Princess with a sword

Present

November 15,2020

I couldn’t recognize her..

Yes, though there was no significant change in her appearance, I still can’t recognize her. The same jet black hair but a little less disheveled. The same small, round nose. The same dry yet thin lips. The eyes, those where the center of a major reformation. They are the witnesses of what has been through her soul, what was broken and what is being rebuild. There is no mistake that those eyes of hers hinted towards an upcoming storm, exuding calmness at the same time. It feels so strange, just what lies behind your eyes can change the entire meaning of your existence. I can no longer say who the woman in the mirror was. Nisha of the past wouldn’t have done it even in her dreams, I sigh. Today is an important day, a day that will be changing my life forever. I find myself second guessing if I should be done, if it is fair to Abhay but the time of rumination is gone. If I allow myself to think about it again, I will keep thinking forever. I quickly grab my jacket. This is it, now is the time. I take a last look at my reflection.

Time to write my story, in my own words.

I step out of the house. The sun seems to be shining to it’s maximum glory in ages. The atmosphere is splendid, in celebration of the biggest win that mankind has seen recently. Vehicles pour down the streets, the gratitude in the eyes of pedestrians speaks for itself. Best friends hugging each other and shedding tears of joy, the  ecstatic toddler beaming at his parents for being out after a long time and nobody is any longer complaining about their jobs. A group of teenage girls stands devouring the ice creams from a roadside vendor. Even such simple things are being appreciated now. The cool breeze intermingles with the locks of my hair as I start walking. It has been six months since I last felt this kind of freedom. Abhay is at school at last, but I had insisted that he still carry his mask along with him. The group of teenage girls has decided to go for another round of ice creams. The toddler smiles at me and I respond equally well. Despite the jacket on, I feel chilling cold. After rubbing my hands together for some warmth, I put them in the pockets of my jacket. The fingers of my right hand brush against something and I take it out. Memories hit me like a gigantic wave hits the shore. I stroke it lovingly, it is the most cherished thing that Kristen D’Souza has left me. It was as good as yesterday when Kristen had unexpectedly paid the first visit to me on Christmas.

December 25, 2019

“Abhay! When are you going to complete your Math homework?” I say calling out to my 5 year old son from the kitchen.

“Mom, just 5 more minutes. Pleaaseeeee Mom.”

Though I am doing the dishes, I can clearly imagine Abhay making a sweet puppy pace, his usual expression when he stretches ‘Please’ this way.

“No, not at all. Go do it now. You have been watching cartoon for a good long time.”

“Mom! I won’t be able to find out what Nobita will do if Shizuka leaves him. I will get the homework done Mom, I promise” Abhay shouts back.

 I quickly wipe my wet hands with a kitchen towel and march towards the living room. He whimpers as I snatch the  remote away and switch off the TV.

“Enough Abhay. Don’t you understand the first time itself? Good boys listen to their mothers’ words” I tell him.

Every child knows when their parent can’t be convinced anymore. Giving up, Abhay leaves the sofa as I murmur, “It’s not always Shizuka who leaves Nobita.”

Abhay looks at me with a lost face but returns to his room anyway. I hear the doorbell ring and open the door to find a gentle looking elderly woman standing at my doorstep holding a Christmas cake. 

“Merry Christmas!!”exclaims the old woman joyfully. “I am the new tenant in your adjacent flat, Kristen D’Souza” she quickly adds after seeing my baffled face.

“Oh. I am so sorry, please do come in.” I am too embarrassed but Kristen doesn’t mind at all.

“Don’t be sorry, dear” she says as she strides past me into the living room. I quickly eye my unexpected visitor. She has snow white hair that end up high above the shoulders but are exceptionally well maintained. Her eyes are hazel colored, nose straight and height somewhat short. She is dressed impeccably in a silk red blouse and a black skirt. The most peculiar thing I notice about Kristen’s appearance is that she has chosen to adorn blood red lipstick. Overall, she is quite a striking old lady.

“There was absolutely no need for this, but thank you very much Aunty” I say as she hands me the cake.

“I can’t go to anybody’s house for the first time empty handed. I request you to call me Kristen though. Good Lord, ‘Aunty’ makes me feel old you know” replies Kristen. I am unable stifle my giggle.

