I jump walked on block 12 which was empty except for a few stray dogs and empty cars parked by the side of the streets. I reached house 32 a villa type building with a well mowed lawn in the front. As I opened the door a huge lab came running towards me. I immediately closed the gate. I am scared of dogs, they bite. I still remember one chasing me down 3 streets and almost bit me (I felt its teeth on my calf). From then, I don’t find the relationship between me and dogs too smooth. I looked for a bell to ring and there was none. After 5 minutes, I saw the gate opening a little. I peeped in. A little boy with crystal blue eyes and unruly straight hair all over his forehead peeped out of the gate.
‘Aditi?’ He asked.
‘Yes’ I smiled and touched his nose with my index finger he twitched his nose.
‘Come on in. I am holding max. Don’t worry!’ he said holding the big dog by its belt. His voice was squeaky and boyish. He was short for a 6 year old and had a thin frame. He was very cute that I wanted to hold him in my arms. But that would mean he would let go off the dog. So I restrained.
‘So, you must be Amit?’ I asked ruffling his hair. He moved away from me and gave me an irritated look.
We reached the main door and Amit ran in and max ran behind him. ‘Dad, someone’s here to see you.’ he said.
‘Who is it?’ I heard a husky voice from the first floor.
‘I don’t know she looks really skinny and pale.’ I heard his voice fading out.
I looked around and it was a well organized house, unlike mine. The couch was in place. There was a huge book shelf with a lot of books arranged vertically on them. The shelf was ceiling high and there was a sliding ladder attached to the shelf. It extended on both sides of the room occupying one side of the wall. There was no TV in the living room. I saw a neat shoe rack behind the main door as it moved to close in the wind. I ran to catch the door while the dog came from nowhere and started sniffing me. I stood stuck on the door, eyes tightly shut.
‘Max’ I heard the husky voice close to me again. The owner of the voice snapped the dog to get back and max ran away. I saw a 6 foot tall athlete figure, brown eyes, sharp nose and thin lips. He was wearing a rimless glass. He was almost an older version of Amit in his early 30s, quite attractive and handsome. I smiled at him.
‘Scared of dogs, eh?’ he asked with a mild smile.
‘uh! Yes.’ I smiled sheepishly.
‘Who are you?’ he asked after sitting on the couch and gestured me to sit.
‘Well, I am Aditi. I read in the newspaper that you need someone to take care of Amit after he comes back from school. So, I thought I would give it a try.’ I shrugged. He looked surprised and looked at me again.
‘How old are you?’ he asked.
‘23’ I said.
He guffawed and after a pause he asked, ‘What do you for a living?’
‘Well, I design clothes and sell them’ I said immediately.
‘Then why do you want this job?’ he asked.
‘My dream is to start a boutique and I want more money for that’ I replied.
He was quiet for a while. Amit came running downstairs. ‘Would you like some water?’ he asked. I smiled and nodded. He ran into the kitchen.
‘He is very cute!’ I told his father who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts.
‘Yes he is. Are you sure you can take care of him?’ he stood up and looked into my eyes. Amit ran out of the kitchen with a glass of water and handed it to me.
‘Thank you, honey!’ I smiled at him and he smiled back.
‘You are so cute!’ he told me.
‘awww, you are very cute too!’ I smiled and touched his nose again. He twitched and rubbed his nose. I laughed.
‘I love kids. I adore them. Your son is in safe hands as long as he is with me’ I reassured his dad.
‘Where do you live? And where is your family?’ he asked.
‘I live 2 streets from here in an apartment called Paradise which is nothing like a paradise.’ I chuckled and he was still seriously listening to me only to make me feel like an idiot so I continued. ‘My mom lives in Chennai. My dad died 5 years back in an accident. I studied engineering in IT but corporate world is just not my thing. So I took up designing clothes for wedding and stitch clothes for people around.’ I shrugged. I was quite for a long time as I sat there looking around and spotted a family photo inside a room. I could vaguely see his wife’s face on the pic. I elevated my neck a little bit to see if I can get a better view. When he finally spoke -
‘Well, you have this job. I want you to pick him from the school at 4 sharp. Bring him back home, make him write his homework and take care of him until I come back which is at 7 tops. I want you to make sure that he eats something as soon as he comes home. Do you understand?’ he asked. I nodded with a smile. ‘I tried day care and I tried bringing someone home just like this. Amit cannot and will not accept someone in place of his mom. It was very hard for that woman! He made it hard for her. She left. So, I want to make sure he is comfortable with you first. We can see for few days and if he is OK with you, you can continue taking care of him’ he told and left the place. He looked pained when he spoke about his wife. Maybe she left or they got divorced and the kid resorted to him.
