Short Story: Sal and Vikas
By Padmini Krishnan
I closed my eyes for a minute, exhausted. The train huffed into Eunos. We had five more stops to reach our destination. I opened my eyes to some unknown fear and confusion. My hand felt empty. Had I missed my handbag?
“Vikas!” my inner voice said.
“Vikas! Where is Vikas?” I screamed.
My husband raised his head from his mobile in confusion.
As the train doors closed, I could catch a glimpse of Vikas running in the platform, his little head bobbing up and down.
I stood near the train doors, shaking; my body soaked despite the chill.
I vaguely heard a woman assuring me that my child would be found soon. As soon as we got down in the next stop, we hurried over to the passenger service center. My husband calmly reported the particulars of our child.
“How old is your son?”
“He knows his name and address, of course?”
“He knows nothing. He has the Down syndrome.” replied my husband, looking at me, irritably, as if it was my fault.
It was evident from the guy’s expression that they did not come across missing cases frequently.
He seemed sure that Vikas would be found. The authorities concerned had been notified.
We sat in the platform, waiting, as the trains rolled across, spilling out a few passengers and taking in a lot of them.
My husband went back to his mobile as I stared at him. He never really wanted Vikas, right from the moment the doctor said that they suspected a 10 percent risk of the down syndrome. He wanted me to abort while I persisted and prayed for the 90 percent.
We sat there, as hours passed. I sobbed softly for our marriage, our son’s problem and his uncaring father.
The man in the service center persuaded us to go home. I dragged my legs to the streets, dreading the familiar, morose look of my condominium.
My heart leaped as I saw a man and a boy standing by my unit.
“Vikas!” I threw open the door before the taxi could stop and ran towards my son.
The man who brought him back looked uncomfortable as I thanked him again and again.
My husband did not hug or smile at Vikas, but he asked the man to step inside. The man said that his name was Sal and he found our address in the handbag Vikas held. Of course! Vikas had taken my handbag with him, I realized. But…
Sal was a construction worker. His contract was over and he was returning to his country. My husband informed him that our condominium’s management was looking for a gardener. Sal jumped at the idea and said that he had worked as a gardener before he was hired in a construction firm.
Sal was hired as a gardener. He came to visit Vikas every day, except on Fridays. On one such Friday, I saw him returning from his evening prayers. His eyes gleamed, uncharacteristically. He walked on, despite Vikas’s wild gesturing. I feared the wild sparkle in his eyes. That night I prayed for Vikas as well as Sal.
He came to visit us after a couple of days. Vikas formed a special bond with the gardener and evinced a keen interest in flowers and leaves. Was gardening Vikas’s special calling?
During one of Sal’s visits, Vikas had one of his tantrums. He began banging the table with his hands. My husband slipped into his study. I pulled Vikas’s hands away at which he turned wild and began banging his head fiercely on the table. Sal stepped in, pulled Vikas gently away and held him from behind. After a few minutes, he took Vikas to another room.
After Vikas had calmed down, I told Sal, “He didn’t sleep well the previous night. I suppose that is the reason behind his tantrum.”
“He is not having a tantrum; he doesn’t know what he is doing. It is a meltdown upon which he has no control.” Sal was silent for a moment. “He wants the chair.”
“Chair? Which one?”
“The one your mother-in-law was sitting in. He considers it his own and doesn’t want to share it with anyone.”
I saw a conviction in his eyes. I also noticed my husband listening in from his study. The next day, as I returned from my morning walk with Vikas, I saw my husband arguing with his mother over her resentment for Sal. At least, she did not sit in the chair again and Vikas’s morning meltdowns reduced to a considerable extent.
Sal came over to my place every morning to play with my son. My mother-in-law looked at him with scorn. Sal stopped visiting when her ‘scorn’ became unbearable. My husband argued with her again. The next day, he took Vikas for his morning walk. Perhaps Vikas was no longer just ‘my’ son. He had become ‘our’ son.
Sal always interacted with Vikas on his morning walks. Vikas was at his happiest this time.
After a few months, Vikas started identifying flowers, herbs, and different plants. He hugged me for the first time near a mulberry bush. I felt warm and contented.
One night, my husband seemed ecstatic. “Vikas hugged and kissed me tonight.”
“Yes. He spotted a plant today and he wouldn’t go near it. Later, Sal told me that it was the water hemlock, a dangerous plant.”
“I suppose Sal warned Vikas before.”
“Not really. Sal didn’t say anything about the plant to Vikas.”
“I hope our son will be a naturalist when he grows up.”
We looked at the dark sky, designed with patches of clouds.
“Come to the study after Vikas sleeps. We will watch the latest Spider man movie.”
For a moment, I saw a spark in his eyes that had not been there since the earlier days of our marriage. It was no longer just me. Both of us were now a team again, facing life’s challenges together. I slept well for the first time in five-and-a-half years.
Life had fallen into an easy routine. A couple of months later, I realized that we had not seen Sal for the past three days. My husband looked glum, “I spoke to the management. Sal quit the job a couple of days ago. He didn’t give any reason or details.” He looked as disappointed as I felt. But, I also felt a strange sense of relief at Sal’s departure. Perhaps he had left Singapore for good. I didn’t want to admit anything to myself or explore my innermost thoughts.
That night I checked my mailbox to see an unknown email id. It was Sal. How did he even know my email id?
“Sister, I know that you know. I came here to die and destroy. But, your son changed my perception of life. Why kill when you can nurture, build and develop? I am going to take medicine where I left off. I have realized that religion can be perceived in different ways. I am going to follow the right path now. Thank you for not turning me in.”
Deeply relieved, I replied, “Dear brother, you are the one who brought light into our lives. I am grateful for everything you have done for Vikas and us. You have brought strangers living under a roof together; you have turned us into a happy family. I know that you will never travel the wrong path again.”
My email bounced back. But, I guess Sal already knew what I was going to say.
Padmini Krishnan is a Web Copywriter, residing in Singapore. Her haiku and haibun have appeared in Shamrock, The Neverending Story, A Hundred Gourds, Proletaria, Cattails, Chrysanthemum, New Wales Journal, The Heron’s Nest, Contemporary Haibun Online and Haibun Today. Her Short stories for children have been published in My Light Magazine, Short Kid Stories, and Children’s Stories. Her forthcoming poetry is to be published in Writing in a Woman’s Voice.
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