8. Bye dad!

०२ मार्च २०२१

That morning Anu woke up with Mum’s voice. She was on the phone with someone.

“I can’t stop him from seeing her. Last time he met her when she was five years old. Then he disappeared to Australia. After that meeting, Anu waited almost every day for his phone call, letter or a message from him. But nothing until now. He is back again after 6 years and wants to meet her.”

Anu’s heart skipped a beat. She sat on her bed. Mum was talking about her Dad. He is back in New Zealand and wants to meet her.  Last time she was so little when they met. She was only 5 years old. Now she is 11 years old. Lot taller and cleverer than before.  When mum entered her room, Anu had a big grin on her face.

“My dad is back. Isn’t he?”

Mum just smiled.

“Aren’t your happy mum?”

“I am happy for you. I will call you teacher to inform that you won’t be coming for the netball game this morning.”

“Oh my gosh! Yes, today is Saturday. We had a match against the Girl’s grammar school. Am I meeting him today?”

“Yes, for lunch.”

“Is he coming here? Will my grandmother be with him? What about my cousins?”

“I know you are excited and you have lot of questions but sweetie, I don’t have answers. You ask him when you meet.”

Anu opened one of the big boxes in her wardrobe. She had photos and certificates from school stored there.

“I want to show dad all my certificates. How can I carry this box downstairs to his car?”

Mum started laughing.

“Mum don’t laugh. I am serious. I don’t know when will he come next time. I have to show him now. He will be so proud of me.”

“He will be definitely proud of you.”

“Why don’t we invite him here for lunch?”

“Not a good idea.”

“Why mum? You were married once.”

“And then divorced...”

“Mum don’t forget that you two have a daughter together…that’s me!!”

Mum pulled her in her arms and cuddled her.

“Okay. Only for you baby. I will be in my bedroom for the time he is here with you. Okay?”

“Deal! I will call him and tell.”

Anu called her dad.

“Hi dad, this is Anu. How are you?” she started to giggle.

“Yes, I am grown up now. I am taller than before. My hair is longer. I play netball. I can play three instruments.”

“Anu, tell him he is coming here for lunch.”

“Oh yes. Dad, you are coming to our place for lunch. Yes, Mum agreed. Okay. see you soon. Bye!”

“What should I wear mum?” Anu got busy in getting ready. She helped mum make some lunch. She made some cookies.

“He never liked my cooking. He will be happy that his daughter is good at cooking & baking like himself.”

“Why didn’t he like your cooking? You cook yummy food. I love your cooking.” Anu put one arm around her mum’s neck and kissed her on the cheek.

When Anu was making cookies, mum’s friend called. They were speaking in Hindi.  It was so similar to mum’s language - Marathi. Anu could always make out certain things from their conversation.  Mum was telling her friend that when Anu’s dad visited last time, he wanted to take Anu with him to Australia without telling her. He took her out for a drive and never came back. She had to threaten him to involve the police. Then he brought Anu home. Anu’s mum was worried about this visit. She wasn’t sure what he wanted from them. Anu felt sorry for her mum. She was confident that her dad has changed. That’s why he came to see them. He was a nicer guy now. She was sure he missed her. There must be a reason he couldn’t come. She didn’t believe that he came to see her because he wanted something.

“Mum. What’s child support?”

“When a marriage or a relationship breaks, one partner gets custody of their children. Then the other partner has to pay certain amount of money every week for the children. Where did you hear about it”?

“My friends at school were talking about it.”

“You are just 11-year-old children.  Why would you talk about child support?”

“One of the girl’s dad wanted her full custody or shared custody because he doesn’t want to pay child support.”

“Or maybe he wants to spend more time with his daughter.”

“Yeah. That may be true too. She thinks her dad is cool. Is it compulsory to pay for child support?”

“Yes, it is.  It is a crime not to pay.”

“Does my dad pay?”

“Anu, why do you want to know?”

“If he is not paying then will you tell the police that he is here? Don’t mum, please don’t.”

Mum looked at Anu’s worried face and started to laugh.

“Are you silly Anu? Do you think I am that mean?”

“You are not mean but you are angry at him. And you think he will take me away from you.”