Anyway, I was excited to know about Amit. The cute little boy had this beautiful sparkle in his eyes that made me feel belonged to him. Like, we were supposed to meet at this point of time in our life. His dad on the other hand, is a very handsome man I envied the woman in his life.
‘So, how do I call you? Sir? Amit’s dad?’ I asked the dad who ran up the stairs. He stopped and bent down to look and me.
He laughed and removed his glasses for a brief minute, ‘Karthik’ and just like that he vanished up the stairs.
I wanted to be punctual on my first day at work I waited out of the school with my hoods pulled up and lighted my cigarette. A man who passed by gave me a weird look. I raised my eyebrows at him. I took a long drag and puffed smoke rings into the air and saw them travel high and vanish. In few minutes, I saw a lot of kids of the same size and uniform pushing and running out of the campus. Amit came running towards me. I dropped my cigarette down and ran towards him after popping a gum into my mouth.
‘Yo champ!’ I lifted him, pecked him on his cheeks and wiped the gloss. He looked prim and extra cute in his formal white shirt, black sweater and navy blue pants which is his school uniform. I took the bag from him and held his hand as we started walking down the street.
‘How was school?’ I asked to build a conversation with my new little friend I have started falling in love with.
‘It was OK. Have to work on a project.’ He stretched his arms as he walked and rested his arms behind the head. I smiled at his little manliness.
‘Cool! What project?’ I asked eagerly.
‘Ananya was boasting about her mom’s paneer taco. She told me that no one can make better tacos than her mom because she learned it when she was in US. I wish ma was here’ He said and looked away completely ignoring what I asked.
‘Hon, Taco can be made easily! Do you want to take it for lunch tomorrow?’ I asked.
He looked very happy and nodded his head as fast as he could.
‘Taco it is! Your lunch tomorrow!’ I confirmed. He grinned.
‘How do I call you? I used to call the previous lady ma’m’ he said.
‘Ma’m?’ I asked lifting my eyebrows. He nodded.
‘My friends call me Adi. So you can call me that. We are friends, right? I make taco for my friends’ I told and gave him a crooked smile.
‘Of course we are friends!’ he smiled that innocent smile and squeezed my hand.
We crossed a park where they sold popsicles. Amit longingly looked at those. We went into the park. I made Amit sit by the bench and bought the popsicles for both of us. I also got a cup of corn and roadside bhel puri.
‘OK! Pick your poison. Grape or Orange?’ I asked showing him the popsicles.
‘Orange’ he fluttered his hands in excitement. We sat there sipping and licking our popsicles in silence. I helped him with my stole as the pieces started melting and falling all over him. He laughed showing his orange teeth. I showed the tip of my purple tongue. We laughed. I fed him corn and a little bhel puri which he felt was a bit spicy. We played by the swing and seesaw. He tried to catch me as I pretended to run. We sat under a tree and finished his homework most of which I wrote as he narrated the story about how he won the running race at school today. When we decided to leave home he was tired and so I made him sit on my shoulders around my neck. We started walking towards his house which was half a kilometre away.
‘Adi, I want tell you something. Shall I?’ He asked.
‘You don’t have to ask. We are friends now, aren’t we?’ I said as I shook one of his legs.
‘No listen’ he said a bit louder his voice getting squeakier. I laughed and asked him to continue.
‘After ma left. My dad sent me to the day care. I didn’t like it there. Then there was this ma’m. I hated her’ He said.
‘Sugar, you shouldn’t hate anyone!’ I told him.
‘No, no, no! Listen!’ He screamed and patted my head. I caught his hand and asked him to continue.
‘So, I used to cry everytime she was home, forcing me to eat and do my homework. She was trying to act like my ma. But she can never be my ma so I let max chase her most of the times. Dad was very sad. So, when you came home I didn’t like you but I pretended to like you and offered you water because I want to see dad happy.’ He went silent. I felt a drop of tear on my head. I stopped walking.
‘Amit, baby’ I made him get off my shoulders. He stood at the platform wiping his eyes with the back of his palm. I knelt down infront of him, held his hand and wiped his tears. I gave him a bottle of water and made him drink it.
‘Honey, I should probably not ask this but where is your ma now?’ I asked.
