Shiela put away the glass of water and stood up to leave.
“Thank you, Mrs. Cole, I will think about it.”
“Sure, my child! Take all the time you need, but don’t be too late.”, said a pale-skinned Mrs. Cole in her reassuring voice, expressing concern as she does for everyone who come to her.
Mrs. Cole lived alone in a huge bungalow on 45th Church Street since her husband Mr. Cole left her with a large fortune in an accident four years ago.
There were other occupants too in the bungalow; all who served her – her cook Gopanna, driver Nikunj, a trustworthy guard Malay and Nikunj’s son Hari.
Mr. Cole was an officer in British Army. Col. Edmund Salios Cole was among those few who held opposing views than those who only wanted to rule and drain the wealth of this land. He was kind, understood the value of traditions, and admired the locals for that, and in return he was respected amongst all.
In year 1947 when Britishers left India, Mr. Cole didn’t leave with them. He decided to stay back and since then, for past 40 years, this bungalow is their residence.
Mr. & Mrs. Cole had everything but a child. Mr. Cole would share this emptiness in his lifeet only with his friends, but there probably was no one who wouldn’t know about the only void he had in his life.
So, one day when Nikunj gave them news of his first-born child they became so pleased that they threw a huge gala, that took place at their residence and was attended by many who-is-who’s from around the district. Common people were invited for free-food for three days.
It was Mrs. Cole who named Nikunj’s son Hari. When Hari was old enough, they helped Nikunj put him in a good school and looked after him as their own.
Time never stops and people sooner or later come to know the harsh realities. Mr. Cole was diagnosed with Alzheimer. He would forget everything and started to hallucinate. One of these days, four years ago, he shot himself with his own revolver – apparently in an attempt to not get captured alive by France’s forces during an ambush – in a battle he had hallucinations about.
It was too painful for Mrs. Cole to accept that he killed himself. She was convinced that he did it in complete awareness only to save everyone the troubles of serving him & of having to see him in such a condition – helpless, as he started to get attacks for frequently; for he wanted to die while he had his dignity upheld.
Shiela lived two blocks away from the one that had Mrs. Cole’s bungalow. What could have been a boon for her turned out to be a curse for her family – as Mrs. Cole would say.
Shiela and her husband David had a son named Peter. Peter was not their biological son as Shiela couldn’t bear a child. Her grief, more or less, was quantifiable to that of Mrs. Cole’s and that is why she was the first one to suggest her to adopt a child and helped her in doing so.
Peter was eight when he was taken-in by Shiela & David so, he knew he was adopted – maybe not exactly this word & reasons, but he knew that they were not his real parents.
And this was the reason he wasn’t as open to them as they were to him. Despite all their attempts to make him at ease with sharing his feelings and letting go of the apprehensions and self-conscious behavior, Peter remained as strange to them as any kid in an unknown neighborhood, far away, would have been.
This distanced Peter from a lot of his childhood moments and he grew up no less than an orphan in a house that also inhabited his parents and an army of servants.
It was Mr. Cole’s birthday. Mrs. Cole had the house decorated a day before, like every year. She was sitting in her veranda sipping her coffee and listening to an old song, probably from early 70s, when her eyes fell on the newspaper lying on the table in front of her. There was a picture of a small boy went missing and an appeal from his family. Above this picture was an article about a magician who apparently was famous and was touring the world. It was his third show in India and he chose Sardana for this one. Mrs. Cole frowned for a second. ‘Why a magician of that stature would come down to a place as unknown as Sardana!’, she thought.
Gopanna broke her thoughts with his loud voice, “Whatever happened to joyful days of this house. When I see you sitting idle without anyone around, I realize that you have lost a lot. This day brings back the memories of old days but this time they are only emptier.”
Mrs. Cole could not give a response. She knew Gopanna had been through the same pain as her. Yet he seemed more concerned about this house. She frowned animatedly and asked him if he had grown more subjective. “Have you let go all of all your grieves Gopanna? Why suddenly I find you devoid of any emotions?”.
“I left my home and everything to my relatives after my wife died. She went away without giving me a child. I have no one to go to or spend my days with. Forgive me if I sometimes sound dry.”, said Gopanna before heading for inside of house. He had seen better days, he sometimes seems fighting too hard to accept the present.
Mrs. Cole’s attention went back to the newspaper. She flipped a few pages and folded it nicely and put it back on the table before getting up for a walk in the neighborhood.
“Neighbourhood seems quieter these days, more often. Where are all the children! None plays in the field or run in the streets following each other’s tails.”, she thought to herself. Suddenly a boy appeared from around the corner, panting. Mrs. Cole recognized him instantly, “Peter! My child! Why are you in such a hurry?”, asked she but the boy stole eyes and started to run. He was out of sight in a flash. Mrs. Cole stood there for few seconds, dumbfounded and wondering before she realized that she should go back as she didn’t take her sugar medicines. She turned to go and saw the signboard across the street, ‘Eastman Street, Sardana’ it read. Sun that was burning down her neck earlier, was in front now. She looked up and could see nothing but a white blur and then everything went black.
Next day’s newspaper had a news about a break-in in a house at Eastman Street around 2 pm. Burglars have been reported entering the house from the porch-side boundary wall and breaking the lock to enter the house. Nothing was missing but a valuable 400 years old mask of a Mongolian intruder that was hanging in the living room. The owner of the house was an old man – a veteran officer who had fought for the French army.
To be continued…