“If only we could find a place big enough” sighed Seema, “so that dadi didn’t have to go away.”
“Things won’t be the same without dadi” said Deepak, “I’ll hate it when she goes to live in the village.” Dadi had played a big role in bringing them up. She was always there to tell them stories, to make delicious ginger-tea when it was cold, fry hot samosas when it rained and pickles galore in summer. Since ma was busy with her school she was the one Seema and Deepak had turned to all the time.
Their father had been seriously ill a few months ago. He had to take voluntary retirement on the doctor’s advice. That meant they’d have to give up their spacious quarters and go and live in a tiny 2-bedroom flat which papa had managed to buy. It would be a tight fit for the four of them and most uncomfortable for dadi who was used to space. She herself had suggested going back to their ancestral home in the village where no one lived now. Sure she’d be lonely but there were distant relatives to help if necessary. Father had agreed reluctantly. He knew his mother would be cramped and uncomfortable in their new flat.
“Seemi, Dipu! Don’t forget you have to go to mamaji’s place this morning” called their mother. “Get ready, quick, and don’t miss the bus. There isn’t another until the evening.”
“Yes, ma” they replied obediently. It was the birthday of mamaji’s eldest son. Since the doctor had asked papa to avoid all journeys for the present Deepak and Seema were going there. They would take the morning bus, stay the night and return the next morning. Both Seema and Deepak were looking forward to it.
It started raining just as they were about to start from home.
“Just look at the sky” cried ma, “I think you better take the evening bus after all.”
“But we’ll reach so late and half the party will be over” cried Deepak.
“We’ll wear our raincoats” said Seema.
“Let them go” said dadi, “a little rain is not going to hurt them.”
“They often go to school in the rain” said papa, “and it may not be raining there at all.”
“Very well” said ma giving in, “remember to shut the bus window and don’t get wet.”
Seema and Deepak got into their raincoats and ran for the bus-stand. By the time they reached it was pouring down buckets.
“There’s the bus” shouted Seema, “come on. Let’s grab a window seat.”
Luckily for them there were not too many passengers. They easily found a window seat and pulled the glass down.
“I hope it won’t rain all the way” said Seema, “It’s stuffy with the windows shut. I like looking at the view outside.”
“It’s going to take us three hours” grumbled Deepak, “wish they didn’t live so far.”
The rain stopped by the time they went out of the city. Green trees and bushes shone in the morning sun. The fields were yellow with mustard flowers.
“Just look at that river” said Seema, “I don’t remember seeing it before, do you?”
“The driver must be taking us by another route” said Deepak, “there’s the conductor. coming for the tickets.”
“Vidyanagar?” he asked surprised, “This bus doesn’t go there! It’s going to Chandanpur.”
“But I read 432 on the bus” said Seema indignantly.
“It’s 482 actually” said the conductor grinning, “Part of the letter must have got washed off.”
“What are we to do?” Seema asked Deepak, “We don’t even know where we are!”
“Let’s get down at the next stop, call up home and tell them not to worry and then take the actual bus to Vidyanagar” said Deepak, “It’s the only thing we can do.”
But when they got down at the next stop there were no phone booths in sight. Just mustard fields, small cottages on a road lined with trees and the river in the distance.
“It’s a lovely place” said Seema, “if only we could live in a place like this – away from all the noise! I know dadi would love it and so would papa.”
“No use thinking about the impossible” said Deepak, “See if you can spot a phone booth. We must let papa know and also mamaji who’d wonder why we hadn’t come by the usual bus.”
“And how everyone’s going to tease us about getting into the wrong bus” said Seema.
They walked up the entire street but could not find a single booth. “Let us try one of these cottages. They’d be able to tell us where to find a booth” said Seema looking at a garden lit up with roses of every color.
“Good idea” agreed Deepak. Seema tapped on the door. A lady opened it and looked at them enquiringly.
“Please, could you tell us where to find a phone booth? We got into the wrong bus by mistake and our people will be worrying” said Seema in a single breath.
“I’m afraid the phone booth is rather far. Why don’t you use my phone?” said the lady smiling at them. “Do make yourselves comfortable.”
“Please, what is the name of this place?” asked Deepak.
“Rajgarh. Where were you going?”
“Vidyanagar” said Seema, “It’s our mamaji’s son’s birthday.”
“That’s rather far and there isn’t a direct bus from here. You’d have to change a couple of buses” said the lady.
“So stupid of you not to read the number correctly” fumed Deepak, “and now everyone will be worried sick about us.”
“You could have read the number yourself without following me blindly” retorted Seema.
“What are your names?” asked the lady, “I am Mrs. Sharma.”
Seema and Deepak told her their names.
The lady looked at them and smiled. “There’s no need to get so upset. I could drive you there.”
“That would be too wonderful for words” cried Seema.
“But we can’t trouble you so much” said Deepak, “Please tell us which buses to take. We’ll manage, don’t worry.”
“No trouble really. I have a cousin who lives close to Vidyanagar. I’ve been meaning to look her up before I leave for the States next month” said the lady, “I’d be glad to have your company on the way. Tell your parents that I’ll be reaching you to your mamaji’s place.”
“Thank you so much” cried both children feeling relieved.
“But we’ll have tea first” insisted the lady, “I’m hungry even if you aren’t!”
The cottage was a lovely one with a pretty little courtyard and kitchen garden.
It was big enough to stretch one’s legs comfortably but small enough to be cosy. They had a lovely tea and got into the car.
“I’m so glad we came to ask you, aunty” said Seema as they drove through the countryside, “do you live in this beautiful place all alone?”
“I’m going to join my son in the States next month and let out this place for 2-3 years. I may sell it eventually if I decide to settle down in the States” said the lady, “Why, what’s the matter? Why are you looking like that?”
And then it all came out – their father’s illness, their having to shift to a tiny flat and their dadi having to leave them. “I see” said the lady looking thoughtful.
“If only… we could live in a place like yours!” cried Seema, “then dadi wouldn’t have togo and live in the village.”
“And everyone would be so happy in a place like this” added Deepak, “but it’s impossible, of course.”
“I don’t know” said the lady, “I’ve spoken to several people but haven’t finalized the deal with anyone as yet. Do you think your people would like to come and live here?”
“They’d love it but I don’t know if they can afford it” said Deepak.
“That wouldn’t be a problem” said the lady smiling, “I want a good tenant. If your people are like you I’ll be happy to give it to them at a price they can afford. They can let out their new flat, can’t they?”
“Oh yes, I’m sure they can” said said Deepak eagerly, “several people have asked papa already. But we both go to school in Rohtas. And ma teaches in a school as well”
“There’s a morning bus to Rohtas” said Mrs. Sharma, “You could all take that and return by the evening bus. Several people do that and it’s only an hours’ run. It took you just an hour to reach here, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes” said Seema and Deepak together, “We’re so glad now that we took the wrong bus!”
“Ask your father to speak to me when you go home tomorrow” said Mrs. Sharma laughing, “We’re almost at Vidyanagar.”
It was incredible how quickly and smmothly everything was sorted out. As they sat in the beautiful lawn a month later papa said, “That was the luckiest mistake you ever made, Seema and Deepak!”