“It is a chocolate cake, your son is going to love it. I have seen you sending him off to school. Where is he ?”

“He is inside doing his homework. Please take a seat.” I call Abhay as Kristen nestles comfortably on the sofa. I can’t help but wonder when did I become this unobservant to not notice my previously unoccupied neighboring flat now had a living soul in it. But then, I am too much in my own head nowadays to notice anything barely.

“I would be delighted if you can join us for dinner tonight Kristen” I say.

“I’m having guests tonight, sorry. I would love you and Abhay to be there for dinner sometime, I don’t have company that often you know. I am sick of eating alone.”

Though Kristen smiles all the time as the says this, I can sense the traces of loneliness in her voice.

“I will definitely not mind a cup of strong, aromatic coffee Nisha!” says Kristen with contagious excitement. She sits chatting with Abhay as I brew the coffee. I cut her cake into thin slices as she wants us  to taste it right in front of her. As I had expected, years of expertise found it’s place in the cake Kristen had baked .It was so fluffy and delicious that Abhay had three more helpings. Kristen vows that she will bake more for him  much to my reluctance. Abhay grins.

“I previously lived in Baner with David, my husband. After his demise in October, I couldn’t stay in that house. I mean, his memories were etched everywhere, we had shared that house for years after all” Kristen says, sipping her coffee.

“No matter how much I loved that house, but I had to move on. He had left for heavenly abode but I still had a life to live, I was very much alive. So, I sold it and randomly decided to move to a completely new locality.”

I heard all that she said with a deep ache in my heart.

I had to move on…I have a life to live…I am very much alive..

“Where is Abhay’s father Nisha?”

 I was used to this question now.

“He is out for some important business visit to Bangalore” I answer monotonously. Kristen doesn’t look completely convinced but I am thankful to her for not probing further. She leaves soon after that and we promise each other we will soon catch up. After our dinner, I tuck Abhay in the bed. I kiss him goodnight and leave the room with his school uniform. As I start ironing it, a missing button on his school shirt draws my focus. 

Might have gotten into another scuffle.

I sigh but can’t recollect where I had kept my sewing kit. I begin searching kitchen cabinets as well as drawing room drawers, all in vain.

Must have kept it in my closet.

Careful not to disturb Abhay’s peaceful slumber, I tiptoe into the room and open the cupboard. There, behind my huge pile of clothes lies the sewing kit! I quickly grab it but the sound of something metallic falling at my feet catches my attention. It is pitch dark except the glimmer of the moon pouring down the window. Next moment, I am on my knees looking for the fallen object. It is nothing other than my wedding ring, glistening to it’s full glory in the moonlight.

I sit there dumbfounded, staring at my wedding ring. It is one of the most classic ones, with a simple yet elegant design. The most distinctive thing about it was there are two diamonds in the centre instead of the usual single one. 

Nisha, the two diamonds here symbolize me and you. Always together, eternally bonded..

I remember the night Sameer left, I had yanked out the ring from my finger, shoving it somewhere deep inside my pile of clothes, so that I forget about it’s existence at all.

How foolish is it for me to think that this gesture will help erase all that he has carved on my soul?

I can never forget the day this ring had found it’s way to me. I was dressed up in a light pink lehenga and an off white blouse. My mother’s exact words were, “My Princess is the universe’s most beautiful bride!”

The 21 year old Nisha was glowing inside out. I recall how when I was a little girl, my mother read me bedtime stories about Princesses, Princes and their kingdoms.

Cinderella was frequently mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters. When Prince Charming chose her as his bride, they couldn’t do anything but envy her.

The Princess went into deep sleep for hundred long years after pricking herself, owing to the curse of the old witch until a handsome Prince of the neighboring kingdom kissed her and brought her back to life.

Jealous of the fair Snow White’s beauty, the Queen disguises herself as a poor old woman and offers her a poisoned apple, sending her in coma. The Prince immediately falls in love with Snow White due to her spectacular beauty, rescuing her and killing the Queen. 

At the end, I always innocently asked my mother if there’s a Prince out there for me too. “Yes Nisha. You are going to have the bravest and the most worthy Prince!” 

