Friday, September 2, 2022

The Changeling

Breaking news was flashing continuously on the channels. 

"India unlikely to allow return of four women who joined ISIS." 

Post lunch, Annie was indulged in sewing. That's her routine for past few years. A depressed widow living in a huge house, whose only daughter ran away with other religion boy, couldn't hold more options for time pass. Her only entertainment became sewing forever. In front of the television she sat in her wooden armchair leaning forward with a periodic back and forth motion and sewing at the same time. For her sewing was Yoga which made her calm and undisturbed of all that happened in her life. She stitched curtains, pillow covers, cushions and if nothing else then she went on with some nice scarfs and gave those to the children who came to the Church on Sundays.

Hearing the breaking news, she took her eyes off from the needle and glanced at the TV. Annie's body trembled seeing the photographs of those four ladies. Not four exactly, that one and only one photo pierced her eyes. Her rocking chair stopped, the cloth and needle fell on the floor whilst she got up with a thud. She anxiously waited for the photos to appear again and confirmed that was Anitta, Anitta Mary Peter - her only child!

It's been almost 8 years she lost contact with her daughter. It was an intercast marriage and obviously Annie was not happy with it. Peter wouldn't have agreed to it as well if he was alive. 

"If I support this then his soul will never forgive me..." that is how she justified herself whenever someone raised the matter. But underneath her heart, there hid a mother who always wished her child all the happiness. Any mother would have that right?

Annie and Peter had raised their child with so much love and care like all other parents. A pious and orthodox family. Peter was an army man and Annie a teacher. As a result every aspect of their life was strictly regimented. Anitta grew up with such discipline and belief. That is what they believed until the day they got the shocking news about their daughter. Anitta eloped with a boy from another religion. With their shattered self-esteem they were ashamed to face the society. The mountain of pride they had built in all those years erupted like a volcano.

But there was a small glitch which only Annie knew about her child. Anitta had a best friend Niya. They were together from childhood. Later in her teens during a birthday party at home Annie got the shocking truth of their actual friendship. They were connected in all means. How one earth Annie, the believer could digest the idea of homosexuality. No! never ever. She thought about all the aftermaths of this relationship coming in limelight. For a believer this is obviously an unforgiving satanic act. If her father came to knew about it he wouldn't mind being a murderer himself.  

From then Anitta and Niya were separated by Annie. She somehow convinced her husband then Anitta was sent to her uncle's house in another faraway city. Annie carried the secret like a heavy rock on her heart. Perhaps, in reality somewhere inside her heart the news of her daughter running away with a boy gave her a little bit of relief as well as happiness. Better than the worst, she thought.

The news spread faster than wildfire. Neighbours tittle-tattled as much as they could. That's how Annie came to know her son-in-law's name, Rahman. Once Anitta left the house, all their routines collapsed. They spent their days in silence, not eating on time, gazing through the windows. Sleepless nights gifted them more older looks than their actual age. Neither they were interested in picking up telephone calls nor seeing kins. Some of them came home to visit. But Annie and Peter made faces and did not pay attention to the conversations. Annie found peace in prayers so she spent her days indulged in praying. She hoped her daughter will return one day. Later, Peter went back to warfront and never came back home. She searched for Anitta to inform her father's demise. Unfortunately all search went in vain. She lost the last hope of meeting her daughter. She lost her faith. Annie's single journey began there. 

It is not easy to live alone for a lady in a society where women empowerment rests only in the posts of armchair activists. Living single is not a thing for all. You need to be little more bold, little more strong. Literally you must be a boss lady. Else you are going to be washed off in a jest in the gossips. Annie was not one of that kind until her husband's death. Like all other housewives she too was submissive and duteous. But inside, she was strong. She knew it well. That's the reason she acted passive. She could handle all those tantrums of her army strict husband. The real Annie, the bold avatar emerged later which was something new for the rest of the world around her. 

Some of them recommended a second marriage. She was fifty and looked much younger than her actual age. So that was the most suggested option. A pretty widow living alone is not a good sign for the society.

She fought alone all these challenges, and finally God brought her child back! She couldn't believe her eyes. She slapped her own wet cheeks to make sure it was not a dream. The next challenge for her was to bring her daughter back home. She pleaded to all kind of Government authorities through her husband's army contacts. Annie came to know that Anitta has a little boy with her- Annie's grandson. That just whetted her appetite to meet them as soon as possible. It took few months to convince the Government. Annie was successful in the task. She went to the extent of traveling to Delhi. As per the Government, her daughter was an anti-national, radical moron. There was very less chance to release her to India. The only chance was Anitta's son. That was the only point she got - sympathy. She fought, she pleaded for her grandson. As per the officials who went to talk to Anitta, she was not even changed a bit. They said she is still poisonously radical and is a threat to the country. Annie was sure whatever her daughter be, she can change her mind, she will change her. When she got an opportunity to talk to her, Annie made her convince that at least for the time being act appropriately or else she will have to live her life in the prisons of Afghanistan forever. Finally everything fell in place. 

