Disclaimer: This is a short story for a contest and is inspired by a real-life incident I saw on TV. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Prompt: There are two men sitting in the booth of a diner eating dinner together and talking. A woman sits outside in a parked car, watching them through the window. Who are they? What is their relationship to one another? What are the men discussing? What is the woman thinking? What does she do next? Write a story that opens with this scene and explores these questions.
It was ten minutes past eight in the evening. Mrs. Gayatri Devi, seated in a pale-white Maruti 800, looked at her watch and sighed. It had been an hour since Ajay Kumar parked the vehicle in front of ‘Daawat-e-Khaas’, a recently inaugurated restaurant specializing in royal dishes, which used to be commonly served in the palaces of Indian kings and nobles, especially of the Mughal era. Upholding the word ‘khaas’ meaning ‘special’, the restaurant was frequented mostly by the nobility of the 21st century – top businessmen, industrialists, and ministers, who could pay heavy for a heavy meal.
Mrs. Gayatri Devi looked through the car window towards the restaurant on the other side of the street. Though the restaurant windows were translucent, which was further strengthened by the diffused greenish glow of the restaurant lights, she could identify Ajay and the seemingly 50 years-old man sitting opposite him on a dinner table. The man was Mr. Ranjan Dalvi, the HR and Business representative of Manyavar Group of Industries, a leading and reputed brand name in the building construction business in Delhi and adjacent states. And Ajay was being interviewed by him, for a job in the company. The distinct silhouettes of the two men were making confident gestures, which she presumed to be a good sign. She slowly closed her eyes and chanted the name of the Almighty, praying for Ajay’s success and well-being. Within a few seconds, past memories began to play in her mind…
16 years back, Gayatri Devi was a happily-married 23 year-old woman, living in a large mansion in a village in the outskirts of Delhi, with her father-in-law, Laldeep Singh, husband Vinod and 4 year-old son Sanjay. Her husband had three elder brothers and two younger sisters, who were married off a few years back. The household dealt in mustard oil business and boasted a good fortune from it throughout the year. During the harvest season, the entire house used to teem with people – farmers, buyers and neighbours, who were deeply interested in the good quality mustard produced in the 9 acre lands the family possessed. In managing the daily affairs of the business, Laldeep Singh sought the assistance of Keshav Ram, the head farmer and a trustworthy man who lived in the same compound with his 7 year-old son Ajay. Keshav’s wife had passed away a few days after Ajay’s birth, and since then, he had parented his son single-handedly, and under the patronage of the Singh family. Vinod’s elder brothers nurtured deep hatred for Keshav Ram as they felt he was given undue importance and preference over them by their honest father. What irked them more was that Ajay always stayed in the company of Gayatri and fondly called her ‘Amma’ and neglected their wives, who never filled the void created by his mother’s untimely demise.
Meanwhile, Ajay’s interview concluded and both he and Mr. Dalvi shook hands. Ajay was highly pleased and content with his conversation with Mr. Dalvi and he was almost confident of earning the lucrative job. As Mr. Dalvi took a phone call on his Blackberry, Ajay looked outside through the hazy window in the direction of his parked car. He could already foresee the happiness on his mother’s face when she would see her son being recruited into the company. Mr. Dalvi ended his phone conversation and told Ajay to meet him the next day in his office. Noticing Ajay’s puzzled expression, he came close to him and held his shoulders and said, “Mr. Ajay Kumar, congratulations! We are family now. Welcome to Manyavar!” Had it not been a posh restaurant, Ajay would have screamed in joy and leapt in the air, on hearing Mr. Dalvi’s words! However, keeping in mind the decorum of the place, he contained his happiness, and gave a firm handshake to Mr. Dalvi, thanking him delightedly. The moment he stood out of the restaurant door, he sprinted towards his car, clutching his briefcase tightly.
As he neared the vehicle, he gleefully called out to his mother, who appeared to doze off. The clicking sound of the key turned around the keyhole on the door startled Gayatri Devi and woke her up. “Amma, I have got the job. Thank you for your blessings!”, Ajay said elatedly, grasping his mother’s hands between his palms. Tears welled up in Gayatri Devi’s eyes and she kissed her son’s forehead and said, “I am proud of you beta. Your hard work paid off.”
After an hour and a half, they arrived home. As Ajay opened the gate and drove the car inside, his mother saw Keshav Ram sitting on a swivelled armchair in the dimly-lit porch and sipping tea. The man soon jumped off the chair and climbed down the flight of verandah stairs, running towards the car garage. He had already been informed by his son about the job selection. As Ajay stepped out of the car, his father gave a loving tight embrace to his son and spoke a few words of blessings. After a while, the family moved inside the house. Their faces expressed content and bliss.
Life had been very cruel for them after the unfortunate event that devastated their lives 15 years back. One day, Laldeep Singh, his son Vinod and grandson Sanjay were touring their mustard fields in their tractor. The old man’s eyes sparkled at the sight of golden-yellow ripe mustard crops, swaying in the mild winter breeze. After spending a few hours, while making their return trip, they met with a terrible road accident. A speeding truck had collided head-on with their tractor. Such was the impact of the collision that Sanjay was hurled forward towards the truck, smashing his head and killing him instantly. The grown-up men being heavily built got crushed under the wreckage, suffering multiple fractures in their bodies. They also succumbed to their injuries in a few minutes. When the news of their death reached the Singh family, screams of grief and shock rang throughout the household. Gayatri Devi went berserk and howled in agony. She had lost both her husband and only son. However, in the most unfortunate and awful turn of events, after the funeral rites of the deceased were performed, Vinod’s three elder brothers and their wives discarded all signs of sorrow and began to treat Gayatri with foul words and rebukes, gibing at her widowed status. They even kicked out Keshav Ram and his son from their compound, stripping the farmer of his job in their business. As days passed by, Gayatri’s stay in her in-laws place became impossible and she resolved to end her life and escape the harassment. One day, immediately after day-break, she sneaked out of her house and walked towards the riverbank. She decided to hang herself on the mango tree near one of the washermen ghats. But, fate had other plans for her. As she prepared the noose with a saree, someone grabbed hold of her hand and gave it a powerful jerk. It was Keshav Ram. He had been trying to catch fish in the river when he noticed her walking towards the mango tree. He knew her reason for taking such a daring step, so he comforted her with a hug and stroked her head to ease her pain. Gayatri at once broke into tears and told him that she could no longer live in her in-laws place. He assured her that he would take her faraway from that place and give a new meaning to her life.
Soon they got married and with the help of one of Keshav’s acquaintances, they settled in a two room apartment in one of the suburbs of Delhi. Ajay was enrolled in a government school and he grew up to be a sincere, hard-working boy. He took up Commerce after matriculation and passed with flying colours! Meanwhile, Keshav Ram joined the Railways Maintenance unit of Northern Railways and earned a decent livelihood from his daily labour at the workshop near New Delhi Railway Station. By the time Ajay graduated from Kirori Mal College with B.Com (Hons), Keshav Ram had opened his own firm which made machinery parts of rail carriages. The small profits allowed them to buy a large house in the city and live a much respectable life than the one they had in their village.