It was just another morning for Karthik. Tying shoelaces was something he hated since childhood. Maybe that’s why his footwear collection was all about everything lace-less. Wearing formal shoes to work was mandatory, & that it was a gift from Neha, made it harder for him to ditch the pair. No matter how early he woke, he always found himself late and blamed his shoelaces for it. “They suit you more. Stop being a kid”, Neha replied every time Karthik asked her why she didn’t gift him with ‘easier’ ones.
In order to reach office on time, Karthik usually skipped breakfast & sometimes shower too. But no matter what, time flew for him while tying his shoelaces, and hence all the rush. That day was no different. Karthik got ready for work & was heading towards the ultimate struggle with his shoes while his phone rang. He chose to ignore it first, but the constant ringing annoyed him. Giving the wall clock a troubled look, he shifted his glance on the screen of his phone. “5 missed calls from Karuna”, it read. Before he could call her back, his phone buzzed again. Annoyed & in hurry, he was about to yell on the phone until he heard Karuna sobbing.
“What happened?”, he asked.
“Bhaiyya, Mom is no more.”, she said, crying.
Time stopped for Karthik.
“What do you mean she is no more?”
“She didn’t wake up in the morning. She was not breathing and got all cold when we checked on her. We called Doctor Sinha home & he declared her dead.”
“But how is that possible? I talked to her last night and…”
Karuna didn’t let him complete. “I know nothing. Just come home, Bhaiyya, as soon as you can.”
“Hmmm.”, Karthik replied.
He felt tired and weak on his knees. The conversation he had with his mother the other night flashed in his mind. His mother was asking him about when she’ll get to meet Neha, scolding him in the middle of the topic for skipping his breakfast and coming home late, while he, being in a jovial mood, was busy blaming his shoelaces for every problem in his life. Karthik collected his senses & with whatever he could manage to pack, he rushed for the airport. His phone suddenly started flooding with messages & calls from relatives, which he chose to ignore. Absent-minded, he dropped a text to Neha, & finally turned his phone off.
More than being sad, Karthik was shocked. Even at the doors of his home, he prayed to wake up from the nightmare. While Karuna cried profusely in his arms as soon she saw him, Karthik just kept looking at his mother’s face. The chilling expression he held was no different than that of his mother, except that she was not breathing anymore. With her funeral, the ceremonies followed by it, the arrival & departure of relatives, the hustle & bustle stayed for 20 days until it was just Karthik & Karuna alone in their home.
Disbelief took a strong hold of Karthik’s sorrow. He was not his expressive self. Either he comforted Karuna whenever she broke down or stayed in his room for most part of the day. He subjected himself to the isolation where he could remember his mother & the things she said the last time they talked over the phone. He refused to share anything with his sister for a while but with whatever little conversation the duo had, it was decided that Karuna will live with Karthik at his place for sometime.
Karuna found Karthik’s phone while emptying the pockets of his dirty jeans, before loading it all in the washing machine. Without turning it on, she handed it over to him. “Call Neha. It’s been days. She must be worried.”, she said, while leaving his room. Karthik felt a little bad about forgetting Neha amidst everything. He turned his phone on & waited for it to load.
“25 missed calls and 15 new messages”, the notification tab read. The missed calls were from the day he turned off his phone, all of them from his relatives & last one being from Neha. Before hitting the call option listed below her name, Karthik checked his message inbox first. The sender of the last unread message caught his eye.
It was his mother. She texted him the same day she died, early in the morning while everyone was asleep. Karthik finally broke down after reading her message. Nauseated, he threw his phone on bed, & went out for a walk.
“Take care of your sister, and stop skipping your breakfast. Also, I approve of Neha.”, the message read before the display of the phone turned off.