‘She is with God. She told me that she is going to heaven to make sure I have a happy future. That I get everything I want in my life and become a successful person like dad. I told her not to go. I told her.’ he choked, paused for a moment and continued, ‘I told her that I want her and not a happy future. She said she had to go and left me. She promised to send someone to take care of me but no one came Aditi. I write a lot of letters to heaven but mom never replied. I think she forgot me. I miss her a lot!’ his eyes glistened in tears and rolling down his cheeks.
I pulled him closer and hugged him tight. I couldn’t control the tears that were rolling down my cheeks. I carried him home. I saw the BMW parked out of the house as I entered the gates. Karthik was home. I rang the bell. He opened the door in a while wearing an apron. I smiled at him and gestured him to remain silent. He seemed surprised to see me carry Amit. He came behind me as I went into his room and put him on bed. He was still holding my jacket when I put him on bed. I pushed the hair on his forehead behind and kissed him on his forehead. He smiled in his sleep. I pulled the blinders and closed the door. Karthik stood there leaning on the wall and watched his son sleep peacefully.
‘What happened?’ he asked as I came out of the room.
‘Nothing, we went to the park played and worked on our homework. He was tired and slept off. So I carried him back home’ I smiled and looked at him from top to bottom.
‘Do you want to have dinner here?’ he asked.
‘No, No! My friends would be waiting for me. I got to go. Thanks though! Someother time.’ I said and turned to see him and smiled. He smiled back. There was something about him, his smile, his glasses, the dirty apron, his ruffled straight hair. I couldn’t take my eyes of him. I found myself being drawn towards him. I ran to the front door before I could say anything or think out loud. As I went near the door I got reminded of the taco.
‘uh! Amit wants taco for lunch tomorrow. I promised that I will make that for him. Do you want some too?’ I offered.
‘So you are planning Amit’s lunch from today?’ he smiled at me teasingly.
I laughed. ‘The kid wants it. I just want to see him smile’ I said and shrugged ‘Anyway, I will make them for you too.’ I told him and left the house.
After the Taco episode Amit and I became closer. We were totally inseparable. We went to the park everyday and played. Amit is the sweetest and a very adjustable kid I have ever met in my life. He is self disciplined but naughty. I met Karthik everyday. Apparently, it became one of the best things in my life. We chatted for a while before I left and I came to know that he is an architect and he loves music, any kind of music. He reads a lot of books and loves the rain.
There was this one day when Amit and I returned home all wet in the rain. I took Amit to his room and helped him get dry only to see Karthik getting wet in the rain at the balcony.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked him from inside. He came in dragged his son and me to the balcony. As the rain poured down so hard, there came a bright lightening that felt like a substitute for sun. If there is anything I hate it is getting wet in the rain. I don’t know why, but I am really not comfortable getting wet in the rain ever! I stood there watching the father and son duo dancing and jumping. I saw 2 kids. I smiled and went in. I was trying to pat myself dry in the bathroom which was one of the lamest attempts ever to feel dry when I heard a knock. I opened the door and saw Karthik holding a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
‘Where did you get these from?’ I asked him.
‘These are my wife's, you can use them’ He handed them to me and left the place. I went downstairs nervous thinking how Amit would react when he sees me in the clothes his mom used to wear. They were sitting in the kitchen cutting vegetables. Amit was talking animatedly to his dad. Karthik saw me and acted normal. When Amit turned to look at me his face was expressionless. He tightened his lips and did not talk for a while. He just got off the table and ran in search of max. It upset me to see Amit leave when he saw me in his mom’s clothes. Of course, any kid will not agree that. I was scared that it might have abraded our relationship. Karthik kept looking at me. I smiled at him and he smiled back.
‘I think I will leave’ I said after a while.
‘What? No. No. You should stay here and have dinner with us tonight.’ He told me.
‘I am wearing his mother’s clothes and clearly he is upset. I think I should leave and return the clothes tomorrow. Infact I should even apologize him’ I told desperately.
‘Aditi, I want you to stay and have dinner with us.’ He insisted.
‘I don’t want to ruin the relationship between Amit and me. Karthik, he’s become like my own son. I know I am too young to say this or maybe not. But now, at this point of time I cannot imagine life without him in it’ I told him firmly.
‘Aditi, I think this will look better on those jeans’ Amit came with a red kurti when Karthik and I were arguing about me having dinner with them that night. Karthik smiled and I gave a sigh of relief.
