The Sunflowers (3)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Just when you were about to realize that after a long and arduous battle that you are on the verge of fulfilling your cherished desires destiny plays a cruel trick that leaves you high and dry. This is the last part of the sequel of three stories with the same name.

Sraddha watched the snowflakes fall from the large bay windows of her forty fifth floor condominium overlooking the Hudson river in New Jersey.

The snow fell gently as gently as the tear drops rolled down her cheek. It was almost five years that Sanjeev, her “ Baba”( Father) had vanished from her life. He had disappeared, it seemed, into thin air. Absolutely without any trace.  Not a single day went by when she did not remember him. True, he was not his biological father. There was no relationship of blood. Their bond was higher than any of these because it was a bond purely, solely and completely of love.  And when a tie has nothing to show save love that tie becomes the most sacred and strongest one of all.

That summer day of Kolkata still felt surreal to her. She was returning from her college with a song in her heart. The results of her last semester had been declared and she had done spectacularly well! Wait till Baba got the news! He would be overjoyed! If there was any person who was the happiest when she reached any milestone it was her Baba. She could not wait to get home to share the news with him. Instead of waiting for the subway she booked an Uber.

She remembered impatiently waiting for the old fashioned elevator with those collapsible gates. When it came at last she jumped on it and pressed the fourth floor button to her apartment. She   rushed eagerly to open the polished wooden main door. When she tried her key she was a bit surprised to find it open. Baba must have gone down to get “ Paan”. Often he suffered from bouts of hyper acidity and having “ Sada Paan”  or betel leaf with finely cut “ Supuri” helped with the condition.

She kept her bag and went to the table with the vase that held the sunflowers. There she found the big manila envelope and besides it was a folded note with her pet name “ Diya” written on it. It was Baba’s handwriting. Intrigued and puzzled she opened it. She read the first few lines and her head began to spin. What was the meaning of all this? She felt light headed and quickly held on to the corner of the table from falling.

The note stated that her birth mother had been found and she had made a claim to regain her custody through an American Lawyer. It made a reference to a letter in the manila envelope sent by this lawyer. It went on to state that he was bound by the conditions of adoption to honour it. “It is the saddest day of my life” Baba wrote.  “There is no meaning left in my life. As I cannot withstand the sight of my darling, daughter being snatched away before me I am going away somewhere far so that I do not cast a lingering shadow on her bright future”, he had concluded.

The shock had been too much for her. She had blacked out.  When she woke up she found herself in a  completely different world thousands of miles from her hometown of Calcutta. An Indian woman looked at her with kind loving eyes. A Caucasian girl and boy stood besides her and they too regarded her with sympathy. She raked her brain to recall who they were. Her eyes began to search for one familiar face-her baba—but  she could not find him. Who were these people? Where was she ? Had she been kidnapped?

A scream rose in her throat but never came out. The Indian lady smiled and put a comforting hand on her  forehead. She wanted to stop her. With all her might, as much as her hands would allow, constricted as they were with all the intravenous tubes and pipes that was pumping vital fluids into her body, she tried pushing her away. The woman was not perturbed and she signalled  the nurse who came quickly and gave her an injection. She felt drowsy and the ceiling began to spin as she slipped into  a dazed stupor.

It was after three days that she regained a sense of normalcy. The Indian lady was Subhra Robertson, her biological mother and the Caucasian kids were hers through her second husband. On the aftermath of the deadly cyclone that hit the coastal town of Balasore almost twenty years back  Subhra was found buried under the rubble of their house. Her husband of 5 years had perished when flying debris hit him.  She was found barely clinging to life by some volunteers from the Red Cross. As luck would have it , Shraddha too was close by, fighting for her life, but it was a different search party that would find her a  day later.

As she had no recollection of her mom it became difficult for Shraddha to relate with Subhra, who spared no effort to make her feel at home. For Shraddha family meant one person---her baba. And now even though he was not around she could not let anyone else usurp his place. Alone in the hospital bed, surrounded by the different machines monitoring her vitals, she cried silently for her baba. She was sure if he could hear her cry even once, he would come rushing to her.

