A Thousand Times Over

(Note: This story is inspired by the phrase ‘for you a thousand times over’, from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini)

***

Maa?’

‘Yes sweetheart?’

‘Will you take care of me even when I’ve grown up? Will you caress me just like this every single night?’

‘Yes beta, of course. Why ask? Is something wrong?’

‘I’m just scared maa. I don’t want you to leave me, ever. I don’t have any friends like the others in my class. I just have you.’

‘Don’t worry, Darling! I’m never going to leave you.’

‘Promise me, maa, that you’ll always be my person!’

‘For you a thousand times over, beta’.

***

Rohan was all of twelve by now. It had been more than a year since his mother passed away. There seemed to be no end to his sorrow and pain. First, his beloved mother, the only family that he had, was taken away, and then his home. The familiar setting of his room in the orphanage made him miss his home even more. Time passed and things changed. The fleeting memory of the day everyone had gathered around their little house, crying and whispering, haunted him every night. Memory so hazy yet clear that he spent sleepless nights trying to forget each and every detail of that horrid day. Rohan had just been back from school and didn’t have a clue about the turn of events.People told him that his mother was hit by a car and had lost her life in the accident. He tried hard to comprehend this idea of death. He wanted to know how people could leave you so suddenly, without even a warning or a last word. Wasn’t it his mother who had taught him that it is common courtesy to bid adieu to a person when you are going away from them? Even when his friend at school was shifting to a new city, she had asked him to wish him luck for his future. And now she left him alone, forever? No goodbye, No kisses. Not even a hug! What kind of a treachery was that?

He reflected on the loneliness that shadowed him. Crying was not a solution, he realized. Nor was praying. But what else could he do? Someone told him to think only of the happier times. They said that would help him heal. Help him get back a part of his life he’d shared with his mother. He tried. He tried filling his head with the happier times only to realize that this made him hollow. Hollow, like a balloon. Ready to pop at any moment that would bring him back to the reality, ugly reality, of his life. It made his life darker because it only stung him harder when he realized that he wouldn’t have a mother anymore. ‘A thousand times over’- a phrase which once brought happiness and hope was now something he detested. Something he wanted to erase from his memory forever.For months, he thought his mother had betrayed him and broken her promise. He was upset and angry. He shouted for her to come back and keep her word. Tired, he would swallow his tears. 

 

***

 

‘Rohan! What are you doing there all alone? Get inside. We have a visitor today.’ He turned around to find his friend Varun. When Rohan had first come to the orphanage, he had no clue of what to expect. His life was pretty much perfect, so he never felt the need to visit one. Though he had never seen his father, his mother had given him everything he needed. She was both his mother and father. And then one day, he was left all alone. However, there was someone to take care of him. He had Varun. They never spoke much, but Varun was always there. He knew when Rohan wanted to be alone and when he needed a friend to talk to.

Rohan was usually silent and lost in his own world. He hated talking to new people. The idea of them coming and looking sympathetically was something he couldn’t stand. He had long ago learnt how things worked in this cruel world: You are alone and that is it. No matter how many people you let into your lives,someday they all leave and you are alone again. So what is the point in making friends and building walls when they’re all going to come tumbling down? What is the point in trusting people?

As he entered the room, he saw a young woman, probably in her mid-thirties, smiling at him. He faked a smile and wished for this ordeal to end soon. The young woman, Radhika, had lost her husband and her five-year old son in a car accident the previous year. She had survived with minor injuries and people called it a miracle. Only she knew how unlucky she really was. After months of depression, the only solution seemed like bringing a child into her life. A new life, a new hope. So, she decided to adopt one.However, she had asked the warden of the orphanage not to talk to the kids about it. She didn’t want the kids to feel like toys to choose from. She would know the right person.

‘What’s your name?’ She asked the boy who was looking at her indifferently.‘Rohan’, he replied.She saw his face go bleak. And those deep brown eyes were so enigmatic. She felt an instant connection with him.Realizing that she was making the kid uncomfortable with her scrutinizing gaze, Radhika quickly looked away.

 

***

While walking back to his room, Rohan couldn’t ignore the fact that he felt drawn to this lady. Normally, he wouldn’t care about people who visited the orphanage to celebrate their birthdays, cut cakes, distribute clothes and chocolates, click photographs and leave with a proud feeling of making a difference in their lives. He always thought to himself: Who will tell them that it is not food and clothes that I need. It is much more. A friend to fight with; a teacher to learn from; a brother to make me feel safe and protected; a sister to give me a hug and make things alright;a father to guide and support me; a mother to understand what I don’t say-a family, to count on! When will people realize that the kids in the orphanages are no way different from the “lucky” ones outside? That they crave for the exact same things- attention, respect and love. He sighed. If only …

 

***

 

That night, Radhika couldn’t sleep. There was a battle being fought in her head. Part of her knew what she wanted. She wanted to be happy again. She deserved to be happy again. She could see her son in Rohan. She could feel  her son in Rohan. He would give her that happiness. He would heal her wounds. She felt like this was the universe’s way of making up to her. But a part of her also argued that she was going to make the wrong move. She felt a sense of betrayal towards her son and her husband. They had been with her for so long. They had given her so many memories to cherish. And now she was thinking of letting them go and move on? What kind of a person would that make her?

Frustrated, Radhika hugged her pillow and wept helplessly.

In the middle of the night, as she slowly stopped weeping and gently rubbed her eyes still sore from all the crying, she knew she had to make a choice soon. She stared into the darkness of her ceiling for what seemed like forever. But, she finally knew what she had to do.

