“When will dad come back?”
My five year old son, Ketan, sobbed seeing his father leaving with a suitcase.
My husband, Mukesh, travelled to Ratlam once in a month for a week. The exquisite zari sarees and dress materials of Ratlam fetched a good price back in Ahmedabad, where in Mukesh ran a textile business from home.
Generally Mukesh would be careful not to let the child know that he was leaving.
I would then spin stories to cheer up the kid who was saddened by his father’s absence.
“Your dad has gone to get toys for you,” I would say, knowing well that Mukesh always bought something for him.
It was not that Ahmedabad had a dearth of toys but it was a novelty to the kid when bought from elsewhere.
Ketan would eagerly look forward to his father’s return.
Today I pacified the sobbing child with similar words.
Mukesh kept turning back feeling guilty for being the cause of this outburst.
“I should have left without his knowledge,” he said.
I waved to him indicating to take it easy.
He left and I got busy telling Ketan about how his father had gone to pick the toy aeroplane he had asked for.
The child was thrilled.
Five days later, Mukesh called to inform that he would be returning the following day.
He had bought the aeroplane for Ketan.
The boy’s eyes sparkled with excitement on hearing this.
He kept asking about his dad’s time of arrival.
It was the last Wednesday of February 2002. Mukesh had said that he would be boarding the train from Ratlam a little after midnight and was expected to come home in the morning.
” Dad will be back home by 9.” I assured my son. His immediate response was, “I won’t go to school tomorrow.” Stroking his auburn hair, I nodded giving my consent.
While the child was still sleeping with a contented smile on his face at about 8.10 in the morning an earth shattering news was conveyed.
The Sabarmati express, which Mukesh had boarded from Ratlam, that was running late, had been set afire at Godhra junction, by a mob.
Innocent people travelling in the train perished, leaving behind moaning kith and kin.
The metal locket and chain around my husband’s neck had stubbornly fought the wrath of the fire, helping me in recognizing the half charred body.
In a burnt bag that Mukesh had closely held, was a partly damaged toy aeroplane.
The badly mutilated body; that was handed over to me the following day, was in no state to be brought home.
Ketan watched with fear as relatives swarmed in and wailed.
He felt bewildered as there was no sign of his dad who was expected to come the previous day itself.
The frightened child was all the more shattered to see his ever vivacious mother in tears. Coming to me, he cuddled in my arms and asked,
“When will dad come back?”.
Photo By: Tadeusz Lakota
This is an entry for Five00-7, a writing event hosted by ArtoonsInn. Check out the event prompt and guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/five00-7/