Sara woke up to find many people in her house. Everyone was looking particularly sad. Bewildered, she went to the kitchen to find her mom serving tea to everyone looking like she had been crying for some time. What was happening? Why are there so many people in her house? As she was wondering all this, she heard a voice.
Then someone hit her on her head and she opened her eyes to find her brother grinning at her.
“Wake up. Mum is calling for breakfast”, and before she can retaliate, he ran away. Looking around, she realized it had been a dream. She felt relieved because even though it had been a dream, she felt very sad. Brushing away these thoughts, she thought of food and smiled. She hurriedly freshened up and went to the dining hall where her father and brother were already eating.
“I’ll come back early today and then we can go to your brother’s house”, her father told her mother. Sara looked up “I want to go too!”
“Not today, Sara. Maybe next time.”
“Please? You didn’t take me with you last time also” Sara pouted.
“Alright. Be ready when I come back then”, her father relented.
“Yes!” said Sara happily and ran after her brother to retaliate for hitting her in the morning.
It was the month of January and a particularly chilly morning. Winter vacation was Sara’s favourite time. She could snuggle in the blanket cosily and she didn’t have to wake up early. Plus, she didn’t even have to deal with sweaty and sticky weather. She wondered briefly which novel to read today. Reading novels were here favourite way to pass time. As she picked up her book, she heard her parents arguing.
“I don’t think you should go today” her mother was saying,” It is already late.”
Her father was a Professor at A.P.J Abdul Kalam College.
“I have to go today! I have to make preparations in college for the upcoming exams.”
“But there is construction going on in the house! What if the workers need some material?”
“Then you can call and I’ll order them.”
Her mother turned away angrily,” Fine. Go. Be back soon.”
Sara’s father sighed and said, “I will.”
Sara watched her father getting on his motorcycle and leaving. Her mother went back to her work and her brother wasn’t anywhere to be seen, probably playing somewhere.
A few hours had passed and Sara was deep into the book when the phone rang. She picked up.
A distressed voice said, “Uh hello? Sara? I am your uncle speaking. Where is your brother?”
Sara ran to fetch her brother and gave him the phone. She watched his brother’s expression change from confused to alarmed to panic. Finally, he cut the call and ran to get their mother. Sara kept asking about the call but he wouldn’t answer. Finally, they reached their mother and her brother said, “Rakesh uncle called. Dad has met with an accident. We have to go to the hospital.”
To her young mind, it didn’t seem a panic situation. Her dad had met with accidents before but had always returned home, albeit with a broken arm or leg, which would always heal in a month or so. But she saw her mother telling the workers to go home and asking Aarush, her brother, the details.
“Rakesh uncle said It happened on the highway. He is admitted in Apex Hospital. We have to get there fast.”
Her mom and Aarush left soon after that and Sara was eft alone with her thoughts. What has happened? Surely her father is going to be okay? He had promised her to take her to her cousin’s house today and he never broke his promises. She waited and waited for her brother to call her and tell her that it is fine and they are all coming back but no such call came.
It was beginning to get dark and still no news came from her family. Sara hadn’t moved from her place. She was checking her phone to see whether she had missed any message when she heard the familiar sound of her brother’s scooty. Relief spread through her and she smiled waiting for all of them to enter. But, the smile on her face soon disappeared when she saw it was only her brother and mother, her mother crying on the backseat.
“Nothing. It’s fine. We are handling it”, her brother said.
“Don’t lie to her Aarush! She deserves to know” her mother scolded Aarush and continued,
“Your father is in the hospital, unconscious. We don’t know when will he wake up. He is hurt on every part of his body and his situation is very critical” and then her mother dissolved into tears once again.
Sara could hear a low ringing in her ears. This is not possible. Her Dad! There is no way! This is just a bad dream.
Her mother was speaking again, “Go get ready. We are taking you to the hospital.”
When they reached the hospital, Sara saw many familiar faces. As she climbed the steps, everyone turned and looked at her with pity. But Sara didn’t give them any thought and just rushed forward to see her father. Her mother stopped her in front of the ICU, “We can’t go inside right now. But look, you can see your father from the window.” Sara’s eyes scanned the hospital beds but couldn’t recognise her father.
“Did you see him? He is in such a bad state” her mother was saying.