The night before their arrival was a Christmas - Hanukkah moment for Annie. She couldn't sleep all night. And the big day arrived. Her eyes were moist with tears of joy that she couldn't even see clearly her daughter and grandson stepping out of the car. She ran into Anitta and hugged her tightly as if she was not going to leave her anymore to anywhere. Anitta too cried like a small child. Years of affection and love poured out of both of their hearts. The whole scene made others who gathered too sob. There were media persons, relatives, neighbours and many others who came to know the International news and wanted to witness the great uniting moment of the mother and daughter. 

Annie hugged Anitta and sighed in her ears, "Anitta... my child!"

Anitta replied softly, " I am not Anitta. I am Sadeekha, Sadeekha Rahman."

Annie was dumbstruck for a moment. The next moment she regained consciousness and kissed Anitta's forehead.

Days passed. Annie learned that her grandson doesn't speak any other language other than Urdu. One more thing she noticed was Anitta and the boy share a brother-sister kind of relationship! Whenever she picked this topic Anitta will give some excuse to escape. Annie observed each movement of Anitta. After a month or so she understood one thing. It was not Anitta, it was Sadeekha living with her whom was unknown to Annie. Her acts, her character, her beliefs, her mannerisms nothing remained similar to Anitta. 

One particular day, Annie deliberately made a conversation during tea time. Both sitting in the verandah gazing at the clear sky as if nothing was wrong between them. For a minute no one spoke. Then Annie decided to be the ice-breaker, slurping her hot tea.

"Anitta, today you have to speak. I am your mother and I have the right to know about my child. Tell me why are you still there?? Why don't you just start a new life? I am here to support you. Let go off the past."

"Mummy please... I can't. I can not talk about this. If I talk, I belch all of it and you won't be able to digest it."

"Honey, I know I had hurt your feelings. I am sorry but, do not punish me like this. I waited only for you all these years. I can not bear this burden of guilt anymore. Forgive me and forget all."

"Let me make this clear for you. It is impossible for a come back. You never tried to understand my feelings. You were living for the society not for me, not even for yourself. You were afraid of society. Do you remember the day I begged you for my life. I will never be able to forget my Niya. Nevertheless you did not care about what I wanted. This is my revenge, my life is my revenge. You did not let me live my life. You couldn't accept your child. I couldn't love anyone in my life after that incident.  You know one truth? I have never been married to Rahman. Rahman just helped me for my revenge. This boy... he is not your grandson too. I was using him to escape from the prison. I knew there will be a chance of sympathy. Do you want some more ...?"

Annie stood like a statue. She cried,

"Why did you kill innocent people? What did they do to you? You could have killed me instead. My child can not kill anyone...ohhh God...! Forgive my child, forgive..."

"Stop this drama Mummy. Enough is enough. Killing was a part of my job. I wanted you to be ashamed of your daughter in front of this society, the society you were scared of. You were afraid that my homosexuality will shatter your pride. And now see... the same had happened! ha ha ha... You must die out of shame. I have either killed or helped my mates to kill many soldiers. Who knows, if I had killed my father too! Then am much self-satisfied." She sighed.

Annie felt petrified. She couldn't take it anymore. She ran out of the verandah to the backyard. She wept like a baby sitting under the mango tree. All of a sudden she stood up and murmured, "This is not my child. This is a changeling. Devil has taken my child. This is a changeling, am sure...am sure..." She blabbered on and on like a mad woman.

Annie did not eat, sleep nor talk for rest of the day. The next day she acted perfectly normal. Anitta was surprised to see her mother's casual behavior. How could she act as if nothing has happened! 

Annie looked happier than any other day. She made special dishes for lunch. When Anitta peeped inside the kitchen she was busy making the dessert. Anitta guessed, mother might be acting weird because of the shocking talks happened yesterday. Let her overcome. She went back to her room.

Annie looked around before taking out the small glass bottle from the cupboard. While slowly pouring the liquid in to the rasmalai mix with a spiteful smile, she kept on blabbering, "changeling...you are devil's child..." 

Anitta loves rasmalai, let her eat how much ever she likes today. Let her have the sweetest death ever. 

"Oh my child... I miss you, I miss you..." Annie muttered in silence. Tears rolled down her cheeks and fell into the sweetest death.


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