A light breeze wafted into the room. Salma mumbled in her sleep. She dreamt of something she obviously liked and smiled. How cute she looked! She had had a rough day. The enthusiasm she showed in the beginning on her Daily trips to visit Rajeev was now slowly wearing thin. Though I tried to make up for it by taking her out for her favorite activity – eating out, it is just not enough. I know she is tired. She has had a rough time battling against a lot of things. Rajeev and I fight every time we meet. But I know Rajeev is very very good. It is just that I can’t seem to agree on anything he says. I do not listen to him because it leaves me feeling sad and empty. Though Salma adores him. And he in turn dotes upon her just like a father. Mushtaq has stopped visiting us. He no longer comes here. Ruksana is delighted that he pays attention to her and her daughters now. I no longer interest him, though he did come in last month to claim his nocturnal rights as my husband. I hope I will do something to make him angry, and he frees me in a fit of anger by saying the 3 magic words – talaq, talaq, talaq.
Today’s visit was a nightmare again. Salma threw up on Rajeev’s carpet and fainted. When I lifted her, the sudden realization that she had lost far too much weight, hit me. I almost dropped her. I do not know why Rajeev keeps saying these things to me. To even think of separating from Salma for two hours is a torture for me. Then how can he expect me to give her up forever? Money is another issue. The Bank already refused my application based on the present loans running. My financial analyst says I am in a mess. But what would they have done in my situation?
Rajeev proposed to me. I did not know what to answer. I asked him for some time to think about it. I know it will be difficult for me to live with Salma and Rajeev under one roof. I will have to forego either of them. But what scares me is that Rajeev is right about Salma. I will have to accept that she will have to go away from me sometime soon.
I resigned from my job as a teacher to stay with Salma the whole time. Salma stopped going to school. She threw up a tantrum everyday and I could not afford to see her in tears. She did not want to go to Rajeev’s place anymore. I called Rajeev and he agreed to see us at our home every week. Today would be his second visit. As usual he remarked about Salma and said it was time for her to go. I got wild, I cried, I screamed at him, kicked him, clawed at him. He remained impassive as a stone. He only held me to him. I welcomed his touch. I melted and tears streamed down my face. There we were, standing, like two animals in distress. That’s when Mushtaq walked in. Rajeev started, his mouth forming a smile and not quite smiling. Mushtaq bellowed like a bull. Last I remember was receiving a slap across the face and a kick in the stomach. Then the world, mercifully, went blank.
I felt a gentle stirring beside me. It was Salma mumbling in her sleep and placing her leg across my stomach. Her thigh was only as thick as my wrist. How frail she had become. I smelt coffee and opened my eyes to find Rajeev besides me. He stroked my hair lovingly. I remembered the evening before. My cheek was swollen red. He thrust a sheaf of papers in front of me. Mushtaq had said the word Talaq’ 3 times in front of his driver and Rajeev and served me the divorce papers. He accused me of infidelity. I had no regret. I was forced to get married to Mushtaq. I would have a tough time battling this out in court, I said to Rajeev. He looked me in the eye and said I already had an option. I nodded. He was right. When Salma was gone, I definitely needed someone to stay with me. I immediately signed the papers and Rajeev to drop it off at my lawyer’s office. I made arrangements to move into Rajeev’s place.
Obviously his parents did not agree. Hindu-Muslim marriages happened only in Bollywood. They cut him off from the family. It only eased my worries a little. We got married in the Hindu style and I became Mrs. Rajeev Vashisht. Salma wore a red and golden lehenga and pranced about happily, but of course, requiring to be carried every five minutes. She had started losing hair in clumps and fretted about her appearance frequently. But at least the occasion had made her smile in spite of her condition. Two days after the marriage, Rajeev stopped her chemotherapy treatment. Her cancer had advanced to the last stage. She fought like a lioness against the disease but then how much can a five year old keep something as dreadful as cancer at bay? She died with that characteristic smile in place. I was inconsolable for days. But Rajeev saw me through it. We moved to the US where Rajeev had got an offer as Head Surgeon at the Minnesota State Hospital. I missed Salma so much I saw her in every child I met.
Its been 6 years since she died, but she is still alive in my heart. After all she was my firstborn. We now have a little boy of four. Shaan has the same eyes as Salma’s – blue-grey and starry.
And I am pregnant with my second child. I just know it is going to be a girl and I know exactly what I will call her – Salma.