“Unbelievable!” He couldn’t stop saying the word out loud to himself, as he walked away from that mad girl. “I was only looking for an address!” He looked down at his shabby clothes, torn shoes and unruly hair. Maybe she mistook him for riff-raff. But even so, no one had the right to be rude to someone like this…without context.
But Lord, was she cute! A short stature enhanced the cute features of her face and she may, just may, have been even beautiful had she not been breathing hell-fire at him. Snob!
He shook his head again and looked, probably for the millionth time, at the address scrawled in his own hand over the note. No one was answering calls on the number he was given. And he was short of balance. So, he had to do this the good ol’ way. He had been circling this area for a little under an hour and still couldn’t find it. All he could see in this vast, sprawling and over the top Housing Society were opulent houses, gardens that ran for miles and winding roads that often led to dead-ends, but no gates that announced the addresses.
But there, right behind the imposing bougainvillea tower he found a guard dozing off in the arid summer heat. He approached the guard, hoping he wouldn’t be as rude as the girl, “Er… Bhaiya, could you please tell me where this house is?”
The guard blinked blearily at the note and then recalled, “This is it. This is the address on the note. Who do you want? What’s your name?” The Guard was alert now, seeing as someone known to his employer had found him napping, hoping that this new-comer wouldn’t report his siesta to the Sir Ji. But all the new-comer felt was relief, and a fluttering trepidation in his belly.
He was home at last…. or what was to be his home, from hereon.
The guard spoke into a phone and received the instructions to allow him in. The gates were huge, all wooden slats and wrought iron and brass knockers. The fence itself was 10 feet high, so no one on the outside could get a peek inside.
He walked through the gate to find himself surrounded by terraced, lush gardens on either side of the drive way. Somewhere he could hear a fountain but he couldn’t see it. An ornate gazebo adorned one of the levels.
He suddenly went weak in the knees. He couldn’t stay here! He came from a one BHK house! He would never be accepted here. He had half turned to go away when someone called to him from one of the levels.
“Beta, you’re here!”, a cultivated voice said to him. He looked from here to there to locate the voice. Someone tapped his shoulder and he spun around to look back at who. The voice was there, the owner of the voice that is.
A middle-aged man, with deep, kind eyes, deep laugh lines on his open face and a strong chin, was looking at him with guarded happiness.
So, this is the Master of the Mansion, he thought. This is my Father, he told himself.
They were sitting in the cavernous living room. There was a spread of an assortment of breads, sweets and fried delicacies before him, but he was too nervous to eat anything. He had hardly dared to lift the tea cup from the saucer for fear of breaking the dainty piece of porcelain.
“Eat please. You’ve barely touched anything since you came, and I’ve been rambling on and on to notice it before. Please eat.” The Man urged him. It felt weird to think of him as ‘Father‘.
Should I tell him the truth, that he isn’t really my Father. That my Mother cooked up that story so that he could take me away from my wasted Father? He debated with himself. Then decided to keep mum. He couldn’t go back to his abusive Father, because he was jailed. He couldn’t go back anywhere. There was no going back for him.
He nibbled at the end of a cookie in acquiescence.
The Man continued with his one-sided conversation, “I hope you’ll find this place comfortable…”
Is he kidding me? This place could house an entire city!
“I’ve arranged for your room to be prepared. I hope you like it. If you want to do something different for the interiors, you have to just let me know.” The Man beamed at him. He managed a weak smile himself.
The Man suddenly stood up and walked over to where he was sitting. He sat down beside him and patted his knee gently, “I understand you’re unsure of all this… and of me. It’ll take time to get to know one another and the others in this family, but I assure you, I’ll do everything in my power to make you feel at home.”
Home? Home was where my Mother was. And that home burnt down in ashes a few days back.
“I know you miss your Mother. There’s no one who can replace her. But know that you have a family here too. A step-mother… and a step-sister.”
Wow, I have a shiny, brand new family in less than a fortnight of my Mother’s death. He thought bitterly.
“I think you and my daughter will get along just fine…”
And as if his words were a magician’s mantra, just then, the angry curses of a girl floated up from the Kitchen towards them, followed soon by the girl herself, “I can’t believe Papa is doing this to us. He’s tearing this family apart! Bringing his illegitimate son into our home, my home! I’ll never accept him. I’ll throw him out of this house right now… ” She had reached the living room and had finally spotted the pair sitting on the couch.
“Ayesha! Thank you for announcing your arrival.” The Man said in a grave, heavy tone and then gestured at him, “Meet your step-brother, Rishabh”.
And the step-siblings looked at one another, but not for the first time.
And all she could think was, “I’ll never let him stay in his house. I’ll hate him forever!”
And all he thought was, “Not the best way to meet the love of your life.”