On a weekend night, Ana was dozing in front of her computer screen while watching another long, high-rated television series. When a guest visit turned her boring lonely night into a everlasting memory, probably more appropriate to call it a nightmare.
The computer was turned on and she had her ears covered with the headphones with volume up to the notch. Although it was a high-rated television series, but she couldn’t take it anymore and probably felt a small nap to be a better place than her boring and lonely real world.
The episode had completed since more than half an hour now and the silence in her house was only affected by the constant rumbling of her old computer’s cooling fan.
The doorbell rang and Ana got up with a jolt and hit her leg with the table. She hopped on one leg to the door and watched through the peephole to see who was it. She saw the opposite door and the empty hallway otherwise.
The doorbell rang again. She startled and immediately withdrew from the peephole. Little hesitant at first, she then opened the door to check on the prankster.
“Hello beta! It seems that my son has gone out and isn’t picking up my call right now. Can I wait at your place till he returns home again? He lives in that apartment… That one, with a laundry bag outside the door.” the old lady said pointing at the door at the end of the hallway.
Ana had never seen anyone go towards that flat and thought may be the guy must be having a different work shift was the reason for them never meeting.
She smiled and invited the old lady saying “Well, Come in…!”
The lady came in and looked around Ana’s house in amusement. “You’re pretty neat for your generation.”
Ana smiled and went on to bring some water for the lady.
“What does your son do? I haven’t actually seen him or anyone go towards that flat since I’ve been here. Does he work unusual shifts?” Ana enquired.
“I don’t know actually. We haven’t talked since a while. I live at our family house in suburbs and couldn’t visit him due to family commitments. This is my first time here in the city. He used to call everyday earlier, but then since a few months, he doesn’t call us that regularly. So I thought to surprise him with a visit.” Lady went on. “Work environment these days! Eats out your time like a leech and doesn’t allow you to spend time with the people you love. Isn’t it?”
Ana nodded in agreement, although she had ample time to spend with someone, just she didn’t have anyone to spend her time with.
The lady and Ana talked about varied topics and time flied soon. Ana talked with someone this long after a long time. She last talked for these many hours last time when she had visited her parents. But that was a long time ago.
After a while, the dearth of topics was understandable in their conversation. And the portion of silence went increasing between two conversations.
“So, you’re here to stay a while? As I had a really nice time with you Aunty, and would want to meet you again.” Ana said up brightly.
She saw the otherwise grim look on the lady’s face turn pleasant and happy to hear that. Probably she was lonely in her life too. Void of love and attention from her son, care from her other family members. Her wrinkled face seemed sore and tired of years of dedicated care-taking of her family, where her own wishes and needs had dried up like the moisture in her skin.
“So sweet of you beta. We will surely meet again if you want. Just come over to our house next time you feel like talking to anyone. You’re like my daughter, beta. I’d love to chit-chat with you.” Lady said smiling, the only time her folded face still looked beautiful.
Ana smiled and stood up “Excuse me for a second.” and went towards the washroom. She was happy to find someone with whom she could spend some time now that she wasn’t around her own family and friends. And an elder company is better once you grow up enough to get bored of the usual partying and wasting time at all crazy activities with your friends.
She came back, beaming “Aunty… I am terrible cook and you’ll have to teach me some dishes, so that I…”
The room was empty and the front door was open.
She went to the door and looked outside in the hallway. It was empty. Probably the lady’s son had come and took her home. But that was weird that she left without saying goodbye.
She went back to her couch, closing the door behind her. She looked at her computer and the boredom was returning, little faster than she had expected.
The doorbell rang again. Ana went to answer the door and opened it without looking through the peephole. Probably it was the lady, come to explain her sudden exit.
It was the uncle next door. “Do you have today’s newspaper. There’s an ad that I have to check out.” the uncle continued in his usual withered tone.
“Yes uncle. One second…” and Ana went to bring the newspaper.
She handed him the newspaper and hesitantly asked him “Uncle do you know who lives in that last house, right at the end of the hallways.” Ana asked pointing towards the end house.
The uncle looked at the end of the hallway and looked back at her, his face paler than usual.
“That house is empty. No one lives there. The last tenant died in a car crash and the house has been empty since then.” the uncle answered her question, and asked with confusion on his face “Why?”
Ana was setback. “When did that happen? The accident?” She asked in a worried tone.
“Just a few months back. I don’t remember, but recently though.” the uncle said while scratching his bald head. “Okay thanks for the newspaper. Goodnight.” And he went on towards his house.
Ana nodded in reply of that farewell, but her head was filled with questions and worry. That lady must be unaware of the unfortunate accident with her son and was waiting for her son to call her since last few months. It wasn’t a surprise visit, it was to calm down her anxiously worried heart. But it wasn’t going to calm down, not now.
Ana was staring at the opposite wall and her face was filled with worry. The uncle next door looked at her while opening his house door, and saw that expression.
“What’s up with you child? Any problem?” He asked as a friendly neighbor.
Ana let go of the staring-at-the-wall position and looked at him. “Does his family know about his death? Had anyone informed his family about the mishap?” she asked the obvious questions.
“Well of course. The story gets more sad here. The police had tracked down his family and had informed them about the incident. The body was delivered to them too for final rituals. I heard from others that everyone in their family was setback with the bad news. After all, the only son, only child to the parents died an unfortunate death. God bless!” he said while looking up, praying. “The boy was a good person. Never did we hear any complain about that section of our hallway. None from residents or visitors. Poor mother of his. They said that her mother was the most affected with the news. She wouldn’t believe that her son was no more in this world and would urge on to come visit her son here.”
Ana’s face was now all white with all these information. It was hard to digest all these facts at once.
“Her mother… She knows! Still… Where… How’s she now?” Ana asked in a uneasy voice.
The uncle replied with an even sad face “Oh she died, I hear. Couldn’t bear the pain I guess. Better that way. Than living in a pretense of his alive son. Anyway, why you ask about that family? You knew them?” the uncle asked, rather suspiciously.
But Ana was not in a position to answer that. She wasn’t in a position to answer any question for that matter. Last few hours were flashing before her eyes. That doorbell, that touch of her hand on her head when she had bent to touch her feet to ask her blessings. That whithered skin on her face. That beautiful smile, while the ever longing worry for her son. That desire to see her son in her eyes, that merriness and love in her voice when she talked about her son… What was that?
Ana closed the door without answering the uncle’s question. She didn’t bother to lock the door or to turn off the lights or to do anything for that sake, but went to her bed and lay there, her eyes closed. Her heart beating fast and with each beat, she felt that excruciating pain for that lady that couldn’t meet her son for the last time.
Her smiling face came to her thoughts and she remembered telling her that she wants to meet her again, that she liked to spend time with that lady…