01 02 03 Reflections: Different Meanings 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Different Meanings


They were on cycles, both the city and the village woman, the former's heavy body, could now no longer balance itself on the tiny frame.
"I think we are just on time! Better speed up after the curve ahead. The lane is narrow, and they will be here any moment from now!"

Shraddha's words filled the fatigued city lady with renewed gusto. She paddled harder and now both friends were on the lane.

" They aren't here yet. Lets stop and catch some breath." Aditi decided, and stopped to savour the landscape. They were at the start of a familiar road that separated vast sunflower feilds on the right and the railway tracks, a few feet away on the left.

Soon, there was a sound of trinkling cycle bells at the distance. Both turned, delighted that they were finally here. 
"Hurry, mount your cycle. Now!", said Shraddha, scrambling to mount herself.

Fifteen or so girls from the nearby school were on their way home. Their blue & white uniforms, prominent from the distance.

It was time. They were close enough.
The women began to paddle hard, challenging the youngsters to compete. The girls, reciprocated, and began to paddle harder too. They had a headstart and so, the women were in the lead. The road being narrow, they were difficult to overtake. They knew they would win.

The women were the first to reach the end of the lane. They stopped then, victorious, completely out of breath, laughing. They waved at the girls who continued on their way, each girl smiling merrily, waving back.

When the girls were gone, the women parked their vehicles and settled on two tyres that lay abandoned by the railway tracks.

"Thank you Shraddha! It felt great to relive our after-school races after all these years!"
Shraddha smiled back at Aditi, still out of breath, unable to say anything.

The two of them, then, just sat there, panting. Silent and pensive.

Aditi's parents had lived in the city even before she was born. Her parents were ambitious, busy professionals, at the peak of their careers, who had no time to include a third member in the family. That was when her mother had found out that she was pregnant with Aditi. As soon as she was born, Aditi was packed away to this village, to live with her Grandparents.

Shraddha, a local, and Aditi grew up together, played together, went to the same school. They were inseparable. Or so they thought.

When she was 14, Aditi's parents took her back to the city with them. She did not look back ever since. 

Aditi grew up to be as ambitious and as successful as her parents. Now, 30 years later, she had a broken marriage and a bitter battle over the kids behind her. Her heavy drinking had caused her the loss of custody of her children aged 12 and 8. Suffering from severe depression, she took resort to drugs and even heavier drinking. Doctors warned that she would lose her life if she did not mend her ways.

Thats when she remembered her friend in the village. Shraddha would help bring her life back on track. She had all the money to spare, but what she needed was somebody to care.

So it was decided. Aditi was to visit Shraddha on the pretext of a holiday. But in reality, Aditi had planned to spend whatever remained of her life with Shraddha. Money would be taken care of.

The only problem was - How to bring up the issue with her? Could this be the time? Right now?

Shraddha had missed Aditi tremendously after she had left for the city. Inspite of being a bright student, she was made to leave studies at the age of 15. Her father had suffered due to a failed monsoon when she was 17 years old, and to settle a debt, he forced her into marrying a 54 year old widower.

Her husband turned out to be a terror. When he was drunk, which he was most of the time, he would physically and sexually abuse his young wife.

She was made responsible for the cows and was only allowed to enter the house when the husband needed a shag or when he was mad with fury and needed somebody to beat. She was spared no food. Living with cows, she soon learnt to feed on oilcakes meant for the cattle.

Shraddha grew weak and frail over the years. She had several miscarraiges. Yet her husband paid no attention. At the age of 34, when she was 2 months pregnant, her husband went missing. He was found dead a few days later. She lost her baby to starvation.

One by one, she began selling the little property that her husband owned to sustain herself. When that too was on the verge of depletion, she decided to bring books back in her life. Considered taboo, she hired a young tutor who would secretly visit her house to educate her.

The tutor brought back excitement to her life, in ways beyond books could. Their affair had lasted for five years until they were discovered a few weeks ago. The villagers had made Shraddha's life hell.

Then, one morning, her long lost friend, Aditi called from the city. She was coming over to stay for a few days.

That was when it occured to her. The only way out, was to move to another place. She would live with Aditi, even if it was as her maidservant. She would have a home to live, and being educated by now, she could try land a decent job in the city. All that was left to do was to convince her to take her along, somehow.

The only problem was - How to bring up the issue with her? Could this be the time? Right now?

A train honked. They had sat and watched trains like this all through their childhood.

But as they watched it pass today, the train had different meanings for each of them...

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