Chapter 1: Nitya’s predicament

Nitya’s predicament

Present day

Nitya shut the door of her modest home in the corner of Bhandup, a suburb in Mumbai. The last guest of the select few had just exited and she latched the door securely. Turning around she sighed looking at her mother’s garlanded photo. She had passed a couple of days ago and today Nitya had arranged a prayer meeting at the behest of her family friend, Kamble uncle.

Kaka, I don’t believe in all these farcical rituals…” She had protested. “… I took care of Amma till the time she lived… gave her a decent departure at the crematorium. Don’t you think this is enough? Why should I announce it from the rooftops?”

“Nitya beta, its for the reason that all this doesn’t look conspicuous. Your mother lived her life in absolute obscurity and fear. If we don’t call a few people for the prayer meet then it would make it look even more odd. We don’t need people’s attention to focus on you or your brother, more than necessary.” Her uncle had justified.

She had relented and today the prayer meeting was done with.

It was tough for her to face the sparse crowd though she had known them for the last decade she had stayed here. The women looked at her with eyes overflowing with unsolicited pity and maybe even envy, at her svelte figure. But the men ogled at her. Some of them had even eve teased her in her initial days here but she had been an avid martial artist and had shown one of them the repercussion after which she was left alone.

Today she had worn a saree after ages on Kamble uncle’s insistence. She didn’t want to disappoint him since he had gone out of his way to help them. The man had been their anchor when they had hit rock bottom. He was the only stable family she had seen.

Nitya had always worn loose t-shirts over loose-fitting jeans that literally hung on her slender frame. It was a perfect camouflage for her to go to and fro to work at the gym where she was a fitness instructor and also doubled up as a martial arts teacher. The pay was average but she made good money in personal coaching and this area was the cheapest to live in these suburbs.

Nitya walked into the only bedroom of the tiny flat, they had rented for the past decade. The landlord was Kamble uncle’s friend and had reluctantly extended her lease every year. He had even kept the rent on the lower side to his utmost chagrin but Nitya wasn’t the one to judge. She was only grateful.

She looked up at the ceiling, the iron rods blatantly staring at her now having been chipped off the cement layers just like the fortune and peace from her life. The corner in one of the walls facing outside had dampened and refused to dry. Despite her best efforts feeble stench of increasing mould remained. The Rains had been particularly ruthless this time

Compared to the curveball life had thrown her way, this was sheer bliss.

She was barely 11 years old when her father passed… but the mayhem that followed his death was devastating. She lived in Pune those days close to her maternal grandparents. But her father was labelled a traitor who helped design the terrorist attacks that shook the heart of the country. It was a nightmare for her mother and her little brother, Naman who was barely 3 years old. There was trial by the media across news channels and despite there being bare minimal social media in those days, it was a living hell for them. They had moved to that housing colony after her father had left for that job in Yemen. Her mother, also a science graduate, was against the move but appa wanted to give them the best… little good it did.

Her appa was her hero. Then why did he do it? That would always remain a mystery. She didn’t want to believe it at all even years later when she grew old enough to know stuff. His memories were fading away… and she didn’t remember him except for the occasional old Hindi movie songs which when played reminded her of his fun games whenever he spent time at home. What did he look like? She had fading memories of his angular jaw very similar to that of hers with a pencil-thin moustache. Her mother often said she resembled her father in the good old days. She wanted to hang on to that image despite all that had transpired. There was no picture of him available anymore… her mother had destroyed all physical copies and at that time he wasn’t on any form of virtual medium despite the fact that he was a software genius.

Long story short, it didn’t matter anymore Because all she remembered was a miserable adolescence with a depressed mother and a brother for whom she was a surrogate mother to date.

The last 15+ years had taken a lot from Nitya. Her childhood, good memories …in short, her life.

Her mother was bedridden and heavily sedated in the last five years. She had to take care of the household too besides earning a living. Then her brother… the super genius in the family. He needed care as well despite being 18 years old.

 

Nitya walked towards the study table in the room darkened by thick curtains despite the bright daylight. The slight silhouette of her brother Naman, slouched on the revolving chair she had got him from the flea market, was visible. She knew he was disturbed at a different level. She knew better than to talk to him. She couldn’t handle a meltdown right now.

Naman had Asperger’s Syndrome. She had always trodden on eggshells around him to help him calm down. His cries during a meltdown would depress her mother further. Twice the woman had OD-ied and Nitya couldn’t lose the only living relative… She could only study till the 12th grade after which she plunged head-on to earn a living. But life had been the best school teaching her things she would never have learnt in a sheltered upbringing.

She tiptoed towards her brother, her only remaining family… well figuratively. The last decade had brought them very close to each other. Naman only listened to her and needed her voice or touch to calm down.