You are going to have the bravest and the most worthy Prince…

And the little Nisha believed her, believed that her Perfect Prince Charming will one day come and sweep her off her feet and take her to his castle where they will live Happily Ever After. On our engagement, Sameer looked every bit of the Prince I had always dreamt of. Clad in a golden and red colored kurta, he was a sight to behold. I had blushed furiously when he slid this ring onto my finger. Tears well up in my eyes as I sit there in the darkness, clutching my ring. First few years of our marriage had been pure bliss. We had a great wedding, the best honeymoon and were on cloud nine when Abhay was born. My gaze fell upon my son, the star of my life around whom my complete life revolved. Abhay was every bit of Sameer Bansal’s son, through and through. He had inherited his chocolate brown almond shaped eyes as well as his pointed nose and dimpled cheeks. His lips resembled mine, dry and thin. Like his father, he was intelligent as well as competitive. My train of thought breaks as my phone buzzes, I have a text message.

Hope you remember about this Sunday.

It is from Sameer. 

I delete his number immediately. Even looking at his name on my phone screen fills me with disgust and resentment. Resentment that has seeped so deep inside me that it has rocked me to the core of my very existence. I check the day, three more days left until Sunday.

“Nisha!” cries out Kristen as I wait for the elevator. She hugs me and wishes me a good morning. Kristen is well dressed as always and thanks me profusely for complimenting her on it. I notice that she never misses her red lipstick.

“Dear, will you please help me find a supermarket nearby?” asks Kristen pleadingly, as if I am going to refuse. After Christmas, she had paid me three visits for coffee always getting a delicacy or two for Abhay. Kristen was that person whom anybody could warm up to real quick. She told me how she worked as a bank manager before her retirement and that her maternal home was in Panaji, Goa. One singular thing that ruled her every talk was her husband, David. I admired of how fondly she spoke of her man every time. There wasn’t an inch of  doubt in the fact he was one of the best men and deserved all the praise and affection that was being showered upon him. 

“Off course. In fact, you can accompany me as I am heading right there” I reply.

Quite happy with my answer, Kristen says, “I hope I can find all the necessary baking supplies there. If all ends good, Abhay might get to taste another of my recipes by the evening!”

“Oh my God Kristen! You are going to spoil my son with your constant pampering.” The elevator arrives and we get into it.

“I will be delighted to do so Nisha. Abhay is like a grandson I never had. This is the least I can do for him.”

I smile at the wonderful lady standing beside me, satisfied there is no dearth of loving people in the world. As we walk towards the supermarket, she fills me on with her plans of hosting one grand party for all her friends and acquaintances in her new apartment once it was set up. Kristen was already spending her days planning what she would cook and how she would decorate her home. One of the many best things about Kristen was that she knew how to live each and every moment. It was commendable in it’s own way as very few people have the ability to see the present as it was, make no judgements about how it should rather be and relish it to fullest. After we are done with our shopping, I help Kristen with her shopped items to her apartment. 

“My God Kristen! Looks like you have a lot of work to do on this place!”

I am taken aback by the enormous amount of scattered stuff I see as soon as I set my foot inside. Though large pieces of furniture like sofa and bed are in their right places, thanks to the packers and movers, everything else lies haphazardly.

“I am done with the kitchen, but living room and bedroom remains. I had hired a househelp to get the work done, but she fell sick and it got delayed” says Kristen dejectedly.

“Don’t worry I can do it for you. Anyways I have got nothing better to do after Abhay leaves for school.”

“Nisha, we both know that a housewife too has a heap of tasks over her head, though we give only the working women the credit. Nope, you are not doing this” says Kristen as if announcing a verdict. After 20 minutes of  incessant assurance that I am not that busy , Kristen gives in to the condition that me and Abhay have our dinner at her place until my husband arrives from his ‘business visit’ which I readily agree to . After all, she is unaware that my husband is not coming back, not in a week or month. 

In fact, he is never coming back.

“No eating ice cream or any other cold eatable” I tell Abhay as I comb his hair.

“You know right you catch cold when you do so?” Abhay looks at me with utter boredom on his face.

“Mom, how many times are you going to tell me the same thing. Take a Chill Pill.”

“Where did you learn to say that?” I say amused. “Anyways, Moms cannot take so called chill pills while their babies are away from them.” I give Abhay a tight hug and plant a kiss on his forehead. He grins ear to ear.

“Be a good boy. I will miss you.” Just then, the doorbell rings.

“Mom, Daddy is here!” 

