A silver grey tendril escaped from the cheap plastic clip that held it in place and brushed against Charu's cheek. It seemed a failed attempt at waking her from her reverie. Almost an hour had passed by since she had plonked herself in her favourite place by the window. It being her routine every weekend for the past couple of months now, Nanda - her attendant - didn't seem much concerned, but her heart went out to her.
"Tch tch, what a sad life! They bring up their children with so much love and care, and what do they get in return? So much heartache, so much sorrow! Thank God, I don't have kids!" Nanda muttered under her breath as she cleaned Charu's room.
The journey from her own home to the old age home hadn't been an easy one for Charu. Having stayed there for nearly three decades, she had been devastated when she had learnt about the decision her son and her daughter-in-law had made for her. Her son, though, had promised to meet her every weekend - a promise that had been forgotten as time passed by.
She did realise eventually that she had been dumped here so that they could live freely. "As if I ruled their lives!" she thought bitterly. The stories she heard from the others at the institution broke her heart further and she began losing touch with reality, with herself.
"Oh, Nanda, my son is coming to meet me today! He did inform me yesterday! And, he said he had a surprise for me! What do you think it must be? Hey, you know, I think he is planning to take me home. Yes, that must be it!" Charu would ramble all day long, leaving a sad Nanda feeling sadder. And helpless. There really wasn't a thing in this world she could do for these senior citizens except make their lives as comfortable as she could. And, yes, thank god that she wouldn't be in their place someday.
"Nanda, you are such a forgetful girl! You forgot my birthday! But, my son will remember, and will come loaded with gifts for his old mother. Just wait and watch!" Charu burst out enthusiastically one day. And, what followed was a lengthy account of the million gifts he had showered on his mother, right since the time he was a little boy!
"And, today he has promised to get me a saree! The blue saree I pointed out to him the other day!" she chirped happily like a little girl.
The day went by in its usual monotonous way, but Charu refused to leave her place by the window. That was the spot from where she could easily spot her son approaching the building. She had stared at the gate all day long and now it had begun to get tiring. But, nothing would make her budge. Her friends called her for the evening bhajans, Nanda called her to have her tea in the canteen, but Charu stayed put.
Finally, after the sun too had left for the day, there was a knock on Charu's door. At first, she didn't catch it, but when she did, she nearly jumped out of her chair and tottered hurriedly towards it to welcome her son.
With unsteady hands and a nervous energy, she unlatched the door to find old Mr. Karwe - a resident of the institution - standing before her; a plastic bag shaking noisily in his Parkinson's-afflicted hand and a happy smile playing on his lips.
"It's your birthday, isn't it, Charu?" he asked her excitedly. The smile had vanished from Charu's face the moment she had seen him standing at her door, but her eyes continued to look for her son outside.
"Oh, don't you worry, my dear. Here's your birthday gift! Your son was here and he handed it to me saying there was a saree in your favourite colour. The poor lad was in a tearing hurry. You see, his boss had sent him on an errand and if he hadn't come here now, he would have to come tomorrow. Charu, you really don't know, but, kids these days have way more work than we did when we were young! Anyway, here's your parcel. Have a lovely evening!" so saying, he placed the parcel in Charu's hands and walked away.
Charu's happiness knew no bounds! Her eyes welled up with tears of joy. She called out happily to Nanda who stood nearby watching her, "Nanda, didn't I tell you he would remember my birthday?!"
"You know, Nanda, when we were little kids - Charu and I - we studied in the same school, in the same class. And, back then, when we lacked any sense, I had promised her that I would hold her in my heart, forever and ever. But, alas, as time went by, she forgot all about it. But, I didn't. It's a promise I made her then, and, it's a promise I made her today, that come what may, I would always be by her side, always keep her happy. And, that's all I did! It really isn't a coincidence that I am staying at the same institution as she! " Mr. Karwe smiled with a twinkle in his eyes as he recounted his love story, and quietly walked away.