The girl was shivering. Her eyes were wide, her breaths rapid and shallow. She barely seemed to notice the old couple whose home she’d run to.
The old woman fetched her some water. The girl took a sip. Her grip on the mug was tight.
The girl’s voice was barely more than a whisper. “My relatives are after me, ajji. It’s only a week since amma‘s been gone. But they took her gold bangles. I heard them saying they have to get me married away. I don’t want be married. I want to study.”
The old couple sighed in unison. “Remind me what you’re studying, Shruti,” the old man asked the girl.
“First year pre-university, thatha. Can I please work for you? I can take up amma‘s job. I’d helped her out on weekends, hadn’t I? I can be a full-time maid now.”
The old man didn’t answer her. He signalled to his wife and the two went into their room. They discussed something in hushed voices. The girl waited, puzzled.
The couple came back into the living room and sat beside the girl. The woman surveyed the girl. “We don’t want you to work, Shruti. We will fund your education, instead. At least until you complete your second year. And you can live with us, until you’re old enough to work. Okay?”
Shruti blinked. “I…” A few moments later, she fell at the couple’s feet.
One year, three months later…
His rheumatoid knees were reluctant as ever, but he had to open the door. The bell ring was incessant; the switch was probably stuck.
He idly glanced at his wife’s photograph in the living room on the way. He missed her.
Just before he got to the door, the ringing stopped. But his hearing aid was still indignant. Groaning and frowning, he opened the door.
Shruti stood there, grinning from ear to ear, and holding what looked like a box of sweets. “Hi, thatha!”
His furrowed brows eased when he saw it was Shruti. Not some naughty kids from the apartment trying to annoy him. He walked back to the nearest sofa and sat down. “Are those sweets? What’s special?”
Shruti closed the door behind her and removed her slippers. She walked into the living room, bobbing up and down on the edge of her toes, still smiling. She dug into her bag and pulled out some papers.
“Thatha, this is for you.” She handed the papers to him.
Thatha squinted at the papers through his glasses. The documents bore Shruti’s college logo and seal. His eyes were then drawn to the part with bold font.
“Dear Ms Shruti M,
You are hereby expected to join as Lab Assistant–Chemistry Department on January 2, 2018.”
The rest didn’t matter. He swallowed; there was a lump in his throat. He then motioned to Shruti. As she bent closer, her thatha put his palm on her head and blessed her. “Ajji would have been proud of you.”
Shruti looked up. Her own eyes were glistening. “Thank you.”