 

***

‘Rohan, there’s a letter for you! Here, the warden gave this to me.’ Varun handed over the envelope to him.‘A letter? For me? But who would write? I have nobody!’ Rohan asked, bewildered.‘No idea, man. I’m going for breakfast. Join me once you’re free.’ Varun replied, brisk walking towards the dining area.

Rohan stared at the envelope in his hands. He knew he had nothing to lose, so he took a leap of faith opening the letter.

 

Rohan,

I have never met you before. But somehow, I feel like I have known you forever. Something connects us, I don’t know what! Your eyes speak to me, I cannot explain how! When my husband and son were taken away from me, I saw no point in living. I thought God had betrayed me. There were days when I felt like giving up on life. But as they say, time is the best healer. It has taught me that if everyone acted like cowards and ran away from their problems, the world wouldn’t exist. Isn’t that enough to say that there are other people out there struggling more than we do? The reason I’m writing this to you is because I know you’re going through the same pain that I have been through. Deep down you know that we both can help each other. I will never force you to reveal your past to me. But I’m a good listener if you want to share it.                        

Remember Rohan,we’ve got just one life- no trials, no second chances. So, live it to the fullest. You are meant for bigger things. Don’t let your past define you. I have gone through a lot myself and since you’re like my child, I want to help you in any way I can.I want to take you with me and treat you like my own. I won’t be your mother if you don’t want me to be. I will never compel you to call me your mother. However, the decision lies entirely upon you. Let me tell you that this is not a contract, or an act of sympathy. It is just a broken person’s  khwaaish.

Before you come to any conclusions, do give this a thought: The people who have left this world are not coming back. But that does not mean that the love they have for us has died with them. Just think. Would they ever want us to be unhappy? Would they want us to lead a life of misery? Of course not! In fact, they would want us to make our life meaningful. They would like to live their lives through us; their chance is already lost, why loose ours?

Having said all this, I leave the decision to you. Whatever it is, I will respect it with all my heart. Even if this is the last time I’m talking to you, I want you to remember that our life is short. We are sent into this world only to leave behind a part of us. Not big houses, money, riches or luxuries. Just a part of ‘us’.  If we live a selfish life,there will be nothing for people to cherish after we are gone.

Paint a beautiful life for yourself. Create memories! It is never too late. No matter how many times your heart breaks, how many times you fail; remember, the only way to live is to wake up each morning and trust the world all over again!                        

I feel like you can fill the void inside my heart and I hope to fill yours.

Love,

Radhika.

 

Rohan folded the letter as a tear rolled down his cheek. Perhaps, his mother hadn’t broken her promise after all.

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People always leave

It’s Friendship Day tomorrow. I still have so much stuff to do. Will Kiara feel bad if I don’t post her a card this year? Do I need to buy a friendship band for every person in my class? Mom is never going to give me so much money. Oh ,how I hate my life!      

 I rushed into Navjeevan Bal Bhavan, with these thoughts in my head. A bunch of kids were waiting for me, just like they do every weekend. As I entered the room, my eyes caught the sight of a young boy I had never seen before. He was sitting on a chair in a corner. The other kids were playing around while he was engrossed in his own world. Out of curiosity, I walked up to him with a feeble smile. I expected the boy to smile back. He ignored me. I felt let down. Now this was a challenge. I decided that I wouldn’t give up on this kid so easily.
I went down on my knees and had him face me.What I saw, saddened me almost instantly. His face was bleak. The kind I’ve never seen on a kid’s face. No,not even in movies! There was something on his face that I could not decipher.I felt the goosebumps. Not the ones that we have when we see our favorite movie star. This was different; a connection I could not understand. I knew something was terribly wrong. I felt it inside me. Quickly, I got up without saying a word and rushed to the caretaker to find out what the mysterious melancholy could be. He told me that the boy, Sai Ram, had lost his parents in an accident and his aunt had left him at the shelter home a few days ago. I stood there speechless. It was a lot to take in. I tried to process the words that entered my head.The only thought that passed my mind was: At such a tender age like his, I had never thought about anything other than my favorite color or the ice cream flavor that I’d prefer. Whereas this kid, who sat so close to me, had lost his parents,his family had abandoned him, his world had turned upside down and I could do NOTHING about it!
Trying to act buoyant, I went up to him again. “What’s your name?” “Do you want to be friends with me?” “It’s Friendship Day tomorrow!” “Can I come tie you a friendship band?” I started gibbering, but all I got in response was silence. He fiddled with his cuffs while his eyes were fixed on the ground. I figured that I couldn’t give up on him yet.So I tried again, harder.
In the meantime, all the other kids started to besiege the two of us. They all shouted together- “Akkaa, Please repu raa..”  (Please come tomorrow). I shot them a smile but didn’t take my eyes off the boy. I promised them that I’ll come but only if Sai Ram wants me to. At once all the kids started pleading Sai Ram to convince me.
Slowly, I unraveled his expressions. His face portrayed grief and sorrow but his eyes conveyed something else. I wanted him to look at me. After a few moments he did and I finally saw it-‘HOPE!’ This basic emotion filled his eyes.But he was afraid of revealing it. I tried to look deeper. He wanted to talk to me. He wanted me to visit him again. I could see it in those almond eyes. Then why was he stopping himself? Why couldn’t he say what his eyes had already confessed? Did he think I was lying? Was he distrustful of me? Or was he afraid of losing me? Was he apprehensive of letting people in? Was he scared of love? Was he scared of promises?
I don’t know the answers to these questions and probably never will, because the only reply that I got from him that day was: “Akka, andaru alaage chepthaaru, kaani epudu thirigi raaru..” (People always leave. They promise to come back… but never do!) Saying so, he got up, launched the chair and ran.