‘It’s okay…you just take care of yourself.’ Sheetal moved out of the old age home through a old, haunting door which banged shut with a cracking noise.

‘Sorry for your loss, mate.’ Everyone was consoling old Yashvardhan, whose wife died 2 days back. Since then, he hadn’t ate a thing, he was quietly sitting on that same rocking chair, staring at the opposite wall which had his wife’s name adorned on it in gold, for being the best lady at the old age home.

‘Sir, your son has come to see you, he’s standing at the reception.’ A man pulled Yash out of his thoughts. Yash recalled everything, from the beginning. The mere mention of his son made his entire life flash before his eyes.

Yash and Prabha both moved here when their only son kicked them out for being a burden on his busy and ever-so-hasty life. Their daughter-in-law was also equally uninterested in keeping her husband’s old parents, who demanded care like children. Old age homes was the best option for a working couple like them, who were not free for even a few hours of the day to serve them food and care for them a bit.

‘My hands tremble, Yash, I can’t knead the dough properly, can you help me with that?’ Yashvardhan’s wife, Prabha had complained about her illness for the first time in 30 years of their marriage.

She was getting older with time. The wrinkles on her forehead were more defined now. Her face had fine lines emerging from almost every corner. Her tight and flawless waist was loosening up and becoming shapeless. Yash used to hold her from her waist, every time he returned from his service. He was an employee in the railways. But with time, her waist had become more like a baggy blob of fat.

‘What happened?’ Yash was worried, seeing his wife in pain. Her hands were turning blue, the skin was stretched, the nails were pale white and her skin seemed as if it lost all the blood from her body. He immediately took her to the doctor.

‘I’m sorry, Mr Yash, your wife is suffering from Scleroderma.’

The name of the disease was complicated. The old fashioned people like Yash and Prabha were alien to such diseases. Yash tried investigating in more detail.’

‘Excuse me, doctor? I don’t understand…’

‘See, Scleroderma is a skin disorder. It makes your skin shrink and hard, sometimes the skin shrinks so much that you can’t fold or bend your fingers, hands, or any joints of your body. The intensity of Scleroderma in your wife is still less, but it has great chances of spreading overtime. Here are a few medicines, ointments and gels that you can apply for comfort. Unfortunately, there is no way to ‘stop’ this disease, but we can provide you medicines which can help your wife in daily jobs.’

It was 1981, when Prabha showed symptoms of Scleroderma, and Yash inquired from everywhere, but there was no definite cure. For Prabha, he left his job so that he could be a full time husband. He migrated to every major city of the country but in vain. Finally in 1997, they decided to settle in Delhi, where their only son, Rahul was settled already, and old enough to take care of them. Yash and Prabha were happy, seeing their son work in a multi-national firm at such a young age. He was an officer. They would daily watch him dress up in his uniform, and Prabha would smile at Yash, recalling her old days when Yash used to dress up in the same way. Yash would do nothing, but stare at Prabha, who was becoming weak and pale with time. Her medicines had increased over time, and she had developed many other problems along with her skin-disorder.

Soon, their son gave them the biggest news of his life, news that every father craves to hear. He was in Love! His parents couldn’t be happier, and they immediately agreed to his alliance with the girl of his choice. Within a few months, their son was married, and he brought home a beautiful, intelligent and sophisticated daughter-in-law for them, Syali.

Syali wasn’t allowed to work for initial months of their wedding. Prabha and Yash kept her like a princess. They didn’t have a daughter, but seeing Syali moving around house, made them happier than ever!

‘What are you doing?’ Prabha held Yash’s hand, who was taking out money from his locker.

‘Children haven’t enjoyed their honeymoon yet. I thought I’ll…’

‘This is the last 2 lac rupees we are left with! You understand?’

‘Don’t worry! I still get pension, our son earns in millions, and you’re worried about this small amount?’

Yash took out the bundle of notes and wrapped it up tightly. He took the money to a tourism company and got a honeymoon package of Switzerland for his son and daughter-in-law. Syali and Rahul both were overjoyed with this wonderful surprise. They both readily agreed and within few days, they flew off to Switzerland for their honeymoon.

After 2 weeks, they were back from honeymoon, and Syali was asked to help Prabha in some household tasks, as she was married for four months now. Rahul had joined his office and was so busy in his professional life, and Syali was also brought back to reality. She thought life is nothing but a series of parties and trips. But as soon as they returned from their honeymoon, Syali had nothing to do. If Prabha would ask her for some help, she would frown. So, Rahul asked her to indulge herself in kitchen, so that she could keep herself busy.

‘Rahul, she again broke three plates!’ Syali was shouting at Rahul, because his mother’s illness was causing her troubles in her kitchen.

‘Syali, she’s sick. You should try to understand and help her out!’ Rahul would usually stay out of the ladies’-matter, but Syali would always drag him in, and make him choose one-side. Being madly in love, he always favoured Syali, and sometimes his outburst even took on his mother.

Prabha would say nothing, but feel sorry for herself, her sick health and her worsening condition.

‘What can I do, son? It seems I have no control over myself nowadays. Things slip from my hands, it pains so much that…’

‘Mom! Please! Either stay out of kitchen, or just move out of this house if you’re so fond of breaking our utensils.’ Rahul had said the most bitter words his parents every heard.

Yash heard everything. Being a man with a petty pension, he felt as if he was a burden on his young son and his wife. Yash took Prabha inside. They talked for a few minutes, packed their bags and moved out.

