Clutching her oversized bag, she let the afternoon crowd push her into the First Class Ladies compartment, gratefully accepting a seat as a kindly lady made some space for her.
The lady smiled at her, “It’s going to be an easy 30 minutes before we reach Churchgate. Care for some chikkis?” Fiona took one from the packet, the simple yet earthy sweet brought a sudden rush of emotions, and she struggled to control the tears that welled up.
Quickly brushing them away, she focused on the daily crossword that the lady next to her was solving from the tabloid. “Hmmm. What do you think Across 8 should be?” Fiona took the pencil and wrote it down for her.
At Churchgate, they both alighted, and Fiona hurriedly got into a taxi for Nariman Point.
It had been six months.
Fiona had landed the job at the swanky French boutique hotel. She felt a little suffocated put up at her married college friend’s place, and decided it was time she found one of her own. She pored over the Classifieds section finally zeroing in on a simple two liner that said ‘Working Girls Only, Paying Guests Wanted in Colaba.’ A quick phone call, and the maid who answered set up her appointment with ‘Madam’.
Post a hectic Monday at work, she landed up at the address. The door was opened by a prim looking maid. ‘Please wait, Madam will be here’.
An elegantly dressed lady, in her mid-fifties walked into the drawing room. They stared at each other, recollecting that short train journey to Churchgate. “Oh! It’s you!” she said, holding out her hand, “I’m Julia Nazareth.” Fiona shook her hand, and mentally crossed her fingers as she sat down for the usual ‘ínterview’.
She decided to tell the truth. And spoke slowly. “My name is Fiona Lewis. I am a widow. I am an American citizen, but decided to move back to India about a year ago. I lost my husband, and my only son in a car crash last year. My parents and in-laws, who were holidaying with us also died in the crash.” She paused, took a deep breath, and continued, her voice shaking slightly. “I was driving.”
The silence stretched between them.
Julia whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks, “Are you Stephanie and Kenneth’s daughter Fiona?”
Fiona looked up, startled. “Yes….do you …did you know my parents?”
It was Julia’s turn to be honest. “Fiona, I don’t know if your parents spoke to you. But Kenneth and Stephanie were contemplating a divorce. They meant to tell you in person when they visited you … it was because I … well, Kenneth and me ….”
Fiona said in a slow harsh whisper, “So it’s you then. The other woman who destroyed my parents’ happy marriage.” She got up and said coldly, “I guess we have nothing left to say to each other. Good Bye.”
Julia spoke in an even voice. “Please sit down, Fiona. I do not blame you for judging me. But please don’t leave without listening to what I have to say. I agree that what Kenneth and I did to Stephanie is wrong. God knows I still carry the burden of that guilt on my shoulders. Especially now since they are … Fiona, my child, look at the two of us. You and me. We are the ones left behind. To deal with loss, guilt, trying to bring some semblance of normalcy into this twisted toxic existence of our reality.
If this isn’t destiny, I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s the one chance God is giving me to make up for all the hurt and pain I have caused your family? Please don’t take it away from me, my child. Let me take care of you, I am old, I don’t have much time left. Please … ” she wept uncontrollably, her face in her hands.
Fiona sat back on the sofa, her mind in a turmoil. Should she forgive and stay? Should she walk away?
She thought of the past year, and couldn’t help wondering why the two women had been thrown together under such circumstances.
Maybe missed connections, and Fate’s attempt to reconnect them?
She knelt before Julia and put her arm gently around her shoulders. Both rocked silently, connected to each other by their own private hell of deep grief.