All that you see
Aarya hated being woken up to the shrilling sound of her mother’s incantation every morning. The piercing bell that mum jingled, the incence wafting all the way to her bedroom almost stifling her in her sleep, the dead quiet of the morning almost magnifying her mother’s devoutness, Aarya hated it all. She almost wished that her mum would get so sick one day that this annoying morning ritual would finally stop. She would finally get to sleep-in which she deserved. She retracted her evil thoughts almost immediately biting her tongue in a gesture of deep remorse.
Aarya had just pulled the doona covers over her stinging eyes and turned on her sides when she heard the doorbell ringing eerily. She sprung bolt upright in a tick. She could hear her mum screaming out for her, telling her to attend to the door as she was caught up in Pooja Kotha.
When she opened the door, it was her father’s driver Hari, apologetically bowing down his head, speaking in almost a whisper, as if he was terribly sorry for the interference. Her daddy had left an important file at his study desk and so the driver had dashed back home to retrieve it for him. Aarya asked the driver to wait outside while she went hurriedly to fetch the mentioned file. Red with black stripes at the bottom, the driver had said. No labels, no names, just a red file with stripes. He had been very specific.
Daddy’s study was a dusty, dismal cavern. Dimly lit and barely furnished except for the desk, a chair and a chest of drawers that was converted into an open bookcase. Grim. That’s what it felt like in there every time. Aarya wasn’t surprised why her mum never liked cleaning this part of the home. Carefully, Aarya opened each drawer of the desk looking precisely for the red folder. It took her less than 5 minutes to find it neatly tucked underneath a leather-bound diary. She pulled it out hurriedly being aware of the driver’s presence at the doorway.
Something shiny, which must have been trapped between the red folder and the diary, slipped on the floor as Aarya was extracting the folder. Aarya quickly grabbed it and absent-mindedly shoved it in the drawer, and then something inside her fourteen year old curious mind made her flick it over. It was a photograph of a handsome young sinewy man. A rush of excitement spread in Aarya’s body enveloping her in a daydream. Perhaps this is what having a crush felt like, thought Aarya, deeply flustered.
She could hear shuffled footsteps approaching nearby. Anticipating her mother’s presence, Aarya hastily planted the photograph between the dog-eared rusty pages of her daddy’s diary. She would have to come back later to check this guy out, she told herself.
Mum was perched authoritatively at the entry to the study, with hands on her hips, ready to dismiss any excuses Aarya might give for taking so long. Avoiding her gaze and lecture, Aarya ran towards the doorway. Hari, the driver, was still patiently waiting outside. She handed in the red folder and confirmed if that was the folder her father had asked to fetch. Hari quickly affirmed and then scurried.
Aarya’s heart was set on the hunk in that photograph with such a covetous physique . There was no way her father would render that photograph to her even though they shared a very close bond. She began scheming ways to procure that photograph. She knew the photograph alone won’t satiate her inquisition, she would want to know the person too. But first, retaining the picture was somehow more important. It was useless to coax and pursue it with her mum simply because they had never been close enough to talk about any subject comfortably.
Nonchalantly, Aarya walked back to her father’s study, approached the drawer that held the picture, casually took it out, caressed the outlines of the man and got swept in a beautiful reverie. It sent her in a joyous swoon. The very possibility of meeting the man, being able to watch him very closely, perhaps share few words, brush against his masculinity and maybe even steal some kisses made her jubilant. Determined to ask her daddy casually tonight, Aarya coyly tucked the photograph inside her brassier and went to her bedroom to get ready for high school.
It was the most delightful weather that day, spring blossoms enrapturing curious adolescents into its delectable fragrance. As if nature was extending a warm hug to everyone that came to its embrace. Aarya spent half the day blabbering about the hunk to her classmates. Almost breathless and exhilarated, Aarya doubted if other girls found her excitement a bit ubiquitous. Nevertheless she was getting titillated while crafting dialogues with her close friends on how to persuade her father to give out more information about the guy.
It wasn’t until hometime, perhaps more from day’s exhausting recount than actual classwork, did Aarya suddenly become enveloped in an ominous doubt. She kept asking and arguing with herself and couldn’t help but wonder why her daddy would have a photograph of a man in his study. A sudden spritz of perspiration and chill ran down Aarya’s back. She was imagining exchange of pheromones whilst the man in question could be her half brother after all!! She shuddered. Was that possible ? In her head, as dizzying as it was, Aarya tried to calculate an approximate age of the man in the photograph. He looked to be in his late teenage or perhaps early 20’s. That leaves a gap of 5-8 years between them. Aarya started feeling a bit suffocated and a little kick in the pit of her stomach. Did daddy have another wife and a child ? Did mummy know about it all? Or was it all un-avowed ?
A sudden jolt brought Aarya back to her current surroundings. The school bus driver was calling her to get off at the stop. She realised she would have to confront her beloved daddy when he returned from work. But there was still about few hours left before he would reach home. Aarya decided to take a detour on the bus so she didn’t reach home only to agonise in anticipation. She lied to the driver and asked him if she could be dropped off at the nearest mall to meet her mummy as planned earlier. It didn’t take more than few seconds for the bus driver to accept her excuse. 10 minutes later, she was dropped off at the nearest mall.
Strolling at the crowded mall, Aarya kept ignoring the growling noise her stomach was making. She realised she had skipped breakfast and lunch altogether in the bewilderment of that morning’s disconcerting discovery. Nothing would deter her now from unearthing the purpose of that photograph in her daddy’s study. Suddenly she was swept with an overwhelming melancholy towards her mummy. What would come of her annoying yet naive and unemployed mother who dedicated all her life to be a homemaker to raise children. Her mother who was once a renowned theatre actress with prospects of silver screen reign. How would she take the blow of her husband’s infidelity ruining their family life?
With millions of questions and retaliation plans buzzing in her head, Aarya slowly made her way to the food court. She felt like nibbling on something, as if eating would automatically eat away her worries. Queuing up alongside echelons of humanity swarming the little mall, she squeezed her way through a row. Out of the blue, her eyes fell on a suede coat, at the far end of the mall, near the exit sign, exactly the same sort that her daddy wore that morning. Her eyes followed the stature, squinting tightly to recognise any familiarity in the gait and outline. It was unmistakable. Even from side profile she knew it was her daddy, swiftly moving towards the exit door, engaged in conversation with another man. The other man was clad in faded jeans jacket. Although that man was wearing a cap and sunglasses, Aarya had an uncomfortable feeling. The resemblance to the man in the photograph, even from a distance, seemed quite uncanny. Quietly she quit the queue.
Emotions stormed inside her. Sensation of anger, betrayal, denial, resentment and reprisal brewing so ferociously that she could feel her blood bubbling up in her veins. She followed them to the parking lot. Staying behind a group of people, she kept her gaze fixed to her daddy. As expected, her daddy walked up to their family Cherokee. Both men got into the Jeep. Panic-stricken, Aarya froze to an immobile mess. Where were they headed? Was daddy planning to reveal his other son to their family today? What could she do to stop him wrecking their happy harmony?
As Aarya was contemplating the aftermath of the revelation, their red Cherokee briefly halted at the puddle that had formed from last night’s rain. The mudflaps aquaplaning the footpath where Aarya was huddled up in the group, swiftly revealing a smiling hunk gently kissing her daddy as they drove past. Aarya collapsed on the ground.