Although it poured in Darjeeling, Maya loved to go there during Pia’s summer holidays. Partly because she had spent her childhood there. There’s an old-world charm about the town. The one thing that she most looked forward to was a lazy walk in the rain with Pia. And Pia can never be seen without her favourite pink umbrella.
Maya has had a hard life. She had married Sarthak who she had met in college. After a courtship of four years, they had married and settled in Mumbai. She could never warm up to Mumbai, it was too fast and too indifferent to her. She didn’t know her neighbours and apart from the mandatory plastic-y smile inside the elevator, she was completely lost in the city.
Things changed for the better when she had Pia. She spent every waking moment with her. But the happiness wouldn’t last too long. One rainy evening in July, Sarthak had called her up to ask her to get ready. They would take a long drive in the rain and eat at their favourite Chinese joint. He never made it. The deluge that had engulfed the city that cursed evening in Mumbai, sealed Maya’s fate.
But it’s been 10 years now. She had moved back to her parents’ house in Kolkata and Pia, too, had adjusted well to the city. Maya’s parents pampered and spoiled Pia and Pia flourished in their company.
She was jolted out of her stupor by the gentle nudging of Pia.
‘Ma, see, it’s raining again. Let’s go out’. Even before Maya could answer, Pia had picked up her Pink Umbrella and began pulling Maya up.
Both mother and daughter loved to take leisurely walks on the mall road and finish off their sojourn with a visit to Glenary’s. Maya would sip on her steaming cup of Earl Grey and Pia would gorge on scones.
Once inside Glenary’s, Maya asked Pia to look out for a table while she decided on what to order. Maya must have been gone for all of 30 seconds when she turned around to call Pia. But Pia wasn’t there. She went over to every table but her daughter was nowhere to be found.
Frantically, Maya began screaming out Pia’s name. She hollered and hollered out in the streets, but there were no signs of Pia. Running like a mad woman, she pulled out her mobile phone and walked up to everyone with Pia’s picture.
‘Have you seen her? That’s my daughter Pia. She had a pink umbrella with her.’
No. No one had seen Pia.
She sprinted towards the Police Station at the end of the Mall Road. She was blabbering incoherently about the incident. A pot-bellied inspector brought her a glass of water and asked her to calm down.
He recorded Maya’s statement and filed a missing person’s report. Maya would not leave the Police Station until Pia was found, she adamantly informed him.
She slumped on the wooden bench, too stunned to speak. Pia was all she had. She had blinked for just a moment and her daughter was gone.
Next morning, she felt someone calling out her name. She must have fallen asleep on the bench. It was the pot-bellied inspector. Dazed, she followed him to his jeep. They went on for some time, crisscrossing crowded bazaars and narrow gulleys.
Finally, they reached a stinking, filthy and garbage-ridden alley near the Ghoom Railway Station. There was a crowd of dirty looking people, murmuring amongst themselves. Maya made her way through the crowd, pushing the gentry along.
She was looking at Pia’s face. Completely white, lips that had turned blue. Scratches and bruises all over her body. The rainy mist had soaked her completely. Clutched in one hand, was her pink umbrella. She wanted to cry but couldn’t. She wanted to scream but couldn’t. She wanted to hug her daughter, but couldn’t.
At that very moment, the doorbell rang and Maya got up with a start. She was completely drenched in sweat. It happened again.
She had endured this nightmare far too many times. She turned and saw Pia sleeping peacefully with her mouth half open. Her pink umbrella hung over her study.
This is one nightmare that is unlikely to go away easily.