Did they even know why I wanted to buy that dress? I guess not. They did not know Maya. And because they did not know Maya they could not understand why I desperately wanted to buy that one particular dress.

“Sir the issue is with size. We can probably show you in another colour if you like?” the salesperson spoke in his most obsequious voice.

He of course could not judge the seriousness of my choice. I wasn’t just buying any dress I was buying the dress. A dress she wanted for her fourth birthday. Today is her fifth birthday. Next year there would be sixth, if of course she wants to see it. Why am I talking like this? It is not in her hands, in fact I think there can be nothing in her hands. Her soft pale dainty hands, they lie so lifeless on the bed.

Her fourth birthday. I had wanted to buy her a dress. But had little money to do so. All my money had gone into stock market and investments and my poor girl went on crying but I couldn’t buy her a dress.

Now exactly one year after I am going to buy that dress.

I began to talk more animatedly with the store manager. I wanted to explain how desperate I was to buy that one dress. How could he know? Why would he understand me? Perhaps if I told him the reason, he also must be having kids at home. Maybe then my crazy behavior would make some sense.

“My daughter slipped into coma last year same day. I was busy working on my laptop and my wife was in the kitchen when she walked out on the road unaccompanied. The truck was speeding at around sixty an hour and well we were lucky she survived. But severe brain damage,” I stopped speaking because no matter how dispassionately I was narrating, the words were affecting me into choking of throat.

The store manager showed no hint of emotions and somewhere in my mind I began to see the futility of my act.

“This dress is what she wanted last year. I didn’t have enough cash at that time. Today I have brought all. I only want that dress,” I knew that deep inside my head the events were not going to change with my speech. But I didn’t want to return with a feeling that I didn’t try.

I could still remember that day as vividly as it had happened yesterday.

“Papa please can we get that dress. It matches with my new Barbie’s clothes. I have this doll party to attend next week,” she had spoke so sweetly, her eyes twinkling with excitement. All of four she never imagined that things could be refused. She was away from the cycles of dejection, hopelessness. Her life was all about happiness and love.

My words must have killed a part of her heart that day. “We are not going to buy it, no matter how many times you say please. Have we got it?” How could I speak so harshly to her? If God gave me another chance I would never let that happen ever again. I promise. These words too I had repeated at least a hundred times each day since that incident.

“We are left with one piece it has been booked by someone. But now we will have to give you. Please try to understand we are not as cruel as we look,”the store manager replied with such softness that it instilled a glimmer of smile on my face.

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I watched her lie on that bed, white sheet with white painted walls in the background. I could hardly believe she is my child. My Maya, always chirpy always happy today she is lying on that bed so lifeless, motionless.

“Her vitals are improving. Everything now seems to be fine with her. Yet the comatose is not getting over. We are trying Mr. Sharma, with all our might. She is a child, her recovery is much faster than us. Don’t lose hope,” I heard the doctor speak through the trance. I was not surprised to hear him, he had pretty much encircled around these words all through the year changing a syllable hear and there but keeping the meaning intact. It meant there had been no improvement in her.

But I will not give up. I will not let my child slip out of my life. She is all I am left with. Radhika, my wife left the house a couple of months back. Not because she doesn’t love me or because she wants her life back. She is pregnant. With our second child and we all felt that its better she moves to a happier surrounding for a while. The thought of pregnancy did make her happy, but for me it brought little or no hope. I wanted Maya back. No child could take her place for me.

“She is fine. No you don’t have to come back. I will manage. How is your health?” Radhika called in that instant for the regular update. I kept the call time to bare minimum not discussing the downsides much.

                           *                                                         *                                              *
“Oh its her birthday today!” The nurse exclaimed watching the colourful decorations in the hospital room.

“Yes. Her fifth birthday. She loved celebrating birthdays not just hers of everyone. She said its like God asks you to be especially happy on that day and its our duty to abide,” I spoke smilingly, placing the heartshaped cake on the side table.

The nurse didn’t reply and a part of me didn’t want to look up to know why. From experience I could say she was crying. It made me uncomfortable. I know I am in pain and no I am not comfortable parting with it. I deserve it, I don’t need self pity. I am being punished for what I did.

“Papa please can we buy that dress,” she had gone on repeating it the whole day and I had dismissed her each time.

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“Happy Birthday to you,” I sung the song softly into her ears all day. I wanted to make every second on that day special. I asked the nurse to make her wear the new dress. There was huge pomp and show. We brought all the kids from the various wards of the hospital to come and wish her.

“But she doesn’t speak?” They would all ask so innocently.

To some we would say, “she is under spell like snow white waiting for her prince” to others we would say, ” she is wanting to make fun of you and so she is acting.” But they all enjoyed the gathering. We played, had fun exchanging plentiful of gifts and soon it was night time.

I had to go back to change and get new clothes for next day. So I asked the nurse to take care of her while I went.

                        *                                                        *                                                *
It was almost twelve by the time I returned. It had even begun to rain. It was only March, such sudden showers often make people sick. I thought to myself. Lost in thoughts and ducked under the rain I reached the hospital.

They were all waiting for me outside. Each and every single staff member was standing outside with an expression that spoke much. My heart sank still I continued to provide hope to myself. I went on muttering “she is alright” “she is alright”. My steps brought me rather swiftly to her bed.

“Papa you bought the dress for me. I love you,” she thronged her arms around me.

I didn’t know what to say and suddenly I found myself crying. I realised that probably the cycle was now complete. My punishment was over, my girl was back with me.

“I love you too. Promise me you will never leave me and go,” I finally found my voice.

“Where did I go? I was right here. I was sleeping that’s what you thought. But I saw you each day bringing in food and chocolates for me. I want them all now, I will eat,” she replied happily.

For the life of me I could never understand how she knew all of that. We had all assumed she was in comatose condition but then that was the least of my problems now.

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