She remembered once, when she was  in grade  eight she had gone for a school excursion, to the hill station called Kalimpong. She had begun to feel unwell but she did not want to upset him. So when he called her to enquire about her well being she did not mention about the severe pain being caused by stomach cramps. It was only in the last part of the entire conversation that she involuntarily let out a cry of discomfort. And that was all that was required for Baba to become restless and impatient. He borrowed money from his brother and  booked a flight to Kalimpong. The very next day the immensely relieved, completely surprised teenager left for home. That day she realised the depth of his Baba’s feelings for her. Quietly she thanked God to have brought Baba into her life.

Subhra’s joy at being reunited with her lost daughter was to a great extent being scaled down by the fact that Shraddha did not feel the same excitement and eagerness which she felt. She knew it was difficult for a girl who had been separated from her birth mother at the age of two to form an attachment after so many years. She was willing to wait. It did cause her a heart ache though when in spite of her insistence Shraddha would not call her, mom.

Then there was this other complication, her two other kids from her second marriage. Betty and Adrain were a few years younger than Shraddha and she could feel a subtle push back  when she disclosed to them about her intention to bring back her first born  kid from India. Though she had mentioned her to them numerous times in the past when the moment came to give shape to her desire and she  took concrete steps to reclaim the little girl legally she could feel a sense of apprehension in them. It was quite normal, she reasoned, when a kid whom you have never seen or known your entire life barges into your life, out of the blue, and comes to claim a part of it you are bound to resent a little. She left it to the good old doctor—doctor Time to slowly ease the tension and stress this was causing.

The good thing was that Micahel, her husband of fifteen years, stood by her like a rock in the entire pursuit of hers to be reconnected to her estranged child. He was the one that did all the hard work of finding an immigration lawyer and providing them with all written documents and also arranging for a DNA sample . The process was  long as it was expensive.

When the results came in she was  surprised. Never in her wildest dreams had she expected a two year old child to have survived the furious onslaught of the natural calamity that had claimed thousands of lives, including that of her husband and also left her almost half dead. By some miracle the little girl had made it and now almost twenty years later she was going to be reunited with her biological mother. The question had popped up then as it did now almost every day , “will my daughter accept me as her mother after so many years?”

So far,  things did not look that encouraging. She remained sullen and withdrawn and Subhra’s attempt to befriend and break the ice yielded no positive results. She was not the one to give up so easily. She was willing to wait.  She had not waited twenty years for nothing. She had anticipated these hiccups and now was the time to gather her family around and resolve and iron out these issues before they got out of hand.

She knew that if she had to win this battle she should take the help of her daughter Betty. Though only fifteen she was mature beyond her years and had a way with people. If she wanted the barrier between her and  Shraddha to drop Betty would be an invaluable ally. One morning, while she had her regular steel cut quaker oats and Betty was  gulping down her cucumber sandwich she asked for advice from her daughter who had inherited the light skin of her father while her hair and eyes were dark like hers. From the corner of her eyes she could see the ferry transporting its early morning passengers from New Jersey to Manhattan across the Hudson. Even now, after so many years sometimes it seemed surreal to her. Never had she imagined that she would be coming to the Big Apple, and what’s more, become one its proud citizens and start an adorable family.

Her eastern upbringing , belief and philosophy led her to believe that it was all destiny. Michael. An astute CPA who ran his own accounting business did not subscribe to this belief and spared no opportunity to prove to her that it was her hard work, grit, perseverance, and of course, a little nudge from providence that had made her transition from a housewife in a remote village in Odisha to a banker with one of the leading banks of the USA possible. Though she listened to Michael in a good natured way so that anyone looking at her would harbour the opinion that she was sold to the views of her spouse, the reality was a bit more complicated. She wanted to believe Michael but when, she was all alone by herself and she looked back on her life and the peculiar events that took place and their timings, she was compelled to believe that there was some unseen power, no matter whatever name we might give---destiny or providence---we were ,after all –puppets in the hands of  that supreme power which by any name is God!

Betty suggested to her mother not to try too hard. “ Ma you are overworking and straining yourself which is becoming counter- productive”, she said as she chewed on her cucumber sandwich. “ Just let it be and you will see that slowly she will warm up to you. Remember she is grieving! She has lost her Dad—not her real Dad for sure but for her He was the one. Speak to her about her Dad, show empathy . You cannot be selfish Ma---you have to think about your daughter---our sister!”. Shubra was bowled over by the sheer wisdom of the teenager! How true she was! She was right! In her desire to claim her first born daughter she was blinded by her petty self interest. She had completely forgotten about the trauma of the girl! She had lost her most important person of her life and she was in a state of shock.

