It was getting quite late. Standing in the balcony, I could see puddles of rain water that had formed beneath the mango tree in the courtyard. I thought I heard a soft knock at the door. I hoped Mala had returned. How many times had I told her not to go out in such weather? Or to get back home on time? But she didn’t listen. She never listened! Grappling with these thoughts, I opened the door. There was no one. Disappointed, I returned to the balcony.
In an attempt to distract myself, I shifted my thoughts to the mango tree. It had been there for as long as I could remember. Like me, it was a relic of a lost time: the only thing left I could relate to, and, in a sense, the only anchor to my sanity. Everything else had changed. Mala had grown up. The few people whom I had once considered friends had moved away. Even the old shops in the town were gone, unable to keep up with the new multinational brands, whose cold, glittering monotony stared at me soullessly every time I walked past their swanky new windows. And Alka? I still thought of her, though even the details of those memories had faded away in my mind. Her face had become an indistinct blob to which my mind often attempted to add details, like a diligent but incompetent painter.
It had begun to rain again. Where was Mala!? I tried her number. It was switched off. Was she still angry about yesterday? It wouldn’t be unlike her to make me worry in this manner! I came inside to make myself a cup of tea, but the urge left me as I reached the kitchen. After pacing about restlessly for a while, I wandered into Mala’s room. Power wasn’t back yet. The last remnants of daylight that filtered in through the curtained windows were barely strong enough to illuminate the room. Everything was perfectly still and orderly. My eyes drifted across to the bedside table, half fearing to find a letter of some sort, telling me that she was leaving forever. To my relief, there was none. The last few months had been particularly difficult between us. It had not always been so. When did it change? Why did it change?
I sat at the edge of her bed, staring vacantly at the walls of the room. There were photos on one of the walls. Photos of us. My eyes rested on a photo in which I held her in my arms. How small she was back then! My little angel. She would crawl into my lap and fall asleep with her pretty head resting on my chest. After her mother left, she was the world to me. We would talk for hours. She never judged me. Then she grew up and we slowly drifted apart. Why did she have to grow up? Why did she have to question and judge me. Yet, she was still my daughter. The only thing I had left in this world. When she comes back, I would apologize about yesterday. I should not have yelled at her. Where was she?!
I stared at the photos for what seemed like an eternity, until I realized how dark the room had become. I could no longer see the details in the photos. With them, my life itself seemed to have faded away into blackness. In the darkness, I felt utterly alone and weak, as if I had aged a thousand years. Outside, it was raining harder, and the wind howled menacingly. Where was my daughter?! A sudden panic seized me. With trembling hands, I reached for the phone and dialed her number. It was still switched off. Should I call one of her friends? She would probably just get mad at me. After some contemplation, I reluctantly dialed Anita’s number. “Hello!”, a familiar voice answered. “Anita, it’s me, Mala’s father. It is really late and she hadn’t returned yet. I have been trying her number but it is switched off. I am really worried. Do you know where she might be?” There was a long pause. “Uncle, it has been a week since the accident. I can understand how hard it is for you, but you need to accept that she is not coming back. I can come over if…”. Her words faded away as the phone slipped from my hand. I walked out of the house to hide my tears amidst the rain. The mango tree in the courtyard was cackling like a madman in the wind.