Sara felt ashamed. How can she not recognise her father? She can’t even ask anyone. What would people think of her?
She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see her brother.
“He is on the second bed”, Aarush told her grimly.
Sara looked again and was shocked. That person looked nothing like her father! They had removed his spectacles and every inch of his body was covered in bandages. She looked and looked but was unable to reconcile this image with the person who had handed her an extra sweet in the morning. As time passed, she felt everyone’s eyes on her.
Were they expecting her to cry? Should she react more badly? Were they thinking that she is perhaps too composed for someone whose father is in the ICU? Should she be crying? Why can’t she feel any tears coming?
She looked away from everyone and back at her father. Her mother was crying silently in a corner and her brother was standing beside her, unmoving. She looked at her father who always had answer for everything she asked and willed him to gain consciousness silently.
Suddenly, a doctor came out, “Who is Deepak Srivastava’s family? Come with me.”
They hurried inside and Sara looked at all the machine’s attached to her father with wide eyes.
“We can’t say when will he regain conscious. It could be today, tomorrow, a week or a month later. We suggest the family in these situations to visit often and call his name. The patient is emotionally attached to all of you, so, when you’ll call his name, he’ll try to wake up”, the doctor told them and then looked at Sara, “The police said that the last thing he said before losing conscious was his daughter’s name. It will be better if you call him as often as you can.”
Her Dad had what? She saw her mother looking at her with hopeful eyes and tried to call her father. But no matter how loudly she wanted to speak, she could only whisper, “Papa”
The doctor looked at her, annoyed and told her to speak loudly. But, she couldn’t. What was wrong with her? Wasn’t she in fact popular in her class for having the loudest voice? What has happened to her voice now? She tried again and again but all she could do was whisper. She ran out of the ICU crying, feeling angry at herself. She can’t do anything. All she had to do was call her father and she couldn’t even do that. Useless, that’s what she was. She saw everyone looking at her in alarm but she stormed past them. She didn’t stop until she found an empty corner and let her tears fall. She kept crying silently. Her uncle came and sat beside her but said nothing. Finally, she calmed herself down.
“Care to tell what happened just now?” her uncle asked gently. Sara explained everything and he nodded in understanding. He began speaking words of comfort. But Sara wasn’t listening. She just realised that she was standing at the hospital gate. Apex Hospital. How many times she had passed it in the years she had lived in this city? Never had she imagined she will be crying on its gate for her father. She wiped her tears. She hated crying. She headed back to her family where she saw her mother was still crying. Her mother told Aarush to take Sara home. On the way, Aarush talked to Sara about everything that had happened and even though he was trying to be strong, Sara knew that Aarush had already cried when he thought no one was looking. In the span of just one day, he had gone from being an idiot elder brother to a responsible adult.
Three months later……
Sara woke up on her birthday from another dream. It had been a good dream, so good that it made her heart ache. She dreamt that her father was back and they were all having a simple family dinner. Just the four of them. It had become her only wish. She checked the time, it was 6am. She turned and saw her brother was still sleeping. He had studied till late night for his upcoming class 12th exams. She herself had to study for the exams. That thought made her remember, her Dad had always taught her. He had often jokingly said to her that every time she had an exam, it felt like he had an exam. But she knew her Dad loved teaching. She blinked several times, determined to not cry on her birthday.
Her Dad had been moved to Apollo hospital in Delhi. She’ll always remember the day when the doctors of Apex Hospital had told her mother that her Dad had somehow acquired a chest disease due to an infection, and they didn’t have the cure for it. Then they had proceeded to inform that there is nothing else they could do now. Her mother had swayed dangerously on the spot. But Meenu aunty, who was a doctor herself, had suggested moving him to Delhi where he can get better treatment. It had been 3 months and while her mother always told her on call that her father’s condition is improving, he had still not gained conscious.
Sara sat up in the bed and a weird thought flitted into her mind, if this was a movie, she could have just fast forwarded to the future. Sighing, she got up and started getting ready for school. Sensing commotion, her brother woke up and wished her birthday. Never before had she been this sad on her birthday. They had a quite breakfast and then she went to school.
