The morning was chilly. The onset of winter could be felt in the foggy and cold mornings and evenings. Nimmy sat on the elegant sofa and browsed the day’s newspaper. Her daughter-in-law brought her her morning coffee. Her son was working abroad in the US and she lived back here in her home country with her son’s wife. Life in the US had not suited her and she had returned after staying just a couple of months there.
As on every day today too, she went through the newspapers carefully reading all the headlines and editorials. It was then that her glance went on to the Obituary printed on the left-hand side bottom corner of Page 5. The face looked vaguely familiar and the name kept buzzing in her head. She knew the person but couldn’t connect to who it was. Age makes things difficult, she thought. She was after all 71 and seen and experienced much of the world.
Suddenly through a haze of memory, she remembered the person. It was Sruthi, the thin and lanky friend of hers from college. Yeah, now that she remembered Sruthi had been her roommate too in the hostel for the three years of her hostel life.
She was the first person to whom she had got acquainted on the freshers day at her college nearly half a decade ago. Her wide toothy smile and vibrant face had given so much reassurance to her on that day.
When in the night she felt lonely in a small and darkroom in the old hostel building, far away from her parents and her home city, it was Sruthi who had put a hand around her and comforted her.
As she looked into the photograph in the newspaper trembling in her old wrinkled hands, a lot of memories, images and snapshots of yesteryears resurfaced to the foreground of her mind.
The careless and joyful days of youth, the campus life, the friends, the laughter and fights. She couldn’t believe that so much time had passed and that unlike the day when they had parted from the campus to myriad other places for jobs and higher studies, now were the times when they were saying eternal goodbye.
The funeral was to be held at 4:00 p.m that day and the place was only 4 hours journey from her house. She had lived so near, yet she had not known that an old friend, an old acquaintance had lived so closeby to her. She decided she had to go to have a final glimpse of the deceased.
She called her daughter-in-law and asked her to call the chauffeur. She got up, leaving the newspaper behind and went to get dressed. The obedient daughter-in-law followed her. The car rattled on the potholed roads and sometimes sped by the smooth highways. And so did her mind, tracing down a period almost 50 years before.
She had been shy initially, an introvert. It had been difficult for her to adjust to the new surroundings. But Shruthi had been there always beside her, a source of comfort, a shoulder to lean upon. As the days formed into weeks and weeks into months and semesters and years, she had finally felt at ease with the place, enjoyed the activities and company of people around her.
She was among the toppers of the class. She carved a niche for herself by excelling in sports and co-curricular activities. She was admired and respected.
On the other hand, Shruti had failed to show much brilliance on the academic side but had an as good flair in other activities as she had. There was competition between them in many aspects. Sometimes these resulted in silent days or silent weeks.
There were never angry outbursts or protests, just silence and the silence pained and created more bitterness than what the catfights could have done. But things did turn out to be better after some time before it again turned for the worse.
But that day was different from all other days. This fight mightier than the others. The reason seemed silly now but had been a major issue during those times. She couldn’t remember what it was; anyway it was better to forget it than to live those stressful days again. It can something to do with a boy, whom they both fancied; she remembered vaguely.
It had cut them off both as never before and though they shared the same room they had never uttered a word to one another from that day onwards, neither in college or afterwards in the many parties and alumni reunions. They had avoided each other.
But today, she had to go. Maybe old age scares you and makes you repentant. Maybe nothing makes you repentant and remorse like the death of a person with whom you had not reconciled during his/her days on Earth. She had no tears but a pinch of remorse for what she had not done, for all the years lost, for all that she could have done.
The car stopped by a modest gate. There was a black flag flying over the house. Nimmy got out, helped gently by her daughter-in-law. There was huge crowd of mourners, some shedding tears, some with sorrow-stricken faces and others just witnessing and being a part of the funeral, of death that none can escape.
She went ahead and placed the wreath of roses that she had bought on her way to here. The atmosphere was more or less silent and sombre except for the occasional sobs of one of the relatives. Somebody offered her a chair. She sat down close to where the body lay.
She felt uneasy. The years of silence, the years of animosity and solitude and self-centred had not rendered her an opportunity to make up. And now the time was up. She said a small prayer, a prayer asking the Lord to give the soul of the departed eternal rest and also to forgive herself for all the cruelty she had knowingly or unknowingly done.
The priests came and said the prayers. The body was being carried towards the crematorium. A huge mass of relatives and friends rushed to get a final glimpse of her friend, to weep and touch, to say goodbye.
Nimmy too stood up holding onto the chair for support as people crowded around. She didn’t say goodbye like others who rushed forward to. She knew she too would follow soon.
She just mumbled one word over and over, something which she had refused to say many decades ago, something which would have helped her and brought her years of joy in place of remorse, which would have given her sweet memories to cherish now; with trembling hands she just kept mumbling, ‘Sorry, I’m sorry….I’m sorry dear?
Contributing Story Teller:: Gitanjali Maria, I’m an undergraduate student who enjoys writing. [email protected]
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