How many years has it been? 24? 25, may be.
I can hear the tittle-tattle and feel the weight of gazes on me already. The entire village’s indeed talking. Talking about me.
“Prem’s son, Ronak, has finally managed to travel across the seas and has returned”, one said.
“He didn’t turn back. Hadn’t returned even once, not even for his father’s funeral. Why now?”
“Voracious greed for money to sell the last memory, the only house of Prem?”
“Wonder how a noble soul as Premnath gave birth to a heartless money seeking machine.”
With every step I am taking, the conversation are growing louder, and the judgement harsher. But, can I blame them?
I enter the big old home rather house.
I see Ramu kaka running towards me wearing a feeble smile. Ramu kaka’s the base of this house, the reason why things are still perfect. He speaks in a meek voice, “Welcome saheb”.
“Are the arrangements done?”, I ask him right away.
“Yes. Yes, indeed”, he replies paving the way inside where the papers and buyers awaited me.
His grief-stricken eyes that hadn’t slept for days tells me that he wouldn’t have wanted this to go this way.
I walk fighting the dilemma regarding my decision and step in the hall and stand there. Startled.
My eyes fixate on the big frame in which I am hardly a teen, held by my father. We are all smiles and it snarls me in the reminiscences.. Father looks so jubilant. So charismatic and kind, like always.
“Should we proceed?”, the voice of lawyer hits me and it is then I realise that the tears are trickling down.
I am at the brink of breaking down. Emotions flood in.
“Am I doing the right thing?”, I ask myself wading off the dilemma once again..
I look at troubled Ramu kaka who is standing at the corner unsure, unhappy about everything. He has more attachments to every pillar and brick than I can or anybody can ever have with this home.
I walk to him and place a hand on his shoulder. It’s the right thing to do, I reassure him and probably myself too.
I sign in the papers and walk away never to look back or return to this house or village.
Two and half years pass by.
I am sitting at my usual place amid the labyrinth of work that constantly seems to be piling up.
The school bell rings and I shut my laptop at once. I get up to take the class, the only thing that makes me truly happy.
I am, somehow, managing to take a class every day now since a month. It’s all thanks to the new secretary and my manager who are handling the work flow so well.
I start towards the class enmeshed by the warmth around and the notorious bunch of students.
I stop at the door to find a tall, well-built man, around my age smiling in a suit expensive enough to tell me that he is at the wrong place.
“How may I help you?”, I say.
After an afterthought quickly add, “are you sure you are at the right place? Also, I am getting late for a class I should be taking”.
“I am sure it wouldn’t be a big deal to miss a class”, he says with an intense look adding, “now, would it, Amit? Rather should I say, Ronak”.
I look at him trying to veil my setback and emotions. I am shocked.
Is he who I think he is.
I have been eluding the past. I knew this day would someday come. Somewhere, hoping that I wouldn’t have to face it ever. What I didn’t know is that nothing could prepare me to face this..
The mixed feelings enrage me. I take in an enormous breath and in an instant let out all the feelings.
I look at him again.
What did I do?
I shouldn’t have. But I didn’t have the foggiest idea but I couldn’t have known.. When was the last time I punched someone?
He was lying down on the veranda, as surprised as I was. I, at once helped him back on his feet, apologising profusely.
“I am really sorry. It just happened. I had no idea..”
He shouts back.
“Who the hell are you? How dare you punch me, you imposter. My entire life here, my existence has been replaced by you. You even sold my house in my name, how dare you..”, he screams incessantly.
I so want to punch him again but I hold back.
“It isn’t your home. Not anymore.” I reply composing myself repeating in my head not to him.
“Can we please talk in my office room”, I request seeing that the punch and screams has gained attention from few students opposite to my office across the ground.
“Please”, I insist.
He abids looking in the direction of students, walked and took the chair in front of me.
“I am calling police and shutting down whatever you own. Including this school”, he says in a flat tone to me.
I look at him still not saying a word.
“I could have done that even before coming here. But then, this school got my attention. It has my father’s name on every boarding”
He pauses and says, “I just want to know what’s going on”.
In a tone a little louder, he continues, “I don’t get anything. I was more surprised to find out that my house is nothing compared to your business and what you own. Why would you go to such a length to pull off a fraud? Is this how you built yourself? And, why the hell did you punch me, Amit?”
I am still not sure if my anger is subsiding. I need to control it. I know.
“Because of who I am.”
“Because of Prem uncle, who was a father to me. My only family. Because he gave life to an orphan like me who was left to die by this world. He gifted me dreams that I couldn’t ever know. Couldn’t ever dream of. He provided education until I could get scholarships myself later.”
I bang my fist on the bench.
“Do you understand why I punched you? I understand you had to study abroad. You had work. But, not once, could you come and check on him?”
“I would come by scraping some money between my studies just to meet him and he would look paler, weaker. Every time. We would meet in school or parks. I so wish I had the luxury of time or money to come by and take care of him”
“He refused to come along with me when I started working and even then I didn’t have enough to shift to this city. I had just started.”
I am fumbling. Memories and words aren’t stopping nor are my tears. There’s so much. How much can I tell him. How much will he even get. Will he get any of this?
“He was waiting not wanting to change the will. He wanted you to come down to the home. He waited, Ronak. When you didn’t make it, before breathing his last, he had said to Ramu kaka that the house be sold and that money be used in a school. This school that I built it for him. My lawyers contacted you in vain. You refused. I had no choice Ronak”, I shouted.
“God! They contacted you instead of me. How I wish they had contacted me. I would have run leaving everything to him. He hadn’t even informed me that his health had gotten this worse. He never let me take care of him waiting for a son who never turned back”.
Ronak is now in tears too.
He gets up. “I miss him too. I realised it that I should have been there but it was quite late. The chase and greed for money had overshadowed the relations long back. Hope for promotions, for better day. May be next month. Maybe next year. I kept postponing.”
He breaks sobbing now.
“I won’t press any charges. In fact, you are more of a son than I was ever to him and I thank you for selling his home fulfilling his wish”.
“Forget that we ever met. However, I just want you to know that I am sorry for everything.”
The eyes don’t lie and I see eyes as honest as father’s.
“Then don’t go back again.”
“His dreams were also that you come back here and do something here. For people here. You can still do it.”
I pause. Maybe I have crossed the line asking too much. I shouldn’t have.
I look down knowing very well that I will be rejected. Prem uncle and his hopes will be ignored again.
“Then, let’s do it together?”, he requests turning back smiling.
I blink off the tears and for a moment, just for that instant, “I see Prem uncle smiling in Ronak’s stead.”
I finally know that he can rest in peace. I smile hugging Ronak.
It indeed was the right thing to do after all.