For a while, everything was normal.
Riyan didn’t bother me again. I was happy to not have his attention. He went back to being the cool stud he was and I went back to being the studious girl I was. The classes were boring but bearable. The situation at home was under control.
The only sore spot in the day was when the maid cleaned Kartik’s room with the kind of precision a paid servant never shows. For some reason, I felt as if the room kept getting…bare, as if it was being stripped of its possessions. Perhaps this is what stagnation does to things- it turns them into faint shadows of their former self.
One day, upon coming back from school. I found my mother sitting in the verandah. I knew it was because the balcony allowed her to watch me as I entered the building? At what time did she seat herself there? What if I was late one day for some reason? That would wreak havoc.
“Hi”, I muttered. The cleaning lady- a thin, absolutely unremarkable-looking woman- waited for me to get inside and then walked out, closing the door behind her. I locked it and sat down on the closest chair to take off my shoes.
My mother came into the room and pulled the sliding doors to the verandah shut.
“Swamiji called today”.
Swamiji was an astrologer who said all sorts of things to my mother. He mostly suggested I wore rings with certain stones to bring my good luck. Last year, my name had changed from ‘Arya’ to ‘Aria’ because he believed the ‘I’ would be harbinger of good fortune.
But my mother believed him and there was nothing I could do.
The thing was that a month before Kartik disappeared, Swamiji had asked him to wear a ring. He had predicted danger lay ahead. Since most of his predictions were useless, my father had been unwilling to buy the ring, but eventually he had given up from pressure from my mother. My mother still insisted the last time she saw Kartik, he didn’t have the ring on.
But I knew that Kartik only wore the ring in front of my mother. He always took it off before leaving the house. He thought the heavy, round stone looked outdated, sitting there on his hand, trying to change his destiny.
I sighed. There were a lot of things my parents didn’t know about Kartik.
“What did he say?”
“He said times aren’t safe. We must protect ourselves”.
That’s what he’s been saying for eleven months. “I’ll be careful”.
“I wish I could go to college with you everyday”. She said it as if she would do it the first chance she got.
You can’t keep stalling your life and mine over someone who might not return. It sounded cruel even to my own ears. I was supposed to be miserable, missing my brother so much it hurt. But now, my parents had become my concern. I wanted them acting like my parents again, instead of zombies.
I walked to the kitchen cabinet and drew out my mother’s pills. She had to take two everyday. I gave her one before I left for college and one after I got back. If I forgot, she didn’t take them at all. But she needed them for her depression. Without them, she sometimes started crying in the middle of lunch. It was painful to watch.
I poured out a glass of water from a jug on the table and handed her the pill. She put it in her mouth and pushed it behind her molars. “You know, you could really consider wearing that diamond”.
“What diamond?” I pushed the glass in her hand, urging her to swallow her pill with it.
“The one Swamiji said you should wear”.
“He also talked about making your name Aria Raghav Suri, He think a middle name would bring you luck”.
She didn’t change the subject for another few minutes. Then, the doorbell rang twice. My dad was here. I let them settle in the living room in their own discussion. I was tired.