The glass window separated Naina from the sheets of rain outside. Under normal circumstances, she would be strolling out in the streets, soaking in the beauty of the raindrops as they settled on her soft skin, breathing in the heady earthy scent. But not today. Not for a long time now. She had to take care of herself, because she was gaining new responsibilities.
In his cabin, Harsh morosely scanned last month’s records on his Notebook, reaching out for his 3rd cup of coffee simultaneously. It was a Monday, just another day to be sorry about. He loved his job (at least that’s what he kept telling himself), but a Monday? It was always a pain.
He suddenly remembered that the doctor’s reports were due today. He picked up his phone and dialled her number. She didn’t pick up however. Probably painting, he thought. Naina was known to shut herself in her studio for hours at a stretch, cutting herself off any kind of social contact. She would emerge later after what seemed like an eon, hair disheveled, a happy smile on her face (along with splotches of paint), beaming with an air of ‘I’ve done it‘. Of course, sometimes she wouldn’t be too pleased with her artwork, and that was the night the dinner would be raw.
Harsh smiled to himself. Naina. Naina.
Well he was right. She had indeed shut herself in the studio now. She stood facing a large blank canvas, gazing at it contemplatively. Her mood was a kaleidoscope today. Not that painting was any easy on other occasions. But it felt tougher today. She wanted this painting to be symbolic. Special. She didn’t want to just splash some colors on the canvas. She wanted to breathe life into it.
Harsh sat in the conference room, listening to Rita Charles drone on about the company’s shift in objectives, ranting about how the change had to come from within the ‘innards of the family, and only then will it radiate to the outer world’.
He had settled back into his swivel chair, fingers intertwined in his lap, letting his thoughts wander off to fleeting visions of his wife. Naina. With her big eyes and cropped hair. The tinkling laugh that would come out of nowhere, and would just as easily be replaced with tears. Naina. There was nothing ordinary about her.
Next to him, Vikram Rao was diligently making notes on his yellow NotePad. Harsh leaned in to get a sneak at his notes, and instead found him drawing caricatures of Rita Charles. Harsh rolled his eyes and fell back in his chair again. Just then, his phone vibrated inaudibly in his pocket. He slipped it out carefully. It was a message from Naina.
What should I paint?, said the message. Harsh stared into the screen for a full minute. Naina never asked for inspiration. Sure, she’d make rough sketches and ask how it looked. But she would never ask what to paint.
Are you ok?, he began to type, and then quickly erased it. Naina was fairly monstrous when it came to art. Doubts, jokes, and speculations were not permitted.
It’s raining. Pick up something from there?
N: Okay. I love you.
H: I love you too. Btw, weren’t your reports due today?
N: I have them.
“Mr. Malhotra, is everything alright?” came Rita Charles’ steely voice, and Harsh’s head snapped up. He blinked. Everyone was looking at him, including Vikram Rao.
“Um, yes Maam.” Harsh said, gulping. His phoned buzzed in his hand, but he didn’t dare look down. Rita Charles looked positively livid.
“Why is your attention focused on your mobile phone then, and not on this highly important presentation?”
Naina tottered back to the studio, after having visited the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. Harsh had stopped replying after his last message. He hadn’t seen her last message. It had simply said, Come home soon.
She faced the blank canvas again. What should I paint?, was the question again. Her large glasses slipped down on her nose, and she pushed them right back up. Behind the canvas, the ceiling-to-floor windows revealed the thunderstorm outside. The rain just wasn’t giving up.
She thought of Harsh, ever so supportive of her. Even when she was throwing paint and tantrums all over the place. He would still hold her and tell her how much he loved her. Harsh. She couldn’t wait to see his face when she told him the news. Which is why she wasn’t screaming the news out through a message- she wanted to see the smile on his face when he heard it.
She suddenly knew what to paint.
The rain had worsened the traffic on the roads multi-fold. Cars, rickshaws, trucks, everything and everyone was converging on the pothole-ridden roads. Everyone wanted to get home in time, but nobody was ready to drive in an orderly manner.
Idiots, Harsh thought, rolling down his window for some air, but instead being treated to incessant honking. The window was rolled right back up.
He picked up his phone with a sigh. This was a good time to catch up on networking. He read Naina’s last message (Come home soon) and tried to decipher it as a response to his query about the reports. It really did not make sense. She wasn’t online right now. In fact, her last seen was almost three hours ago.
Next to his car, a scooter drew up. Between the front handles and the seat, stood a little boy of about 5 years of age, wearing a neon-orange raincoat. The man behind him, who Harsh presumed was his father, was talking animatedly. The boy was almost about to fall off the scooter in his excitement to reply, and at the same time catch raindrops in his outstretched palm. Harsh laughed. Then it struck him.
Come home soon.
Naina stepped away from the painting, putting down her palette with an odd satisfaction. The painting had taken about four hours to complete, which in the world of art, was a pretty good record. She instinctively wiped her hands on her shorts, and then remembered that Harsh would blow a lid if he spotted paint on her pants anymore. He would always tuck hand-towels into her waistline, just to remind her that her clothes were not made for wiping paint.
It’s these little things that I love about him, she thought. And this painting is a gift for him.
Then, she trotted upstairs to bring out the silver box that she had purchased from Cuddles4LittleFeet, right after she had gone for testing. It was time for Harsh to see what was in the box.
Harsh ran through the lawn and up the verandah stairs. A steady drizzle was still in descent from the sky above, and his shirt was soaked. But he didn’t care. He knew now, what that message had meant. At least he hoped he did.
Please. Let it be true.
‘Naina?’ he called out, shaking rain off his shoulders.
‘In here, babe!’ she called out, from inside the kitchen. He bounded to find her sitting on the kitchen counter, munching on an oatmeal and apple granola bar. The bar was a treat every time she completed a painting.
‘So what has Michelangelo made today?’ Harsh asked, leaning in to kiss her. His lips met oatmeal for a brief second.
‘I’ll be Frida Kahlo, thank you very much.’ Naina announced. Feminist as always, Harsh thought, rolling his eyes. He leaned in for another kiss, even though all he wanted to do was look into her eyes and ask her if what he thought was true. She pressed her lips on his.
‘I want you to see the painting.’ she murmured against his lips. He nodded. She got off the counter carefully, took his hand, and led him to the studio. The lights had been dimmed. Naina turned up the dimmer. And as the easel and canvas were illuminated, Naina felt her hand being squeezed hard.
Harsh held his breath.
On the canvas was Harsh. In rich oil paint, with a dazzling smile that revealed all things good about him. She had painted him exactly as he was: his eyes crinkling slightly on the outer corners, the shallow dimples in his cheeks, the pristine set of teeth, the well-defined jaw, the curly-lock of hair falling realistically on his forehead.
‘Do you…like it?’ Naina asked. Harsh couldn’t form coherent words.
‘This isn’t all.’ Naina continued, letting go of his hand. She picked up a silver box from her work table and turned to face Harsh.
‘What is this?’ Harsh asked, as Naina held out the box towards him. He was overwhelmed by the painting as it is. What more? Naina motioned for him to open the box. He took off the lid.
Inside the box, nestled amidst soft pink paper tissue, were a pair of the tiniest crochet booties he had ever seen. They were white, with tiny pink bows on each one. Harsh looked up at Naina. There were tears in her eyes.
‘Hi there, daddy.’ she smiled through tears. Harsh closed his eyes, almost convinced this was a dream.
He was going to be a father.
‘Really?’ he asked hoarsely. Naina nodded.
The next moment, he pulled her into a hug and burst into tears.