Story 49

She saw the ‘out of order’ sign outside the elevator and groaned. She had hoped that the elevator would start working before she came home at the end of the day. She was too tired to go back to the security guard booth and lodge a new complaint. Taking a deep breath, she started climbing the stairs to reach her apartment on the 4th floor. She was breathless when she finally reached the front door. She opened the door with her key and then knocked on the door of the neighbour.


‘Hi” the neighbour said as he opened the door.
“I am sorry, I am late.” She apologized.
“It’s okay. He just fell asleep some time ago. You want to take him with you or let him sleep here. I am okay with both the options.” The neighbour informed.
“I will take him.” She said and walked inside the house. She removed her shoes and walked towards the bedroom.



The neighbour was talking about her seven-year-old son she had left with him earlier in the day while working the extra night shift. She worked as a waitress in a café and sometimes she had to work double shift due to shortage of staff. Since she sent her son to school; she did not have to worry about him during the day. It was during the nights that she had to consider various options like bringing him to work with her, leaving him with a friend etc. until her neighbour offered to look after him for her.

The man had been very kind to her after seeing the efforts she put in to support her child single-handedly. He had rented the apartment recently after his own life had turned around for the worst when his wife had left him alone to care for his five-year-old daughter. Most of the times he worked from home and when he had to go to the office he made sure he went when his daughter was in school. Very rarely it happened that he had to stay back in the office past the school hours and it was then, that she stepped in to help.


She peeked inside the bedroom of the neighbour’s daughter. Her son was sleeping on his daughter’s bed; snuggled close to her.
“They played together till the point of exhaustion and fell asleep some time back. It’s good to have him to play with her. She looks up to him as her elder sibling.” He explained. She smiled.


She tiptoed towards the bed and picked her son in her arms, careful not to wake his daughter. She walked out of the bedroom and then turned around to thank her neighbour. He smiled and her heart skipped a beat. Who would leave a man like him? She wondered.


“Good night” she said and walked out of the neighbour’s apartment. He waited until she walked inside her apartment and then closed the door.


Once inside her apartment, she walked to her bedroom and tucked her son in bed. She took a quick shower and put on comfortable clothes. When she walked out of the bathroom she saw that her son was wide awake.


“We had so much fun today! We went out to have ice-cream.” Her son said enthusiastically and for a moment she felt jealous. She knew he liked spending time with the neighbour and his daughter. But, at the end of the day she had expected him to tell her that he missed her and wanted him to be angry with her for not coming home early as promised.


“We sat in the merry-go-round. And …” her son continued but she had already tuned out of the conversation. She did not want to hear how much fun her son had with her neighbour.


Since she knew that his wife had abandoned him; it was easier for her to tell him that her husband had abandoned her when her son was just a baby. The truth was different. Something, which she did not share with anyone. The fact was, she did not have anyone to share it with. She knew people, she had acquaintances but she never really befriended anyone. Therefore, when people heard about her arrangement with her neighbour they talked. She did not care and as far as she knew neither did he.


There was no husband. There was no lover. No one had abandoned her. It was her son who was the abandoned one.


“Mom! You are not listening…” her son complained and she was pulled back into the present.
“I am sorry.” She genuinely apologized.
“Good Night.” He said and went back to sleep. He turned his back towards her and slept. She considered waking him up, apologizing again and making him talk again but she was too exhausted to do that. Maybe tomorrow, she told herself and slept next to him.


The next morning, she woke up early; hoping to prepare her son’s breakfast early so that she had time to talk to him before taking him to school. She tied her hair into a bun and made breakfast. She brushed her teeth and took a quick shower. She then woke up her son and helped him get ready. At the breakfast table she initiated the conversation asking him details about yesterday. He was not in the mood to talk. He finished his breakfast in silence and got down from his chair.


She watched him as he limped towards the living room. She saw him every day, watched him limp for the past so many years yet she could not stop herself from crying each time she looked at his prosthetic leg. She cursed herself for the birth-defect he was born with. Congenital amputation, doctors told her, the exact cause is unknown and can result from a number of causes. She had not been in the mood to listen to the doctor. She wanted to get out of the hospital. She wanted this to be over. She wanted to start her life from the beginning.


The warmth of the touch on her cheek brought her out of her reverie. Her son was wiping her tears away.
“When would you stop doing that?” he asked. She had no answer to it. He had been stronger than her; he had accepted his disability – in fact he had embraced it but she had not been able to come to terms with it.
“Let’s go, we will be late to school.” She said as she got up from the chair and placed the plates in the sink.
She picked up her son in her arms and walked out of the house.
She knew that he did not mind walking; he knew that she liked to carry him in her arms – at least as long as she could, as far as she could.


The neighbour opened his door at the same time as she stepped out of her house.
They greeted each other and then he bent down to kiss his daughter. See you at school in afternoon, he told his daughter and then turned towards her.
“Thank you for taking her to school today.” He said
“This is the least I can do.” She replied.
She was tempted to talk to him about the previous night. The trip they had taken without her. Maybe later, she thought.


She dropped the kids to school and then drove to the café where she worked. She could not stop thinking about her son’s enthusiasm the previous night. He had not missed her at all. What she had assumed to be jealousy earlier; had in fact been her insecurity. She felt insecure. Her son was all that she had. To know that he was having fun with someone else and did not miss her, caused her pain.
She had not been affectionate towards her child while she had been pregnant. Her pregnancy had meant nothing more than a job to her. She had offered her womb to a couple since she was desperately in need of money.


When her son was born, she had been relieved. She had made up her mind to hand over the baby to the couple and start her life anew. However, she had been surprised to know that the couple had already seen the child and then walked away. When her son was brought to her for feeding; she understood why. The couple had abandoned their child. He was her child now. She felt no affection towards him when she saw him for the first time. She had not even lactated immediately when the child was placed over her breast. She had been frustrated because of the incessant crying.
Then, one day, instead of crying because of hunger; her son had looked at her and smiled. She had then held him against her breast and fed him for the first time.


The bell indicating the door of the café being opened pushed her out of the past. She saw the new visitor and thought that she had seen the woman before. Where? She could not remember. Since the woman sat at the table allotted to her, she walked out from behind the counter to go to the table when the door opened again. The man who entered the café looked at her and smiled. Her neighbour never visited her at work. Why was he here? She wondered. He walked past her towards the table where the woman sat and it was then, she remembered, where she had seen the woman before. She had seen her in his house; in the photograph above the fireplace. She was his wife who had supposedly left him alone with his five-year-old daughter.


She let the couple settle before going to their table to take their order. As she turned around after taking their orders she overheard the woman apologizing for walking away.
She did not know whether he was going to let her back in his life or not; the truth was – she did not care. She did not care about anyone other than her son.
She knew one thing for sure; this time she was not going to let anyone abandon her son.
As she walked away from their table she considered her options. The only way her son was going to let go the new family he was getting used to was if she moved away. He might hate her for a while, but he would forgive her over a period of time.


(Read story 48 for the extended version of the story, even though this standalone version makes sense in its own way. Call that story as sequel to this one)

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