‘Yes? Can I help you?’ She asked.
Nothing came out of my mouth; I stood silently, my eyes fixed on hers, my heart beat faster than ever.
‘Auntie, can I have some water?’ I said a moment later.
She looked me up and down, frowned for a bit, then smiled – ‘Come in.’
Once inside, I looked around the living room which had two wooden chairs, a small table in the center and a long floor lamp; it was a tiny house having one small room, visible through the sheer curtain on the opposite end, a stove in one corner and a small wall cabinet above it. I saw her pouring water into a steel glass from an earthen pot.
I finished the water in one gulp.
‘Why are you standing?’ She motioned me to sit down.
I sat down, hesitated, fumbled for words, then said, ‘Do you stay here alone, Auntie?’
‘Where’s your family?’
She seemed lost in her thoughts for a little while, then replied, ‘I don’t have a family…but – ‘
‘But??’ My eyes glinted, hoping to hear what I’d come here for.
‘I had a daughter…she – ‘ Words stuck in her throat.
‘Don’t be…I’m sure she’s alive and…safe. She’ll be 24 this year.’ She said with a calm smile, then looking in my eyes added, ‘how old are you?’
‘Twenty three’, quickly changing the topic, I asked, ‘where is she?’
‘I don’t know…I gave her away.’
‘It’s a long story…’
‘Don’t you want to see her again?’
She remained silent, her eyes dropped and lips quivered; she sniffled hard and shook her head.
‘She was just 5 when I gave her away to my friend and her husband…they had no children of their own. I didn’t want to, but I had to. They would’ve killed her had they found her with me.’
‘Who’re they?’ I knew the answer and hated myself for pushing her into this pain all over again but I needed to be sure if she really was…
‘My husband and his family. They’d wished for a boy who would carry forward their family name, but I gave birth to a girl. They wanted to kill her; I ran away, came to this village and we were staying here peacefully until – ‘ she paused, then furrowed her brow.
She added, ‘why do you want to know all this? Has he sent you to know about Pratiksha?’ Her face expressed a mixture of rage, fear and suspicion.
‘Was her name Pratiksha?’ I asked, smiling.
‘What have you come here for?’ She ignored my question.
‘I’ve come for you, Ma…I’m your Pratiksha.’ I thought and stood up from the chair, ‘My car broke down near the village…driver said it’d take some time to get it fixed…so I was loitering around a bit, got thirsty and…sorry for the trouble.’
After taking my leave, I came back to my car.
Pratiksha was 5 years old and was happily living in this village with her mother; little did they know what destiny had in store for them. Her father tracked them down and one night he set the small abandoned house they were staying in on fire. They managed to escape, but her mother decided to give her away so she could live safely.
Last year, my parents’d told me everything; I knew coming back to my birth mother wasn’t a possibility anymore, neither did I want to as I was happy in my life. But however much I had tried to elude the truth, the urge to see her had intensified with time.
‘Did you tell her that you’re – ‘
I cut my friend short – ‘No.’
‘Did she recognize you?’
‘No…how would she?’ I got in the car and started it.
‘My friend’s been sending me your photo every year, Pratiksha…I recognized you the moment I opened the door…but I don’t want you to come back here again and again and be torn between the two lives which are a lot different from each other.’ Her mother watched her with watery eyes as she drove off.
Written by chirasree, a dreamer for – Thursday photo prompt: Derelict #writephoto