She froze listening to the nervous voice of her mother on the phone informing her about her father's medical emergency. She staggered as someone coming from behind pushed her in a hurry to leave the corridor of her office building. The mobile slipped out of her hand hitting right at her foot thankfully arresting the direct impact of the fall. She gulped the thick saliva that had built up in her mouth trying to moisten her throat that had suddenly gone dry. She instantly came out of the trance to articulate as to what just struck her before she remembered her mother was still on the call. She looked around to notice the thinning crowd and fast-emptying office space and picked up the phone with trembling hands; her mother’s worried cries calling out to her for the sudden thud and the long pause. Taking control of the tremor in her voice, she reassured her mother that she‘d be by her side just as soon as she could.
Sara, all of twenty-two years of age was a product designer by profession having graduated just a month ago. The only child of Ajay and Mansi, she was born and brought up in a relative luxury of an upscale family with liberal values and secure surroundings. The harsh realities of life had never touched her. Her wishes were met even before she could spell them out. Such was the bond she had with both her parents who took pride in her grooming and she had never let them down. Her father had wanted her to join his business of Machine tools assembly and distribution for large-scale industries but she never liked to deal with the hardware kind of entity. She was more interested in marketing and promotional aspect of businesses and thus chose to study product designing. With her esthetic sense, she always believed in the concept of attractive packaging of any product that not only increased its salability but sometimes the comfort it offered to the body and soul. Ajay had conceded to her wishes and allowed her to pursue the field her heart desired. He knew, being his only heiress, she would eventually learn the nuances of his business when she had to take care of it.
It was the happiest phase of her life when she made a transition from the little girl of her father to be an independent woman, ready to make her mark in her chosen field. She would often come home showing what she achieved at work in the few days she had been on their rolls. Her dream of making her father proud of her achievements was just an arm's length away and she was making long strides in that direction. But this eventuality, she sure wasn't ready for.
She looked outside before she exited her office premises understanding why everyone around her seemed too much in a hurry. The heavens had opened its floodgates and dark clouds had engulfed the otherwise boisterous locales of concentrated office blocks. The mad frenzy outside was nothing new to her with cars honking to get better of each other, creating more chaos than what nature did. The lack of order with the traffic lights out turned the most sane and educated of the lot into the warriors from a primitive era, each ready to slice through the other and find a way forward. Her first thought was how would she reach home in such circumstances.
‘Not today', she cursed under her breath and abandoning her car in the parking lot for the night started walking past the gridlock caused by the impatient drivers now screaming at each other. Meanwhile she called the cab service towards a clear passage three blocks away from her office to take her to the hospital that was located in the vicinity of her house. After a good hour, she managed to reach the hospital and taking the directions from the reception desk lunged towards the Critical Care Unit. The hospital was small but she was well acquainted with the surroundings as it was the place she was born at and ever since had come there for her vaccinations or other minor ailments. The staff was friendly and helpful.
Sara reached for her mother; worry dripping from the older woman’s face. She sat in the lounge restlessly along with a couple of her neighbors and one of her father's friends trying to console her.
"What happened to Dad?" Sara shot as soon as she saw her mother.
"He collapsed near the staircase and fell rolling down all the way to the landing. He hit his head hard on the edge. Doctors have controlled the bleeding but are trying to ascertain the cause of his sudden blackout." The older woman explained in a broken voice.
"What do the doctors say, Mom? Is he out of danger?" Sara asked impatiently.
"No. Not yet. He's still unconscious." Mansi replied still unsure. Ajay otherwise was a healthy person and his annual full body test results two months back had been totally clean. There never was a reason to worry as both Ajay and Mansi followed a strictly healthy and active routine; a practice that was taught to Sara too.
"He'll be fine dear. Your father is a fighter. He'll make it through. Meanwhile, you stay strong. We are all here for him and you." Dev uncle, her father's friend said keeping his hand on her head. She nodded. He was right. She had to stay strong for him and for her mother who was a bundle of nerves right now.
