September 08, 2013

The long kept secret

Atharva Vyas entered the dirty bylanes of the city he once called home.
"Namaste, does Zakira Siddiqui still live here?" he inquired.

"She passed away a year ago, Saheb. That's her son."

A boy of merely ten, sat there polishing shoes, tattered clothes barely covering his emaciated body.
Atharva winced as he recalled his cowardice betrayal, almost a decade ago. He had left silently without an explanation after that night, knowing that he was not yet responsible enough for a commitment like marriage. Soon he had left for the US and built himself a life there.
It had been only after a decade of no communication with the ghosts of his past, that he had felt a pang of guilt for his spineless act, and returned to India. Of course, he had expected she must be married. He had even known there would be a child in the picture. He just thought he owed her an apology,  that was all. He did not expect anything more from her than to forgive him----but she, she had decided to beat him at his own game. A silent departure in exchange for a silent departure. She had left....left this world without his apology...without allowing him a chance to explain.

"Salaam Saab, boot polish?" 

 It was the boy now who broke this reverie of thoughts. There was something familiar about him, Atharva thought. Maybe it was his smile...or was it his cheek bones that rendered him an air of intimacy, even though they were meeting for the first time...or was it the soft crinkly eyes? Zakira, he thought to himself...was there need of any other reason for him to feel so at-home with this child?
But along with the compassion came a rush of anger for the man who allowed this boy to sit on the footpath, staring at the feet of a hundred passer-by's, imploring them to shine their shoes. Who in dreadful hell was the drunk who forced these innocent hands into gleaming these stranger's shoes soiled with muck and mud, to earn a few rupees, while he himself whiled his time, perhaps in the nearby local bar? Atharva wondered how such a man must have treated his delicate Zakira while she was his wife. As he did this, another pang of helplessness and guilt washed over him.
He now tried to console himself with the fact that she must have been happy. After all, the boy's age told him that she had soon married after he left for the United States. In a way, it was a good thing she hadn't waited. Life and maturity had coaxed him to move on...and her hanging on to his coming back, would have only added to his guilt.

The boy was now tugging at his leg, asking him to place his booted foot on the wooden box.
" Beta," Atharva patted him wistfully, "what is your name?" 

Smiling brightly, the boy answered, "Aadil...Aadil Atharva Siddiqui..."

A shell shocked  stared open mouthed at the boy. She had waited...
He was tempted to ask more. But didn't he have enough responsibilities to handle?
His heart cursed him for being so selfish. Then he remembered his wife and children, back in the US. He looked at the boy again. How oblivious he was, his spirit bright and happy. The way he declared his name suggested that Zakira had told their son about Atharva in a way, that would make any father swell with pride.
Disclosing this long kept secret would steal him of the sacrosanct impression he held for his father. Also, what would his family say about this, he shuddered. Sushma would not think twice about filing a divorce and the children would be heartbroken.
"That would be ten rupees, Saab" the cheerful smile again.

Atharva contemplated for a moment before professing a fifty rupee note. Heavy hearted, he turned to leave when the boy called out.

"Saabji, here is your change."

"Keep it, beta"

"No Saab. My mother has taught me never to take more than what is due." the boy returned the remaining money to Atharva and continued his shoe-shine ritual with the next customer.
 Atharva felt a heavy load on his chest. That was Zakira's teachings---the boy had taken after his mother.
"God bless you, son..." he said to the smiling boy and went away, with the heart wrenching sadness  that he could never become the man his son was.

 While in the taxi, he cried silently.
 "One rupee for every year that I missed. That is all this wretched father could give his son," he weeped.

He never visited India again...

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

 This post has been picked by BlogAdda as a WOW post for the weekend 6th to 8th September 2013


TPShukooR said...

Very happy to see this blog. It is very nice experience going through your creatives. Will visit again I am available here

Anonymous said...

I am a big fan of your writing and look forward to reading your posts every day :)

kalpana solsi said...

Very well written. You have portrayed that young boy in a very positive way.

Blasphemous Aesthete said...

Still a coward, he shouldn't have come.


Pri said...

Welcome aboard! I'm glad you liked it here :)

Pri said...

@ Anon
Thank You. I'm flattered :)

Pri said...

@ Kalpana
Well, positivity often spurts from the darkest of places. People blessed with bright lives tend to complain of shadows---bitter truth of life!'
Thanks for reading me :)

Pri said...

@ BA
Yes,like they say, "Once a coward, always...."
You always manage to notice precisely what I want to depict :)

the factfiction said...

touching...dont know what more to have rendered me speechless

My Taxi India said...
This comment has been removed by the author.