She reached at about 9 pm. The traffic in the highway from the airport to the city was unbelievable. After a three hour flight from Delhi to Guwahati one would think it wouldn’t take two hours just to enter the city. But she was mistaken. Instead of leather she now felt that the seat of the taxi was made out of lead.
As she saw the initial trees that lead the way to the residential area her heart instantly lighted up. It was a perfect dwelling with ancient trees and comfortable little houses. Outside the taxi window she could see that everything was dark except for the light coming out of the windows. The place somehow seemed very alien to her. There was no noise of traffic and everyone seemed to have retired for the night. She could see only one or two cars entering the lane now. It was in total contrast to her pied-à-terre in Liverpool. In her stay there for the last five years, she had pretty much grown used to the fact that the night started at 10.
The gate gave a little creak while opening. “I don’t remember everything being so…small”, muttered the tall girl with short spiky hair. As she took another step, she slipped at some big polished stone. She looked down and could see that a neat stone path led to the front porch. In the dim light of the porch she noticed the meticulously kept pansy flower garden, the overgrowing hedges that lined the walls and at last- her favourite tree in the entire world-The Night flowering Jasmine tree. The tiny white blossoms had already come out in the nocturnal tree, the sweet smell greeting an old friend. She was finally home.
She rang the bell and stood nervously in the front steps biting her nails, an old childhood habit, which had deprived her the luxury of long nails. She had been trying to avoid this moment for the last five years.
The bickering had started when she was in the 11th grade. Every morning she got up to see her mother asleep on depression pills and her father working outside in the garden. It had got worse over time and she had to cry herself to sleep every night. She decided that she couldn’t take it anymore. So she worked hard day and night to do well in academics to get a scholarship anywhere-just anywhere, as long it was far away from this place. Her father didn’t even as much glance at her application forms before signing it. Soon she got into the University of Liverpool in UK. She packed her bags and left without a second thought.
Over the years her mother had tried to make her visit home but she had always made an excuse either with project work or summer job. This time she couldn’t come up with any excuse for her parents had finally got divorced and her father had left for good leaving the house to her mother.
While waiting for the door to open, she felt guilty for leaving her mother at the time she needed her most.
“Who are you?” a tiny girl of about nine or ten years asked from the small gap in the door that she made.
“I am Vimi, I live here, now let me in.”
The girl disappeared. Instead a women appeared, her long, thick hair braided and confusion lined her face. As soon as she saw Vimi, her eyes lighted up that seemed to illuminate the whole world. She gasped,” Oh Vimi!” with an expression so touching that Vimi couldn’t help but feel guilty all over again.
“What kept you so busy that you couldn’t visit even once? How are you? How is Liverpool like? Have you met someone there? Why didn’t you say me that you were coming? I could have at least picked you up from the airport. And what have you done with your hair?” Vimi’s mother asked all these questions without taking a breath.
“I never liked it long Ma” Vimi said answering the last question with a sigh. That was partly true because she really never liked it long as it was in no way as beautiful as her mother’s. But that was not the reason for cutting her hair. Her long hair reminded her of those days when both of them used to sit in the sun and her mother used to oil her hair to put some nutrition into it and she couldn’t bear to live with it.
” Please sit here a moment” Vimi said with a serious face,” and tell me how are you dealing with it?” “Dealing with what dear? I’ve never been better” her mother replied. Vimi knew that her mother would never open up. She never did. Even back then she acted as if everything was fine when her father was not around. So she changed the subject, “Who is she?” Vimi asked pointing at the little girl.
“A pain really.” Her mother said. “I hired a helper to look after the house and garden. You know I don’t have any patience for all that plus I can’t work at this age. Along came she. She is the helper’s daughter. Doesn’t do anything much or talk for that matter. Probably still in shock due to her mother’s death last month.”
Vimi didn’t like her mother’s words and she turned around to look at the girl. She had the look of a wild animal. “What is your name?” Vimi asked. The girl stared at her for a long time and then left without a word.
Settling in for Vimi was never a big issue. After all she had the experience of adjusting in a whole new continent. And this was her own home. But this house didn’t have quite the same feeling as before. No dad. Ma hardly caused any sound in the house. The new people—the helper and his daughter didn’t really talk much. They did what was asked of them. The lack of sound took away her sleep at night. Vimi had no intension for staying for more than two weeks. She had decided if ma wanted to talk about anything, she’ll listen. If not she will just leave after a week.
But the unthinkable happened. She didn’t want to leave. She wanted to go back to her childhood days. She wanted to tend the garden with her dad. She wanted to collect jasmine flowers at dawn and pray to the sun. She wanted to go to her old school and meet her friends, find out about them. So she stayed.
The sun’s heat was beating on Vimi’s back. She was all covered in sweat. She had worked for the whole afternoon in the back garden pulling weeds, turning the soil and planting new seeds. She had not worked so hard physically for a long time. It gave her a grave satisfaction to work in her own land. She didn’t want the helper’s aid. She wanted to do it alone. The girl fetched her a glass of water. Drinking that water was pure paradise. Now she sat down to dig in the corner, near the wall. The girl was close by.
She wishpered, “I wouldn’t do that.”
Vimi turned, shocked. It was the first time since her arrival that the girl had spoken a full sentence. Vimi had heard her speak only twice before. Once after asking more than a hundred times she said that her name was Neelam. Another time, after dropping a bucket full of water all over the floor, she had mumbled an incoherent sorry.
Vimi asked, somewhat excited “Why is that?”
“We should never play with soil which is mixed with blood.”
Vimi asked eyes widening. “Excuse me? What did you say?”
“We should never play with soil which is mixed with blood.” And she left.
Vimi’s mouth fell open. She kept staring for a long time. Then shaking her head she went back to work and she found no blood.
Vimi stood near her mother’s bloody body, knife in hand. She hadn’t enjoyed anything ever before. Now she wanted to spill more blood. Maybe the helper? Then the neighbors’? She took a step. The glass of the broken mirror under her shoe made a faint cracking noise but that was enough to wake her up from her reverie. She looked around coming back to her senses. She dropped her knife.
“What…what have I done?”
Neelam came to the room. She smiled. “I told you not to play with soil which is mixed with blood.”
“You! You did this to her. Didn’t you?” Vimi cried.
“No. You did it. You want to spill more right? Now kill yourself already.”
Vimi did as she was told.
“Neelam, bury them with the male in the back. Your mother will arrive soon.She is going to like the young girl’s skin.” said the helper from the other room.