It isn’t often that the world changes. It isn’t often that it changes for the good. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that Nehal didn’t believe that what was happening in front of her was true.
“You’re not joking?” She asked her father once more. He nodded with affirmation. She started to sob.
“Hey, sweetheart! Don’t cry. This is what you wanted, right?” her father said.
Nehal nodded as she tried to wipe tears from her eyes which continued to get wet with her overflowing eyes. Her father hugged her tightly.
“Thank you! I’ll pack my bags.” Nehal said and her father nodded with a smile.
He stood up and saw her daughter run back to her room. She had been asking for this for more than six months now and it was only now that her wish had turned into a reality. Six months ago, her mom and dad got divorced. At the age of ten, it was hard for her to understand all the reasons for their divorce but she had seen them fight enough to know that they weren’t happy together. She had accepted the divorce better than both her parents had anticipated, except for one thing. Her father had gotten custody whereas she wanted to be with her mom.
She tried to accept it but in truth, her mom was more fun. So, for the past six months, she had been trying to convince her dad to send Nehal to her mom.
“You know it will be easier for you to get girls if you didn’t have to show them a daughter.”
“You know a growing child needs a mother.”
“You know I will come and meet you often.”
Each day, a new ‘you know’ would pop up over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nehal knew that the key to success was persistence and eventually, she succeeded. Her father relented, on the promise that she would meet her thrice a week. Nehal intended to keep her promise. She loved her father and if he was as fun as her mom, she would have stayed.
She packed her bags in record speed. She didn’t need to pack everything as this was going to be her room anyway. Just her favorite clothes and toys.
“Nehal, sweety! Your mom is here to pick you up.”
“Awesome! I’ll be down in a bit.” Nehal said checking her room for anything she would need urgently.
Nehal checked her room and once satisfied, she carried her bag outside. Her room was at the right angle from the living room and she heard her parents talking before they could see her.
“You couldn’t keep her for six months.” Nehal heard her mom’s laughter. She had missed this laughter.
“Yeah! Just, take good care of her.” She heard her father say with earnestness. She heard a hint of sadness in his voice that she hadn’t recognized before. At that moment, it hit her that she hadn’t thought about how her father felt until then.
‘It’s okay. It’s not like I’m leaving him forever.’ Nehal said to herself.
She strained her ears to hear more.
“You know what Kartik, I have changed my mind.”
“What do you mean?”
“The amount you are giving me isn’t enough to take care of your spoilt brat.”
“She’s your daughter too, Kashmira.”
“Only because you wanted a kid. I never had an interest in one. I told you that before we got married.”
“Yeah. I know. I’m sorry that I tried to convince you. I had hoped that with time your mind will change. I’m sorry.”
“You should be. You tried to hold me down when I’m made to fly. And now, you are again clipping my wings by tying this kid to me.”
“She loves you.”
“Of course, she does. Unlike you, I know how to have fun. Even I would have stayed if you weren’t this boring.”
Nehal heard the conversation with a chill flowing through her whole body. The conversation continued.
“If you hadn’t forced me, I would have gotten an abortion and we could have been happy together Kartik. Why did you force me to have a kid that doesn’t even love you now?” Kashmira’s voice was now louder than normal.
“Shh… She might hear you. You know Kashmira. Once I knew that you were pregnant, I couldn’t let go of her. She’s my daughter.”
“It was just an accident Kartik. You let our relationship die for an accident.”
“Please Kashmira…” Kartik pleaded.
“You know what’s funny Kartik. You chose her over me and now, she’s choosing me over you. For all you being a dad, you failed both me and her.” Kashmira said, her voice getting haggard.
“I know. I’m sorry Kashmira. Just, please take care of my baby. I will give you any amount you want. Just, don’t let her down. She wants a mother. She needs a mother. Please, be her mother.”
“I will try Kartik but she will always be the reason who killed our relationship. If you didn’t force her on me, we would have been together. I will try to look past that but I can’t promise that. I loved you and you chose her.”
Nehal couldn’t take it anymore. She walked slowly to the living room. Her father was sitting on the couch with his hands on his head, defeated in every way. Her mother’s face had tears on them, the same way she had some time back. She looked so much like her mother. ‘How could she hate me so much?’ The pinching thought hit her heart.
Kartik realized first that Nehal was in the room.
“Hey, sweetheart! All set to go home?” Kartik said in his best neutral voice. He tried to have a smile on his face but faltered. Her mom quickly wiped her face with a tissue and smiled at her.
“Hey, love! My baby is ready?” Kashmira cooed at Nehal. Nehal broke down.
“I’m so sorry mom! Dad! I’m sorry you both are divorced because of me.”
“No love. Don’t even think like that. It was my fault and my fault alone,” Kartik said picking Nehal up in her arms.
“I’m not going to push myself on you mom. I’m sorry. I will stay with dad.” Nehal said between her sniffles.
“No. It’s fine. No trouble.” Kashmira said, uncertain on how to handle the situation.
Kartik wiped Nehal’s tears.
“You are troubling no one Nehal. What you want is the most important thing. Tell me. What do you want and that is what will happen.”
“Yes, Nehal. Your dad is right,” Kashmira added.
Nehal continued sobbing for some time but eventually, she calmed down. Kartik and Kashmira sat in front of her.
“Will you be able to forgive me, mom, ever?”
Kashmira looked at her with an aloof kindness.
“I will try love. I will try my best.”
“And dad? Will you forgive him for… for me?”
Kashmira looked at Kartik who looked at her. They both knew what she was going to ask.
“I don’t know love,” Kashmira said with honesty.
“Then, I have decided. I will stay with dad. I don’t want to be a burden on you. But I have a request mom. Can you spend time with us one day a week? Maybe someday, you can forgive both of us?”
“We can try that but I can’t promise you anything.”
“Just promise me that you wouldn’t leave me… us forever.”
“I can’t…” Kashmira started but then stopped.
“I promise you, Nehal,” Kashmira said and opened her arms towards her. Nehal hugged her and once more broke down. Kashmira looked at Kartik uncomfortably. He pulled Nehal towards him where she continued to cry.
“I’ll meet you on Sunday then?”
“Yeah. We can go to Disneyland.” Kartik said, tentatively.
“Sounds like a plan,” she said with a nod and then turned to Nehal.