“Who is opening the curtain daily in the drawing hall? I keep it closed” said Mukund with some irritation as he drew the curtain close. He had just returned from office. He did not like the young man from flat on the same second floor of the opposite block standing in his balcony and staring at Mukund’s living room. That good looking guy must be less than 30, tall, rugged looking with a week’s bristle on his face. Could the dislike be because Mukund was short, plump with thick glasses and bulbous big nose?
Mohana, his wife, was busy in the kitchen and did not respond to his question.”Where is Manisha? I don’t see her” he asked her.
“Why? She has gone to meet Lavanya in the opposite block to collect some project report. She should be back any time”replied Mohana.
“Which floor is Lavanya living?”
“I have no idea. How does it matter as there is lift as in ours?”said Mohana
Mukund did not reply and went to his room to change dress after a wash. She peeped through the curtain to find no one looking at her complex.
When Manisha returned after a while, Mukund admonished her for the keeping the French window open.”What are you talking, dad? The windows are meant to let in sunlight and air. Why do you insist that they be hidden by curtains?” replied Manisha, a beautiful 18 year old girl. She had evidently taken after her charming mom in looks.
“It is not the light or breeze, I am talking about” mumbled Mukund
“Then what?” she asked querulously.
Mohana intervened to say “Do not argue with dad. There must be a reason for his telling.”
After some silence, Mukund cleared his throat and said to his upset daughter “I see one guy always standing on the balcony of the same floor as ours in the opposite building and staring at our apartment possibly to catch a glimpse of you. That is why I wish to keep the curtains close.”
“Dad, are you really serious? When I walk in the road or in the college so many see me and some even stalk me. Do you want me to wear a burqa or live in a dark cell away from men’s eyes? You seem so out dated” she said laughing aloud.”I am not going to keep the curtains closed because some man is watching our flat and rather I will draw them open every time I see it closed” she added.
“Manisha, stop it. He is telling for your good” said Mohana and turned to Mukund and said “Do not worry. I will take care. Our girl is always in her room busy with her studies wanting to get into IIT and she does not idle away her time.”
From the next day Manisha was happy that the curtains were drawn open in the day time with living room bright till her dad returned home in the evening. She was also pleased that her mom sat more in the living room to listen to music or do some knitting. She also agreed with her mom when she said men are always suspicious by nature and Manisha should not be upset with her dad.
Manisha smiled and said “Mom, I can now understand why dad is suspicious. Even at your age of 39, you look so young and gorgeous, that makes me too jealous.”
“Silly girl, stop blabbering and drink your bournvita before it gets cold” said Mohana
Two weeks later, Mukund received a call around 4pm from Manisha. “Dad, please come home immediately. There is something amiss.”
“What is it about? I am busy here”
“Mom is not to be seen in the home. When there was no response to the repeated bell, the aunty at the opposite apartment opened the door and gave me the key telling that mom requested her to give the key to me as she was in a hurry to go somewhere.”
“Did she tell where she was going? Did you try her mobile/”asked Mukund
“I did, dad. The telephone was shut. I rang up our relatives to see whether she had gone there. She could not be traced. It appears she left around 11 am.”
After 30 minutes, her dad came home. He looked crest fallen and perspiring heavily. Manisha brought a glass of cool water which he drank in one gulp.
“Dad, I am worried about mom. She would not go without leaving information behind or talking to you.”
“Listen carefully. I asked the security whether he saw your mom going out. He said he saw her in a flustered manner leaving the complex towards the main road. She had a bag in her hand. When I asked the security whether anyone had accompanied her, he said the tall fellow with the stubble in the opposite block came out in a taxi at the same time and talked to your mom for a minute before he left. I really don’t know what is happening” he said with worry and anger writ large on his face.
“No, daddy.That guy would have left for some errand on his own. Why do you connect them?”
“I also thought like that and went to the second floor of that complex. That flat was locked. I enquired at the opposite flat and learnt, he has vacated the flat and left the key with them around 11am.He did not leave any address behind” sobbed Mukund.
It hit Manisha like a sledge hammer. Could mom be so treacherous, she thought? No, never can it happen, she reasoned. Tears filled her eyes as she hugged her dad consolingly.
It was 630pm and they were debating whether help of police should be sought when they heard the door bell. It was mom. There was no bag in her hand.
“I am sorry I could not inform you or Manisha before I left. There was an urgent call from the nursing home where my maternal aunt is living with dementia. I thought she had died as they did not tell me anything more than my required presence. As I was coming out of the gate, the tall fellow from the opposite flat who came in a car asked me if I needed to be dropped on the way. I declined his offer to help. It seems my aunt fell down and sustained a fracture. She was taken to hospital along with me. They have put plaster and sent her back to hospice. I took a few old nighties for her use. I could not ring as there was no charge in my phone and I thought I would return before Manisha comes from college at 4pm. My aunt could faintly remember me and would not allow me to leave. The nurses gave her some tranquilizer and advised me to stay till she dozed off to sleep. I am sorry I got delayed. Were you both worried?”
Manisha did not say anything but hugged her mom and smothered her with kisses even as her dad hung his head in shame for having doubted his wife.