I was sitting in my pink bedroom, dressing up my cotton-stuffed unicorn in my old shorts, when I heard the first scream of the evening. By then I was accustomed to hearing yells from the living room. I continued stuffing Mr. Fluffy into the shorts. He stared at me lopsidedly, his beady black eyes glimmering in the dull yellow light.
Another scream followed. This time louder, and much closer. Footsteps resounded on the staircase. One heavy and weary. The other strident and decisive.
‘I have to go.’ I heard my mother say. ‘I can’t live in this house any more. It’s killing me.’
‘Naira, please…’ This was my father’s voice. Exhaustion dripped from his words. They were outside my room now. I wondered if they remembered my presence.
‘Rohan, I have to go.‘ Ma was louder this time. There was an extended silence. My parents’ bedroom door creaked open, and then was slammed shut.
A couple of seconds later, my bedroom door was swung open softly. Daddy’s face appeared in the doorway.
‘Sweetheart?’ he asked. I put Mr. Fluffy down. My father, Rohan Sinha was a very tall man. I hadn’t understood the concept of metric measurement by then, but today, I know that he was 6’2. One of my favourite past-times included sitting on his shoulders and being paraded around the house. In those few minutes, I would feel like I was on the top of the world, unable to stop giggling, scared that I might fall, but at the same time so sure that my Daddy would never drop me.
‘Sweetheart, why are you still awake?’ Daddy asked. His gaze shifted to Mr. Fluffy, who was staring at Daddy from inside my lap.
‘Ah, so Mr. Fluffy has been keeping you busy.’ He walked up to me. It often felt like he could cross twenty yards in one step. He picked me up from the floor, along with Mr. Fluffy.
‘Come on, it’s nap time.’ He carried me to my minion bed. As he set me down, I suddenly caught hold of his hand.
‘Daddy?’ He looked at me impassively.
‘is Ma going away?’ His expression immediately hardened. My father had suddenly aged five years in an instant.
‘You need to nap now, Meera.’ He pulled the blanket over me, and snuggled Mr. Fluffy next to me, under the covers.
‘Why doesn’t Ma talk to me any more?’ He turned his gaze away.
‘She’s just busy with work, that’s all.’
‘Does she not love me any more?’ He looked at me. Then, he got into the blanket with me and put his arm around me.
‘I love you very much. You must sleep now. Close your eyes. Look, Mr.Fluffy’s asleep already.’ I shut my eyes obediently.
I was awakened after what felt like hours by what sounded like a cat scratching at the bedpost in the dark. I blinked in the darkness. When my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw my mother standing next to my bed, on Daddy’s side. Her gaze was focused on Daddy, who was still soundly asleep. I looked down at her hands; the source of the sounds. She was scraping at the wooden bedside table with the knife that she used to cut chicken with. Pointy and sharp.
‘Ma?’ I whispered. She shifted her gaze towards me. And smiled, her hair flying ominously around her dark face. In one swift move, she swung the knife upwards, and brought it down upon Daddy’s neck.
I screamed. Blood was spurting out everywhere.
I was still screaming when Daddy shook me awake, calling out my name. I was in tears, so sure that Daddy was bleeding to death this instant.
‘Meera! I’m here, sweetheart, Daddy’s right here!’ I couldn’t stop sobbing. Daddy took me in his arms, rubbing the back of my head, reassuring words settling in my ears. My body racketed with hysteria. The image of my mother stabbing Daddy just wouldn’t leave my head. Her smile would haunt me for the rest of my life.
My bedroom door was thrown open. My mother stood at there with her bag, her eyes distant. I whimpered. Daddy’s hold on me tightened.
‘I’m leaving, Rohan. I will have the divorce papers sent tomorrow.’ I could hear Daddy’s breathing slow down. I stopped shaking. It was Daddy who was beginning to quiver. Daddy was in his nightmare now.
My mother looked at me once. She didn’t look like my mother any more. She was just Naira Kapoor.
With that, she turned away and left our lives. A minute later, Daddy came to his senses. He ran after her, crying out ‘Naira’. I had never seen his tears. He was a rock. Rocks don’t cry.
I ran up to my bedroom window that overlooked the driveway. My mother was getting into her car. Daddy stood next to it, his hands on the car door. My mother shut the door, never looking at Daddy’s face. Daddy folded his hands. He was begging for her to stay.
My mother drove away.
Daddy fell onto his knees.
Things got blurry then. I remember running downstairs. I tripped once, got up, and ran again. The entrance door was wide open, Daddy framed by the door-frame as he wept outside in the dying light. I stumbled my way to him.
‘Daddy?’ I touched his shoulder. He turned his head. His face was bright red, tears and snot mixing together like colours on a palette.
‘Daddy, don’t cry.’ I murmured, touching his face. It was very warm. He enveloped me into a hug, crying all the more on my shoulder.
‘Daddy, I’m here. I love you. I’m right here. Please don’t cry.’