The sky is blue with specs of orange piercing through; he closes his eyes and feels the soft warmth on his face. He murmurs a small ‘thank you’ towards the sky. He doesn’t really know whom the gratitude is meant for, for he stopped believing in God a long time back. He is in the back of a military truck, with his fellow saathis. They were together through all the torture and the brutal interrogations. They had helped him become whole again.
His thoughts went back to the day this had started. He remembered that day so vividly, as if it were yesterday. Funny, the last 14 years were a blur but that day was as clear as a desert sky. A burning smell filling up his nostrils, spreading to his chest and creeping up his veins, replacing all his blood with smoke. This was how he felt when the bomb had struck his cantonment. He lost 17 of his fellow soldiers and he was taken into capture. However, today he was free. He was going home.
She, standing by the window drying her wet hair. The fragrance of fresh jasmines in the tiny corner temple. A whiff of vanilla scented perfume and the sweet nuzzle of his daughter’s head.
‘Your stop next Commander Joshi!’ shouted the driver
‘Are you ready, bhai?’ Lucky asked him.
‘Oh yes!’ he replied with a grin.
They hugged him goodbye and wished him luck. They were all tied now by an invisible thread which could be pulled and pushed but never broken.
He jumped down the truck, his duffel bag over the shoulder. The area was all lit up with lights hung on trees and across the roads. There were huge posters of ‘Happy Diwali’ with the faces of the local corrupt politicians. Shops with exclusive Diwali offers were brimming with people. He looked up and saw his old battered building, the paint still peeling off. All the flats were lit with string lights and lanterns, except one. He knew whose flat that was. He ran up the stairs as fast as he could; he didn’t have the patience to wait for the elevator to come down. He was breathless by the time he reached his floor. He rang the bell and waited, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. His palms were sweaty and he kept rubbing them off on his pants. He knew he looked presentable; they had shaved his beard and cut his hair back at the base. He heard the lock twisting and the door was opened by her.
She was in a simple beige coloured saree with a red bindi and sindoor. He hoped the sindoor was in his name. Her eyes lined with kohl, dark and thick just the way he used to like it. No one said a word. He was scared that if he said anything, reality would step in and he would wake up and realise this was all just a dream. She was afraid of the same. They both stood there, facing each other, hesitant to move.
He noticed the small wrinkles on her forehead, the bags under her eyes. She had aged but she was still beautiful to him. She noticed his irregularly cut hair. She saw the scars on his face. She saw the scars in his eyes. He looked beautiful to her. Samaira tapped on her mother’s shoulder twice before she looked at her.
‘Who is it, mom?’ Samaira asked.
‘It’s Diwali, shona.’ her mother replied with tears in her eyes.
Sketch By: Kislaya Sinha