“Happy birthday!” her best friend, Vidisha practically screamed. Smiling at her, Sara muttered thanks. Soon she was surrounded by her friends, all of them wishing her birthday.
Looking at Sara, no one at school could believe that her family was going through such a tragic time. She didn’t behave any differently. She still cracked jokes, laughed with them and did her work. No matter how closely, Vidisha and Shreya, her two best friends looked, they couldn’t see any trace of sadness. She masked it so well. In fact, if it hadn’t been for their English teacher, Mrs. Tripti, they wouldn’t even have known that their best friend’s father was in the hospital. But as it happened, Sara had always been Mrs. Tripti’s favourite student, and she had been the only person to whom Sara had confided in.
Mrs. Tripti had then told everyone and requested them to pray for Sara’s father and had even offered to take in Sara and Aarush while their dad was in the hospital. This had of course annoyed Sara, who hated being the object of anyone’s pity. Now, every day someone would come up to her in school and ask about her father. Sara always wondered, “Do they even care? It’s all just a big gossip to them.”
After spending another tiring day at school, she went back home where she saw her brother had ordered a cake.
“Have you gone mad? You really think I am in the mood to cut cake? Just what are we celebrating today exactly? How brilliantly our family has scattered? Or the fact that we don’t know when will our parents come back, if they do come back?” Sara said angrily.
Aarush replied patiently, “Mom told me to do this. Dad wouldn’t have wanted you to go without cake on your birthday.”
“Well, Dad isn’t here, is he?”
“Just cut the cake Sara. He’ll come home soon. Don’t worry.”
Sara closed her eyes to make a wish, and scoffed in her mind, God already knew what her wish was. If he had to fulfil it, he would have done it by now. Nevertheless, she still asked for her parents to come back home, and blew out the candles.
Sara looked at her brother who was deciding what to eat for dinner. Her brother had been her rock these past months. Both siblings never cried. They never even discussed the issue. In fact, Aarush had put in all efforts to not let Sara think about it. They had watched every TV series they could find; read every novel they could get. They slept during the day when Sara didn’t have school and woke up at night watching movies. Food was another matter. Since none of them knew cooking and didn’t have enough money to order food every day, they survived on biscuits and leftovers. People often asked Sara how she was coping with it, and why wasn’t she crying. They thought she was being brave. But Sara knew it was because her mind had gone blank ever since that day. She never let herself think about her parents. She always kept herself busy, and she knew, Aarush was doing the same.
But today, on her birthday, she let herself think about her family. She closed her eyes and made her birthday wish, hoping for a miracle.
A month later, her Dad opened his eyes for the first time in three months.
Six months later……
Sara couldn’t sit still. She started pacing in her bedroom again.
“When are we leaving?” she asked Aarush for the 10th time.
“As soon as the cab arrives. But we have to clean the house first.” Aarush replied patiently.
Sara groaned and looked around. Six months of dust had settled everywhere. She looked at her brother raising her eyebrows incredulously.
“We have to at least try. Let’s clean up as much as we can or Mom will kill us for letting her house go into shambles” Aarush said, amusement filling his voice.
Sara rolled her eyes and started cleaning. Yes, finally, today her parents are coming back home. She could clean the whole damn city; she was so happy. She couldn’t wait to see them again. Six months, six months she had been separated from them. She couldn’t believe she had survived this long without them.
A car honked at the gate and Sara looked at Aarush with wide eyes. They both hurriedly locked up the house and left for the airport.
Helping Dad out of the cab, Sara heard Aarush whisper to Dad,
“Do you remember us?”
Even though he said it jokingly, there was a slight apprehension in his voice. After all, amnesia often happened in accidents.
But Dad simply looked at him and said, “Is that even a real question?”
Both Sara and Aarush smiled in relief and made their way to the house.
Sara woke up to find many people in her house. She got up from bed with an increasing sense of dread. This wasn’t the déjà vu she wanted. She went to the kitchen and saw her mother serving tea to guests. Everyone looked particularly sad. Just then Dad entered the kitchen in his walker (a four-legged table kind of thing which helped him walk) and said,
“Now where are those sweets I bought for Sara and Aarush? I should probably distribute it before they both murder each other for it.”
Everyone started laughing and even though Sara gave an annoyed look to her father, she smiled. Yes, her dream had indeed come true.