Fulki was staring at the rustling leaves of the tree outside her window. A couple of small sparrows were tweeting and playing with each other. They seemed so happy, so carefree. Like she was. Once upon a time; a long, long time back.
The door to her room opened and her mother’s husband entered. She saw a gift-wrapped box in his hands and looked away. She didn’t want to touch that but she didn’t know how to refuse. He had always been nice to her despite of her resentment. Maybe she could ignore the gift and make everyone forget about it?
She felt the bed dip beside her but he didn’t speak anything. He was looking at the same pair of sparrows that she was. Few minutes passed away but neither was ready to talk; it was like both of them were afraid to open a can of worms.
Suddenly she couldn’t stand it anymore. Even though he wasn’t speaking anything, she felt crowded. Smothered.
“Is it a gift for me?” she asked him, uncoiling her folded legs and getting up from the bed.
Instead of replying, he just smiled, and that moment Fulki realized the futility of hiding her resentment.
“You know I don’t hate you.” Even though he hadn’t said anything, she wanted to defend herself.
Again, he just smiled – devoid of any irony or sarcasm. It was a smile full of tenderness. The same tenderness which invited Fulki to wrap herself around him and rest her head on his shoulder. She resisted; her dad used to say she was made of sterner stuff, and she will prove him right.
She was getting angry. What did he want from her? Her mother married him, wasn’t that enough for him?
“If you don’t have anything to say, I’d appreciate it if you could leave,” she said in a stony voice. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold herself back. A tsunami was inside here that could kill everyone, including her mother. She didn’t want that to happen.
When he got up and placed the box on the bed, she thought he was finally leaving. Although she was glad that he was leaving her alone, her heart cracked a bit. She wasn’t his real daughter; why would he care? He had his son, didn’t he?
Instead of leaving, he pulled her in his arms and started stroking her hair.
“You miss him too much?” he asked gruffly. There was no pity in his voice; only the knowledge of pain. Her pain.
A sob was caught in her throat. She couldn’t speak. With silent tears running down her face, she remained in his embrace. A lot was said without a single word being uttered. When her tears dried out and she started hiccupping, she pushed out of his arms and went to the table to fetch the glass of water.
“I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t take it out on you but sometimes I can’t help it.” She was too ashamed to look into his eyes. She was again staring at the tree but the sparrows were no longer there.
“You don’t need to be sorry. I understand. I know I can’t take your father’s place but I’d like you to be your friend. A friend on whom you can lean on when you are tired of fighting your demons alone.” His eyes were shinning with sincerity. Without saying anything, he too was expressing his vulnerability and that made her sad.
“I had such a friend in him too but he left me. Without thinking what will become of me. Can you promise you won’t leave me too?”
“I know he was your world but don’t you think you were his world too? Didn’t he return your love tenfold, if not more? He left only when he couldn’t stay back. His time was up. And I promise I won’t ever leave you. As long as I breathe, you can depend on me. Life doesn’t come with guarantees, only with promises. I intend to keep my promise.”
Fulki didn’t say anything. She continued to stare outside the window. A pigeon took the sparrows’ place and started poking around the leaves.
She went to him and kissed him on the cheek. “I will try…Dad.”