Sameer stands at the door looking as handsome as always. He is wearing a white shirt and a denim jacket. As far as I remember, jackets have always been his favorite. I don’t know if he still has the jacket I gifted him on his birthday. Whenever he comes, he always has his sunglasses on, presumably to avoid any eye contact with me. We both stand there, looking at each other in pin drop silence, neither of us making the first effort to talk. Each time I decide that the suffering ends, I go back to square one when I see him. Even after two months of our divorce I find it difficult to accept that we are no longer married, that my perfect fairytale has ended. The only thing I conquered was not letting my emotions show on my face so that nobody knows of the inner turmoil, which sends the pieces of my broken heart flying in all possible directions.

“Abhay..” says Sameer finally disturbing the uncomfortable stillness between us. I don’t let him finish the sentence and step aside. He looks at me for a brief moment and enters in without saying another word. Abhay gives out a happy squeak and runs straight into his arms as Sameer lifts him high up in the air and he continues to laugh..

“Ready for the park my Champ?” asks Sameer.

“Yeahhhhh” screams Abhay as he claps his little hands in excitement. 

“Abhay, I have put your water bottle in your bag. Don’t drink water from anywhere else. Also, come back soon, you have your school tomorrow.”

“Ya ya Mom, I remember. Why don’t you come with us to the park? Rohan was telling me that they take less money if you visit them with your family!” 

A wide smile clouds mine and Sameer’s face, we are surely proud parents of a very smart kid. Regardless of this, I feel as though a dagger has been pierced through my heart.

This little boy has no idea that he doesn’t have a proper family, his father didn’t love his mother. Only if I had tried harder, only if I had  been successful in keeping Sameer with me, today it would have been all three of us going to the park.

“Come on Mom! Daddy tell her to come with us, Pleaaseeeee” Abhay tells Sameer pleadingly. Sameer looks in my direction.

“No Abhay. Mom has a lot of work to do. Also, I am not as brave as you and so scared of roller coasters.”

“Okay Mom. Dad let’s go, Mom is a not strong enough to sit in a roller coaster” says Abhay grinning.

“Yes my love, let’s go.” With Abhay still in his arms, Sameer disappears without giving me a parting look. I watch through the window as both of them leave in the car. Abhay wasn’t at fault at what happened between his parents, Abhay isn’t wrong for requesting a family outing. I am the one who is accountable for him growing up without a father. 

Are you seriously wearing this for the Office party? Nisha I had told you to wear something western, all the guests from US are going to be there. It isn’t a place for traditions please.

“Why don’t you understand? In today’s world a number of skills are vital for success.”

“Skills?  What skills? Sameer he is just four years old and you are pushing him in the rat race now itself ?”

“I am doing what is best for Abhay, Nisha.”

“No, you are putting the weight of your ambitions on him.”

“Is it? What the hell do you understand about ambition? Have you ever done anything remotely ambitious in your life?”

“Sameer how could you? You promised Abhay that you will attend his annual function. He refused to go on stage until you arrived.”

“I was about to leave when an urgent meeting was called in the office. We cracked a big deal you know.”

“All those deals are big, and what about Abhay’s feelings?”

“Nisha please don’t overreact. It was just a stupid annual function, nothing else.”

“Dare you call it stupid Sameer. Our son was on the stage for the very first time but why am I telling you all this. You don’t even do a single thing unless it brings you profit.”

“You have always had a problem with my work Nisha. I have big dreams and goals and it isn’t only for me, even you and Abhay are going to reap the benefits of my hard work.”

“Abhay cried until he slept Sameer. I hope you understand that like your career, your family is not a part of your business deal.”

Nisha, I have thought a lot about this. See, my biggest expectation from my wife was that she should be supportive of my ambition, this is the very thing that you’re not. I can’t live with a person who keeps nagging me day and night regarding my career. Hence, in the best interest of you and me is that we peacefully part our ways. My lawyer will soon be done with the arrangements of papers of the divorce with mutual consent. Don’t worry, I have made the provisions for the alimony. Just don’t blame yourself, you haven’t done anything wrong. I did not realize I won’t be compatible with a housewife. I can’t be the ‘stay at home dad’ you want me to be. Goodbye, Nisha.

And then he left.

