It was October end. His face was pale , paler than the winter’s sun. His hair was shabby and he had more than a week’s growth of beard upon his chin. Just at a glance one may conclude he must not have taken bath for days. He must not have seen himself in mirror or maybe he didn’t care about his looks. He was tired, but there was no sign of tiredness .One would easily make this out as he had the features of a fighter, a protector ,a defender…because he was a soldier. Though his broad shoulders were that of a man , there was something young about him– he was young at heart ,young at age. His eyes had a innocence , they were restless ,his eyes seeked answers….answers to questions not answered .His eyes were restless to see his beloved, his wife, whom he had not seen for three years.
For three years writing letters to his wife was the most difficult thing .When he used to put his pen to paper, it opened up emotions inside of him that he had locked down hard in order to be able to do his job . A job which has no space for distraction . A job where one needs to be focused and disciplined . Still every weekend from his busy schedule he sacrifices a little time for this piece of paper and pen. With that small piece of paper he finds it difficult to make out from where to begin and where to end. His hands which are accustomed to hold heavy guns and rifles , finds it difficult to have the grip of something as light as a pen. Writing letters made him softer , more vulnerable but at the same time it was all that kept him going – to read his crumpled mud –stained correspondence ,to keep him more focused, to remind him what he was fighting for. It was hard for him to make out what to write as he didn’t want to scare her. Every weekend when he sits with this tiny piece of paper and pen, a wave of memories surges with the power of an ocean and he is engulfed in grief, the grief which makes him cry while writing. Tears run down his face but he didn’t try to hide or wipe them out. He didn’t look away ,he didn’t bury his face because he knew beside him were the people shedding the same tears , people who couldn’t make it home to parents, spouses and children . But then he thinks if staying away from each other is difficult for him, it is even more difficult for his wife. If he is suffering from physical injury ,she is suffering from emotional injury. If he is defending the country, she is fighting her loneliness. At least here he has others of his kind but back at home she has no shoulder to cry on . Still such courageous and strong is she that sometimes he find it difficult to believe that she is the same girl he fell in love with. So encouraging are the words in her letters that even his eyes are discouraged to shed tears. So at the end when he was reluctant to write large words, he kept the letter brief and he ended it with a description of the battlefield at sundown that he hoped was poetic .
It was not even a year after his marriage, when he was called , called to do his duty ,to serve his country. The duration was not mentioned – it could be three months, three years, five years or even more. Life of a soldier is hard but it was even harder for her to accept a soldier as a husband, to accept someone who doesn’t have any guarantee of life . But still when she had come to the railway station to bid him goodbye her eyes had no tears but pride, pride to be a soldier’s wife. Before parting he promised her his “LIFE” and she a “GIFT” .
Today sitting in the train compartment he could clearly remember the time spent in the battlefield. The times when there was a steady exchange of letters, sometimes even two in a week. Then slowly and gradually the letters he got went on decreasing. First it was two in a week, then two in a month and now hardly one in three months. He was disturbed and grew a bit suspicious about this long gap between letters. What could have been the reason of her being so irregular in sending letters? Is she not well? Is she very busy doing her household chores? But these are not valid reasons one would give for not being able to write even one letter in three months. Young and beautiful that she was, has she taken a fancy to someone else? Has this loneliness forced her to take someone else’s company ? Is she no more interested in him? He has kept his promise, now it’s her turn. Did she forget about her promise? Her “GIFT” ? Even after asking repeatedly why she never mentions anything about the gift in her letters? Why wasn’t there any feeling of excitement when he wrote that he is finally returning home after three years? His each thought was question and question a doubt. When he finally reached the station, he thought of taking a taxi to home. Still he could not stop thinking about “ THE GIFT ”. The closer he was to home, the more suspicious he was getting. Now even a second seemed so long, he was losing patience. What would be the gift? What if she gifts him freedom – freedom from all responsibilities, freedom from marriage – divorce. But it is not a gift, at least not for him. But then for her it may be , freedom from loneliness ,freedom to start a new life. He never knew what must have happened in the last three years. The sudden jerk of the taxi brought him back to reality – his home.
The front gate was half opened…….or was it half closed ? The air was a bit cooler with a tincture of earthiness which reminded him of the cozy evenings and the warm soups they used to have together three years ago before he left. The atmosphere was so quiet or rather it appeared to him so quiet that he could even hear the crunch of leaves under his feet. The entrance door of the house was opened. On getting closer he noticed that it is closed. His eyes perhaps were seeing the image fixed by his mind. He took a deep breathe and knocked the door. It was mid autumn but still he was sweating. There was no answer. He knocked again. After a few seconds, he could hear a faint sound of anklets – the pitch gradually increasing…….and then she opened the door. She could not believe at first. There were tears in her eyes. She didn’t speak a word but his questions got answered. Breaking the silence he asked ,”why didn’t you answer any of my letters?” with a gentle smile she says –“Because I wanted you to be focused.” One can fake words but one cannot fake those eyes that tell the truth.
“And what about my………”
“Your gift……” –she interrupts , then she led her way to the bedroom and he followed with eyes closed. He sat on a chair extending his hands for the gift and ……..then he felt the warmth of two little hands, those hands stole his heart. The warm breathe ticked his ears. It was the depth of autumn and he could feel an invincible spring. He could no more hold his patience and opened his eyes and there stood in front of him a tiny angel, her smile was magical , that could make one forget all sorrow. Her eyes were like forest pools that one wouldn’t get tired of gazing at. He just kept admiring ….admiring at the wonderful and divine creation of nature. A part he had left behind and she had nurtured. She was their two year old daughter. For him it was a gift beyond gifts.
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