‘Papa is not good with clothes. Ma says that all the time’ he chuckled and Karthik dropped the knife and ran after him. Amit ran faster with Max running behind them both. I prepared dinner that night and we ate together. Amit and I were playing shooting the duck and I began to tickle him when he cheated the game. When it was finally time to sleep, I stopped tickling and playing with Amit. Karthik read stories to him as he went to sleep. I stood in the balcony smoking my cigarette and looking at the clear blue sky and the full moon.
‘Isn’t Bangalore beautiful? Full moon after a wonderful rain! Bliss!’ I heard the deep, husky voice of Karthik.
I threw my cigarette and stamped it.
‘My young lady smokes!’ He said tilting his head and looking at me. I saw his masculine figure under the moonlight and I have never seen a man as handsome as him.
‘Yes, she does!’ I puffed the last bit of smoke.
‘I have not seen Amit so happy in years. You make him happy.’ He said leaning on the railing in the balcony.
‘He makes me happy!’ I smiled and took another cigarette.
‘My wife died of cancer a couple of years back. It was not easy for any of us. She was in a lot of pain and when she died the light of our life doomed forever!’ He took the cigarette off my mouth when I was about to light it. ‘I thought I will never fall in love again’ he guffawed and continued, ‘It was not easy for me. I thought my life is going to be all about Amit and then I met you’ he looked at me.
My eyes widened in surprise, shock, anticipation and scepticism.
‘You can choose to live here with us forever, design clothes and our lives or you can be at your little paradise, get bored and design just the clothes and smoke your lungs off’ He let out a long breathe and threw the cigarette away.
Then there was silence, sound of the night and crickets, moonlight, shades of our shadows and chillness of the weather, moisture after the rain, moon shining bright over the dark sky. And then there was me contemplating about various things while this man, husband of a wife who is dead, father of a very cute son who has invaded my life and everything about it, designer of few really good buildings asking me to design his and his son’s life. In the past few months, that we spent together after Amit slept and before he slept brought us so close to each other that we all have become a part of this bubble called family. The bubble I was always scared of but have been drawn into right now. I don’t have time to build it, it is already built and I have to start managing the castle from day 1. I have a kid to take care of and the man who turned into a kid when it rained and God knows the other times when he will become a kid! Then there is a huge difference in age which might throw my mother off this universe in shock.
He arced one of his eyebrows as I stood there blankly looking at him while these thoughts were being processed in the background.
‘So, basically you are asking me to dump cigarette to be in a relationship with you?’ I asked finally.
He laughed. ‘Yes, I am asking you to dump the cigarette but I am not trading a relationship for that! I like you. I like the way you take care of my son. I like the way you care about his feelings and I like the time we share together talking about movies, books and sometimes I like the silence we share’
‘Is that a yes?’ He asked.
‘I don’t know. I don’t know if my mom would be OK with this. I don’t know if I can be bound in a relationship like this. I have lived alone and I prefer being alone except for the times I spend here. I love my space and I am just not yet ready to have a full fledged family. I mean I am too young to take so many responsibilities on my shoulders. I have to take care of you and Amit. It’s a big deal and trust me you don’t want to be married to me. I am a mess almost all the time' I nodded my head and took a deep breath.
‘I like mess and “I” am the one who will be taking care of you and Amit. Not you. Look, I don’t want to put this on your head and pressurize. I told you what I felt.’ He came closer and held my hands, clasped his fingers into mine. I felt his smell. ‘And I know you like me too! No pressure.’ He said and moved away. I was still holding his hand, not wanting to let him go.
‘You are not going to kiss?’ I asked with an innocent face.
He laughed and asked in his low husky voice, ‘Do you want me to? Because if I kiss, that would mean something to me and also to you and then if you change your mind...’
I kissed him before he could go on and on about how awkward or painful or stupid it would be for both of us. He held me closer and we kissed for longer. I loved the feeling of kissing a man who loved me, who wanted to live with me for what I am, yet the fear lingered in my heart.
‘Listen, I need sometime before we could decide something about the whole thing. You know what I mean? Plus, Amit should be OK with this and then my mom.’ I told him as I got off the car to go to my apartment.
He pulled me closer and pecked my cheeks. ‘Aditi, you changed my life for good. You brought me out of the mess that I was in. 2 years I lived in hell. I didn’t even know that I lived. You make me feel alive. You made my son smile again. You brought happiness with you. Amit will be happier to have you around as his mother. We can wait!’ He smiled and let me go. I ran to my apartment waving him good bye and in happiness.
One day Amit called me early in the morning.
‘Adi!! Come home. Fast! Now!’ he screamed on the other end of the phone.