"Thanks, uncle and you are right. He'll be fine. Why don't you all go back now? I'll call you if the need be. There's no point for all of us to stay here simultaneously and crowd the CCU. You can come back in the morning and stay here while we go back and freshen up." She suggested.
"Are you sure?" Dev uncle asked. Though he looked tired after the days work, his allegiance to his best friend didn't allow him to leave his family in the utter state of distress that they were in right now.
"Yes. Certainly. You go and take rest. I'll call you if needed." She reassured him again.
In another fifteen minutes, everyone left leaving the mother and daughter alone. Just then, she saw the consulting Cardiologist and the Surgeon coming out of the CCU. She went towards them in hurried steps to know about her father's condition. Her mother followed her shortly behind.
"How's Dad, Doctor?" Sara could only manage to ask that much, every muscle of her heart constricting in the fear of unknown.
"We are trying. He's been put on Ventilator for now and we are only waiting for some test results." The doctor said in measured words shifting his gaze from her face to her mother's. The statement was neither comforting nor discouraging. It only meant that they had to wait in oblivion. Still unsure as what to make of that statement, yet she nodded in an effort to stay calm and the doctors left without letting out any other information. The wait was going to be torturous and they had no choice but to endure it. At least, there was hope.
The mother and daughter duo sat silently in the waiting lounge praying for Ajay to just wake up and end their misery. After a while Mansi, her mother went to use the restroom while Sara still sat there in the lounge browsing through her phone aimlessly. She lifted her eyes sensing some movement at the CCU door and saw a young nurse coming out of the CCU. Sara smiled at her faintly. The nurse came over to her asking if she needed any help.
"How is he right now? Can we see him?" Sara asked the nurse hopefully. The young girl’s warm smile and concern felt heartening.
"He's still critical Ma'am. He's lost a lot of blood and we are trying to arrange blood. Why don't you get your blood group checked for a match?" The nurse asked with concern.
“Can I? I wonder why the doctors didn’t suggest.” Sara asked looking visibly confused.
But before the nurse could respond, someone from the outside called for her and she rushed out quickly. Sara got the spring back in her feet. She still wondered if what the nurse said was true and if that it was, why the Doctor didn't suggest her the same. She left to go down to the doctor to inquire if she could help but stiffened as she neared the exit door listening to someone speaking, rather scolding the nurse.
"Who told you to go and talk to the patient's family? There are doctors to do that, right. Do whatever is asked of you and don't unnecessarily open your mouth when it's not needed. Get lost now." The male voice sounded angry.
Sara heard the hasty steps going away. She wanted to go out and ask as to what was it that the hospital staff was hiding from them. But before she stepped out to voice her concerns, she heard another voice, this time a woman.
"What happened? Why did you shout at her and why this secrecy? Is the patient not responding?" The woman asked kind of surprised.
"No. Not that Ma'am. The patient is fine and we are trying to arrange the blood. Only, it could not be from her. You see she's not his biological daughter. Her blood group doesn't match with either of her parents. The problem is she doesn't know nor does anyone else other than her parents and a few old staff members. It would only call for unnecessary awkwardness for the family and trouble for the hospital if the truth ever came out. So the secrecy." He said with concern.
Part 2 (Last)
Sara stood there shocked, her mind filled with muddled thoughts.
‘Who was the man telling the story and was it her story anyway?’ The words fluttered and flew in the wind. What left behind were the shards of her now broken identity.
‘Whoever said it, it could not be her story'was her very first reaction but deep down she knew, it was. She ran out to confront the person who just now shattered the glasshouse of her secure and fairytale life, filling her with uncertainty and skepticism. It could not be possible.
"Sara." Her mother called her from behind. She turned to look at the loving face of her mother who suddenly appeared a stranger to her. A thousand fleeting expressions of despair, disbelief, and disdain on her face, only made the furrows formed by anxiety and apprehension deeper on her mother's. She quickly controlled her emotions and reached for her. This wasn't the time and space she should be thinking about what she heard. They were her parents and she would have to make sure, they went back home with her father having regained his health. The confrontations could wait.
