Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
Two things happened in quick succession after her mother’s death: her father retired from the pharmaceutical company where he had worked for more than thirty years and Niti herself decided to leave Durgapur.
Several times she had this argument with her mother. The confinement of a small town, the stench of familiar lanes or the galling comfort of stumbling upon known faces every time one walks out of the home, always left her annoyed. “What’s wrong in going out of this town Maa? What’s wrong opting for a career in designing?” she used to argue. Every time they had this argument her mother ended up in tears.
Niti had never shared an easy relationship with her father more because of the firm thin wall of detachment he maintained with her mother. When other children in her class would go on talking about how they enjoyed the family holidays in summer vacations, all memories Niti had were of offish trips to Puri or Darjeeling. When parents of other children sent out invitations for their marriage anniversaries at school, Niti’s parents never celebrated any occasion at their place. On her birthdays, her mother used to bake fruit cake with chocolate toppings and payesh in the evening followed by a quiet dinner. The lack of warmth in their house used to dampen down the fondness between three of them as the years went by. So, when her mother died, Niti had no bond left with that house or with her widower father.
When she announced her decision to leave their home forever and move all the way to Kolkata to pursue a four years Bachelors education at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, her father said not one word.
That night at the dinner table her father told her about his retirement. “Then what are you going to do now?” Niti asked.
“I am not sure. I might go to Jamshedpur to spend some time with Didi,” he said.
“And after that what?”
“I don’t know really. I can’t stay in this house anymore.”
After two months of her arrival in Kolkata, Niti received the first phone call from her father. He said he would like to come down to Kolkata for three or four days to stay with her for a while. The strange fondness in his voice surprised Niti a little.
She asked, “Is everything alright baba? Are you okay?”
“Oh yes, I am absolutely fine. I just want to spend some time with you.”
Initially when she arrived in this city, the traffic, crowd, smog and congestion made her feel like an alien. She would spend more than five minutes at Ultadanga to cross the road, would miss two or three green signals in the fear of getting crushed by the giant-looking buses that never stopped blaring through, in spite of the red light. The first time she went to the New Market with three of her classmates, the waves of the crowd made her feel like running away from that claustrophobic place. However, in the evenings she liked walking down the streets such as Park Street or watching the sunset at Princep Ghat or browsing through the cluster of books at College Street. The city made her feel different and free like she had never felt before.
Niti had offered to receive her father from Howrah station, but he insisted on taking a taxi instead and coming down to her house at Saltlake all by himself. When he arrived, the person standing before her looked like a five years older version of the father she had known. He had lost quite a few pounds, the numbers of grey hair increased, his eyes shown more prominent dark circles.
That night at the dinner table, Niti asked her father which places he would like to visit in Kolkata during his stay. “I could go along with you. I don’t have any class this weekend.”
Dipping a slice of the roti into the bowl of chicken curry, he said, “No, I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want to stay here for some time. I feel exhausted.”
It was on the second day of her father’s arrival, when Niti dreamt of her mother. She woke up and noticed the lights were on in the other bedroom. It was past 2am.
She got up and went to his room. He was half-lying on the bed with a book on his lap. “You still awake? What’s wrong?” Niti asked.
He smiled. “I don’t get sleep much ever since your mother passed away,” he said. “But why are you awake at this time?”
“I had a bad dream,” she replied.
Niti came near his bed and sat down at the corner. “Baba, would you mind if I sleep with you tonight?”
Her father looked at her but none of them said a single word for some time. “Come sleep. You look tired”, he said.
didi: elder sister
payesh: a sweet dish made with rice, served as dessert
roti: South Asian bread made from stone-ground whole meal flour
Illustration by Alan Van Every
Ankita Banerjee lives in Kolkata, India. She is a 22 years old student of Mass Communication and Videography, who has just completed the MA final year degree course from Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. She has worked as an intern in Zee Aakash News Pvt Ltd in 2009. Her articles were published in the 16th Kolkata Film Festival (2010) English daily bulletin. She has also worked as Content Writer and Editor for Digital Web Portal. She is an ardent reader, a movie enthusiast and loves travelling and photography. She likes to write about anything and everything. Visit her blogs here and here.
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