She could see him see her through the crack of her barely opened eyes; he was staring at her intently. Should I wake up and startle him or do I go on with this charade till he leaves, his train is in an hour after all Sowmya thought. She switched sides while scratching herself suddenly, a trick she always deployed while pretending to be asleep. (Show the right number of movements and the interested party will think you're having a disturbed sleep and will go away.) After what seemed like minutes later, but actually an hour, Sowmya woke up to find him at the door with a grey-blue backpack on his shoulders, a plastic cover with food for the train journey and a duffel bag with neatly pressed clothes, all double checked by his mother and dutifully triple checked by his wife (on his mother's insistence). Sunanda was on the sofa lazily flipping through channels while keeping an eye on her father who was ready to leave. Sowmya emerged from her room yawning wildly and stumbling all the same.
"OK I'm off," he said.
"Bye pa," chorused Sowmya and Sunanda. "Please call me when you reach the..." the girls' mother's voice trailed off. It was drowned in her mother-in-law's shrill tone. "Check again for your train tickets, eat on time, call us, when will you hear about your transfer, should I ask my brother in Delhi to help you?" the matriarch went on, oblivious to everything around her.
"I will take care. You please take care of your health," he said while bending down to touch her feet. He smiled at his wife, "I'll call, bye." She smiled, she was used to this. Sunanda's attention went back to the television, Sowmya was searching for her glasses. "Thud" went the door and what followed was silence. Not the pleasant kind but an empty, lonely one. Upset that she couldn't find her glasses, Sowmya went back to sleep.
She woke up with a start. Squinting her eyes, Sowmya looked around to see blurry images of people around her talking in hushed tones. Irritably she yelled for her mother only to be hugged by Sunanda.
"What happened, why are you hugging me this early in the morning," Sowmya asked. Sunanda just remained silent. "What is it? Is it appa, did something happen again? TELL ME," she exclaimed.
"Appa met with an accident Sowmee. But it's nothing serious so go back to sleep," Sunanda pleaded.
Sowmya tried to speak but for some reason she found that she couldn't. Lips were moving but she couldn't hear herself. "OK where is he now? Still in Hyderabad?" Sowmya questioned. Sunanda just nodded, adding that he was all right now and that amma was flying there in an hour.
"Su, how did this happen," Sowmya asked. Sunanda paused for a while as if gathering all the strength in the world to give her company to narrate the story. "He was on his way to work, on his motorbike when a guy tried crossing the road. But Sowmee, appa is always careful na. He saw this guy yet still almost ran him over!" exclaimed Sunanda huskily. "It was like something was on his mind, maybe he was still upset about..." Sunanda stopped abruptly realizing that Sowmya had understood what was going on.
Running out of the room, Sowmya searched for her mother. It wasn't too late, she could still squeeze in an apology. "Sowmee, amma has left. Look at the time. They'll be back in two days, please stop pacing around. It's not your fault," Sunanda cried. Sowmya, giving up after a while, sat down and stared in front of her.
"They'll be back soon, you can apologize then. There's plenty of time," smiled Sunanda.
Four months. She stirred her coffee briskly, went back to the other three cups. Apologize? Never, Sowmya thought. The first sentence that came out of his mouth was, "It is time for you to get married before I die." How could she apologize to a man who was bent upon fixing her marriage to a person she didn't know? How could she apologize when that was what they fought about in the first place? Sowmya thought that they could sit down, have a conversation about her life and come to a conclusion amicably when he returned. But her father was determined to make it a monologue, a short one with a curt ending. Never, never, never, she whispered. And now the guy's family were arriving in 10 minutes and she had to carry cups of coffee and serve them. How humiliating for a women's studies major.
And after a whirlwind hour, it was done. Her wedding was fixed. With a twist she never expected! Her father actually talked to her boyfriend and made it happen. Before she could even apologize, he did something that made her want to thank him. Suddenly she couldn't breathe. People were hugging her too tight. Too much happiness, she thought. "This isn't going to last Su," she yelled. "Oh shut up, why must you be so negative," demanded a visibly excited Sunanda.
Flipping by the pages of what looked like a new diary, Sowmya wondered if her father had ever used it. "Sowmee didn't we give this to him for Father's Day a long time back? Looks like he's kept it safe na," commented Sunanda. Sowmya nodded, there was nothing she could say anymore. Especially not her overdue forgotten apology.
Sunanda relieved her of the diary for sometime while she went through appa's other belongings. "Sowmee look! Look what appa has done. I think it's for you though," Sunanda screamed. God, no one can yell like Su, thought Sowmya.
Right there in the middle, where the pins held the pages together, were photos of her and Sunanda smiling awkwardly. And below the photos was a line in her appa's neat handwriting "I'm sorry".
Sowmya could only feel Sunanda hugging her tightly as she drenched the diary in her tears.