‘Renuuuu! Come on out to play!’
Asha, Sangi and Kiran were standing on the porch of Mrs. Omkar’s home and shouting out for their friend and classmate Renu Omkar.
There was no response. The house seemed deathly quite. Yet the girls knew that there had to be someone home. The family car was in the garage and the familiar metal lock which was supposed to be on the gate was also missing. Asha stuck her nose to the glass windows and squinted, trying to get a better look. The normally bright and noisy household seemed strangely quiet.
The girls walked around to the back of the house hoping to catch someone’s attention from the bedroom window, in case they were there. ‘Renu… Ren!’ yelled Sangi. They heard the sound of the front door being unlocked. The girls rushed back in excitement, towards the main entrance, and screeched to a halt in disappointment, as they saw Renu’s aunty Meera at the door.
Mrs. Omkar’s sister Meera was a large well-built woman who gave the uncanny impression of a battleship going out to war each time she moved or spoke. She was the one that Renu’s 13-year-old brother Raj had nicknamed as ‘auntibiotic’. She always managed to chase all the kids away with her very larger-than-life, intimidating presence, as if they were an infection or a disease that had to be wiped out.
Which was why they found it hard to believe that today, Mrs. Omkar’s sister did not stand at the door with her hands on her hips or a frown on her face. Instead, Asha noticed that Meera’s eyes were red and puffed up. She sniffled a lot and didn’t speak. She just stared at them absently. She kept rubbing her eyes with a large towel. There was an awkward moment of silence as the girls looked on waiting for an explanation.
Asha wondered what the fuss was about.
“You think maybe she’s got a cold?” Sangeeta whispered.
‘Do you think she ate too many onions? Coz my mom’s always crying when she’s near onions.’
‘Nope. Couldn’t be onions.’
Maybe she just poked her finger in her eye or something. Cause the other day Shruthi was…’
‘Shut up Sangi!’ Kiran whispered fiercely.
‘Renu won’t be coming out to play with you’ll anymore’, said auntibiotic Meera.
‘She’s not… she…she isn’t around anymore….’ As Meera finished the sentence she burst out crying and ran indoors. Asha, Sangi and Kiran looked on dumbfounded wondering what was going on.
‘Maybe she’s been kidnapped!’ Sangi said excitedly to no one in particular.
‘SHUT UP SANGI!!!’ Asha and Kiran both yelled.
‘Tha…thai …thaka dim…’ sang the teacher as Asha, Sangi, Kiran and the other students danced to the beat at the Bharathnatyam class. Renu had not come to school for two days now. They missed her in the classroom and especially in the playground. She hadn’t come to the dance classes either.
They had tried going to Renu’s place again the next day but the house was locked. The three friends and Renu were in the same class at school. The girls felt as if a part of them had gone missing. As they walked out of the dance class, they all wore long faces. Their minds worked furiously trying to figure out what was going on.
‘I miss Renu… especially her lunchbox’
‘I miss her too’
‘I heard Mrs. Sharma say that Renu’s mommy and daddy were going to live in different houses’
‘You mean like far away from each other?’
‘You mean they’ll never see each other again?’
‘But how will they share their food? And where will they sleep? And how are they going to go for picnics together on holidays? And where is Renu going to stay?’ asked Sangi, running out of breath as she came to the last question.
‘Mrs. Sharma said it was going to happen anyways because Renu’s daddy wanted to bring home a new mommy.’
‘You mean Renu’s going to have two mommies?’
‘Are they going to bring the new mommy from the hospital where my sister came from?’
‘Nope. I think she’s coming from Renu’s’ daddy’s office or something’
‘D’you think Renu will like her?’
‘Will she stay with Renu?’
‘Mrs. Margaret said that Raj would stay with his real mommy and Renu would stay with her daddy and new mommy.’
‘Will we never see Renu again?’ asked Asha
‘Guess not. They said she’s going to some place called Nagpur or something…’
‘D’you think it’s very far away from here?’
‘Maybe one day we could take our bikes and cycle there to meet her!’
‘Great! We can all have a doll party together!’
Asha’s mom opened the door to the toilet gently and looked in. Asha was sitting on the lid of the commode and staring into space, holding on to Munni her rag doll.
‘You’ve been sitting here alone for over an hour now Asha. Aren’t you going out to play?’
‘What’s wrong sweetheart? Is everything OK?’
‘Mommy, can I ask you a question?’
‘Yes sweetie. Anything.’ said her mother as she entered the room and closed the door behind her.
‘Mommy, where has daddy gone?’
‘He’s gone on work to Delhi, darling’
‘Is he coming back?’
‘Of course he is, sweetheart.’
‘Mommy, is he going to stay in another house faraway?’
‘Absolutely not sweets!’
‘Will I be getting a new mommy like Renu did?’
‘No darling that’s never going to happen. Mommy and daddy love you very much and we will never leave you, OK?’
‘OK… But… if daddy gets a new mommy and a new house, I’d like to stay with you. Is that OK?’
Asha’s mother wrapped her arms around her and tried to hide her own tears.
A fairly big crowd had gathered at Renu’s ‘real’ home. Some of them had flowers and others carried nothing. But they all wore very solemn looks on their faces. Just like auntibiotic Meera had on ‘that day’. Kiran, Sangi and Asha were there too. They looked at every one walk past as they sat in the garden outside. Their respective mothers were at the entrance of the house along with some of Renu’s teachers and family members.
‘I wonder where she is now,’ began Sangi
‘They say she and her mommy are in heaven’
‘Is that a good place?’
‘Do you get to see your mommy and daddy everyday there?’
‘Do you think we can go to see her too?’
There was a long pause as the three watched the grown ups huddle together in the distance trying to make sense of what had happened.
‘Do you think the bullets hurt?’ Sangi asked.
‘My mommy says the gun accidentally went off and Renu and her mommy went to heaven.’
‘Now she can stay with her real mommy forever…’
The three sat in silence. Each thought about Renu and how much they were going to miss her.
‘Come on girls, it’s time to go now.’ said Kiran’s mother as she walked up to them. The three girls got up, dusted bits of dead grass and grime off their clothes and followed her back to the parking lot where their parents were waiting.
From a distance Asha saw her father. He was back from Delhi and had come to pick them up! Asha ran up to him and clung on to his legs in excitement. He carried her up in his arms and kissed her. Asha’s mother joined them. As they piled into the car Asha was glad that her daddy was not going to live in another house after all.