‘What happened Amit? Are you OK?’ I asked.
‘Adi, papa’s shivering and is not opening his eyes. I am really scared. Please come Adi. Please!’ He begged. I panicked. I got off the bed immediately and ran all the way to Amit’s house in my pajamas. Amit opened the door. Max stood next to Karthik in his room. Karthik seemed to be shivering in fever. I switched off the fan.
‘Honey, do you have a thermometer at home?’ I asked Amit.
‘Yes. I already tried using it but I didn’t know how. It is here’ he ran towards the side table to get the thermometer. I checked the temperature and it showed 103.
‘Aditi, what are you doing here?’ Karthik asked slowly.
‘You have a very high fever. Let me call the doctor. Please don’t talk or try to move.’ I instructed him. Before I could pick my phone to dial the doctor’s number, Karthik puked on the floor. For some reason, I couldn’t see Karthik suffer. I saw Amit running with a towel to his dad’s side and sitting by his side holding his hand. He seemed very composed for a kid who is seeing his dad suffer.
‘I will take care of him Adi, you call the doctor’ he said wiping Karthik’s lips with a towel. ‘I have done this for my mom. Quick call the doctor’ He said like a matured man. I kissed him on his cheeks and went through the phone directory to look for the number. I picked the phone to dial when Karthik puked again. Amit and I sat by Karthik’s side until the doctor came.
‘Mom used to puke during the last days before she went to God. She puked blood. There will be blood everytime she coughed’ he said more to himself reminding of the last days of his mother. He came and sat on my lap, placed his head on my chest and hugged me tighter. Karthik held Amit’s hand and feebly smiled at me. I smiled back and moved the hair on his forehead. He held my hand too. The doctor arrived. After checking Karthik he confirmed that it was a viral fever and there is nothing to worry about. He prescribed tablets which Amit and I bought from the pharmacy nearby. I stayed with Amit that day. I cooked and took care of Amit and Karthik.
It was 7 in the evening and I was feeding dinner to Amit. He was telling me about the transformers movie he went to watch with his dad on Sunday. We generally don’t meet on Sundays as he spent those days with his dad and I didn’t have to be around.
‘I wish I had robots, Adi. Aditieee, why don’t you be here all the time?’ he asked all of a sudden. That’s the speciality of kids when they are talking about one topic they easily switch to another totally irrelevant.
‘I am here!’ I shrugged and fed him the chapati.
‘I mean like here! Here.’ He pouted. Karthik had walked down the steps and was there by then listening to our conversation. He seemed more eager.
‘What happens to my stuff?’ I asked Amit.
‘We can bring it here. You can use ma’s wardrobe those clothes are not being used anyway. So you can use her wardrobe. I can keep her clothes in mine. Then if she happens to come back I can explain’ he said innocently.
‘Where do I sleep? Where I do I keep my machine? My laptop? I have a lot of stuff at home you know?’ I crooked my lips and told him.
‘Let’s bring everything here and you can stay with me and papa. It will be fun. I like it when you are here. I don’t miss mom. I don’t want to feel sad anymore. Please Aditi. Papa, tell her.’ He pleaded and eventually looked down when I did not respond.
‘She can keep her stuff in my room, Amit. She can sleep in my room or yours or anywhere she wants it’s a big house!’ he said and smiled.
His face beamed in happiness. ‘See, even papa wants you to be here!’ I helped him get off the table and washed my hands and the plate. He ran to play with Max. It was just a conversation for him, just like any other conversation we have everyday. Karthik sat on the table and I sat next to him.
‘It’s the age. Isn’t it? I am only 32. Does that make me old?’ he asked frowning and pouting his lips.
I laughed and pulled him closer to kiss and he moved away, ‘uh-huh! Kid!’ he opened his eyes wider. ‘oh, wait! Is it because of this?’
‘What?’ I asked confused.
‘Is it because you cannot kiss me whenever you want to?’
I laughed and sat closer to him, holding his hand.
‘I love you, Karthik. I do want to be a part of this beautiful family. I want to be with you and Amit till he grows old and till you grow old. I want to take care of you when you are sick and I want to see you dance in the rain and indulge yourself in a book. I love you. It is not about the age or anything. It’s just that I don’t want to goof up two lives because of my irresponsibility’ I confessed.
He looked around for Amit and quickly kissed my lips and said, ‘You won’t! And I want to steal many such quick kisses my entire life!’ he smiled and we watched Amit play with max holding our hands and I leaned on his shoulder.
There it was my family, my son and the love of my life.