Her house is up for sale! “I will be much happier in the city. I am looking forward to the new change in my life. I will be happy!” Sharmila consoled herself. The house left to her by her forefathers will not be theirs anymore. The pillars which would hide her while playing, the huge French windows which would allow her to watch out for her loved ones, the wardrobe which would always have enough space to keep her things will all be broken down into pieces. The wall size mirror which would frame her beauty like an old painting, the wooden cuckoo clock which would never miss to wake her up will now be missed.
She ran her hands over the furniture, the windows, and the pillars. The dust on them was visible on her now. She could feel her age weighing down on her. As she looked around, thousands of memories poured down over her, covering her like a thick web. The web of the relationships made in this house, the love spread, and the memories of the ones who are no more……..everything will be lost.
“No”, she thought. “I have to think about my children. If I sell this place, they will save the money for their future. I will be happy with them. They need someone to take care of their children. I cannot be selfish….they need me!”
Sharmila – the blissful. How perfect was her name? All her life was spent in loving and giving. She loved the smiles around her more than herself. When she was young, her sole bliss was to make her parents happy; when she got married it was to make her new family happy. After her children came, everything has always been about them. Now they have grown up and so has a strange insecurity in her! After trying so hard to keep everyone happy and with her, was she going to be all alone as she ages?
As she was walking through the rooms, Sharmila could recollect her whole life time in a flash. She remembered how she grew up in this house, how the house filled with laughter and cheer every time there was a family gathering. She remembered her marriage and her going away from the house and the city. She remembered coming back with her husband and children when her husband got transferred to Calcutta permanently. She remembered how happy she was, to be back to where her roots belonged, she remembered how elated she was to think that her children will grow up in the same house where she spent her childhood.
“Madam, please check if there is anything you would like to take with you…” a sudden voice behind startled her. She turned around. The architect was standing there. He worked for the construction company which is buying her house. ‘He looks very pleasant, but hardly smiles!’ she thought.
“I need to go up in the attic and check, will you come with me?” she asked hesitantly, she can use another pair of hands and some company to make her not think about the house.
“Sure!” he said with a faint smile.
“You should smile more often son, you look so nice when you smile”, she smiled.
A warm smile made her feel that her house will be in safe hands. “What is your name son?”
“Avinash”, he smiled again.
The attic door was dusty and webbed. It had not been opened all these years. She kept the attic for the last as she knew there was nothing very important in there. She took an old cloth and started wiping the door. A faint white design appeared though the dust. Sharmila stood for a moment, memories clogged her mind. Avinash took the cloth from her hand and started wiping fast. The dark rose wood still held the beautiful design proudly….and in the middle was a name carved beautifully - ‘Sharmee’s Den’.
He smiled again, searching for the correct key to unlock the door. The door opened and he entered into a dark space. He almost hit his head on the ceiling of room. After a while, as his eyes adjusted, he could make out the structure and the belongings left inside. There was an old dusty table in a corner with a few dried bottles of paints; a glass holding brushes various sizes. There was a wooden cupboard holding age old books and a steel trunk so dirty that it could easily blend into the darkness of the room. There was a small window which was closed. As he opened it, the room was suddenly filled with light! He realized he was alone in the room.
Sharmila was still standing outside, wondering whether it was not just a few years back when this was her abode…her den! The light hit her face and she looked up. Avinash was standing inside, waiting for her to come in. As she stepped inside, her face lit up! She suddenly felt like the little girl she once was, hiding from the world, treasuring a world that once belonged to her….just her! Where she was, without a care of the outer world, without the worries and the complexities of life!
“You have not been here for quite some time!” he said.
Memories rushed passed her mind! “The last time I was here was the day I left after marriage”, she smiled sadly. She opened the old cupboard. The books were arranged just the way she had left them. The shining leather covers have now aged, the corners were torn. She ran her hands over the old iron trunk and opened it. Avinash saw a huge stack of old paintings at the bottom. He crouched and sat on the dirty floor, pulling the stack of painting to his lap. For the first time Sharmila saw the child in him too. She sat down beside him and he passed one painting at a time to her lap.
Each painting told a story, the story of families, the stories of friends, the stories of the world. “Did you…?” his sparkling eyes met her. She smiled and nodded. “You are so good!” he exclaimed.
“I was, it was my passion, and my long lost secret life!” her eyes were sad, “I forgot everything now, and there is no going back….” She sighed. “I have not painted for almost 25 years now! I will never dare to hold a brush again…”
Avinash turned the paintings over. Every painting has a poetry written behind it. He looked at her, trying to read her face. She could see a faint trace of disappointment in his eyes. “Do your children know?”
“Do they know if I painted? No, they don’t.” she smiled faintly.
“So they never entered this room? I thought they lived here…..”
“I guess they were not curious enough….I never told them about my childhood and they never showed any interest. They had their own rooms, their own world…you must know right? You are almost of the same age as them…. Life waits for no one.”