Now that she was shown the mistake she was making Shubra was overcome with pangs of guilt. She made a mental resolve to herself that she would not force herself upon her daughter, on the contrary, she would try to soothe her and calm her down and share her grief with her. She realized that the best way of  building a bridge of trust and love was to  show, her respect and gratitude, for the man who had selflessly brought up her daughter as his own for more than fifteen years. In order to do so she had to know this man who had been his daughter’s Baba or Dad!

The law firm that had tracked him down had just provided the mundane and basic facts like his name, his age, where he lived, what he did  and so on. But what Subhra was interested in knowing was what kind of a man was he? He must have been a loving kind of a man to have adopted a little girl and give her a life  even though  financially he could barely maintain himself. He must have been an awesome father to have had such a far reaching impact on the psyche of the young girl. As far as she knew it did not matter to Shradhha that she had been uprooted from her familiar city and environment and brought to this completely alien surroundings in North America. What gave her inconsolable grief was the fact that she had lost her “ Baba” , her father and she blamed herself for this. Because she was someone else’s daughter he had to leave. Does not the deep bond of love have no effect on the canons of law? Yes, biologically he had no claims on her---yet for fifteen long years he had given everything he had selflessly  and with no expectation of any kind of return. He did it because he wanted someone close in his life –someone he could call his own. The person he once loved dearly and could call his own, his wife, had left him in mid journey and he wanted to bridge that awning of desperate loneliness. So when he saw the pain and grief in the little girl’s eyes in the dilapidated orphanage he knew what he had to do to banish the ghost of despair once and for all! He had given her an identity, a sense of self –worth and, most importantly, a reason to live!

After Shraddha  was released from hospital and was gradually embracing the new people and the new environment in her life, Subhra, made it a point to be around her whenever she needed anything. Slowly the youngster could see and realize that her mom, her step dad and her half siblings wanted the best for her and bore her no ill will. The human mind and heart is strange---when it senses love it gets drawn towards the source of that affection. Shraddha was no exception. Though the pain and grief of losing her Baba was still tangible, the rawness of it had been toned down to a great extent by the balm of the timeless healer of all pain---Doctor Time!

Besdies Doctor Time, another thing that forged a strong bond between mother and daughter was Sanjeev—Shraddha’s “baba”.  Whenever they had some kind of down time or even when they were busy they discussed about him. From Shraddha she came to know little snippets about his life, his likes, dislikes, fears  and hopes. She learnt how once when Shraddha had fallen terribly ill and was  admitted in the hospital Sanjeev had sat besides her bed the whole night and held her hand. Later when she had recovered and had  gone back home she had asked him why he was so upset. He had looked at her and said I do not want to live through the same experience when I lost my wife. My greatest fear is losing someone I love. As Shraddha narrated this episode to her mom it suddenly struck her that his greatest fear had become a reality when she came away from Calcutta. The realization hit both mother and daughter with great intensity and both sobbed and held on to each other. After they had regained their composure Shubra promised to her that she would do all that it took to find her Baba. The young girl knew her mother meant what she said and embraced her and a cried a little more.

One day In May as Shubra stood in front of the bay windows of her living room which had a sweeping view of the Hudson river and the distant skyscrapers of Manhattan and looked out she heard someone call her, “ Ma”! She was surprised and turned around. It was Shraddha. She had come into the living room and stood a little distance away. She had a cup of tea in her hand. She was overcome with emotion. She quickly came and hugged the young beautiful girl. Tears streamed down her cheek! All that she was waiting and hoping for had come true! Her first born daughter had finally accepted her! What more could she ask for ?

That same afternoon Shraddha shared with her mother the role Sunflowers had in Sanjeev’s life. She told her how on the night his wife and  his new born kid passed away there was Sunflowers on his table. Strangely, the day before she got separated from him she had brought a bunch of sunflowers home and he had shuddered looking at them. She now wished she had not brought them. For some strange reason whenever they were around  it had a cataclysmic impact on his life. “ It is just pure co-incidence”,  her mother explained to her.  She wanted to believe it too, however, somewhere deep inside, there remained a question mark. Was it all co-incidence?. Maybe.

