“That’s your home?” said Ridhima. Marvelling at the four-story mansion that sprawled before them surrounded by acres and acres of fresh green, manicured lawns. Against the azure sky, it looked like a scene out of a fairytale. Whoever knew there was so much open space in a city like Delhi. If she was still angry with him for keeping such an important fact about his life – his family – a secret from her, it was fast dissipating. Getting replaced by childlike wonder and awe. A kid lost in a candy store.
Somewhere at the back of her mind, he feared, realization may be dawning that this grand place, this entire estate, could someday be theirs.
“Why did you ever leave?” she asked incredulously as they were ushered into the drawing room. Everything was still the same. Polished mahogany and teak, waxed floors, glittering chandeliers. Everything reeked off wealth, order, and conceit.
“Here you are,” said his father, Mr. Sidhvi, striding into the room. Dressed immaculately in a three-piece pinstripe suit and sparkling dress shoes.
He shook his son’s hand and blessed his daughter-in-law as she stooped to touch his feet.
“Baljeet,” he said, “bring out the sharbat. Or do you want something stiffer?” he asked his son.
Moonish waved this away and instead asked, “where’s mom?”
“She’s resting upstairs. Feeling a little under the weather. Her heart … But she is anxious to see you. Maya will bring her downstairs later. But first, we need to talk. Beta, can you excuse us,” he said to Ridhima, who looked perplexed, but decided to step away into the alcove looking over a rose garden darkening in the fading light. “Let’s sit down. Catch up. It’s been years.”
He guided him to the sofa by the fireplace and sat beside him.
“You know how your mother always had a weak heart?”
Moonish nodded. She could never take bad news well. She’d be crestfallen even when you two boys went away after the holidays. Crying like the world had ended for days.”
“She could never take bad news well. She’d be crestfallen even when you two boys went away to school after the holidays. Crying for days, like the world had ended.”
Moonish smiled to himself. He remembered her howling/weeping on the platform as their train pulled away. Like a scene from a Hindi film. It had been embarrassing at the time. And both the boys had looked away, smiling apologetically to their co-passengers for all this melodrama. It would have been hilarious had it not been their mom doing all the weeping.
“Your mom was distraught when I told her about the crash. Told her that only one of you had survived. We didn’t know which one of you then. I know I shouldn’t tell you this, but your mother always had a soft spot for your brother. And when she asked if it was him, I told her yes. I would have corrected it when she recovered. When you recovered and came home. At least that was what I told myself. But then you left. Overnight. Not a word. Didn’t even bother to show us your face for years. And we only had you … I didn’t know where to find you.”
“I couldn’t live with what I had done,” Moonish said. “I know it was selfish of me. I know that now. But I just couldn’t. Even though you’d made the charges disappear. Why did you do that? You should have let me rot in a jail. God knows I deserved that. I sure didn’t want to live like this anymore.” He pointed to all the riches around him. “Knowing he should be here. And isn’t. Because of me.”
“Your mom thinks it’s Moonish who’s alive. And then she saw the ad for your show in the papers. And your name. For a moment I thought it was him, too. Till I realized it was you who’d taken up his name. She asked me to get you back. To tell you it was not your fault. What happened to your brother. To her, you’re Moonish, Raghav. I don’t know how she’ll handle knowing otherwise.”
“I’m her son, too,” said Moonish. “Won’t she be happy to see me?”
Moonish dashed out the door and down the hallway, past good old Baljeet Singh, more wrinkly than ever before, who nearly dropped the drinks and jumped aside, as if he’d seen a ghost.
He ran up the grand staircase, two at a time, not counting the landings, or turns, or floors, his feet remembering the way for him, like so many times before.
“Mom,” he said, bursting into his parents’ bedroom. But instead of an ailing old woman, lying spent on the bed, loose skin hanging over a skeletal frame, like an oversized fur coat on a coat hanger, and eyes closed in preparation for what could come any moment, he saw his mother. Rosy-cheeked. Plump. Healthy. Her hair pulled back in a neat bun. Dressed in a light cotton sari and a woolen shawl. She sat by the dressing table, applying a touch of lipstick to her faded lips. But for a cough that had her reaching for her handkerchief now and then, and a slight gray in her hair, it was like she hadn’t even aged.
“Mom,” he said and hugged her. “I thought ….”
“It’s you who has got her up and running again,” beamed Maya, a middle-aged woman with a big, hearty voice. She was a new addition to the staff. Brisk, efficient. Lithe like a shadow moving in the dark. He didn’t remember her from before.
“I am her companion, nurse,” she chuckled. “Ever since she saw you in the papers and heard you’re coming over, she’s being eating all her meals and medicines and taking long walks. All that exercise has been good for her. Can’t you tell?”
Moonish looked at his mother and smiled. And she cupped his face in her hands and kissed his forehead. “It was not your fault,” she said, still able to read his mind like when he was a kid. “What happened to him.”
“It was,” he said softly into her hands.
His dad appeared at the door, followed by his wife. He had a pleading look on his face and his hands were folded before him like he was begging him to stop. When had he last seen that look?
Never actually. His old man had always been proud and commanding. Polite but firm. But today he was begging him to play along. Not be a caveman. But his twin.
“But it wasn’t,” she repeatedly stubbornly, her eyes glistening over. “You didn’t have to hide from us! Oh, my,” she said, stroking his face with her soft, spotted hands. “You’re all grown up, aren’t you? Look at those wrinkles on your forehead? They weren’t there when you were a teen. And those scars … All these years, not knowing how you’ve been. You’re not going to leave us again, are you, Moonish?” she asked, hugging him tight, tears streaming down her face, unchecked. “I don’t think I will be able to stand that. Not again.”
“No mom,” said Moonish. “Never again.”
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