By Shivani Shrivastav
It was the third time in as many days that she found a small bunch of flowers on her door sill. They were wildflowers — small and pretty. Suhani had no idea who left them there daily. That day as she picked up the bunch, she decided that she would get up early the next day to see who was left the flowers there, that too, so early in the day.
Coming back inside, she placed the flowers into an empty vase. Suhani tightened her shawl around her shoulders. Life had made her unused to such additional niceties. After moving to the mountains, she distanced herself from things associated with her past – flowers, music, reading her favourite poetry and painting. Her past, where she and Sahil had been professors together at the Delhi University. Gradually, as they realised they had feelings for each other, they started living together. They had spent five years with each other in the apartment they shared. It was a beautiful period in her life. It was as if life itself had taken on colours that had been hidden to her till then. They would cook together, watch Iranian films, read and discuss books by Krishnamurti, Gurdjieff, listen to instrumental and world music, go out for long walks and spend hours just enjoying each other’s company.
Back then, she had believed that the most important event of her life had already occurred at thirty-two years of age — her meeting with Sahil. Little did she know that life had a few surprises for her yet…
When his parents came to know about their live-in relationship, they were shocked and angry. After many shouted calls and two fiery visits, they forced him to move back home. A few weeks later, she got the news from the professors’ grapevine that he was getting married to someone whom his parents had chosen, from their caste and their social background. It was as if someone had punched her with all their power — she felt numb all over. She couldn’t take her classes after she had heard the news in the professors’ room. Not a few sly glances directed her way told her that people were aware of their relationship.
Feeling suffocated, and as if a million glances were piercing her heart, she took leave and came home. After staying in a limbo for three days, during which she had received a number of calls from the college, she finally tendered her resignation, handed back the keys to the rented flat, and taking only what she could carry with her, she came to Almora.
Left behind were the precious paintings she and Sahil had started collecting together, their vinyl collection and her lovely rugs and throws, some bought, some crocheted by her in those beautiful winter evenings when they would sit together with a glass of wine each, listening to some beautiful rendition or the other from their record collection. Also left behind were some dreams that had been born within the four walls of their shared existence, and which had died an abrupt death on Sahil’s departure. What she could not leave behind were the million memories she lived through each day.
She was moving like a robot through her hall when a piercing birdcall brought her to the present. She set an alarm for the next day before she forgot. Then she got busy making her simple breakfast and preparing for college. She had been very lucky to find a job at the university at Almora, that too at such a short notice.
Why she had chosen Almora she couldn’t really explain, just that she felt a kinship with the place, having read all of Shivani Ji’s novels. Also, her Nani had belonged to Almora. Although her ancestral house had long since been sold, but still she remembered a carefree childhood spent here every summer. Her childhood memories were full of green hills, kafal and tasty pahadi foods and long walks with Nanaji over the hills. She somehow felt at home here, especially since her parents were no longer living, and she was an only child, like her mother before her. Adrift in the wide world, this familiar city had seemed like a haven, even though she had spent all her school, college and then later, working life, in Delhi. But in the moments when her world had been rocked to the core, Delhi had seemed so cold, like a familiar stranger who you met every day but could not share your joys or sorrows with. Also, she had so many shared memories there with Sahil, the plays they had gone to, the numerous music concerts and recitals, outings to Tibet House, the walks at Qutub and so on. The endless memories chased her wherever she went in Delhi; she felt choked by them. To escape from them, she chose a place that held only happy memories for her – where she had been safe and peaceful, with her entire family around her. But today, she was all alone.
Even being in the midst of the nature she loved so much did not take away her loneliness. The cottage was on top of the hill, looking down on all sides upon tall pine trees, where the chatter of monkeys and bird calls surrounded her day and night. The cottage boasted of a beautiful garden, but she felt that she was not contributing anything to its beauty.
She talked to her colleagues, to some neighbours lower down the hill, but mostly kept to herself. She didn’t feel like a whole person yet, for it still felt that her heart had been ripped away, leaving behind a gaping hole. How then could she interact normally with others, others who had loved ones, who had lives that were filled with family, relatives, love, social events and so much? She, who had nothing to share with anyone. And so, she kept inside her shell — teaching, coming home, cooking, sleeping and then the same routine the next day and the day after. Only when she was teaching did she feel totally in the present, for those few precious moments. The rest of the day was besieged by memories.
Choosing a pale lilac saree, she dressed up quickly, tying up her hair without looking into the mirror. Finishing up by wrapping a dark purple yak wool shawl around her shoulders, she took her books and bag. Locking the door, she quickly descended the slope and went up the road to the university. She wanted this day over quickly, so she could get to tomorrow. After a long time, she had something to look forward to.
She taught all her classes, spoke a little to her colleagues and came back in the afternoon. Changing her clothes, she made herself some tea and went to sit out on the porch, where she had kept a rocking chair that came with the house. From there, she had a view down the hill. She thought,“This is where I could sit tomorrow. But no, whoever it is, might not come if I am visible. I’ll keep a lookout from the kitchen window.” She prepared an early dinner. Another hour and a half was taken up preparing for next days’ lectures. then she eats and sleeps. She decided to get up early the next day with the help of the alarm clock.
