Kamal parked in front of the small brick house. “Are you sure this is the place?” he asked Praveena who sat in the front seat next to him, examining a piece of paper. “Yes, Pa” she said looking at the half open gate. “This is it.”
They got down from the car and, despite the open gate, Kamal rang the doorbell. A thin woman clad in a sari with her hair held back in an unravelling bun, appeared at the gate. “Who is it?” she asked Kamal irritably. Praveena stepped forward. “Are you Mrs Henry, Helen’s mother?” she asked.
“Yes,” the woman answered, a little uncertain. “But who are you?” she sounded confused, and Praveena knew Helen’s name was the reason.
“I’m Praveena, Helen’s art teacher at school. And this is my father,” she announced. “Can we speak to you, if you don’t mind?” she asked politely.
“Oh, sure.” the woman replied courteously and opened the gate widely to allow them inside. “Please come in, Helen’s told me a lot about you.” her smile had become warmer.
Praveena and Kamal followed the lady inside the house. “Please sit,” Mrs Henry offered, clearing away the toys from the chairs. “Sorry about that,” she said breathlessly “They are my son’s.”
“Never mind,” Praveena waved her hand away.
“Shall I get you something to drink? Coffee – ”
“Nothing, please.” Praveena said shaking her head, “won’t you sit down? We need to talk to you, and your husband.” She looked around for the man of the house.
“He’s not home at the moment,” Mrs Henry said, “Is it about Helen? Has she done – ?” Praveena cut her off with a shake of her head. “This isn’t about Helen,” she said sighing. “It’s about your husband.”
Mrs Henry glared at Praveena as if she were mad. Praveena explained, in detail, what Helen had told her in school that day.
As she finished, she noticed Mrs Henry’s eyes soften. “He doesn’t do it on purpose,” she said dutifully defending her husband. “He can’t help it. He has tried to drop the habit, but he can’t.” she shook her head in worry. “Helen doesn’t understand how much it pains him. Once he gets drunk, he forgets his family.” Praveena let her finish, she saw traces of tears in Mrs Henry’s eyes.
“Well, in that case,” Praveena sighed. “Why don’t you get help? Talk to a therapist and get your husband involved in rehab or an alcoholics organization. There are people who support those who want to give up addiction.” As Praveena spoke, her father watched in silence, unable to believe what he saw.
Praveena continued and Mrs Henry listened intently, “Encourage him to follow the therapist’s medications. Keep telling him he can do it, and one day, he will. Trust me.” she nodded.
Mrs Henry responded with a grateful look. “Thank you so, much. I’ll talk to him.”
Praveena nodded smiling. “Tell him to give it a try. For his kids, at least.”
Praveena yawned as they walked into the house. She wanted to fall back on the couch and sleep, but there was dinner to take care of. “Let’s have toast,” her father said reading her.
After dinner, both of them slumped on the couch. Praveena waited for her father to switch on the TV, but he didn’t. When she was about to do it, he stopped her.
“Can I talk to you, Praveena?” he asked quietly.
“Sure, Pa.” she said turning to him. She had a feeling he was about to tell her to quit her job. She wasn’t in the mood to argue, but she knew she would.
“I’m proud of you, Praveena.” he said unexpectedly.
“Huh?” Praveena wasn’t sure she had heard correctly.
Kamal smiled apologetically. “I never realized,” he sighed “how much you’ve grown,” Praveena listened, not sure where this conversation was headed. “I’m sorry, Praveena.”
“No, Pa,” she shook her head. “Don’t be sorry, you haven’t done anything wrong!” she defended.
“No, Praveena.” he held her hand in both of his. “I shouldn’t have stopped you from doing what’s right. I’m really sorry,” he pleaded with tears peeping through his eyelids. He blinked them away. Praveena couldn’t make sense of it at all. What had gotten into her father?
“Listen Praveena,” he continued. “when you told me that you wanted to help drug addicts, I wasn’t sure if you were mature enough for that kind of thing. But today,” he shook his head, unable to speak for a while. “you handled it so well,” he gulped.
“Go ahead, Praveena,” he continued. “Don’t let me stop you. Do whatever feels right to you.” he had tears in his eyes as he finished saying what he had wanted to tell her. “I’ll be wth you always,” he added smiling encouragingly.
A sense of relief spread through Praveena’s veins. She had always wanted her father to believe in her. He now did. Time does work its magic.
Life for Praveena went along just fine. She postponed her plans for her self-help group. She liked what she did and wanted to spend more time teaching. Two years she worked alongside Ms Marrie and changing a lot of lives. Helen’s father recovered, and now every time she saw Helen, Praveena couldn’t help but feel proud of herself.
During the third year of her teaching life, Ms Marrie announced her retirement. She hadn’t thought of marriage, but had decided to live alone and conduct private classes to students who wished to learn from her. And there were a good number of students who were willing. A phenomenon that didn’t surprise Praveena at all.
Later that year, Praveena’s father passed away from cardiac arrest. The loss left Praveena shaken, and the customary pity from the relatives who had hated him did nothing more than to annoy her. Anil didn’t make it to the funeral but he had called to console Praveena as best as he could. Speaking with Anil made her feel much better. She held on to the comfort as she walked the treacherous path that followed Kamal’s death.