Sameer so casually spoke those words, as if they don’t at all carry the meaning they are supposed to. I wish I could tell Sameer what I advised was just for Abhay, I never believed children need anything more that attention to feel secure. It was essential for him to play an active role in Abhay’s life, maybe I pushed him a little too far. I wanted him to become something he never was, a good family man, I expected him to give Abhay the same importance but never asked him to become a stay at home dad, something that he accused me of wanting. After all, he was a man and he was the one who was surmised to be ambitious and career minded, at least according to what I was taught. My father was the sole bread earner and my mother an excellent housewife. As a child, I reminisce not being very emotionally attached to my father as he was constantly out of the house at work. When I saw Abhay’s crestfallen face after Sameer’s failure to arrive at his annual function, I was forced to reconsider my earlier notions. This made me almost bug Sameer to spend more time at home, an insane request that instantly blew him off. My tears don’t even cease for a moment as I think all this. God, those incidents still tear my soul apart, they are as good as yesterday to me. I have to keep standing solid for my son but I know I am getting crushed under the weight of my broken marriage. It feels surreal when it’s only your body moving in time, not you as a whole. It feels as if I would never be able to decipher how to move on or allow my wounds to heal.

Kristen’s courage after David’s death is truly applaudable. I wonder how she did something I find unachievable.

Oh no ! I slap my forehead. I absolutely forgot about the commitment I gave to Kristen of assisting her with the apartment. I quickly send her a text that I would be there in 20 minutes.

Hopefully, this will help calming the voice in my head down.

Next one week proves to exceedingly busy for me. Juggling between my housework and helping Kristen results in complete exhaustion by the end of day. She keeps repeating that I give it up, but I am way too determined for that. She had discarded more than half or her things that belonged to hers and David’s house, the reason being she wanted her past to reflect at her new present as minimally as possible. This precisely meant we needed new curtains, carpet, sofa covers as well as bedsheets. Both of us were struggling with new beginnings, but she was far better at it than me. Confused as hell, we make a list enumerating all the pieces that were required to accomplish the puzzle of Kristen’s ‘Perfect Paradise’, this is what she calls it as we have a hearty laugh. Over the next fourteen days, we shop like crazy striking one after other items on our list. It gives us a strange sense of achievement but the most daunting task is yet to be done, putting all these puzzle pieces in their rightful places. We begin the process of embellishing the house right after we are done buying things. I request Kristen to let me do most of the work but she is an overflowing bundle of energy, much to my astonishment. 

“Seriously Kristen. I am unsure even if I will be able to have my morning work with that zest when I’m your age” I comment as she stands up on the stool putting new curtains on the rod.

“Nisha, how many times have I told you not to make me feel old? I don’t hate anything more than that” replies Kristen with a grumpy face. I hold her stool to ensure that the old lady does not topple off.

“You could have let me do this job, this is dangerous for you. Arguing with you is equivalent of banging your head on the wall. Hats off to David for bearing with you all these years.”

Kristen chuckles but very leniently ignores my words of caution. Our grinding for days at length eventually manifests into one of the most beautiful and cozy apartments I have ever seen. 

“I am so grateful to you Nisha, you are such a sweetheart!” says Kristen giving me a warm hug. We decide to organize the party on the coming Sunday, 27th of January. As Kristen immediately launches off to make extravagant arrangements, I am relieved this is not one of Sameer’s Sundays. On the day of the party,  I scan my closet with the intention of actually dolling up, first time in months. Sameer didn’t like me wearing ethnic, hence I purposely pick a saree. It’s a classic solid black one, with gold embroidery. Dangling gold earrings and bangles will be the best accessories to go with it. I wear my hair in a bun and even apply some makeup. Looking at my reflection, I realize  I am quite satisfied with my demeanour. After all, this saree is one of my favourites for a good reason. I decide to pick up a bouquet of red roses for Kristen.

“David had got me a very similar one on our very first anniversary! Those were the days when roses were given after marriage .I loved it so much he unmistakably brought it every year henceforth!” says Kristen as I give her the bouquet.