"Where were you going, Sara? Is everything all right?" Mansi asked, her voice laced with concern.
"Nowhere. Just moving around." She said looking straight into her mother's face. She saw the tense muscles relaxing as Mansi sunk into one of the chairs in the lounge and closed her eyes in exhaustion. Sara sat down as well.
Doubt is such an expression that it over-rides all the other emotions, a person had felt all the while. For all of the twenty-two years of her life, not for a moment had she felt that her parents were not her biological parents nor could she remember an instance where she'd felt her parents' behavior towards her any different from any of her friends or cousins’ parents. The words were hard to believe but she knew the preceding context they were spoken in reference to.
She closed her tired eyes as well trying to numb her senses so as not to let the bitter truth of her life over-shadow her love for her parents who had doted on her like she was the center of their universe. She reprimanded herself for letting the words of a stranger affect her sanity and felt guilty about doubting her own family for a situation that might or might not be hers. Right now, the only thing she prayed for was her father's health.
Over the next few days, Ajay's condition got better. It did make Sara happy but her eyes searched relentlessly for the face that would match the voice she heard the other day in the hospital corridor. All the while, her mind was constructing imaginary scenarios in which she was taken away from her biological parents and given away to Mansi and Ajay and none of them were pleasant. She was inadvertently drowning herself in misery unknown to anyone around her.
It had been a month to that incidence. Ajay was fine. But Sara had withdrawn herself into a cocoon. She went to her office straight and got back home unlike before when she loved spending some free time with her friends and colleagues. When at home, she locked herself in her room and kept to herself. She had stopped demanding anything from her parents like earlier and made no fuss about the food even if she didn't like something. Now Mansi had started to worry about Sara and shared her anxieties with Ajay. They thought to confront her to understand what was troubling their daughter. It was a moment of confrontation, of the sorts; her parents were totally clueless about.
Mansi made her favorite breakfast to start the Sunday morning. Sara was gracious enough to thank her mother for her efforts but her body language was missing the exuberance, their house normally came alive with. Her demeanor appeared totally detached from the Connect, Mansi always felt with her daughter.
"What's wrong Sara? Is there something that's bothering you?" Mansi asked having come and sat next to her on the couch. Her father sat across from them, his attention totally fixated on her expressions.
"Nothing Mom. Just feeling a little low. It will pass." Sara said faking a smile.
"It might pass off quicker if you shared your anxieties with us, Sara. You know, you can talk to us just about anything under the sun. Is there any turbulence in your professional life or if it is about some relationship? Please speak up." Mansi said with desperation.
"Who am I, Mom? Who are my parents?" Sara shot this time not being able to hold back her quest.
"What do you mean, Sara? You are our daughter." Mansi said, her voice agitated and terrified all at the same time.
"I know that Mom. I meant my biological parents." Sara said emphasizing more on biological.
"Who told…….?" Mansi asked turning defensive but this time Ajay interrupted her halfway.
"Stop it, Mansi. There's no need to turn defensive. She is big enough to know and understand the truth. Tell her the truth." Ajay said.
Sara got up, went and sat next to him. He took her hands in his and said. "Look Sara. It's true, you are not our biological daughter, but ask yourself if you have ever felt that way. Do you think we love you any less because your mother is not the one who has given birth to you or you don't carry our DNA?"
"No Dad. I know too well that you and mom love me but it is also true, I want to know why my parents abandoned me. Where did you adopt me from?" Sara asked.
Ajay remained quiet for a while. This was one moment, the moment of truth, he had wished, he would not have to confront ever in his life, not at least in front of his daughter. This time he had no choice.
"We never adopted you Sara," Ajay said looking into her eyes.
"What? In what right am I living with you, Dad? All my parentage records are fake then." She asked in surprise.
"No Sara. In all the records, it's stated that you were born to us. Only the two of us and a few in the hospital knew about it. We faked the pregnancy and Mansi got admitted to the hospital when the doctor had arranged a newborn child for a good price. You were delivered to us like any other baby, only the womb was not of your mother's." Ajay said with a very throaty voice.