His eyes had a strange sadness in them. He kept turning the paintings and reading the lines behind them carefully. Suddenly a painting caught his eyes! The age old paint could still portray deep sorrow! It looked oddly familiar!
The painting was of a beautiful red rose, a rose that stood proudly, shrugging the greenness of the leaves….a rose so red, so pretty and so real! And then his eyes looked further down the page, a small bird laid on the brown dry grass….she was dead. There was a thorn in her chest, and the sides of the thorn were colored like dried blood! He could not recollect where he had seen this, or heard about it! He turned the painting over.
It said, “All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty.”
“I have read this somewhere….I can’t remember where!” said Avinash. Sharmila took the painting from his hand. As she touched the painting gently, her eyes were wet, her lips stretched into a smile.
“It is a scene from ‘The Nightingale and The Rose’ by Oscar Wilde. Did you read it?”
“I did, when I was a child, but I don’t remember the story! It sounds oddly familiar! What was is about?”
Sharmila got up from the dusty floor and stood near the cupboard, her eyes searching for that one book - her favorite book! The golden wordings on the leather covers have almost faded with age. She ran her fingers through each of them till she found it – Short Stories by Oscar Wilde. Her hands shivered as she carefully pulled the book out from the neatly arranged rack. She sat beside Avinash on the floor and kept the book in front of her. When she opened the cover she saw her father’s writing…
As Oscar Wilde Said:
“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
Sharmila ran her fingers over the writing. The one person who understood her was no more! “I miss you Baba!” she whispered.
A warm hand touched her shivering fingers, and a warm smile made her look up. “Will you please read the story for me? I mean if you don’t mind….my mother used to read to me, when I was a child. I loved the way she read….” he said.
She smiled and put on her the reading glasses. She turned the pages carefully. They were so brittle and dry with age that they would break if she is not cautious.
Sharmila started reading a tale. A tale of the true love of a small bird whose believe in the power of love made her give up her life. As she read, Avinash hung onto each of her words like a small child. She could see the pain in his eyes when the nightingale died, singing of love. As the story ended, Sharmila saw a faint pencil scribble at the bottom of the page, ‘sacrifice is the greatest manifestation of love’. She often wrote down what she learnt from a story. Is it really true? Had she not sacrificed her life for her family? She remembered with a sad smile – the nightingale dies in vain.
Avinash looked up. “Why are you selling this house?”
“Everyone knows that it is the last thing you want, then why?”
“I have other priorities son…”
“Listen to me! Your children will love you no matter what! You have brought them up well enough! How can you let this place go? This is not just a house! This is a life time! How can you let it go?”
Sharmila was stunned! “What are you talking about? Your company is supposed to buy this place..!”
“Don’t sell it!” he pleaded! “The nightingale was supposed to sing, not die!”
“Avinash, are you out of your mind? Do you know what this means? I don’t want to be selfish!”
He looked into her eyes and laughed! “Believe me when I say this, I know you want to! For this one time in your life you want to be selfish! But let me tell you something else, you are not selfish! Your children will understand! Trust me! Talk to them!”
“I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!” she sobbed. “What will I do? How will I stay alone?”
“You can start painting again…. Show your children what you were! Make them feel proud of you!”
“It is too late for that!” and she rushed out of the room. It was dark already! She did not realize that they were inside the attic for so long! Avinash left silently. She was alone again. “I need to get rid of the dust all over me”, she thought.
In the shower Sharmila recalled what happened. As she rubbed the dust of her body, all she could think of was the Nightingale who gave up her life for love. She thought about her loved ones who left her, her parents, her husband… Life goes on. Is she really sacrificing her life for her children, or is she just scared to live a lonely life? As she looked back into the mirror, she realized that she had a beautiful life!
The next morning Avinash stopped by with a big box of sweet, a bunch of red roses and an apology note. The servant informed him that she is in the attic. He went up the stair case slowly, still awkward and hesitant about his last encounter. As he reached upstairs, he saw the attic door opened wide. The room was as clean as new, and in front of the table sat Sharmila. She was writing something at the back of a big chart paper.
She looked up and smiled. “I see that you got something for me!”
He smiled back. “Just wanted to let you know that I am….”
“Avinash, I have something for you too!”
She turned over the chart paper, and there was a painting….
It was a room! This room! Inside were two figures. One of them was him, with a stack of paper on his lap. The lady in the painting was looking outside the small window which filled the room with light and outside the window was a Nightingale!
He turned the page.
“Each day is a new canvas to paint upon. Make sure your picture is full of life and happiness, and at the end of the day you don't look at it and wish you had painted something different.”
Dedication: To My Parents – We all love you, no matter what!
To Oscar Wilde – You still inspire my brain to go WILD in this practical world!
To My Teachers – Thank you!
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