I am not the most social person but the party turns out to be very enjoyable.  Just like Kristen herself, her friends are lively and happy go lucky. Abhay groans as there are no children present but thankfully doesn’t throw any tantrums. The guests leave at about 11 PM. With Abhay already asleep, I stay back to help Kristen wrap up everything. After an hour of work, I crash on the sofa as Kristen treats me with her cup of usual, strong coffee. My eyes fall on a framed picture of a young man in his mid twenties hangs on the wall. He is looking at the camera, saluting and is clad in an army uniform. I am utterly confused how I didn’t pay attention earlier.

“Kristen, who is this young man in the picture there?” I ask Kristen as she serves me coffee.

“He is my only child, Regan” she replies. I am extremely surprised at this revelation and look at the picture again. Yes, the same hazel eyes and straight nose, he is indeed her son.

“Really, looks like he is in the army. Anyways, where is he stationed?” I ask taking a sip of my coffee, feeling guilty for my wrong assumption of Kristen being childless.

She went on and on about David but never mentioned her only son. 

There is a distinctive change in her expressions, she now looks agitated and even a little sad. I wonder to myself if I have asked the wrong question.

There is a long pause. Kristen is now looking down at her cup. “He was last stationed at Uri before getting martyred in the Uri attacks on 18th September 2016” she says, her voice almost inaudible.

Each and every muscle in my body freezes, I can really feel consciousness leaving me right now, so much so that I barely move after I drop the cup, spilling hot coffee on Kristen’s brand new carpet.

“Jesus, Nisha are you okay?” Kristen is already on her feet. Her words fall on my ears, but I can’t comprehend them. My eyes are riveted to her, I am bewildered beyond measure. She kneels down by me with tears in her eyes. The only sound that is heard is my gasp. 

“Why…why..didn’t…you tell me?” 

Kristen looks at me the way she has never looked before, as if her eyes are on fire and she knew mysteries I definitely didn’t.

“Nisha, it is unfair of you to be asking this question when you yourself have kept all devastating secrets from me.”

That was it. It did cross my mind why she isn’t being nosy about Sameer just like everyone else, it’s because she already knows. She knew it when we first met.

And here I was an idiot thinking I have actually mastered keeping my grief to myself.

My throat goes dry and I am unable to catch a breath. It feels as if any warmth, any heat that ever existed inside my body is draining away . I begin to shiver from head to toe. Kristen holds my shaking frame in her embrace as I sob uncontrollably.

“I am so sorry…sorry…” she keeps whispering in my ear. “It was perfectly for you to not share something you didn’t want to, I am sorry that I hurt you.”

Hurt me? Is this woman insane or something?

A hundred thoughts race through my mind and none of them are even remotely related to me being hurt. The knowledge that this woman inhabits a mountain of grief and suffering behind her joyful face is enough for me to second guess every little thing I knew about her or about life itself by large. For days and days on length I sat there moping the abandonment I faced, that too from a man who didn’t think twice before deserting his family, his son. The son whom he gave birth to, his very own flesh and blood. And then there is this woman in front of me, who has endured the deaths of both her husband and her only child. 

The child who was killed by terrorists. She might have recovered his corpse in pieces or not at all. Forget about that, she didn’t even get a chance to look at her dead son’s face for a last time.

What makes her so worried that she hurt me? My anguish is not even a fraction of what she herself has gone through. Kristen too has started to cry now. I hug her tight, tighter than ever. 

I would certainly die if anything happens to Abhay.

This is the most unpleasant thought my mind has ever harboured. I wail loudly, my painful cries enough to wake up the entire residential society. I mentally curse myself for having this thought, I hate it. Kristen cups my face in her hands but doesn’t attempt to stop me. My lips quiver as I try apologizing for reminding her of the darkest days but she stops me by putting her arms around me. Neither of us realizes how much time has elapsed as we sit there together, crying. It is a misconception that only best things forge connection between people. No, not at all. Relationships formed on the foundation of pain are the strongest because they are raw and uninhabited. That was what exactly happened between me and Kristen.

When the dreadful storm inside us cools down, I tell her everything. I tell her how I had married just after graduation thinking that was what girls my age should do, how I made my family the first priority, even above my own self. I tell how I had followed all the rules I was taught and was an ‘ideal’ wife until I challenged Sameer’s beliefs. I am so naked in front of Kristen now, there is nothing left in me she doesn’t know. I confide in her how heavy and weak I feel as my mirage of a flawless fairytale has come crashing down. She listens without interrupting me even once. 

