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23rd October 2:00 PM
Standing in front of the dresser mirror, Priya's mother, Mrs. Sumitra Bedi, curled her sari around her and tucked its frills in her waist. She put the loose end of the sari on her shoulder. She rubbed jasmine talcum powder over her face and applied red lip gloss.
"Hi, Mum." Poonam entered, diverting Mrs. Bedi's attention away from her reflection in the mirror.
"Hi, dear," she said. "I know you're hungry. I've prepared cheese sandwiches for you. They're in the fridge." She corrected her sari frills near her waist.
"Where are you going?"
"To your grandmother's home," Mrs. Bedi said. "Would you like to join me?"
"How can you go there, Mum?" Poonam asked.
"It's all over now. I sometimes feel we lost Priya because of hating each other. Now, it's time for us to set right the broken relationships and move on."
"Did you forget the abuse your brother, Rahul, yelled at us when Priya got engaged to Nayan?"
"Yes, I still remember, but he behaved so angrily because he was hurt. He'd loved Priya and wanted to ask for her hand in marriage. I don't think he did anything wrong. You would've behaved in the same way if you were in his place."
"Don't you remember when he was drunk and abused Dad?"
"Let's not talk about the past," Sumitra grimaced. "Are you coming with me or not?"
"Um… no, Mum," said Poonam. "You can go. I don't want to see Rahul's face."
"But can you come for your grandmother's sake?"
"Yes, but not now," said Poonam.
Not wanting to force her anymore, Mrs. Bedi bade her goodbye and walked out of the room.
The chauffeur was waiting for her. He opened the rear door for Mrs. Bedi.
She sat, heaving a sigh of relief. Poonam had been behaving rather strangely these days. She had hated her parents ever since she got engaged to Chirag. Mrs. Bedi hadn't expected she would refuse meeting her grandmother.
It had been many days since Mrs. Bedi had visited her mother's place. She had often talked to her over the phone and enquired about her health. She used to meet her brother, Rahul, and her unmarried younger sister, Snehal, before Priya got engaged to Nayan.
They all had decided to unite Rahul with Priya. Mrs. Bedi had tried her best to convince her husband to agree to the alliance. She gave up when he told her he wouldn't see Priya married to Rahul as long as he was alive. Priya's decision to abide by her father's intention also made Mrs. Bedi not want to pursue the matter.
She looked through the window when the driver stopped in front of the traffic lights. The evening traffic was heavy. The red and yellow city buses stood beside her car with the fumes coming out of their exhaust pipes. The cars and motorbikes lined up behind the buses and waited for the signal to turn green. A flock of parakeets flew above the electric wire and they sat on a large banyan tree which stood beside the street.
The driver parked the car outside Rahul's residence and opened the rear side door. Mrs. Bedi stepped out and opened the main gate. The house had a large open area in which roses and bougainvillea were in full bloom. The smell of wet grass and soil filled the air. An Alsatian dog, which was secured to the porch railing, started barking.
Rahul opened the door and shouted at the dog to be quiet. He approached his sister. "Welcome." He smiled. He wore pale blue shorts and a red checkered shirt. He appeared rather young in his casual dress.
"Did you come early from work?" Mrs. Bedi asked.
He walked her towards the porch. "I'm not feeling well."
"What's wrong? Fever?"
"Yes," said Rahul. "Met with the doctor. Should be all right by tonight."
Mrs. Bedi entered the living room. Her mother, Usha Bhatt, was seated on the couch. She reduced the TV volume. "Sumitra. What a surprise!"
Mrs. Bedi hugged her mother. She sat on a couch. Her glance shifted towards a framed photograph of Priya. A sandalwood garland adorned it. Nausea coursed through Sumitra's stomach. She couldn't control her sob. She broke out, hiding her face in her mother's chest.
Her mother ran her hands over her head. "You need to steel yourself. Whatever happened has happened. Let's not live in the past."
Rahul stood in front of Sumitra. "Mum is correct."
Sumitra wiped her tears and straightened in her seat. She looked at Rahul. Though he stood upright, his face was ashen and he seemed to be scared. His eyes were wide as he saw a wild animal.
He broke eye contact with Sumitra and looked at the floor. He went back and sat on the wooden chair.
"Let me prepare coffee," Sumitra's mother said.
Sumitra continued to stare at Rahul. His face was stony. She had observed him even during the funeral; Rahul had remained impassive. Is there any reason for Rahul's behavior? He should've been more affected as he loved Priya more than anyone else.
Sumitra shook her head. She shouldn't interpret anything without proper evidence. The police had started the investigation and it was their responsibility to find the perpetrator.
Mrs. Usha Bhatt offered some coffee. She sat back in her seat.
Sumitra took a couple of sips in silence.
Sumitra's mother placed the cup on the table. She cleared her throat. "How is Shekar?"
"Doing well," said Sumitra. "He is busy with his business these days because of the wedding season."