It had been a long and tiring day for Sneha, and as she stepped in the market, she almost hated the fact that she lived alone and had to buy all the groceries by herself.
“Maybe I should try one of those apps, who knows, they might actually deliver fresh vegetables.”
These small issues aside, Sneha had loved every moment of the three months that she had spent in this small town. After years of enduring a corporate culture in what was more of a self-imposed exile than an independent life, she had saved enough to buy a small house in the hill station, just the way she had always wanted.
As she stood in the ATM line waiting patiently for her turn, the soothing music of little anklets caught her ears. She turned around to find a little angel, hardly three years of age, dressed in the prettiest pink frock that Sneha had ever seen. The child obviously belonged to a well-to-do family; and her shoes and the headband suggested the same.
Sneha looked around to find the parents of the lost child, while keeping an eye on her. She knew that it was only a matter of time before she spots at least one of the parents; the fear of losing your child distinctively shows on your face.
Letting go of her turn every time she stood first in the ATM line, Sneha wondered if she should take the baby and look for her family before someone did the same with bad intentions. It was starting to get darker and the child was bored of standing near the same toyshop.
“If only she cries, maybe her parents would realize that she is missing,” Sneha thought and went to the baby. Picking her up, she immediately felt a sense of belonging and couldn’t stop herself from hugging her. To her amazement though, the baby did the same and in doing so, entangled her chain with Sneha’s wet hair that she had let loose.
“Oops, look what you did,” Sneha playfully teased her.
While untangling her hair from the chain, she realized that the chain wore a photo pendant. Even if she would not have been looking for the lost child’s parents, she would have had a hard time convincing herself to not open the locket.
After buying two scoops of her favorite flavor of ice cream that even the child seemed to enjoy a lot, she opened the locket, only to get petrified by what she saw inside.
She stood shocked, holding the pendant in her hand from which she, albeit a bit young, was smiling at herself. Finding the parents of this kid was no more just a social responsibility.
She started to look around the market frantically, hopeful that she would know why the unknown girl was wearing her photo around her neck.
However, it was getting dark and other than a few people who looked like tourists, the market was almost empty.
“Have you seen the parents of this kid?” She enquired everyone, but getting a helpless no in response, she decided to reach the police station.
However, something stopped her from stepping on the staircase of the police station, and she backed off, afraid of the questions that her photo could raise. What would she tell the officers, that this girl who is lost in this small town has a locket that carries Sneha’s photo? She could definitely not convince anyone that she didn’t know who the girl was, and therefore she chose to take the girl to her home unless she found a solution to this weird, uncalled for problem.
As Sneha drove the kid to her home, who had told that her name was Pari, she noticed that Pari had not cried even once and looked happy and comfortable in her company. Feeling strange, she decided to ask her parents name, and where did she come from, but to no avail.
Strangely enough, seeing the kid sleeping peacefully in her bed, Sneha could only think of her own younger self. How she was raised in all the comforts of the world, and grew up to be a stubborn and selfish girl, full of hatred for her own people.
It was going to be a long night, filled with introspection.
The morning sun brought with it a new hope, as Sneha decided to take Pari’s locket off and visit the police station to look for any complaints about a missing child. She readied Pari, made her hair, tied her shoes and gave her a cup of warm chocolate milk, her own favorite.
As she took the steps that led her to the police station, she felt a strange, happy emotion, like something good was about to happen. God knows why, but it felt like Sneha was going home after a long wait.
“Excuse me officer, I found this kid in the market last night, can you please look for a complaint that her parents might have lodged?”
“Why didn’t you bring her to us last night itself?”
“It was very late in the night when I found her, and I thought that it would be appropriate if she spent the night in my home rather than the bench at the police station.”
“You thought well for her, but the poor kid’s father has been here all night long. His wait could have ended had you thought of it.”
“Her father is here? Oh, thank God. I am sorry officer, I did what I thought was best for her.”
“It’s okay, he has stepped in to freshen up, would be here anytime soon. You can wait for him at that bench, poor guy sat crying on it the whole night, didn’t sleep for a single second.
As Sneha sat on the bench, a different kind of fear was engrossing her, and yet she couldn’t be any happier.
Pari ran from Sneha to her father, who was by now on his knees, waiting to take his little angel back in his arms, the safest place for her.
“Pari, where did you go beta? You know how much Papa missed you? I would never leave your hand again, Papa is so sorry my doll.”
“Mr. Ajay. Please sign here so that we can close this complaint, and you can thank this lady for taking good care of your child.”
Ajay looked up to find Sneha, her eyes welled up seeing the emotional reunion.
“She is a sweet kid, mixes well with strangers. You should take better care of her.”
“I don’t have words to thank you ma’am. Had you not been so kind, who knows what could have happened to my doll.”
As Sneha prepared herself to ask Ajay about the locket, she realized that he had started to identify her, maybe from the locket. She stopped him as he was about to say something and signaled him to meet her outside. A private matter for them, she didn’t want the officer to get to know of it.
“You are the same lady, right? Pari has your photo in her locket. Who are you, how did she get this locket?”
“You are her father, I should ask you this question.”
“I adopted this angel ma’am, she came into my life just 6 months back, and the locket was there with her. I chose not to remove her to honor whoever wished for her to wear this, maybe her parents who died in a car crash a year back. I always thought that it was her mother’s photo, but…”
The car crash, the car crash that killed her sister and her husband, the car crash that killed her family and her best friend, her blood and her love, everything that she had to call her own.
Sneha looked at Pari, her sister’s daughter from the man that she had loved all her life, and knew why Pari never felt like a stranger in the first place.
Her sister, who had raised her as her own, loved her more than her parents could or did when they were alive, who had raised her to be an independent woman, who had given her all the good habits that she was proud of, albeit did one mistake, falling in love with the same man as her, and going ahead to marry him.
Deep down, Sneha knew that it was her fault, she had never told either Seema or Abhishek about the love she had in his heart for him, ever since she had known him as his elder sister’s best friend. She had never expressed her desire to marry him, make a home, a family with him, and when Seema went ahead and did the same, she had never been able to forgive her.
She had the chance of correcting her mistake, she had her sister’s daughter, whom she had found by luck, and the same luck had given her the chance to raise her as her own, love her more than her parents could or did when they were alive, make her an independent woman, and give her all the good habits that she could be proud of, but… at what cost?
She took out the locket from her bag and gave it to Ajay who was confused, unbeknownst to the whirlpool of emotions that Sneha was going through.
“Maybe it’s someone who just looks like me,” she said.
“The resemblance is uncanny though. Are you sure that she isn’t your relative somehow?”
Sneha took a deep breath, letting go of every desire she has had in the past few minutes to repent for her mistakes.
“I wish,” she said as she knelt down and hugged Pari for one last time, before handing her over to the man who seemed to love her more than anyone else and didn’t deserve to lose her to the woman who was her family just out of blood.
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