She saw him rocking with a slight humming and his headphones were on too. She knew he was distressed. She placed a hand on his shoulder, tentatively and he began to rock more… with a greater intensity. She knew he was in agony… something he couldn’t tell despite being verbal. These were the emotions only she could feel. She teared up… the emotions were getting the better of her. She had never cried for ages, not when they had to give up everything 15 years ago, not even when she had to become a breadwinner as an adolescent, not even when her mother almost died consuming those sleeping pills and not even when amma died…

But Naman was her weakness… she had been the only relative he had known.

Today he was hurting, probably more than her. She knew what she had to do. She hugged him from the back and began rocking with him. After about a minute he slowed down and finally came to a standstill. She gently took off his headphones watching him every second. She couldn’t tolerate a meltdown right then… She was drained too.

“Hey Naman… sweetie… I know you are hurt. I am so sorry dear but amma was ailing and in pain. She is in a better place now. Remember, when we spoke about heaven?” her voice cracked up towards the end of the sentence.

She remembered one of the many workshops she had attended, by a parent support group for her brother. It helped her deal with him better. She was after all his parent in the true sense of the word. Naman only listened to her… she didn’t know how much he followed her but he often heard her out with his gaze fixed on the mould on the wall whenever she wanted to vent out, frustrated with her life. Despite his issues, he seemed to understand her well. He gave her a patient ear and never judged her.

 

She loved him to no end and had pledged her life for him.

Naman nodded slightly and she doubted he truly understood emotions but he was a genius… her mother said, despite everything, her brother had inherited his high IQ from his father. And then that stupid laptop-like structure, whatever it was… It had reached them a week after her father passed. Her father’s death in a computer laboratory short circuit came as a shock… The Mumbai attacks news was fresh as ever and this was out of the blue. The only communication that cryptically came over from Yemen office and there was no contact ever since. Which world did they live in?

The ‘gift’ had come to her old home and was received by her grandparents who handed the still-packed gift to her mother a few years ago.

Her mother had lost it all over again and Nitya hated it all the more…However, Naman had taken to the gadget like a fish to water. It was some crude prototype of a laptop probably built by her father. The gadget just played music from an old album, it sounded familiar but she couldn’t place it. The music seemed incomplete… She always had the urge to find the solution and complete it but what was that music?  She couldn’t ask around because it would call for attention and Kamble kaka the only soul outside their home who knew about the gift, advised her to let it go.

Naman however kept busy all day and for the past few years, it was his companion whenever he was home after his special-school hours. She always thought the gift was a blessing in disguise for Naman because he could emerge into those codes without having to bother about the life troubles surrounding him.

She looked at the blinking green lights on the keyboard panel and then there was this boxlike structure just like the area where a cordless phone would have fitted. But there was no phone or any such thing with this one.

Naman seemed to have got back his equilibrium now and began to hit the keys with a vengeance.

She sighed and walked out of the room just as her phone beeped with an incoming message. It was from Sajid… her boyfriend of five years. Amma hated him, so did kaka and Sajid had met them just once. She didn’t love him either, but he had been with her through her lows in these past years. A psychologist would have a field day analysing her complexes! She didn’t know why she was still with Sajid. They barely spent time together.

Romantic love wasn’t something she believed in… she didn’t have that emotion… or maybe she did once at that time during her childhood. Before hell broke loose…That brown-eyed boy with an amazing dimple when he showed his perfect set of teeth…

She shook her head at the fleeting memory. It was all in the past…

Off late Sajid had been pursuing her relentlessly, wanting to marry her. He had a job offer abroad and wanted to marry her. Just last night he had called her.

“Come on Nitya… I am sorry for your loss… but I am there for you. Always. Naman is like a younger brother and I shall take care of him as well. We shall take him along too…”

“Sajid, Naman can’t be uprooted… and he has become very emotionally volatile and his meds have been tweaked as well. It’s a tough time for him…”

“I understand Nitya. Trust me I do. I shall take care of everything. Naman only wants a gadget like that toy he has… doesn’t he…?”

“No Sajid its more than that. Let me ponder over it a little more alright?”

Sajid hadn’t pushed her after that.

She sighed and read the current message.

Hey Nitya, will be gone for a few days. New job requirements. Cu in a few days. Take care.

She realised she left the breath she didn’t know she held. Why did Sajid make her anxious these days? Was it because of the ‘marriage’ topic? She couldn’t ruin anyone’s life because she came with baggage. Her brother was an extension of her own being and anyone marrying her would have to accept him.

Sajid had accepted Naman but the problem was, Naman didn’t like Sajid…

Naman hated Sajid.

 

©priyanayakgole

(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

 

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