I visited and wished he would be looked after well by his children whom he might actually love because no matter how terrible a person he had been to us, it would bother me so much if I happen to see him suffer.”
“Are you really nine?” I confirm lifting the bangs off her face and peering intriguingly. Her mouth lifts into a sweet grin.
“My aie told me once that if I ever start believing that I am weak and troubled and of less importance, then the people around me would make me feel that way. So I took her advice and even though my family is not complete and wonderful and happy like some of the others, I learnt by heart the brave words of hers and I have tried to be safe in my own ways. I learn new things every day, I work hard to succeed in whatever I do because I want my aie and all the people who love me, to be proud of what I have achieved. And I want him to wish he stayed back all those years ago. I know it’s a wild daydream but I wish he would come back begging for forgiveness.”
“And I am glad that you are. This life, well, it’s never fair on anyone. I am sure by this time around, he’d have realized that he lost something precious no money can ever replace. Everyone has a weird and farfetched dream, sometimes. It’s this madness that keeps us normal and even hopeful some dreadful rainy days. You are full of surprises and beautiful clichés. I am told it’s the absence of things and person in our life that makes us value them more. Hadn’t it been the case, I am sure we would be taking it for granted and fail to be glad about its presence. So, few years later, what if he does come begging you to take him back?” I ask her.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen. He never intended to stay back with us, anyway. For years I watched my aie heartbroken and miserable and weep over a man who treated us like a litter. She would drink to overcome that sadness. I can still picture her face. I can never forget that. My angay says everything is destiny and that there’s no running away from it and nobody has the power to change it. Maybe she is right. She always is.”
“I am sorry you had to go through tragic moments at such young age. You are a brave girl.” I tell her proudly.
“I am glad I was sad once because without it, I am sure I would have never learnt what happiness is. My stepfather is a wonderful man. He keeps my mother happy and I am glad I have a lovely sister to look forward to when I go home.” She beams. “I want my sister to have a father she can always rely on. I hope her luck and fate never runs out.”She adds barely audible.
I don’t know for how long we sat there staring in the distance each welcoming the stillness that enveloped us. The bell for evening tea that rang tumultuously was the only thing that nudged us to the present. She profusely thanks me for the sandwiches and scuttles off to join her friends.
I glance out my window just in time to see her blissfully dancing down the road, the heavy burden finally lifted off that weary chest and the unhappy past already slipping away from her determined little head.