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A Surprise Arrives

Elisa woke up to the sound of heavy rain and thunder. It was late November, a time when heavy monsoon rains were frequent and burdensome to people who had business outside the home. “Thankfully, I don’t have to go to the school in the morning. It’s Selvi’s turn to open up,” thought Elisa to herself as she turned over in bed to face the window while pulling the sheets around her. Selvi was a senior student that Elisa had hired as a teacher in the school since Rukmini had more or less retired. The rain splashed against the window loudly as it thundered down by the pails. Just from where she was in bed, Elisa could see the rain splatter steadily and noisily on the large waxy leaves of the money plant that had wound itself around most of the ironwork in the verandah. Sounds of her parents going about their everyday tasks drifted into the room as Elisa determinedly shut her eyes, refusing to be awakened. 

Whatever the weather, nothing stopped her parents from waking at 5:30 in the morning and rushing about their morning routine like they were used to for as long as her father worked as a teacher. It was now five years since his retirement. They finished everything that they had to do for the day by 8 in the morning and then complained that they had nothing much to do afterwards. At 8 o’clock every morning, Dharmishton and Lalitha would settle down to read the paper. Lalitha would read aloud, much to Elisa’s exasperation, while Dharmishton and Meena would listen. Lalitha would insist on reading every single article in the paper while adding her own comments and opinions. Dharmishton would respond here and there and sometimes this would result in a little debate that would escalate into an argument between the couple. Usually, the argument would come about when Dharmishton corrected Lalitha’s pronunciation of some word. “I may not be as educated as you but I too have a degree and I went to a convent school,” Lalitha would retort. “Yes, but you are saying it wrong and I have to tell you that,” would be Dharmishton’s mirthful rejoinder and so the banter would continue. Meena would keep glancing at them as she worked on her embroidery or sewing, smiling contentedly. Her world was complete by just being there with the family that had embraced her so willingly. She just missed Savithri, sometimes. Usually, it would be about this time that Elisa would wake up because it would be impossible to continue sleeping with her parents talking so loudly just outside her room. Sometimes Elisa suspected that they did it deliberately just to have her wake up and join them since they saw so little of her. Almost every day, her mother would look at her over her reading glasses as she stepped out of her room on her way to the bathroom and say, “Did we wake you?” Elisa’s response would always be the same, a weary smile. The tiredness that she felt most mornings was a mere inconvenience. She enjoyed the sense of security and the familiarity that living with her parents and Meena gave her. She couldn’t dream of exchanging this for anything. 

Elisa dragged herself out of bed ten minutes after her mother started reading the paper that morning, promising herself that she would take a nap later that morning as it was going to be a long day. It was her turn to lock up that night. But it turned out that the day was long because of something else. As she stepped out of the room to go to the bathroom both her parents and Meena looked up, and just then the phone rang. Elisa assumed that her parents would pick it up and continued into the bathroom. When she came out of the bathroom she discovered that neither one had answered the phone because both considered it dangerous to do so when it was raining so heavily. No one thought anything of it until the phone rang again half an hour later. Again Elisa was in her room and her parents didn’t answer it. Finally, when it rang again ten minutes later, Elisa strode past her parents while waving aside their protests, “It may be something important. We don’t know that.”

She was right; it was both important and surprising. It was Valerie. “Blue is on her way there, Eli,” said Valerie. It took Elisa a few minutes to realize that it was Valerie and so she was silent for a full thirty seconds or so. “Hello! Hello! Are you there, Eli?” repeated Valerie. “Y..yes..this is Elisa. What did you say again, Val?” “I said I just put Blue on the flight to Malaysia. She wanted to come out to you. We tried calling you yesterday before she boarded the flight but we couldn’t get through for some reason. I felt it was best to ask you again before she came out to you but she felt that she would take a chance,” said Valerie. Elisa’s mind was racing, thoughts falling over each other, struggling to gain some sense of clarity. “What do you mean? What happened? Um…Where is Grace?” asked Elisa all in the same breath. “Well. Grace died a few months ago and uh…Blue came to me a little after that. She didn’t have anywhere else to go since she didn’t have any money. She had used up all the money she had for Grace’s medical expenses and funeral and even the money that I believe your family had given Grace many years ago, had run out. She just about had enough for an air ticket. She came to me with her mind made up. She just wanted my help to buy her a ticket and put her on a flight”

The semblance of a smile began to play on Elisa’s mouth. “Thanks, thanks a lot Val. Do I owe you anything? I mean, did you have to spend more than what Blue had on her?” “Oh! Don’t worry about it. Blue had the money for the ticket. She just needed some clothes and I had plenty of that. I gave her all of my two girls’ stuff that they weren’t using anymore. I just bought her a new outfit to wear on the plane…a sort of farewell gift.” “Thanks again, Val. When is she arriving here?” asked Elisa her heart beating excitedly. “She should be there at midnight… um tonight, your…tonight,” replied Valerie with a laugh. As soon as Elisa hung up, she swung around to face her doubtful parents. They had heard the conversation and were now filled with consternation. Afraid of sounding unwelcome, they chose to remain silent until their daughter had explained everything. “Will she be happy here,” was her mother’s first question. “We will be so different from everything she is used to. I am not sure that she will even like the food we eat.” 

Lalitha and Dharmishton truly looked concerned. They wanted to help this girl but they had heard so much about the kids that their daughter had taught in the US and the kind of problems they faced that they weren’t sure about how to be around Blue. What was worse was that there was all that past that they had to deal with, face to face. Elisa’s reassurance was merely a contemplative smile. “We’ll work through it,” was all she said. Elisa’s herself was nervous. When she had gone out to get Blue, she had ridden on her deep desire to make up for the mistake that her family had made. She had not thought about whether Blue would fit in or if she would be happy with her and her family. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Now, her parents’ questions became her own. She wanted Blue off the streets, with a promise for a better life, but she worried her earlier plan to provide a home for Blue in her own home was ambitious and unrealistic. But there was no going back now. The girl had come out in search of her, trusting that she would give her a life and hope and Elisa was firm that she was not going to let her down as Raghu, Natarajan and well…Savithri had let Grace down many years ago. She would just have to make it work, somehow. If not anything, she had to make up for Savithri’s part in this whole affair. The day was spent preparing a room for Blue. 

Thankfully, Lalitha was particular about keeping the guest room ready for guests who rarely came. So there wasn’t really that much to do except ensuring that the room had everything that Blue would need to be comfortable. But even that was proving to be difficult as it was hard to imagine what a person whose life and lifestyle was so different from theirs, needed. In fact, Elisa called Valerie back just to check and ensure that she had everything that Blue would possibly need. “Don’t worry dear. What she needs most is a home where someone cares what happens to her. She is getting that from you. She is very different from the Blue that you knew. She’s very quiet and a whole lot more polite, even a little unsure of herself. Trust me; you’ll be amazed by the change.” Lalitha and Dharmishton were naturally nervous. They had taken some time to even get used to their daughter as soon as she had come back from the US. Her habits had changed a little and she was much more independent and a lot bolder. Initially, they had felt like strangers with their own daughter. Lalitha was excited about meeting a grandchild but she was worried that the girl would not fit in and she would be rude or indifferent to her. “What does she look like? What will she eat? Do you think she will like the food we eat? What if she is unhappy here? What if she is still angry with her father’s family?” All day the questions came and Elisa patiently subdued her mother’s fears while suppressing her own. She was just as tense as her parents were but there was one thing she was sure about and that was there was no turning back. Blue would have a home here with her and her parents and somehow they would all muddle through so that Blue would have a family. More than anything she wanted to erase the blemish that scarred her memory of Savithri.

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