‘Remember this yellow umbrella used to be her favorite?’ Janaki looked back at her husband and smiled. She meticulously brushed some dirt off the small yellow umbrella in her hands.
Manav nodded. ‘You gifted this to her.’
She shifted her eyes back to the window. ‘She wouldn’t let go of it even for a second.’ Gazing at the kids on their way to school, she smiled softly. A small girl waddled through the muddy road, nattering with her friends. Two ribboned braids dangled on the sides of her head and bounced every time she jumped on the sloppy road. The ripple of her laughter reached Janaki’s ears. She leaned her head against the window sash. ‘She would turn 9 this month, right?’
Manav walked over to the window and stole a quick glance at the road. ‘Yeah I guess so.’
‘How tall would she be now?’ She thought aloud. ‘I hope the yellow frock fits her.’
‘Janaki…’ Manav took a deep breath.
‘How about we gift her a ribbon as well? A yellow ribbon…,’ she smiled absently, ‘…it would go with the dress.’
Manav heaved a sigh. ‘Janaki…listen to me…’
She waved her hands dismissively. ‘See that little girl!’
Manav followed her gaze.
She continued, ‘when you’re not home, I sometimes go out and talk to her. I don’t know what her name is. I didn’t ask her. I call her Mihu. Her laughter fills the void that Mihu left behind in my heart. You know what, yellow is her favorite color too.’ She smiled at him.
The naive smile on the little girl’s face took Manav eight years back to the moment he had seen Mihu for the very first time. They had rented the ground floor of their house to her parents. Mihu was six months old back then. Janaki had offered to look after her while her parents were out for work. Manav was relieved seeing his wife getting over the pain of infertility. Little did he know that instead she had invited a lifetime of despair. To her, Mihu was the child she could never give birth to. This attachment, however much ethereal it was, had started to bother Mihu’s parents. They moved out. Janaki struggled in vain to come out of the denial that this vacuum would never be filled in this lifetime. She clung to the yellow umbrella in the hope that Mihu, someday, would come back asking for it.
Manav looked at Janaki. She had the yellow umbrella held tightly in her arms. Her eyes glistened with hope. Every year, since Mihu left she had been sending gifts for her. And every time her parents had sent them back. Manav had refrained from telling her that. He knew this motherhood she had carved out was beyond the realm of humanly comprehension. But this hope, though false, managed to keep her alive.
‘I’ll go post the gifts to Mihu.’ He smiled and left.
Written by Chirasree Bose