When I’m finished she says, “Do you know Nisha where we all go wrong?” I can’t put a finger on what she trying to say. 

“I’ll be back” says Kristen as she disappears inside. Moments later, she emerges from her bedroom carrying something in her right hand. 

“Will you please hold this for me?” 

I take the object in my palm and scrutinize it. It is a figurine of a girl beautifully dressed in a blue ball gown with her waist length hair cascading down in a very elegant way. It is a figurine of a Princess. But wait, she is nothing like a Princess you’ve already seen.

“What is so special about this little doll Nisha?” asks Kristen smiling.

“It looks like a Princess holding a sword.”

“Exactly. She is a Princess with a sword.” I can’t make sense out of her showing me this. 

“Cinderella lived in miserable circumstances until Prince Charming fell in love with her. The Sleeping Beauty was sound asleep until the fearless Prince, overcoming all the setbacks discovered this ethereally beautiful Princess and broke the curse with his kiss. Snow White hid in the forest with the dwarfs, fearing for her life as a murderous instinct took over her stepmother. The Queen’s attempt to finish Snow White backfired due to the Prince who arrived just in time and saved her life. Just rewind all other fairy tales too that you must have ever heard” says Kristen as she takes the figurine back from me.

“Do you see any pattern in all these fairy tales?” questions Kristen.

“I am sorry, but I haven’t given that much of a thought to it.”

There is a faint twinkle in her eyes. “No problem. Apart from possessing breath taking charm and beauty, these Princesses are also too fragile and delicate like a flower. And what about the Princes in these fairy tales?” continues Kristen as I am glued to her each and every word.

“Even those Princes are an embodiment of courage and ambition because they have to reach their Princesses and liberate them from every pain, every wound that has ever been inflicted upon them. And they have to do so come what may, or else the Princess doesn’t get to live at all.” Kristen caresses her little figurine.

“This is what we tell our girls, that all Princesses are beautiful as well as delicate, and they need to be this too. No matter what life throws at them, their Prince has got their back. He will come riding on a white horse in a shining armor and within a nick of time, all the difficulties and struggles will just disappear away. What we don’t tell them that the men they think are their Princes haven’t even been taught how to treat a woman right, if not anything else. We unknowingly teach them to keep waiting around until a man comes and tells you what to do, that becoming somebody’s Queen is the best a life can give. We teach them about flowers not finances. But the worst, the worst message that we convey is that you require constant validation, that you aren’t lovable unless you are loved by a man first.”

God, I am speechless. A single tear drop rolls down my cheek.

“I never liked this, how these fairy tales ended. There is no Happily Ever After in life Nisha, at each stage of your life you confront an array of troubles, it’s how to survive. Hence, I got this doll made. I can’t tell you how hilarious David and Regan found this, but I knew I wanted to do this. So, I gave this Princess a sword, because Princesses of today need to be respected, not rescued. Hold it, this doll is going to be yours today onwards.”

I return to my flat with my head constantly buzzing with today’s happenings. I almost run towards the bedroom where Abhay is having a deep sleep and lie down beside him. I stroke his hair which are all over his forehead. I had always blamed someone for whatever occurred in my life. Sometimes it was my parents, Sameer or my own self. But no, none of us was at fault here. Sameer was always a typical man and nurturing did not come naturally to him. He was a Prince who could only conquer, not love. He was a Prince who only knew how to save and not support the Princess. He was a Prince who could win battles, not foster children. It was his personality, his truth. I kiss Abhay making him stir in his sleep. This is when I make a decision, probably the most important one of my life. My son is not going to be a Prince. He will know that women don’t need just a house but a home. He will know love and respect along with career and money. He will know strength as well as sensitivity. He won’t be a Prince like his father, he will know that women need to be respected and not rescued and for a proof, he will always look up to his mother.

Present

Kristen had taught me the most priceless lesson but just like every good thing in my life, she left me too soon. The horrible memory of finding her unconscious in the kitchen just two weeks after the party will haunt me till my last breath. I remember rushing her to the hospital and spending anxious hours outside the operation theatre while she was undergoing a surgery. Doctors said she had suffered a mild heart attack. I can never forget that a day before she died, she relentlessly insisted that she wanted to see me despite her condition. I can never forget how heart breaking it was for me to watch her in that helpless state but that woman glowed even on her deathbed, as if being ecstatic about reuniting with her family. She had motioned me to come closer to her with her frail hands and was trying hard to say something to me. Though the speech wasn’t very clear to the doctors and the nurses, I precisely knew what she said.