Shraddha was fast settling down into her new life and was becoming used to the new environment thousands of miles away from the city of Calcutta where she grew up. Though the city of Hoboken in the state of New Jersey was not even remotely similar to Calcutta she realized that people of both cities had similar challenges. Commuting was one of them. Both cities during rush hour were like a powerful athlete, sputtering and grunting ,on a vigorous overdrive ,rushing forward to the finish line. Then there was the feeling of alienation. All big cities had this problem. You always felt left out. They left you with that familiar feeling of being lonely in a crowd.

Though things were becoming normal gradually what did not leave her was the dull ache that accompanied her from that day that Sanjeev had left her. At first it was not a dull ache but  a piercing pain that shot through her whole body and consciousness when she realized  that her “baba” had left her. For the first few days ,she recalled, she could not accept the fact that she was once again all alone in this world. Growing up in an orphanage, a lost little girl at the mercy of the hostel supervisors, she was mortally afraid of being alone and defenceless. That old feeling of terror and grief revisited her and an intense restlessness gnawed at her heart. With great difficulty and immense self discipline she schooled herself to calm down and accept the reality. Baba has gone. He is not going to come back. Ever. Best you come to terms with this truth. Tears streamed down her cheeks as the truth dawned  her. Life was not easy. And it came with much sorrow.

The fact that Shubra doted on her was not taken very well by the rest of the family members, including Michael. They felt that she  was neglecting them because of her. She did not know what to do. She had joined a desi software firm. The owner, a middle-aged Indian technocrat, who was an ex Microsoft manager  was a tough and mean task master who like many Desi businessman felt that as they were paying their employees they could do anything with them. For a minimum wage she toiled 12 hours a day with no overtime or any benefits. She was not complaining though, because, for one, it gave her the avenue to be self-dependent, two, it allowed her to remain away from the swanky condo of her mother and step father  for long periods of time. That way she was not subject to the silent treatment that was meted out to her when her mother was not around. The scenario changed a bit when Shubra was there. At that time her half-siblings showered her with fake affection while her step father looked on with a plastic smile.

That year Durga Puja was celebrated in the fall month of October. For Shraddha it was a novel experience. She had never seen Fall before and as such  she was mesmerized by the colours the season had on display. What she found from her observation was that each tree had its own unique way of changing hue. While the leaves of the  Sugar Maple transformed in one particular way, the American Elm and the Quercus Shumardi did so differently. Also the timings differed, while the maple trees generally  bore the blazing mantle of copper first, it was the Black Oak and the Spruce which were  the last to be seduced by the gentle and colourful charms of Fall. The blue azure sky, the cool nip in the air, the romantic colours and the festival fervour of the Puja enamoured her completely and  as she looked at the George Washington Bridge and saw the tiny waves of the Hudson under the noon sunlight a feeling of peace descended  on her. She felt a sense of calm. It was transitory, though, because just as a bad dream spoils a good night’s  sleep the thought of Sanjeev sent a shooting pain through her heart.

The Pujas felt different too.  In  Kolkata because it was  celebrated  widely and contributions poured in from various sources, including, but not limited to, big commercial houses the grandeur, the opulence was  at a much larger scale.  The celebrations in New Jersey  did not have any of the pomp and pageantry of  the eastern city. What it lacked in glitz and  glamour was more than compensated, she felt, in  the camaraderie , the love and the social interactions that the expatriate community enjoyed during  the days of the festival. Moreover, besides, indulging in routine rituals like Anjali, Aaroti, she also participated and took part in the cultural activities that was arranged by the organizers of the holy celebrations.

Shubra  took a keen interest in these religious festivities. It allowed her to connect with her roots and also  revitalize her social connections with the local Bengali population.  She made it a point to ensure that her entire family attend the festivities with her. So on the morning of Saptami, the first day of the Puja, Betty draped a saree while Adrain and Michael donned kurta , pyjamas and listened with rapt attention to  the mantras being chanted by the elderly priest decked in a white dhoti and silk kurta. When the time for Anjali came the entire family was bunched together and recited the slokas  together. Most of the words were difficult to pronounce, however, the kids made a concerted effort to repeat them as accurately as possible. The local people were thrilled to see a Caucasian  Man with his kids and his Bengali wife and they gave them looks of approval and respect. Shubra and family partook prasadam and then left to come back in the evening to watch the cultural program of  song and dance. The main attraction of these cultural sojourns was the artist that was flown in from India. It  would either be a movie star or a famous singer. People flocked to take a glimpse of the matinee idol and , if possible, take a quick selfie. If it was a songtress that had come then men, women  and children thronged the venue to listen to  her and sway and grove to the popular tunes. The performance would last way past midnight.

