Vijay and I, the prince and the horse, were playing, laughing, jumping and swaying together. Suddenly Vijay lost his balance and, as he fell his waving arm hit the nearby tea-table. A cup was pushed off the edge and hit the stone floor. Next thing I noticed was that blood was dripping off my arm. Happy and playful moments earlier, now frightened, Vijay saw anguish on my face and expressed his concern. Experiencing the love shown by my son, a three year old toddler, I felt intense pleasure.
Tears welled in my eyes.
After thirty years, I could still remember that scene so well. Now, Vijay was driving me to the Houston International Airport for my trip back to India. I was dying to find out if Vijay had enjoyed my visit or he would be relieved to see me return home. But looking straight through the clean windshield of his Lexus, as he used to concentrate while doing his homework years ago, Vijay seemed lost. The silence was unbearable. Again, like so often in the last six months, I closed my eyes and pictures rose in front of them. Unable to face the reality of present, I took shelter in the past.
Gita, my wife, was killed in a car accident in Bombay. I was lonely and depressed. Yes, there were relatives and friends to console and comfort me. Yet, within four walls of my apartment I yearned for company. Then, a letter arrived from Vijay. "Daddy, come stay with us. You will feel better." The invitation sent by my only child was like an arm extended toward a drowning man. In a few weeks, my business was sold to partners, travel plans were made, and in no time I was in the United States, to put my life back together, to play with my grandson Vikram. My dreams did not come true in Houston. Vijay was busy with his medical practice, his wife Devi had her friends and shopping, and Vikram had Scott, Jason, and a room full of toys. Not only Vikram had difficulty understanding my English, he seemed to ignore my attempts to play with him. He lived in a world of cartoons and Nintendo games. Vijay was always worried about his clinic and other investments. Devi treated me with respect accorded to a stranger. In a few days I felt that I was not part of my son's family. We lived under one roof but each one had a separate existence. We talked, had dinners together and had moments of joy. Still, there was this lack of chemistry, like oil and water, that kept me separated from my own blood and flesh. Within a few weeks, a sort of revelation occurred. Although my heart did not want to accept it, a horrible thought was born in mind. Vijay, Devi and Vikram, none of them, loved me.
Then, I met Rajesh.
At a party, a minute after we had met, he shocked me with an unusual observation.
"Don't you like it here? Rajesh asked, and added, "You will be alright after sometime."
"How long have you been in this country?" I enquired.
"It will be two years next month. I have seen plenty, have learned, and now I am trying to be at peace with myself." Rajesh said, while he seemed to observe a large abstract, fluorescent red and yellow oil painting.
After we returned home at one-o-clock in the morning, lying on the bed in my son's guest room, I kept asking myself; What do I need to learn? Do I expect too much from Vijay ? I tossed and turned rest of the night trying to explore ways to adjust to the life in the unfamiliar environment. I wondered about my role as a head of the family in the past, and the present situation where I was a guest parent.
Next day I was surprised by a call from Rajesh. He was all perked up and happy. While talking about his daily routine, Rajesh mentioned that he went to a park everyday. "The park is full of children, mothers and old folks like us." he informed, and expanded, "you might like to look at the pretty, long legs of those young moms." Rajesh was enticing me to join him. Little did he know that sex was far from my mind and I would have gone even if there were no trees, grass, playground or park benches. I happily agreed to meet Rajesh the same evening.
And we met and met, and met, and it became my daily dose of invigorating spirit. Sitting on a damp bench, watching little kids play, laugh, and scream, once in a while catching shrill voice of a concerned mother, Rajesh and I reminisced. We talked about the good old days of Bombay; commuting in crowded trains to Church Gate, the hot lunches delivered by the amazing Dabbawallas, evenings at Chowpati and Juhu Beach, and of course, the wives, sons, daughters, and friends. The meetings became the most important part of our lives. We met on bright sunny days and melancholic cloudy days, and sometimes sat there forever watching the stars and the moon, and lost sense of the passing time.
One day Rajesh and I decided to visit NASA. I packed a couple of sandwiches of toasted bread with chutney-spread and we boarded on a bus to the gateway to the galaxy. The tour bus passed between the high-rise buildings and through poorer section of the city, and sped up on the expressway. There were several older couples in front of us. A man, healthy looking, the face unaffected by aging process, in a colorful shirt, and his wife in a red dress, were joking about pictures on the billboards. There were enjoying the ride like newlyweds on a honeymoon. I wished Gita was there with me.
At the NASA we joined a group of Japanese visitors with cameras, just like garlands, hanging on there neck, and saw photographs, watched slide shows and inspected models. I was fascinated to see the lunar module. Next to the module a tape of messages, recorded in numerous world languages, sent to the moon was playing. While reading the information on a bulletin board, I heard a voice speaking Gujarati, my mother tongue. I was astonished to find that the message being played was indeed in Gujarati. I marvelled at the thought that the God may have created the same language millions of miles apart. Rajesh and I were tremendously happy.
Then, as it had started, abruptly, our, Rajesh and mine, world was smashed.
Oh, that terrible telephone ring. I was startled from reading an interesting novel. It was Rajesh's son on the phone. He told me that my dearest friend had a stroke the previous night, and he was in a critical condition in a hospital.
All day I was worried. A bond had developed between us. The kind of relationship that starts from a need but blooms to form a caring kinship. My days in Houston had just started to be enjoyable. I was not ready to loose Rajesh.
As soon as Vijay returned home from work, I gave him the sad news, and immediately we went to see my friend. Rajesh, eyes closed, ugly tubes coming out of his pale body, looked peaceful. He woke up when I sat on the chair. We spoke a few words and Vijay went out to discuss Rajesh's condition with another doctor.
Rajesh signaled me to come closer. I stepped up to the bed and held his warm hand. With all the strength he could muster, he said, "Remember, when we met for the first time, I had told you about learning and liking in this country ? It was just a wishful thinking. America is trying to communicate people in the outer space in Gujarati, and here on this earth, our sons have become alien to us."
I stopped him. "Please do not think of those things now."
Vijay returned, and after a few minutes we left. The next day Rajesh passed away.
"Daddy, airport is here." Vijay awakened me.
At the ticket counter we found out that the flight was late. Vijay suggested that we go in the lounge and get something to drink. We sat at a small table away from television. Vijay ordered "Chivas on the Rocks" and I had Coke. A few drinks later, less tired, more relaxed, Vijay said, "Daddy, these last three months I could not spend much time with you. We didn't go anywhere."
"You were busy with your work", I did not have enough courage to tell the truth..
"No that is not true. Devi and I could have done much more." Vijay confessed and continued. "Why didn't you tell us anything."
"True love does not have to be aroused." I could not help being sarcastic.
"I am sorry, next time you come, this won't happen." Vijay looked straight into my eyes.
Entering the tunnel, I turned and waved back to Vijay. His remorseful face was telling me, "Daddy, I have hurt you. Please forgive me."
Tears welled in my eyes.