Shalini was sleeping soundly when suddenly she woke in a fright. She sat up in bed, folded her legs and placed a pillow on her lap. Her rapid breathing started to worry her. With sweat running down her cheek, she started to rub her temple.
Shalini fumbled on her side table for her phone to check the time. The bright light flashing on her phone made her squint. It was two in the morning. The pain in her head made everything even worse. 'Maybe a glass of water will help,' she thought to herself and stumbled to the kitchen.
'I thought I heard you in the kitchen,' Shruti said, standing by the kitchen door.
'Yes, dear,' Shalini sighed. 'Something doesn't feel right.'
'What's the matter, Mom? You don't look too well,' Shruti said.
'I've got a splitting headache.'
'Oh, God! Poor you. I'll tell you what, why don't you dive back into bed, and I'll give you a head massage,' Shruti suggested.
'Oh, there's no need, dear. I'll be fine.'
'It's ok, Mom. I'll sleep in your room with you tonight,' she smiled.
The following morning, Shruti got up earlier than usual. She quickly prepared some breakfast and tidied the house. She didn't want her mother to trouble herself. Soon enough, Shalini was out of bed. The sleep had done her some good, and she was feeling much better.
'Did you have a bad dream again about Dad and the accident?' Shruti asked over breakfast.
'No, Shruti, I've just been a bit stressed about work,' Shalini replied. 'But please don't worry. I'll be fine.'
'Oh, Mom! You're not that good at covering up, you know,' Shruti chuckled and gave her mother a warm hug and a kiss on her cheek.
Shalini smiled. 'So, what plans do you have for tomorrow?'
'Well, I've been thinking about taking you to the Book Club. It will help take your mind off things. Mom, please listen to me; you need to get out of your shell, your life can’t always revolve around me and the house,’ Shruti said.
Shruti only wanted the best for her mother. She longed to see her living a happy life. Shalini had been six months pregnant when her husband died in a scooter accident. She had been devastated when she had received the call from the hospital. Although it had been almost twenty-two years since Shruti’s father had passed away. Shalini still felt like she had just finished packing Rajeev’s lunch and said goodbye to him before he had left for work. That day had been the last day that she had ever seen her dear Rajeev’s face. She had held him close, feeling his heartbeat as she had rested her head on his chest.
Shalini had brought up and cared for their only daughter all alone. She had always given Shruti the best she could. When Rajeev was killed Shalini had been unemployed, with no formal training and no career. She had finished school and had the drive and determination to go on to college. Unfortunately, instead her parents had married her off. The silver lining was that Shalini had learnt how to sew from her grandmother and was an expert seamstress and stitcher. She had a talent for sewing and an eye for colour. She was precise and meticulous with her work and over the years she had produced many beautiful garments for a number of prestigious customers.
Initially, Shalini had worked from home, beginning with small orders but it was not easy to make ends meet. As time went by, the news of her talent spread, orders started increasing, and her clients were thrilled with their finished products. As work picked up, she moved out of her home and opened a small boutique. It was a huge success. But even with this new full life she missed Rajeev tremendously. Shruti was always a big help; she had been a happy child, hardly giving her mother any trouble. Shruti would sit in the small room in the boutique and finish her homework then she would go out and play with the kids and make the most of her childhood.
Over the years, Shalini shared heart-warming stories and incidents about Rajeev with their daughter. Shruti listened attentively as she pictured an imaginary figure of her father. But not once did Shruti ever ask the whereabouts of her father even though she would wonder where he had disappeared. She had never seen him except for the faded black and white photograph placed at her mother’s bedside table. She was always curious to know more but something about her mom’s behaviour stopped her from asking. While at the same time, Shalini just didn’t know how to explain to her dear little girl the horrors she had experienced around the death of her beloved Rajeev.
When Shruti was almost eight years old, Shalini had attended the Annual Day Function at her school. After coming home from school, her mother served her lunch and headed back inside the kitchen to get herself a plate. Shalini found Shruti staring at the ground despondently.