"But why Dad? Why didn't you legally adopt a child or me for that matter." She probed.
"You see, we were ready to adopt and we knew that our love for our child would be no different whether it was born or adopted but we were not ready for the constant scrutiny, the society puts you through in cases like these. Their incredulity is a huge turndown. Leave alone society, even our extended family would’ve kept on judging us if we were impartial to you or not. Your mother and I weren’t ready for giving an explanation of every little dealing with you on a daily basis to people. So, we faked it. Right or wrong, we chose it this way and trust me, it would have stayed the same if I hadn't fallen ill the other day. I'm sure something happened in the hospital that you got an inkling of it." Ajay said and Sara nodded.
"I want to know where I belong and how I landed in your lap Dad. Is it asking for too much?" Sara asked.
"No. It isn't. You have a right to know. I'll see what can I do regarding this. Just promise me one thing. You will never tell this to anyone, at least not before letting me know." Ajay said and she agreed.
After two days, Ajay texted the name and address of her biological parents to her while she was still in the office. Her hands trembled with excitement and trepidation. She called him back to thank him and told him, she was taking the rest of the day off to go and meet them.
"Take care, Princess. You might not like what you find out but it would only bring the closure. Come back home as soon as you can and always remember, we love you the most in this world." Ajay said and disconnected the call before he broke down.
Sara got down from her car near the given address. The address was of the plot where an assortment of illegal shanties was made to house the laborers who worked in the area. She asked for the name her father had texted her. Soon, she stood in front of a shanty where a middle-aged woman was sitting and cooking on a mud-stove. She looked up at Sara's face and asked as to what she was looking for.
"Are you Tara, wife of Ramesh?" Sara asked.
"Yes. What do you want?" Tara said looking confused.
"OH! Nothing. I'm just doing a survey on the people in this area. How many children do you have, and if any were lost?" Sara asked taking out a pen and notepad to write down something like a Reporter, keeping her emotions in check.
"Why?" Tara asked again.
"A lot of children are missing lately. Our agency is trying to find the reason and help the people find them back." Sara lied.
"You can find them if they are lost. If their own parents sell them, what would you do? My husband sold off three of my daughters, the day they were born. Easy money, you see. And who wants the responsibility of daughters? I have two sons now." Tara said.
"You didn't complain about him to the police. You didn't try to get your daughters back." Sara asked with pain.
"It's easier said than done madam. We do not enjoy the luxuries of your life. Besides, any life is better than ours. The first one went to some good house. The other two, they were not just as lucky. Some brothel owner bought them. Their fate is theirs to live by. What could I do?" She said with indifference, got up and left.
A shiver ran down Sara's spine. She looked around and unable to bear the dark reality of her birth, left in a hurry. Tara kept calling her from behind to show her some pictures that she had gotten from her house but Sara had no energy left to turn back. She did not belong there, not with the woman who did nothing to protect her daughters from getting traded. There were tales of misery scattered around in the hutments with little girls drowned in household chores, married at early ages carrying and nursing children in their own childhood. She had heard the stories of child marriages, teen pregnancies, high rate of rape and molestation of the girls of this vulnerable class but she could never relate to it until today. It could’ve been her there. This could have been her life. The thought alone was traumatizing. She felt nauseated as she walked slowly out of the narrow lane to go back to the place she had always called home.
As she put her foot on the metaled road, she took a deep breath. Tara was right. It was her fate that took her to where she belonged, to the loving and cozy comfort of her parents' home whose love she shouldn't have doubted in the very first place. Yes, they had committed a crime in the eyes of law by buying her. But from where she saw it, they had only bought her the freedom, the everlasting love and a life of dignity. She would have been traded anyways. She was glad she ended up with them.
She walked up to her car and to her surprise found her parents waiting for her and before she knew it, she was in their arms.
The words ceased to matter and the story turned redundant. The truth lost its sheen to the relativity of circumstances and what survived was the bond of their shared love BEYOND THE TRUTH.