‘Son, even the news of my sickness didn’t hurt me that much…’ Prabha wiped off a tear from the corner of her eye, and they both moved out. Rahul stood in the centre of the lobby, watching everything as a silent spectator, but didn’t utter even a single word.

For first few days they stayed at a friend’s place, but nobody was willing to keep them forever. At last, a tea-stall owner, who was a fond friend of Yash, advised them to seek a shelter in an old age home. Yash’s monthly pension was enough to feed them three times meal and a shelter. Yash knew that he had no choice, so he chose an old age home, near to his son’s home.

Both Yash and Prabha, would daily stand at the balcony of their room, and watch their son get off the stairs, sit in his luxurious car, and drive away. Syali would wave him a goodbye from the doorstep. Prabha would smile, and stare at Yash.

‘Remember our time?’ Prabha asked.

‘Of course…’

‘I used to bid you goodbye the same ways!’ Prabha chuckled.

‘But I didn’t drive a car. I had a bicycle!’ Yash looked at Prabha and they both laughed.

‘Come on…breakfast time!’ Yash took Prabha inside. He was always particular about her diet and medicines. Prabha was the one who was irresponsible. Yash always kept a strict count of everything.

His entire pension was given to the old age home, for their three times food, and a bedroom with an attached bath. Prabha couldn’t walk much, her knees pained. Yash took her to the bathroom, and waited outside till she was free. He would then again hold her from her shoulders and bring her back to the bed, where most of the time of her day was spent.

‘I just want to die now…Yash!’ Prabha was badly sick. She was unable to move.

Her entire body had turned blue and skin was stretched. Her eyes were pale, her face had acquired spots and a weird kind of blueness. Her hair had thinned overtime, and the thick braid was now turned into a few strands of hair pinned up onto her scalp.

Yash moved a hand over her forehead, he felt the how the softness of her face had turned into hardness, ‘Shut up! Nothing is going to happen…’

‘Call Rahul…please!’

In the last 11 years of time, Yash had never called Rahul. Although Rahul came sometimes to wish them on birthdays, anniversary and Diwali, but he never invited them to stay with them again. He never took any initiative to mend things, and neither did Yash bothered, as long as his wife was with him.

‘I’m not joking, Yash…please!’

Yash sensed the seriousness in her voice, and went downstairs to the reception. He made a phone call with trembling hands and shaky voice. Inside, he was very afraid of losing Prabha.

‘Rahul…son…please come and see your mother. She’s very sick!’ Yash’s voice choked.

Rahul was in office, ‘Dad, I’m busy right now, I’ll come in evening for sure!’ Rahul disconnected.

Yash’s heart broke, sensing the cold numbness in his son’s voice. He never wanted to have such a child.

‘What did he say?’ Prabha asked Yash, her eyes longed to see her son for one last time.

‘He’s coming within few minutes…’ Yash lied. He knew hearing the truth would break her from inside out.

Prabha was living on false hopes. Yash always told her that Rahul was pleading them to come back home, but he was the one who refused. He was the one who always said that he is happy here, in this old-age home. Prabha would fight with Yash over lying to Rahul, but never did she know that it was her son who never wanted them back.

Rahul finally entered the old-age home.

‘Mr and Mrs Srivastava?’ Rahul inquired about his parents on the reception desk.

‘Wait a minute…’ the old man told him to wait.

‘Mr Yashvardhan Srivastava and Mrs Prabha Srivastava?’ the old man at reception asked him to confirm.

‘Yes! Can I, meet them?’

‘We’re sorry, Mrs Prabha is no more. They are still upstairs in their room.’

Rahul started trembling. His mother had died, and he felt ashamed of himself for being the worst son ever. Without wasting any more time, he rushed upstairs, and spotted his father crying at the door.

‘Dad…’ Rahul rushed towards Yash, and tried to hug him, but Yash turned his back towards his son.

‘You were never there for us, then why now? Your mother asked to see you one last time, and you didn’t have time for her even on the day she died!’ Yash broke down.

Rahul had no words, no explanations, nothing to heal his father’s wounded heart. He knew he had behaved like the worst piece of shit his whole life.

The people from old-age home, called up cemetery people, and they took Prabha to a cremation ground. Rahul fulfilled his mother’s last wish, and gave fire to her pyre. Yash stood there, numb and motionless. Watching Prabha burn to ashes…watching his life turn miserable.

2 days had passed since Prabha had died. Yash hadn’t talked to anyone. People at old age home were worried about his health, as he was also sickening. He barely ate anything at all.

‘Sir…sir, your son had come to meet you…’ a man came to inform Yash about Rahul, who was waiting at reception.

Yash climbed down the stairs slowly. With every step he was being moved to the flashbacks which haunted him like anything. Half of his life passed in caring for Prabha and finding the cure for her sickness, and the remaining half was passed in this old age home, seeing her die every moment.

He reached the reception, where his son was standing with his head held down.

‘What do you want?’

‘Dad…please come back home…I’m here to take you back. You don’t belong here…’

‘I know where I belong son. I’m happy here…leave me alone, and do me one favour. Don’t give fire to my pyre when I die…’ Yash turned his back towards his son.

‘Dad, please don’t say like this, please! I want you back…please…’

Yash said nothing. He could hear Rahul crying and pleading.

‘Dad…Syali needs you…’

The mention of Syali made him face his son. Yash looked at him with eyes full of questions.

‘Why? What happened?’

‘Dad…she has Scleroderma…’