The city of Hoboken was gradually casting tis charm and Shraddha already had a few favourite places.  One of them was the Pier A park  which offered a panoramic view of the Manhattan Sky line. The Hudson River waterfront walkway  with its vast expanse of green spaces was another. The Washington Street  with its bustling bistros, shops and bars drew  and mesmerized her and whenever she had some downtime she found herself making  a beeline towards it.

Her life was moving at a steady pace now. Her relationship with her new family was cordial but she felt something was missing. She could not pinpoint exactly what it was. Her life with her Baba was modest and almost simplistic, however, for some unknown reason she felt much happier and much more at home.  One evening as she was returning home an elderly man of South Asian descent stood a little distance away from the seat from where she was sitting in the subway. His wavy receding hair and the way his dark, thoughtful eyes looked in  the distance reminded her of baba. It sent a shiver through her. For a moment she had the feeling that Baba was always somewhere around  and watched her from a distance. She resolved to go up to the gentleman and observe him closely at the next station. When the stop arrived and she rose to accost the man, he was not there. She was puzzled and led credence to her belief that Baba was watching her from far. Baba don’t be afraid. Please come forward . Don’t you see I am so lonely without you. Take me with you. This life is not worth living without you.

She wanted to analyse why she did not feel the attachment she should be feeling for her biological mother. Was it just because her mother  came late into her life when the bond between a parent and child could no longer be established ?There was no depth of passion or feeling that characterises this relationship. The relationship between them was too perfect, too precise. Too polite for it to be a normal healthy link between mother and daughter. Real relationships, she knew, were not that proper and there were times it showed signs of strain, it went up and down, and was informal and not polite or businesslike. Her half siblings also kept her at arm’s length and to her step dad she was almost invisible. She now understood  thoroughly the meaning of the line which she learnt in the scriptures, “ Man does not live by bread alone”.

That November winter came early. One evening when a nasty winter storm paralysed the city  she found herself stranded after work  waiting for the bus that would take her to her mother’s condominium. A howling , bitterly cold wind blew  her hat away. She made an effort to make dash for it but the heavy snow and the slippery ground conditions restrained her. Suddenly she saw a young man of medium height  run , retrieveand hand it over to her with an elaborate bow. She was embarrassed and grateful at the same time. She thanked him profusely. He smiled  blushed  and brushed  away her thanks. Light from the newly installed led street lights fell on his face. He had a young , youthful face with regular features. What was remarkable was  his dark eyes that had a life of their own and when they gazed deep into hers  she was overcome with a feeling of romance.  This was an  unknown  feeling  which she had not experienced before. The snow fall became worse and it was quite evident that her bus would not be coming for sure. Instead of becoming  perturbed, she was surprised , she was rather smug about it. The young man stood with her, a little distance away, and stole glances at her. Once their glances met and both blushed and smiled. She wanted to say something to break the ice. She thought of ways of doing so. She need not have brainstormed so much, because, after a while, the young man, tentatively asked in his halting English, “ you too waiting for the bus to Hoboken?”.

She answered with a smile, “ Yes “. She did  not know why there was that smile. She did not care either.

“ You, work close by?” asked the man. Obviously , as was evident from his accent and olive skin he was an immigrant. He was either a Mexican or a native of Puerto Rico.

“yes”  she answered, “ and you?”

“ Me not working. Looking for work. I came  here to search for work.”, observed the immigrant.

“ What kind of work do you do?”

“ I have  degree in electronics  from Mexico, but you know,  it means nothing . I am illegal here. I do all kind of repair jobs”

“ That’s sad”,  she remarked and  felt  a surge of sympathy for the young man.  She knew many people like him who worked menial jobs  and led precarious lives despite being well educated and  well off in their own countries. It was the call of the west. It was the dream , the Big American dream that they all wanted to share.  Many times it so happened that all these dreams fell  by way side and what was left was broken lives and shattered dreams.

He was looking at her with a sweet smile. She knew that smile. It was the smile she saw so many times in the faces of the little street urchins in her home town of Kolkata when she  brought,  home cooked  food for them. That smile conveyed a host of emotions—gratitude, love, respect and most importantly joy. When you realize that you matter to someone, you experience a  warm feeling  and that feeling in turn alleviates your soul and gladdens the heart!