‘Shruti, is everything alright? You haven’t touched the food on your plate,’ Shalini said and sat down next to her.
‘Mom, where is my Dad?’ Shruti whispered a lump forming in her throat. ‘All the children in my class have two parents. Where is my other parent? Was he mean to you? Why isn't he here? Where did he go?’ Shruti sobbed.
‘Oh no dear!’ Shalini said, wrapping her arms around Shruti holding her close, resting her daughter’s head on her chest. ‘Your father was a wonderful man. He was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. He was kind hearted, loving and loyal. The truth is that your daddy died very suddenly in an accident before you were born. It was probably the most difficult thing that ever happened to me and I didn’t want you to feel that pain. But I see now that I was wrong to keep your daddy’s death a secret. From now on we will always share our stories, my Darling Shutri, good or bad.’ And with that hard kept and painful secret out in the open both Shalini and Shutri felt lighter and felt their love for each other deepen.
As the years went by, Shalini, had done a correspondence degree in fashion designing. She was in the habit of reading whatever she could lay her hands on, learning as much as she could, what fashion would suit her client. Thus, making her boutique a successful business. Shruti grew into a fine young woman. She was doing well in college and was planning to study Architecture. Shalini was a proud mother.
On Saturday evening, as promised, Shruti drove her mother to the Book Club. It was a few blocks from their home. However, she had this powerful desire to just see her mother smile wholeheartedly and felt that it might make some difference if she interacted with some new people. It turned out that her idea seemed to be working and Shalini started to have a wonderful time on Saturday evening at the Book Club.
After about a year, Shalini was an active member of the Book Club; she had started taking charge of things and helping with the operation of the club. Then, one Saturday evening, they had a new member of the club. He was about five foot ten, ruggedly handsome, and had a very loving smile. He was almost the same age as Shalini. They both felt something special as they introduced themselves. 'Mr Chatterjee,' he smiled, offering his right hand.
'Welcome to the Book Club,' she smiled and introduced herself and began their group’s customary introduction.
It turned out that Mr Chatterjee and Shalini found that they had a lot in common. They both had similar interests, liked the same type of books, and discovered they had a lot to talk about. Mr Chatterjee had never been married. He had always hoped that he would fall in love and marry. Unfortunately, he had never found anyone that suited him. No matter how hard Mr Chatterjee had tried, love had never just come his way. Both Mr Chatterjee and Shalini felt like something was missing in their lives.
One Saturday night, Shruti got ready to drive her mother down to the Book Club.
'Are you ready to go?' Shruti asked, entering her mother's room.
'Ummm, I am, but Raghu is coming to pick me up,' Shalini grinned.
'Who's Raghu?' Shruti asked curiously with a frown on her face.
'Oh! Ummm… Mr Chatterjee,' she blushed. 'Today is his birthday, and we are planning to go out for dinner after the meeting at the Book Club.'
'Oh! Look at you,' Shruti giggled. 'This is such lovely news. Is that why you're still staring at yourself in the mirror?'
'Oh, hush down! It's not such a big deal,' Shalini rolled her eyes. 'We're just two individuals who happen to have a lot in common.'
'So, it’s just a friendly date?' Shruti raised her eyebrow.
Shalini looked at her daughter and smiled sheepishly. She then added a tinge of kohl to her beautiful brown eyes.
'Ok, ok, I get it. I'm not going to throw a million questions to you right now, but don't be too late,' Shruti giggled. Seeing the sparkle in her mother's eyes made her feel happy. 'You look so gorgeous, Mom.'
'Thanks Shruti,' she hugged her tightly and kissed her goodbye. Shruti stood by the front door and watched her mother leave the house. 'She's aged like fine wine. That woman can carry off anything.' Shruti thought to herself.
The following day, a bouquet of red roses was delivered to their place. The note read, 'I can't wait for next Saturday. Love, Raghu.'