Praveena hardly slept that night. Her heart felt heavy; a pain she could neither understand nor relieve herself of. She lay back on her bed, staring at the clean ceiling fan.
‘What’s the problem with Pa?’ her inner voice asked, indignant, ‘how could he behave like that?’ Rage pulsed in her veins, but at the same time, she felt sad her father had been so rash with her. In all these years, he had always been the tolerant and ever-supportive father other people envied. And that made it all the more difficult for Praveena to accept his sudden change.
She wondered about her plan. It wasn’t a bad one as far as she could think. In fact, she told herself, it was a good decision; a way of helping others. Why then, didn’t her father want her to proceed? It confused her, and her inner mind offered an explanation: ‘“I don’t want you associating with anymore drug addicts.” Maybe he was worried about your future’.
‘Perhaps,’ Praveena agreed, ‘but that’s no reason to say something like that’ she thought bitterly. She was disappointed with her father’s untimely change. She planned to confront him again the next day. She was determined to carry out her plans, and she would do it with her father’s consent.
When Praveena came down for breakfast the next day, her father sat in the couch, waiting. He was ready for work and was reading a local magazine, when he noted Praveena looked at him from the foot of the staircase. He smiled at her, it was a broad and friendly smile; the usual smile he always greeted her with.
“Hey, good morning!” he said as Praveena still stood staring at him. “I’ve got to go a little early today. Eat, and be safe. I’ll see you in the evening.” he said hurriedly, collecting his bag and motorcycle keys. “Bye darling,” he added as he made to shut the door behind him.
“Bye, Pa.” The door swung shut even before Praveena had finished her goodbye. She sat on the final stair and sighed. ‘That was odd,’ her inner voice observed. ‘looks like he avoided you.’
Praveena couldn’t think of it that way, but she knew her inner voice had a point. Kamal had acted like the last night’s events hadn’t happened at all. But the way he did it made Praveena suspect he was avoiding confrontation purposefully.
She sat there for a few minutes, mulling over her father’s peculiar behaviour until her stomach growled. Doubting if there would be any breakfast at all, Praveena went over to the dining room to find bread and peanut butter sandwiches by the toaster on the table. Surprised by her father’s unconditional love for her, she made toast, and appreciated the bread after a long time.
That evening, Kamal arrived later than usual. When he pushed the doorknob inward and entered the threshold, he saw Praveena sleeping on the couch an open book lying over her face. He tiptoed up to her, and took the book away from her face.
Sensing sudden movement, Praveena awoke with a jolt. “Oh,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Pa! You’re back.” she said as she sat up to regain her breath. Kamal placed the book on the table and sat next to her on the couch.
“Did you have something for dinner?” he inquired in a softly curious voice.
Praveena shook her head. “I made dinner,” she yawned. “go freshen up, we’ll eat.”
Kamal obeyed without protest. They sat for dinner and Praveena filled her father’s plate. They ate in silence. Praveena expected him to say something, but when he didn’t, she spoke. “Thanks, Pa.” she said. Judging by his look, Praveena could tell she had confused him.
“What for?” he asked surprised.
“For the sandwiches this morning” Praveena replied. Kamal nodded in acknowledgment, but said nothing.
Kamal looked up from his plate.
“Pa – about the organiza – ” Praveena began slowly, but Kamal overrode her.
“My word is final, Praveena. Your fancies are going too far and they are off reality.” He said it a little lightly, but the note of finality, that Praveena had recently became familiar, with was still there.
“They’re not off reality, Pa.” It irritated her that her father hadn’t understood her, but unable to express her annoyance at him, she pleaded instead.
“Yes they are, Praveena.” Kamal replied. His dinner lay forgotten and so was Praveena’s. “You fancy too much. That day, you told me you needed some time before marriage. I said nothing, hoping you would agree when Kameela tried to persuade you.”
Praveena’s eyes widened in horror. Her heart couldn’t believe what the mind registered. They were in conflict. Kamal was still speaking, “but you told her the same thing.” he sighed. “I understand, sometimes it’s alright to say what you feel, but you could have at least given her some respect.”
‘I did respect her!’ Praveena wanted to scream, but Kamal didn’t seem to expect a response. He went on, his voice heavy, “Kameela’s blaming me because you don’t even address her as ‘aunt’. She’s accusing me of not raising you properly.” Kamal sighed, looking at Praveena. She was lost for words. When she had spoken with aunt Kameela, she hadn’t felt like addressing her formally. She hadn’t known a simple matter like that would hurt her father so much. She sat with tears blurring her vision.
“What can I tell her, Praveena? Should I agree with her that I’ve given you too much freedom?” he took Praveena’s hand in his, “You are old enough to get married Praveena, but what you wish to do is help addicts recover. Bad idea, my darling.” He gently patted her arm, and she knew he had locked her. She needed to find a way through this emotional barrier before it became too late. ‘But how?’