The bus to Hoboken never came that night . It was, perhaps a design of fate, she thought. Because it  did not come she called for an Uber  and being  afraid to travel alone she asked the young man, whose name was Marcelo to come along  with her. In the back seat of the Honda Civic, as they sat besides each other, she realized, for the first time that he was well built and had a lovely head of dark wavy hair. The storm’s intensity had increased and visibility was limited to only a few metres ahead. The Uber driver another immigrant from Pakistan, turned on the heat to the maximum and welcomed them with a smile and a polite good evening.

“It’s bad out there” he said in his accented English. “ I will go slowly. Don’t be mad” he  concluded.

“ No worries! Take your time. We want us all to reach in one piece” she said. Everyone laughed.

The driver pressed on the gas and the little car eased on to the road which was now being pelted with heavy snow.  Marcelo’s  hand accidently brushed against her thighs. It sent a shiver through her entire body. He quickly moved his hand away with a soft “ sorry”. She wished that he did not move his hands away. She chided herself for having these  naughty thoughts.

In the dark closed  confined space of the car she began to feel a special affinity for the  young man whom she had just met. She was surprised at herself. Why was she getting attracted to him when she did not know him at all? It was only today and that too just a few hours ago that she got to know him. She raked her brain for an answer. Then suddenly she found it. She had oncecome across  an old photograph of Baba, while she was cleaning his stuff. It was a picture of Baba when he was a young man. He was standing  before a door of a house. It was a monochrome picture. He was wearing a plaid shirt tucked into a dark trouser. His hands  were on his hips , he had  his signature twisted half smile and his dark way hair was brushed back.. She suddenly realized that in some uncanny way Marcelo resembled Baba in that old picture. And that was the reason, perhaps, that she was unconsciously being attracted towards him!

She  glanced sideways to steal a look at him and she found him looking at her. She blushed and smiled as their gazes met. He smiled too.

The trip that on normal circumstances should have taken not more than 25 minutes took almost two hours.  She thanked Marcelo for giving her company and gave her phone number to call. She also asked him to shoot off an email with his resume so that she could forward it to the people she knew. “ It does not hurt to try” she said. He nodded. His eyes looked at her with the same kindness and gentleness. Oh God , if only most people of the world were like him it would be a different world ! Then she got off and went home.

After that night she met Marcelo again in the beginning of spring. They met,at her behest, at the famous central park of New York. It was a day In March. It was still not warm, however, the biting cold was not there and as the sun was up the cool air combined with the gentle warmth of the sun gave the day a fresh feel. The sky was blue with white clouds scattered here and there. They sat at one of the many benches in the park.

Marcelo looked different from that night. He was dressed in blue jeans, dark blue tees and  grey coloured light jacket. She was pleasantly surprised. She realised he had fine taste in clothes. She was elegantly dressed as well. She wore faded blue Levis jeans with a shirt and topped it off with an oversized navy blue sweater.  

After they enquired about each other’s well being and got up to speed with  their respective current situations they  sat like two old friends  enjoying  the morning.  They did not know when and how they held hands.  The sunshine bathed them in a golden hue and a soft, gentle breeze played with their hair. They chatted and chatted. Neither knew they had  so many things to say to each other.

 The sun had moved to the western hemisphere when, all of a sudden they realised that it had become quite late.

“ oh my god! It is already three!” Shraddha  exclaimed.

“ so ? I am prepared  to spend  my  life time like this with such a lovely lady” said Marcelo

“Enough of that false flattery! Aren’t you hungry? I am starving” she said

“ yeah , me too! What do you want to have?”, asked the young man.

“ I don’t know! Do you like Thai? I know of a wonderful place in Manhattan! Do you like to go there” asked the  girl who had limited exposure to different cuisines of the world, however, had heard that Thai  food was pretty delicious.

So they took an Uber and reached the restaurant. The  food was out of the world and both enjoyed it thoroughly. She boasted about her ability to find and select awesome food. Marcelo paid for the food and ignored her protests.  They came outside onto  the street. Evening was approaching. The sun was going down. The lights in the magnificent skyscrapers were beginning  to glow. Cars sped by. A skein of geese flew, cawing loudly.  Gradually in the hearts of the two young souls a little storm of romance began to brew.

