She was in a hurry today. A little distracted and fidgeting with the saree folds again and again. The pleats were not coming out right.
Just what was it with the saree today? Today of all days!
Just when she needed to look her best. For him.
The vehicle was supposed to be here in an hour. She would meet him at the parade ground itself.
She looked at her watch and then looked in the mirror again. He loved that burnt shade of orange on her. As she looked at herself in the mirror and smiled….she remembered…. he loved all colours on her.
But this one was his favourite.
They had a fight the day before he left. Because he had to cut short his leave and report early. Granted that he couldn’t help it. She had married a man in uniform and his duty always came first.
And she had always shown so much patience hadn’t she? But just how much patience was she supposed to have? Uff! How they always fought like kids! He always tousled her hair which would make her mad.As if she was a little kid.
He always told her to grow up too. But that was just a pretence, she knew. He didn’t want her any other way. Her childlike exuberance was what he had fallen in love with.
She stuck out her tongue at the mirror and couldn’t suppress a giggle as she recalled his exasperated expression. The one that said,” I love you , you mad woman, even if you are a little crazy.”
But he loved her for precisely this..she knew. Just as she was head over heels in love with who he was. In love with all his moods, the gruffness and the guarded way in which he would express himself.
Army guys are not supposed to show emotions. That is what he believed. But she had learnt to recognize all his moods. Even when he didn’t say a word. He was his most vulnerable self with her. He would clown around and make those funny faces till she collapsed giggling on the bed.
That vulnerability he showed only with her..she knew that was his most precious gift to her.
He would be so proud of her today. She intended to make him proud.
To see that look in his eyes. He would take one look at her and say, ”looking good baby”, in that deep, drawling voice she loved.
She had made his favourite dish today. Aloo paranthas. Well, not his favourite but just about the only thing she could make decently well. The way he liked it. He still loved whatever she cooked. She sighed. She would try to learn more of his favourite dishes.
He always came back home having lost many kilos. Nothing was quite the same as home cooked food. ”I am a forever young sort of guy you know. You should be glad”, he would say with a wink and a grin whenever she fretted about his health. Worried at how thin he sometimes was when he came home on leave.
She hoped he would like the aloo paranthas .
He always made fun of her cooking. But then, his cooking skills were really good. During their time together, he would always cook for her. ”Let me cook jaan. You just sit back and relax. After dodging all those bullets at the loc, you wouldn’t want me to die of food poisoning would you?”he would say with that wicked twinkle in his eyes.
God! That man certainly knew how to rile her! Hmpph! If she could never get time to learn how to cook, was that her fault?
Today they would make up for the earlier fight. Today she would show him how proud she was of him. She hoped she could make him proud of her too.
Today she had a surprise for him too. A beautiful one. The biggest one of their lives. She was waiting impatiently to tell him.
She had been trying to imagine what his face would look like when she told him the news. She had been so tempted to tell him on the phone but then had stopped herself.
He was coming home on leave in a few days, he had told her a few days back and she wanted to see each change of expression,the initial bafflement, the dawning realization, the mad grin she knew would cover his face.
And he would catch her by the waist and dance all around the room.
And she would giggle and both of them would collapse laughing on the floor.
A little life inside her.
She looked down at herself in wonder.
A honk outside.
The vehicle was here.
She almost ran out till she remembered she was an army wife.
What would the driver think of her? She sighed and tried to walk at a more sedate pace.
Smiling inside at how he would have laughed his head off if he had seen her just now.
The army driver gave a crisp salute and opened the door for her.
The young lieutenant standing next to him gave a crisp salute as well. She nodded and smiled at both of them. ”Kaise hain Anil Bhaiyya? Ghar pe sab theek thaak hai?’‘
The driver looked discomfited and mumbled something, so she just smiled at him again. Anil bhaiyya had always been shy but he had been with them on two previous postings so he was almost like a family member now. She knew better than to make him feel more awkward.
The young lieutenant looked distinctly uncomfortable. Even more than Anil bhaiyya if that was possible. These young officers always felt out of place with ladies.
Fresh out of the academy, they would get tongue tied in the presence of ladies.
So she didn’t press on for a conversation.
She looked out of the window. The weather was slightly gray today.
She hoped it wouldn’t rain.
They reached the parade ground in about half an hour. She was shown to her seat.
So much of chatter all around her.
Once or twice she looked up and saw the lady next to her and smiled. The lady gave a hesitant smile back. As if she was unsure. Did she know the lady from somewhere?
She thought about it and then let go of the thought.
Her entire attention was now focused on the stage.
Just a few minutes more. Then it would be just the two of them. They announced something over the mike. It was time.
She stood up and drew herself a little taller.
Squared her shoulders, tilted up her chin and moved up the steps.
A small , muffled sob escaped the lady who had been sitting next to her.
” Maj Unnikrishnan gave his life in the service of the country in the highest tradition of the Indian army. Maj Unnikrishnan was an officer of ……………