Tanisha opened her eyes to the pale light of dawn filtering through the half closed window. Another long and dreary day stretched ahead, thought she dejectedly. The Grandfather Clock in the hall, one of Dhrupad’s antique collections, struck the hour – 05.00 AM. She missed the sound of water running in the toilet, the soft flip-flop noise of Dhrupad’s slippers on the floor and the manly fragrance of his after-shave lotion. This was the time he would prepare for his early morning stroll by the Chamboli river – a serene strip of lush green meadow where the only sound pervading the atmosphere would be of the birds chirping in the trees. Yet, Dhrupad made it a point to be spic and span for the occasion which was the butt of many a jokes between them. Before moving out of the house he would nudge her hard, “Get up and be about girl!” Sprawled lazily on the bed, she would just about manage to open one eye and drawl sleepily, “Not now!” And he would be gone with a half-smile playing on his lips, “Lazybones!” His words would echo in the empty hall beyond.
She clung to the silences now – the silence in the bedroom and the hall beyond. Dhrupad was gone. Gone forever. Deven, Dhrupad’s friend and physician, had shaken his head in sheer despair, “Too late Taani.” He had said,”I had told him to stop smoking a long long time back. But he wouldn’t give up. Now both lungs are badly damaged. Beyond cure.” He had sighed heavily, resignedly.
Tanisha had sat dry-eyed on the floor while Dhrupad’s mortal remains were taken to the crematorium a fortnight later. From then on life had been an endless march on a lonely trail.
She turned her face into the pillow. Memories were like gaping wounds oozing blood and raining tears. Nevertheless she could have let herself be flooded by them but for the soft whimpers and scratches at the door – “Dodge!” She smiled through searing pain. Six months after Dhrupad’s death, Neela, her sister, had one fine afternoon come along with this tiny, black furball curled up in a cane basket, a heart warmer of a Pug, just forty five days old. They had named him Dodge perhaps with the thin hope that he might be able to broom away the agonizing emptiness that not only gripped Tanisha but every nook and corner of the house with his furry presence.
Dodge did make a difference. He was furnny, amiable, very, very persuasive and a stickler for discipline too. 05.00 AM sharp and he would be ready for his morning walk! He had his favourite spot too – by the river side. And he made sure that Tanisha was up and agile at the pre-fixed time to take him out without fail.
Now as he scampered down the bed of velvety grass, Tanisha wondered how time rushed by. Dodge was a year old now – playful and inquisitive as ever. The other day he had made it a point to wiggle out a piece of scrap sticking from beneath a rock. He had spent almost fifteen painstaking minutes to scratch hard at the boulder till he got what he wanted. And then he had sat on the grass with his possession safe between his paws, proud and victorious. On a closer inspection Tanisha had realized it was nothing but a burnt out cigarette stub.
Today again he was after some small grub which he had scooped up off the street and flaunted about like a long-lost valuable. Now he was chewing at it hard and romping around merrily. Did he whatever but he wouldn’t let go that tiny morsel which he held tightly between his front teeth. Tanisha, a little distance away, scolded him in vain. He ran back to her and squatted on the ground with the dirty piece of paper poking out of his mouth. Dodge had a quaint look in his eyes – mischievous almost challenging – same as Dhrupad would have, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, when Tanisha chided him for smoking.
Dodge was looking straight into her eyes mocking her, daring her to snatch the stained object from his mouth
Tanisha stared hard at it. It was the remaining of a half-smoked cigarette.
A wave like feeling rose up her spine…… Could it be true? Could this really happen?
Yes……………..it was happening right in front of her eyes.
Dhrupad was back….