A slice of neon light from a illuminated display fell on her face. It bathed her in soft scarlet hue. He looked at her with fascination. She saw him looking at her. And the way he looked at her she knew it was the look of love. She blushed as he winked at her and smiled. For the first time she was exposed to this crazy feeling. She felt dizzy, but light, in her heart there played a song—a song that she had heard years back—she did not remember the words but liked the tune. He was coming closer. She saw him take her face in his hands and stare deep down in her eyes. She felt weak. A part of her wanted to protest but another part said , “ let it be,  let her kiss you”. It was her first kiss and she loved every moment.  Her body automatically  arched towards him. One of his  arms encircled her waist and another one gently cradled her face. His lips were gentle and sweet on hers and its taste was heady and intoxicating.

When the time to take leave came that evening she found her heart weep. She was surprised that in such a short time she had developed such deep feelings for the humble young man  fighting a bitter battle to carve out a decent living in an unfriendly world. Why was it that fate always sent , the down trodden, the marginalised people in her life? Her Baba , whom she loved so dearly was one of them and now this wonderful young man who had stolen her heart was no aristocrat, either. Perhaps God pairs people this way. It had to be with the way the divine algorithm was programmed, up there.

With a long hug, a deep kiss and a promise to meet again soon,they took leave from each other.

Their love blossomed like a beautiful  flower and their relationship emitted a sweet aroma that beautified and lent charm to their lives. One morning as she was leaving for work, Shubra, commented on the lovely glow of her face. Jokingly, she asked, “ are you in love or something?” She blushed and wanted to make a clean breast of things happening in her life, but she hesitated, what  would she and other members of her family think? She was not that close to them to learn of their views, opinions and prejudices. What if , like most white people, they had a bias against Mexicans? So, she just smiled  and said, “ oh no, maybe it is the new makeup”.

One evening when they were at the Times Square, Marcleo said that maybe his dream of living in the States will not be fulfilled as the new federal government had deemed that people from Mexicao were primarily drug dealers, rapists and criminals and they had no place in this country. As he said this his eyes shone with emotion and his voice trembled. She patted his  shoulders  and  consoled him saying no matter what the government said, in her eyes he would remain a hero. “ You are like my  Baba. Simple, humble but an individual of integrity and value.  These are the people that the world needs. Too bad our politicians do not realize that”, she observed with conviction as a horde of Chinese tourists swarmed around them chattering excitedly. One of them an old man asked her in his rudimentary  English, if she could take a photograph of his wife and him. She  readily agreed. The old Chinese gentleman along with his petite and charming wife struck a pose while she clicked their photograph. The elderly man thanked her profusely, and said pointing proudly to his wife, “ Fifty Year Marriage Anniversary” as both of them bowed and smiled.  They left. There  was suddenly a period of silence. Marcelo  looked at her and said, “ I promise to you if by any chance I am allowed to remain in this country we will celebrate our Golden Anniversary here at this place”. She looked at him proudly and smiled. She knew from experience though that dreams  always die first.

It was in the middle of  peak summer that Marcelo asked her to meet at one of the many lovely  parks besides the Hudson. It was a picture perfect day, with sweeping blue sky, light warm breeze and golden sunshine. On days like this you cannot help but feel cheerful and as she took the bus to go to the park there was a suppressed excitement and joy in her heart. She was going to meet the person she loved and she looked forward to a great evening. She had dressed casually but with an eye to enhance her seductive appeal. She had put on a bright floral skirt and her feet were encased in white loafers.

It was about three in the afternoon when she reached the park. It was packed with families and lovers all having a great time. Little kids ran around squealing with delight. White sea gulls hopped around the green  fields looking for scraps of food. Bare bodied young men skated along the narrow pathway of the park. Beautiful girls in shorts lay idly on the ground . She stood besides  a bench and savoured the sights and sound of the place. After some time she spotted Marcelo  walking towards her. What struck her as odd was that his characteristic pleasant smile was missing. Today his demeanour was reflective and almost grim. He was carrying something in his hands. As he came closer she recognized it was a packet of sorts.

When he was just a few feet away, he gave her a sad sweet smile. Then she recognized what it was he was carrying. It was a bouquet.  And  the flowers were Sunflowers! Her hear froze and then broke into a million pieces!

Before even  listening to a single  word  she knew what he had to say!

Just like the day when her Baba disappeared her whole world came crumbling down!




















































Submitted: May 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 suj. All rights reserved.

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