“It was dark.”
“It was written in our destiny.”
They had been sitting on their stair… watching Palak and Ansh play….for what could be minutes, an hour, or maybe an eternity…who knows. How did it matter? What mattered was the feel of each other’s presence…the feel of the familiar peace…the racing back of a long-lost heartbeat. Their selves had been silently savoring each other’s senses…neither wanting to cause a ripple in the stillness of the blissful moment. Those were the first words spoken….ever since that moment of realization. The kids had found them thus…..he holding her hand and looking straight ahead…as though if he turned, she’ll turn into a mist and disappear, as always…and she looking up at his profile, drinking in the first sight of the one whose faint yet deep memories had given her the strength to live through the darkness…always hoping.
“Are you my Superman?”
“What?” (Oh my God….they’re her eyes!!!)
“Uffo…I asked, are you my Superman? My papa? Did you go flying with my mumma? Is that why you are holding her hand? Is that why I couldn’t find her? But that’s OK….I am her Superboy, and I had a bigger job here. I had to take care of Palak. Mumma, this is Palak and I found her….and I gave her our promise that I’ll take care of her. You know, she also knows about our promise….and now she is my third best friend.”
He tightened his grip a little more, and subconsciously she took a step closer to him. Still not looking at her, he kneeled down.
“Do you want me to be your Superman, young man? What do you say, Palak? Is it OK with you?”
“Yes, papa.” (And then looking up with a shy smile) “Papa, you found mumma!! Dadiyama was right….she said you would find her this time. Now we can take her home. You’ll come, won’t you, mumma?”
“Why are you calling my mumma, mumma? Don’t you have a mumma? No?....Oh…then, it’s OK….After all you are my friend, and you will need me to find you when you get lost, so you can be part of our family too (looking up to get his mother’s approval as he took the all-important decision !!).”
“So, Superboy, What's your n….?”
“Anch…his name is Anch, papa.”
“Oho (banging his forehead with his palm)…it is Ansh, baba…not Anch…how many times do I have to teach you?”
He jerked his head up to look at her…..years melting away while he gazed deeply into those large, moist limpid pools that were her eyes…as voices from the past floated back in slow waves….
Jas, wait for me pleez... Jas?
Yash…first say,Yash. Then I’ll take you. How many times do I have to teach you to say it right?
Jas … Jas … Jas!! Go then…go…I will go away also…and you will never, never find me….
No, no…shhhshh…don’t cry…I am sorry. See I am holding my ears. Forgive me. Don’t ever say that. I will never let you go….I will always find you.
He had asked Raghav dada, the family driver, to take the kids to his dadiya’s house where he was staying. It was already dark. He called his grandmother and told her to give dinner to the kids and make them go to bed if possible…and that he’ll be home later and explain. He then turned around to find her sitting on the stair on the other corner. She was staring up toward the mandir. The mandir had closed…and slowly all the devotees had filtered away. A few remaining were getting ready to leave and were at the front side. He stood looking at her….moonlight dancing on her beautiful hair, big eyes looking up, deep in thought…a hint of a smile playing at the corner of her lips. He felt the familiar constriction of the heart. Slowly, he made his way to the stair and sat at the other end.
“There are eighteen of them.”
“I know….I had counted them once.”
“Yes…shall I tell you a secret?”
“Yes…please (turning to look at him, curiosity writ large in those expressive eyes).”
“I had turned six that day. It’s embarrassing, but when Father Felix had asked me what I wanted for a gift, I had demanded a doll just like the one the girl in the next bunker had. Father had laughed and told me that boys don’t play with dolls…which upset me and I came and sat on that first step below. After sometime Father came and placed a small pink bundle in my lap, and said, ‘She is all yours…but remember God has sent her for you. You will have to look after her all your life. Do you promise?’ I nodded…totally speechless…staring at the most beautiful eyes I had seen…and then she smiled…you smiled…and I was sold. We sat there a long time. After that, I never asked Father for anything…but on every birthday, I would take you in my arms and climb one extra step…and for the rest of the year, that stair would become our favorite.”
“We were here on your eleventh,” she whispered.
“Yes…we were. Our last step together. Do you know what I had promised myself on that particular birthday?”
“That when we reached the eighteenth up there, I would….”
“You would what?”
He stood up then, walked up to her, and extended his hand. She kept hers in his without any hesitation. He pulled her up, bent, and picked her up in his arms. Automatically, her right arm circled his neck and the left clutched on to the shirt collar. He gazed down at her for a long second before climbing up…pausing at each step long enough to look at her. When they reached the top, he put her down gently. Taking both her hands in his, he dipped his head…low…eyes down…
“No…Yash. Please don’t.”
“I have to…you have to…forgive me please.”
“No, no… shhshh…don’t cry. Don’t ever say that. I couldn’t stand it.”
“Aarti, I will understand if you don’t….but will you…will you…?”
“Yes, I will Yash….a thousand times over. Don’t blame yourself…please. You found me…as you promised you will. The in-between had to happen, Yash….it was destined. But for it we wouldn’t have been gifted with Palak and Ansh…But now is ours…Tomorrow is ours. This is our promise…this is our destiny. Take us home Yash.”
He pulled her to him close and pressed his lips on her forehead…and then put his arms around her, holding her tightly, never to let go. She burrowed her head into the crook of his neck….she was already home…..