Give the Princess her sword.

Kristen died on 14th February, Valentine’s day which is the Day of Love. We buried her alongside her family and had a proper funeral. After that, my life took many drastic turns. I applied for jobs at different places and after months of waiting bagged one. The salary is meager but it does cover up major expenses like groceries and house bills. This pandemic gave me the opportunity to work from home and it is a blessing as I could take care of Abhay too. The world around me is waking up to new beginnings, everybody is carrying a pandemic story within them, still I feel as though the tide has turned in the completely opposite direction for me. I have almost reached my destination, my heart is beating too fast. 

Yes, I am at the right address, this is the right place.

The security guard of the apartment complex greets me and I tell him the purpose of my visit as I sign the register. He lets me enter without further enquiries. I ascend the stairs and knock at the door of House Number 3 on first floor itself. I am caught off guard when a woman opens the door. For a moment I think I am at the wrong house, but then I see him standing behind casually sipping his tea. Colour drains off Sameer’s face as he catches my sight.

“May I know who are you and what do you want?” enquires the woman. Even if your story has ended, seeing the person you once loved to death with another person is pure agony. I stand there like a statue, this was not going according to the plan. Sameer hurriedly approaches me.

“Nisha? What on earth are you doing here? Didn’t I tell you to only reach out to me if there’s an emergency?”

The truth isn’t going to change for anything now, Sameer is my past as I am his. I have no right to interfere in his life anymore, reality being I didn’t have it earlier too. I compose myself and reply, “It is an emergency.”

“What? Is anything wrong with Abhay?” he asks clearly frightened.

“No no. Nothing can happen to Abhay with me there.” The woman isn’t getting a word of what we are saying but it matters the least to me. “Sameer I wanted to tell you that you don’t have to grant me any alimony henceforth.”

“You what??” Sameer looks as if he has been smacked right across the face.

“You don’t have to grant me any alimony henceforth” I repeat stressing each and every syllable.

“How are you going to manage without money Nisha? You aren’t even a working woman. Have you lost your mind?” Sameer asks annoyed. I can a experience anger bubbling inside me. At this moment, I loathe him.

“I didn’t come hear for you to tell me what I am and what I am not, I know it already. For your kind information, I earn my own money now, I have taken up a job.”

“What the hell?? When did this happen and why didn’t you inform me?” asks Sameer.

“We are no longer married Sameer hence it isn’t necessary to keep a tab on each other’s personal lives” I say as I give the woman a blazing look. He gets what I intend to say.

“It isn’t your personal life Nisha, it’s about my son. I can’t compromise on his future, he will forever remain Abhay Bansal.”

I feel wounded but I was expecting this. Sameer hasn’t changed at all. I fold my hands across my chest and say, “Yes, you are absolutely right. He will forever remain a Bansal, thanks to the patriarchal society. If you still think that paying his expenses and buying him toys is the only possible contribution you can give as a father, let me tell you Mr. Sameer Bansal that no amount of materialistic experiences will be able to fill the void you have left in Abhay’s life. A permanent void which was created when his father left, you can’t ever compensate for it even if you have all the wealth in the world” I say fighting tears as Sameer stands astounded. I see pain in his eyes, I don’t remember seeing it before.

“Don’t worry. Though my salary isn’t as much as your money, I will manage. I am thinking of selling my wedding jewellery if needed, anyhow it doesn’t hold any importance now” I say fighting my tears.

“Are you really doing this Nisha?” asks Sameer in a feeble voice.

“Sameer you made your choices and now I’m making mine. I can’t afford my son to turn out just like his father, he is my first priority and I want him to proudly say that his mother was a strong woman” Saying these words, I take out my wedding ring and throw it in the trash can outside the door as both Sameer and the woman watch silently.

“You’re his father and are always going to be. Just give me a prior notice whenever you want to meet him as I may not be at home now. Goodbye, Sameer.” It takes all my willpower to not turn around as I walk, but it was worth it. I look at the clear blue sky as I go back towards my house.

Kristen must be very happy as she watches over from the heaven. This Princess finally has a sword.

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