#The Forgotten Name of Love- Chapter 3
It took just a week for the wounds on his body to heal. And another for him to regain his strength back. But even after the third week, the guilt and regret were too reluctant to leave his heart. And that made his heart beat with grief. And even though grief is never fatal, it was too painful to live with. He just wished that he could do something about the way things turned out to be.
The truth though was that he had done whatever was possible for him to do from the hospital bed. He had floated advertisements in all major newspapers and asked Mash, his friend, to scatter a few posters, which had the lady’s picture and the letters ‘Missing’ inscribed boldly on them, all over the city. But then even after doing this he felt the overhanging guilt still pounding his heart. And so he requested Mash to even take care of the lady’s six year old daughter. He couldn’t even imagine the terror that she must be going through. Whenever he tried to imagine it, the sense of guilt started gnawing his insides viciously.
Mash was a proper good-hearted soul like the majority of earthlings are. He had his own imperfections, but his heart was made of very fine fibers of care and concern. And again, he was a great friend. Knowing too well what trauma his friend was going through, he did his best to pacify his insatiable grief. He went over to the lady’s house and tried to console the six year old girl with hopes that her mother would soon return. He cooked up a lame story about her disappearance, so that the hope which he was selling to her appeared to be believable. And when she had been reasoned to a better state of heart and mind, he made arrangements for the other and practically far more important necessities. He arranged her daily meals, her going to montessori and bought her new toys and games. He did all this hoping that his friend would get a slice of relief. Also, there was a pure pity for the little girl, which motivated his actions. For he understood too well that the art of survival was too extensive an art to learn in a span of six years.
Mash did this job really well. But as soon as Haroon was able to pull himself together and stand up from the hospital bed, Mash was discharged from his charity-office.
“I am ok.” Haroon said emphatically when Mash suggested him to rest for a few more days. “I feel ok; and that is what is important. I don’t need any more rest.” Haroon said. Mash knew it was useless to argue further.
“So you want me to tell you all?” Mash asked. Haroon nodded.
“I have arranged a maid who visits the lady’s house. The maid prepares the meal, does the laundry and even cleans the house. Earlier the girl used to be dropped to the montessori by her mother, but now since that is not possible I have arranged the school bus for her. The bus picks her up in the morning and drops her back in the afternoon. The best part is that she sees a few known faces at the montessori. And yes, most importantly, during most of the nights she has nightmares. And she wakes up crying uncontrollably and asks for her mother. That is the time she needs help the most. So I guess you will have to sleep over in her house. I slept over a few nights.” Mash said.
Haroon was listening very attentively as if he was trying to tuck in everything somewhere safely in his mind. He knew he had a great task at hand. The ‘Missing’ posters and advertisements had been futile till now. And the little girl’s life had been upturned completely. He knew he had to compensate for this. And he was ready to go any length to do this; maybe because the guilt in his heart was greater than any scruples that he had.
And so as soon as he had come out of the hospital gates, he took a taxi and rushed to the lady’s house. Sharing the little girl’s loneliness would be a good start, he thought. As the taxi raced past the city he started formulating a plan in his mind to get this entire situation back to normal. First, he had to find her wherever she was because he knew she was alive somewhere. And while he did that he had to take care of that little girl.
But suddenly he realized that it was afternoon and that meant that probably the little girl would be in the montessori.
“Turn the car around.” he told the taxi driver. “Changed my destination. Now it’s the montessori at Rawdon Street.”
At the montessori the classes were already over. A big crowd of anxious parents stood at the entrance of the montessori. As the teacher sent the children to their parents one after another, he noticed the wide smile that came upon the little ones’ face. It was not just a smile of recognition but also a mark of the inner joy one feels on seeing a loved one. The parents also advanced eagerly towards their wards. Some smiled warmly at their sons or daughters, some kissed them on the forehead and some hugged them tightly. As he stood there in a corner he realized that it was a scene of such love and tenderness that even he could feel seething warmth inducted into his being. He wondered what immaculate and invisible thread holds a parent and a child so close together. Maybe, with all the material impurities distilled out, this was the purest form of love there was.
The next moment a very vital question hit his mind. He hadn’t seen the little girl ever in his life, so how was he going to recognize her? He felt a bit embarrassed. But he started thinking the next moment.
As he tried to figure out a solution, he remembered that he had collected the girl’s school identity card from Mash. The identity card must have a picture of her, he thought. And then he took it out from his wallet.
“This is not good”, he exclaimed after examining the card. There was no picture on the card. It had only name and a few other details inked on it. He started thinking again as he looked around.
The crowd by now had dispersed. Only three children- a boy and two girls- stood at the gates behind the teacher. She must be one of those girls, he thought and advanced ahead. But before he could reach the gates, a man rushed ahead from behind. Haroon observed a broad smile appearing on the face of the boy who was standing behind the teacher. He knew what it meant. The little boy greeted the teacher and then lunged forward towards the man. He looked at the man, smiled again and then held his index finger in his little fist. The man smiled back at him as he started to walk. And as the father and son walked away into the noises and dust of the city- talking and laughing all the time- Haroon could not help himself from staring at them. And a moment later he realized that one more pair of eyes was looking at the father and son. It was one of the little girls standing behind the teacher. But she wasn’t just staring. There was a longing that pervaded her stare. Haroon noticed that the girl’s eyes were wistful; her face was livid and hung with sorrow. And at that moment precisely, he knew that he didn’t need any photograph to identify the little girl he had come to pick up.
He advanced ahead and waved the identity card with confidence at the teacher. The teacher saw the identity card, became a bit surprised and then gently pushed the girl, who was staring at the fading figure of the father and son.
The girl was clearly more surprised than the teacher. For the past few weeks no one came to pick her up. She went back in the school bus as the only montessori kid on the bus. She looked at the stranger standing in front of her. For a moment she forgot the memories of those days when her mother used to come and pick her up. Her soft eyes were full of many hidden questions and even a faint layer of tears hidden somewhere close to the surface.
Haroon squatted on the ground to be at level with her. “Hey! I am Haroon.” He said with a big forced smile and extended his hands.
The girl stood there staring at his face. Then she stared at his hand for a while. Her eyes then went back to his face again. It was only then that she spoke, “Hi, I am Stella.” Her voice had a very faint lisp. It was soft, deep and its texture was one of sorrow. And her voice immediately broke his heart- broke it into two with almost an audible cracking sound.
(…to be continued.)