Short story

Here is a short story to entertain you over the weekend.

The Swap

Arpita sat in her office with the whole world stretched out before her.
She was a strong woman.
She was a powerful woman.
She was a bold woman.
She was a lonely woman.
Arpita was the chief minister of a newly founded state in India.
Her career had peaked. She started as a journalist, became an activist and then, here she was wearing the crown of her new-found glory.
She folded back the newspaper announcing the Nobel prize for an Indian economist and sighed pensively….
Nostalgically,she recalled her grandfather’s lovely garden…She recalled how as a child she had buried a dead sparrow under a red and white rose bush, the result of her grandfather’s experiments with grafting. Her grandfather and grandmother stood beside her…The sparrow had fallen wounded from a tree the day before. Her attempts at healing the bird were not very successful. That is why she dug a little grave for the tiny dead sparrow and held a little burial.She remembered ,a few years later,the roses had turned uniformly pink on that bush.
Her childhood was spent with aunts,uncles,grandparents and cousins . She was always surrounded by family and love…but never her parents ,who were too busy setting up their own business and pursuing their careers.
And then she was a teenager,beautiful,lissome … At eighteen she went to university, where she completed her masters in Economics with flying colors and met Tushar. Tushar was an Economics lecturer ,three years her senior. He doted on her,adored her. He had the ability to love deeply,with all his being. And that is what he gave to Arpita, his deepest love and devotion.Arpita liked him. He was the son of the economic advisor to the prime minister. Tushar was smart ,dashing and popular. That he chose her above all others flattered her.
Arpita started work in a newspaper office . Getting a job for her had been a cakewalk as she had freelanced for newspapers from the age of eighteen. She could write on anything really well…sneezing,snoring or politics ,dance or books… anything.
Tushar doted on Arpita and took her out to lunches,dinners, dropped her home and picked her up from work,took her to theaters and movies. Her parents , who were now part retired and harvesting the benefits of their earlier frenzied existence, were more at home. They liked Tushar. The parents met. They liked each other. A date had been set for the engagement and wedding. The youngsters felt life was a breezy dream…
Then ,it happened… the sole event that changed her life.
It was 5 am in the morning.
The phone was ringing loudly. Jay, her father, sleepily picked up the phone at his bedside and then sat up suddenly. “Hello…what? When? How?”
Jay shook and woke up Shilpa, Arpita’s mother. ” Wake up! Tushar just called up with very bad news. His father passed away of a massive heart attack last night.”
Shilpa sat up,” What? What did you say?”
“Tushar’s dad died of a massive heart attack.”
“We just met him two days ago…and now…why ? How?”mumbled Shilpa.
“Heart attack.We have to go there now. Tushar was almost weeping,”said Jay. “Wake up Arpita and tell her to get ready.”
Shilpa went to Arpita’s room. She peeped in. Arpita was fast asleep. Shilpa went up to her daughter’s bed,sat on her knee at the bedside and kissed her daughter’s lovely face and said softly,”Arpita, Arpita ,you need to wake up. We have had some shocking news…”
Arpita loved having her mother caress her awake . It happened rarely. But this time her mother’s words had her sit up . “What happened?”she asked wide-eyed.
“Something very bad. Tushar’s father died of a massive heart attack at night. Tushar just called us up.”
“What will happen to us?”wailed Arpita.
“I think we have to think of them right now. Let us get ready and go,”said Shilpa.
By 6.30 am, they were on their way with her grandmother waving them goodbye.
They found Tushar’s driveway inundated with journalists. Somebody called out Arpita’s name as they got off the car .Arpita turned around. Her mother caught her arm and said.” Do not respond. Walk straight in right now.” Sandwiched between her parents,Arpita walked into the house. It was a huge old British bungalow,the official residence of the economic advisor to the prime minister.
Inside the hall, on the bier lay the body ,covered with a white sheet and decked with flowers. There were men in white pajama kurtas talking in hushed tones. Tushar stood among them with a face that seemed ready to weep. Arpita felt no sorrow but a sense of tiredness and embarrassment . Tushar looked a bit indignified and ridiculous to her.
From inside, came the sound of wailing. Jay went to Tushar and gave him a hug. Tushar detached himself from the cluster of men and took Arpita and her mother to the women. His mother and sisters were weeping.
They had more women sitting around them. When she saw Arpita and Shilpa, Tushar’s mother gave them a hug and wept some more. Shilpa held Tushar’s mother sympathetically to her chest and stroked her hair softly. Arpita stepped back. She found the whole situation awkward. It was nearing eight in the morning. She would like to go to work. Tushar looked in. She averted her eyes. He came up and said ,” Thanks for being here for me.” She smiled vaguely. As he went off to the next room,her father came and told them he was going with the men for the cremation.
Arpita waited for them to start. Then, around eight thirty, she told her mother,” I need to go to work or,at least, to call up office.”
Her mother looked at her aghast,” How can you think of work at this point?” whispered Shilpa.
Arpita shrugged her shoulders and walked out. She felt stifled in this crowd of mourners.
Somebody called out her name again. It was Gitika from her office.Arpita smiled and went towards her.
“What are you doing here?”asked Gitika.
” What are you doing here? His son is my fiancé.”
“I came to cover the story for our newspaper. They are not letting journalists in. We have nothing except a press release from his office. Maybe, you can do an insider’s account as an exclusive for our paper. It would be a great break in your career,”said Gitika.
“Why not? ” said Arpita.”I will inform our office. That way I can keep my mom and the office happy. I can stay here and still work.”
She went indoor and called her office to tell them she would do an exclusive , an insider’s story covering the whole event of death of the economic advisor.
Shilpa was looking for her daughter.When she saw her using the phone(for this was a decade before the mobile explosion), her mother nodded approvingly from a distance ,thinking that her daughter was arranging leave.
When they went back home after an emotionally charged and exhausting day, Arpita told them,”I have some urgent work.” She went into her room and pounded away at her typewriter(for it was before personal computers or laptops became a must for writing in newspapers).
She came out for dinner and told her parents,”I have to drop my assignment urgently in office. Can I please borrow the car and go? Then, I will be back in twenty minutes. I will eat after coming home.” Her parents agreed. Her office was a ten minute drive or a half-hour walk.
The next morning,when her father opened the newspaper,he hollered for Arpita. ” How dare you do this?” He was pointing to her exclusive that filled half of the first page. It was her article with a byline and a logo saying ” An insider’s account”…details of the family’s grief and loss… a vulturine account with morbid details. Jay was furious. How could she infringe on the sanctity of personal relationships and make it public! Where had he and Shilpa gone wrong in the upbringing of Arpita…
The phone rang. Tushar at the other end was incoherent…but Arpita understood that she was free again….
For nearly three decades,she had stayed free of all family encumbrances,including her own…
Now, after almost three decades,Tushar’s name cropped up in her world again…as a Nobel laureate…no longer a mere lecturer…
Arpita thirsted to see him. She loved success and the successful.
How she wanted him now!
But, would Tushar want her ?

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