Nitya turned over the simmering omelette making sure not to let the side burn. Naman loved his eggs in a particular manner or he didn’t eat them at all. The tiny kitchen was filled with the aroma of desi ghee, an indulgence she could afford for Naman. He would be back from his computer class anytime now and she always made it a point to keep his breakfast ready before going off to work. Naman liked his breakfast just a little warm.
On the other days whenever she left for work, Naman stayed alone and Kamble kaka occasionally checked on him. She texted Naman as well and he replied religiously using emojis or little texts. That put her at ease.
Today she had taken an extended leave given the events in the past few days after her mother’s passing. She wanted to clean up the house and also spend quality time with her brother. Above all she wanted to think about her reply to Sajid’s proposal.
With trembling hands, she opened her mother’s old bag filled with her meager possessions. They had always lived a hand-to-mouth existence given her father’s indiscretion, as they called it. She hadn’t got herself to open the bag after her mother passed. She didn’t want Naman to see it so keeping an eye on the clock, she opened the zipper of the airbag that had seen better days. Her mother fiercely guarded the bag and never let anyone touch it till a month before she passed when she had been delirious. Nitya respected her wishes and stayed away from the bag.
Today she opened it…
Nothing looked out of the ordinary…just like their routine life all these years. There were a few cotton sarees, her mother owned like forever. Faded but soft, reminding her of a time decades ago when her mother was full of hope…. A hope that faded away with time making her mother a shell of her former self. She lifted the pale blue saree and held it close to her face. It still smelled like her mother and tears stung her eyes. Her mother had had it tough….
Her mother had been very young and gone against her family to marry the man she loved. She was a brilliant student as well but unfortunately didn’t share the same vision as her ambitious husband. Nitya remembered as if it was yesterday, how much her parents had fought over her father’s decision to move to Yemen for better opportunities. Her mother wanted to stay back and bridge the gap between them and Nitya’s maternal grandparents. She wanted to finish her studies and take up a lectureship in the same organization.
But alas, all that remained just a dream. Nitya’s father was an orphan so there wasn’t any relative from that side to help them and her maternal grandparents and uncles who were just warming up to them were repelled by the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts where her father was named as one in cahoots with the perps. Life went on downhill post the incident and her mother never got over the shock.
They had to move all the time to avoid being hounded by the media and the worse was the hatred in people’s minds for the families of the perps and those associated with them.
Nitya to an extent hated her father for destroying their lives and at times she was grateful Naman had his condition to hide behind it. Otherwise, he would have had it the worst. She was proud of her brother for having fought his own battles despite his condition. He had enwrapped himself in his own world of codes and ever since he had got her father’s ‘gift’ he had been engrossed in something she never could understand.
Naman was a genius in software, coding in particular. He was self-taught and had even started taking up little assignments for the computer classes. He couldn’t write but typed with an enviable speed. His dexterity was poor for his routine skills but when it came to the keyboard he was brilliant… an ace. Nitya always wished to know what was going on in his head but there was no way she could follow him. Naman despite everything had a strange radar about people. His judgments were correct most of the time.
So his repulsion towards Sajid worried her. Speaking of which, she looked at the time, it was over fifteen minutes post Naman’s usual time of arrival. He was never late. Worried, she was about to put back the saree in the bag when she saw something peeping out of the sarees beneath. Overcome by curiosity she pulled it out… it was an old worn-out leather bag crumbling literally. What was this old bag doing in her mother’s bag? There were some contents in it but she decided to check it out later and placed it back inside and zipped the black bag.
She was about to call Naman when her phone buzzed. It was the computer class owner and her friend, Mr. Sandhu.
“Hello Nitya, I think you should come here ASAP…” Sandhu was breathless.
“What… what happened Sandhu? Is Naman ok…?”
“Arre… just come quickly…” Sandhu disconnected immediately.
Nitya began to palpitate. Despite all her bravado she was a weakling when it came to Naman. Was he alright? Sandhu took care to see no one bullied Naman and Naman stayed away from people so there was no way he would get into a fight.
Was there any accident? Nitya slipped on a pair of jeans and t-shirt quickly and taking her wallet and bunch of keys she rushed outside. The centre was just fifteen minutes by walk but today Nitya took the auto. She had always been frugal to save money for Naman and her mother’s treatments and pay for Naman’s various classes and therapies.
Nitya barely took in a breath as she rushed to the floor of the enormous commercial building housing the computer class. As she approached the wing, she saw a crowd had gathered outside. There was some kind of banging noise and she immediately knew it was Naman… given the pattern of banging.
She rushed separating the crowd.
Her heart stopped with the scene before her. Naman lay on the floor beside the overturned desks, banging on one of them with his mouse. His laptop lay next to him as he hugged it… there was a bruise on his head and he was crying. He was muttering something under his breath like a mantra… But that’s how he usually spoke, whenever he did. His speech was not clear and was in a singsong pattern.
She had to know what triggered his meltdown, for the first time in public after years. But she had to calm him down first. She sat next to him and tentatively placed a hand on his back.
“Naman… sweetie… look, didiis here. Lets go home, shall we?” she spoke softly.
Naman stopped what he was doing and turned towards her. The very next instant he hugged her and began to bawl. Nitya heard murmurs where people called him ‘pagal’ and giggled around but she was used to such humiliating and insensitive public reactions.
Ignoring them, Nitya patted him on the back just the way he liked, to calm it down and in the next instant, he was quiet. Sandhu dispersed the crowd and walked in with a first aid box while his men upturned the fallen desks.
As Nitya dressed Naman’s wounds she asked Sandhu. “What happened… why did Naman do this? You know he doesn’t react like this in public… never done for a long and he loves this place…” her anxiety was choking her up.
“I am sorry Nitya…” Sandhu sighed. “…I forgot to tell you. A few days ago, a day after your mother passed, I saw a man trying to talk to Naman while he exited the building. As you had requested, I was keeping a watch. But Naman ignored the man and went ahead. The man didn’t follow him. This happened the next day as well… but the man wasn’t seen for a while. Then today I got late to class and as I approached the wing, I saw that man had called Naman out and was talking to him holding his shoulders… before I could get closer, Naman pushed him and …reacted the way he did. The other students were terrified and rushed out of the class and the man disappeared in the chaos…”
“Who… who was the man… any idea?” Nitya’s heart began to pound.
Did someone from the past find out who Naman was? Rather, who his father was? What would she do now? How much more did they have to pay for being their father’s children?
“I don’t know him, nor did any student identify him…” Sandhu replied. “…but the exit CCTV captured him. the image is grainy but maybe it can help…”
She nodded and after helping Naman who had gotten back to his laptop with a vengeance, to sit on one of the desks, she walked with Sandhu to the office.
The plush office had a strategically placed monitor with camera feeds. Sandhu typed in something and turned the monitor towards her.
The man had worn a cap and his face wasn’t clear at all.
But his body language was a giveaway and particularly seeing Naman’s reaction to the man, she instantly knew.
It was Sajid.