It was a usual morning at the Sebastian’s. John was irritably looking for his glasses while he grumbled and squinted to read a new text message and Martha was arranging the table for breakfast while ranting about how the neighbor's dog again littered her walkway this morning.
“Why are the words so small and why does he have to message? Can’t he pick up the phone and talk, your busy son! And why do you misplace my things always?”
“You didn’t talk to Nori when I told you to, now see, every morning I have to witness this unsightly rubbish. Why do you not listen to me?”
They were tied in holy matrimony thirty years ago. Over years, their love has grown strong and their bickering, stronger. Sometimes it seemed like they couldn’t live with each other, but those who knew them would vouch that they definitely couldn’t live without each other. And those who knew them far too well knew that they made these ‘noises’ to cover the voice of their crying hearts, that all the bickering was to distract themselves of the emotional trauma.
“Who eats apple pie for breakfast?”
Martha’s intent look into John’s eyes wilted him. He let out a long breath, pulled a chair to sit and gestured for Martha to serve him a slice. He then asked her to have it with him. They both ate in silence. As Martha wiped the corner of her eye, John found it difficult to swallow with his throat hurting. Their glistening eyes shared the same yearning.
As he got up to leave for work, John said, “You should teach me this recipe. It will make our bakery a hit in entire Panaji. You know what Nori says, that I may be baking the best bread and cakes, but your apple pie is a clear winner.”
“And you are not getting late now?” Martha smilingly asked as she lovingly held his old but strong shoulders and walked him out of the door.
Our loved ones always know how to bring a smile to our face; and yet it is often our loved ones who leave an everlasting dent in our hearts. John has been trying to do that – bring back that gorgeous smile that stole his heart 30 years ago, which faded 5 years back. Martha was grateful for having John, and more so because she knew how terribly difficult it has been for him too. She sat on the table to finish her coffee but the apple pie transported her to when it all started – 5 years ago.
The Sebastian’s were a happy family complete with an academically genius Kenny who just landed a well paying job in Chennai and a vivacious Soniya who was leaving for Mumbai to complete her masters. While Kenny was John and Martha’s pride, Soniya was the apple of their eyes. Their beautiful early 19th century home along the banks of river Mandovi always bubbled with joy.
Trouble burst their glee a few months after Soniya’s college started. During the initial settling phase, Soniya shared every little detail about how small the hostel room was, how many classes she had to attend and the timings, how bad the mess food was and that too strictly vegetarian, how beautiful the city was and how she’d made such lovely friends.
Gradually, the calls reduced and their duration too lessened. Sometimes she even sounded irritated, other times she seemed distanced and when asked, she hung up saying she had an assignment deadline. John and Martha were worried but pacified each other citing the hectic city life and academic pressure. After all, they knew their daughter well to be worried about anything. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to talk with them; she just got too busy with studies. Right?
The phone rang and brought Martha back from her reverie. It was her cousin Mary who called her every day to share family gossip. But today, Martha wasn’t keen to know about how Mary’s brother’s daughter-in-law again burnt the chicken or about her brother-in-law’s affair with his secretary. But that is family right, you have to follow its tune and allow it to suck you in in its chaos before leaving you either exhausted or enlivened. And so the old ladies went on to chat for a little over an hour.
After lunch as Martha thought of retiring to her room for a little nap, she couldn’t help gazing at Soniya’s photo in the living room. She had a pearly smile, you know the kind when you flash all your teeth. And she had taken after her granny’s wavy black hair. Martha unknowingly tilted her head as her fingers moved down Soniya’s face.
“Mamma terribly misses you my baby”, she said while fighting back her tears. But they are quite disobedient you see, the tears. She went on to say a little prayer in hope that the wait gets over soon and then walked to her room.
That evening, John returned home rather early. He seemed in a jolly mood and surprised Martha with a bunch of her favourite pink button roses. As Martha arranged the cute little flowers on the table, there was a knock on the door. John in his own jolly mood waltzed towards the door to find a hassled looking Nori pouncing on him,
“Why don’t you pick up the damned phone ever? Switch on the TV now”
‘….all pleas have been rejected. The High Court has ordered the rape accused Charlie to be hanged till death. This news comes in as a new dawn of hope after five years of the brutal rape and murder of a Mumbai student who hails from Goa. The victim who succumbed to injuries soon after was a bright student. Her brother Kenny has been fighting for justice ever since…..’
John and Martha were stunned to know that Kenny had been pursuing this all the while. They were in too much trauma to actively follow up on the case. But their Kenny, their pride, brought the gleam back in their eyes.
With a lump in his throat, John called Kenny. He couldn’t say anything other than just uttering his name. Kenny looked up at the evening Mumbai skies. A small star was twinkling bright. He smiled at it. He then cleared his throat to say, “I am taking the next flight out dad, will see you and mom for dinner.”
Martha and John embraced and cried hard. And in that teary blur flashed the past 5 years of nightmarish havoc – the constant calls to Soniya……..travelling to Mumbai to meet her……..realizing she has been missing from the college since three weeks……..frantic visits to the police station……..filing a complaint against hostel authorities for not informing them……..wondering where their daughter is……..rubbishing news of her eloping with a boyfriend……..breaking down upon listening to false allegations……..the innumerable visits to the police station……..convincing the police of their daughter’s diligence……..life seeming to have come to a standstill……..the case eventually taking a back seat……..them returning to Panaji awaiting a ray of hope……..months turning into a year and then two and now five........trying to learn to live with this anguish.
But along with it, there was also the undying faith in their hearts and a lingering wait in their eyes.
And today, that faith conquered again and the lingering wait was over.