As soon as the alarm started ringing the next day, she was up in anticipation. Quickly putting her feet into her warm slippers and wrapping her shawl over her sweater, she went into the kitchen. Setting tea on the boil, she eagerly looked out of the window, the curtain of which was slightly open. In a short while, she saw a little girl with curly hair come up with a small bunch of white flowers. Placing them near the door, she was about to turn and go back when Suhani opened the door and asked her, “Stop! What’s your name?”
The little girl, who at first appeared scared, gained confidence on seeing her and said with a smile, “Sona”. “Why do you bring flowers every day, Sona? That too, all by yourself, so early in the morning?”
“I live just down the hill,” she indicated towards an orphanage that was a little below Suhani’s house, “and I have asked the nuns if I can come here. The nuns take a morning walk and I come part of the way with them.”
Feeling sad on hearing that the pretty little girl lived in an orphanage, she asked, “And why do you bring me flowers?”
“I see you going and coming every day. I like you. I don’t know why I feel like giving you the flowers, I just do,” Sona replied with a beautiful, dimpled smile.
“Would you like to come in for milk and cookies?”
“No”, she said, “Sister Patience would be waiting for me. I need to go!”
“Okay, at least take some cookies!” saying this Suhani rushed in to find a box of chocolate cookies that she had randomly bought, perhaps for this little girl. Grabbing the small box delightedly, she came out, but there was no one outside. “How could she have disappeared so quickly?” thought Suhani, taken aback, but there truly was no one there. Not around the house and not even down the path.
However, gradually this became a morning ritual. Everyday Suhani somehow woke up right before Sona came with her flowers. Sona liked to sit in a particular part of the porch and every day she sat in the same place. She sat there looking out at the flowers that were around the cottage. She answered all the questions Suhani put to her but still seemed to be keeping something back. Usually, she appeared full of cheerful and chattered. Suhani felt some of the ice around her heart melt. The presence of this small being so full of love and sunshine brought her immense peace and comfort. Why, she could not say.
One day she was free a little before time from the college as it was15th August, the Independence Day of the country. After a morning programme, flag hoisting and distribution of sweets, everyone was free to go. Suhani thought of visiting the orphanage. She saw it on her way back home and decided to finally find out more about Sona and went in.
As she approached the office room, she saw a nun sitting inside. She looked in and asked for Sister Patience. “I am she. Please come and have a seat,” she said with a smile. Suhani is anxious about Sona. She asked, “I want to ask about Sona and her parents, if you could tell me please.”
Sister Patience seems a bit taken aback. “How do you know about her?”
Suhani is surprised. “She comes to give me flowers at my house every day. She likes to sit out on the porch looking at the flowers that are all around the cottage. We talk quite a lot.”
Sister Patience takes a deep breath, looks at Suhani and says, “Did you notice anything special about the little girl?” Finding the question strange Suhani says, “Only that she never eats or drinks anything if I offer it. A child of that age is usually quite taken with chocolates, biscuits and sweets.”
Sister Patience seems sad. She takes a deep breath and says, “Sona and her parents were in an accident. It is their house that you have rented. They were in an accident and…”
“And…?”Suhani asks impatiently.
“And everyone died. Sona was very attached to the only home she had known. Maybe she feels safe there. We see her playing in the playground, in the park sometimes. She’s harmless. May God give peace to her soul.”
Suhani did not realise when she had come out of the building and was on the way back. She felt as if her insides are frozen. After that day, she never met Sona again, however early she got up. The flowers are still on her doorstep every day though, without fail.
One thought stayed with her as a result of this experience – that a person can hold onto a person, a place or even things, even when they are no longer there. This just ties us to the past. We could enjoy our memories, even love them, but that doesn’t mean that we keep carrying the weight of the memories that do not allow us to move forward. And life is all about movement.
Suhani held onto the life that was in her memories; Sona was held behind by her attachment to her house. The most poignant thought was – Sona had been a child, but she was a grown up. Sahil had moved on long back, the moment he left her, it was only she that still held on to her memories, living a ghost of a life.
For many days, she thought about this. She came to the conclusion that now she would delve within, and not look outside for peace, love and solace. With this thought, after many days, she finally fell into a deep sleep towards dawn. When she got up the next day, she felt refreshed and relaxed. She could not recall when she had felt this much at ease. Tightening her shawl around her shoulders, she went straight outside to look for the flowers. For the first time in so many days, there were no flowers. And after that, she never did find any flowers on her doorstep.
 Fruit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrica_esculenta
 Belonging to the hills
 Maternal grandfather
Shivani Shrivastav is a a UK CGI Chartered Secretary and a Governance Professional/CS. She loves meditation, photography, writing, French and creating.
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