“Did he say that? Who told you?”

“I heard you talking on the phone. I can understand Hindi.”

“I didn’t know that. Looks like you are like your dad, good at learning languages.”

“When I play instruments, I bake or cook, learn languages, you say I am like my dad. He must be so happy to have me. Then why did he leave?”

“He left for his own reasons. It was true that we were not right match for each other but I would have kept the marriage going. You needed a dad. But he left for Australia.”

Mum suddenly stopped.

“What am I talking about? Today is so great day. You will be meeting your dad after 6 years. Yay!”  They were happy again. At least Anu was.

When dad’s car pulled in their drive way, Anu ran downstairs. She kept jumping up and down until he got out of the car. She hugged him very tight.

“It is so good to see you Anu. You are so tall now. You are not a baby anymore. “

“Mum says I am still her baby” giggling, she brought him upstairs.

Mum and dad both said hello to each other.

“Mum you can sit here with us. We are a family.”

“I am sure you both have a lot to talk about. Lunch is on the table. I promised Veena aunty that I would call her today. I will be in the bedroom.”

Anu opened her box and she started showing her dad her certificates and photos. Dad looked at those and praised her. He kept interrupting her by asking about what Mum has been doing. He asked if she was dating anyone. How is her job going? Have they got any money problems?

“Did you miss me all these years dad?”

“You asked me this question for the third time today. Yes, of course I missed you.”

“Then why didn’t you call or visit? You didn’t even send me a letter.”

“I have been extremely busy. It is not easy to do everything by yourself.”

“Mum does it. But she always has time for me. She always says I come first for her.”

“It is because you live with her. It will be easier for me if you live with me. If you remember, I wanted to take you to Australia when you were 5 years old.”

“But you didn’t want mum to come. That wasn’t nice.”

“It was a complicated situation at that time.”

“Dad, did I tell you about my friend Janelle?”

“No, you haven’t. Should we have lunch & you can talk about it?”

During lunch Anu once again tried to talk with her dad about her little life. But dad wanted to talk about the book he has been working on and the business he has recently bought. She was interested in his stories at first but very soon she got bored & tired.  She knocked on Mum’s bedroom door.

“Yes, come in. “

“You are looking tired baby. Did you have lunch? Has he left?”

Anu sat on the bed.

“No, he is still there watching T.V.”

“Don’t you want to talk to him?”

“He is not interested in me Mum. It is all about him, his business, his book and all that.” Anu’s voice choked. Mum cuddled her,

“of course, he is interested in this wonderful daughter of his. Come, we will talk to him.”

“Hello, how are you? “

“Not bad. And you?”

“Did you eat the curry Anu made?”

“She didn’t tell me that.”

“I did but you were talking about your own cooking.”

Mum showed dad one of the certificates Anu had from presenting in a teacher’s conference.

“Wow! this is really great!”

“I tried to show you that but you were busy talking about your book and talking about my mum. You are not interested in me at all. Are you?” Anu walked out of the room to her bedroom.

“Anu come back sweetie. Is this your idea of spending time with your daughter?”

“I am not used to talking to children. She doesn’t live with me hence we don’t have that connection.”

“She is not any child. She is your daughter who you didn’t see for last 6 years. I will not let you play with my daughter’s life like this.  If you want her in your life then you must keep in regular contact and visits. She misses you and waits for you. Now you are back. What is your agenda this time? It is not to stop child support. Is it? Because you might have forgotten, but I don’t get any child support from you and I don’t want any.”

There was silence for a second or two. Anu opened her bedroom door a bit and was trying to hear. She held her breath.

“Well, I have bought a small restaurant in rural Australia. I would like you and Anu to join me there. I cannot work alone. I need family to support me.”

“What happened to your family there? You left us for an Australian girlfriend who had a son of Anu’s age. Why not take her help?” Anu’s eyes started to water.

“That relationship didn’t last. These women are not like our Indian women, committed and gentle. And look at how you have been bringing up Anu with so much care.”

“So basically, you want a superwoman who will look pretty, bring up a child well, work 24 hours in your restaurant, tolerate a guy like you as her husband & serve your family like a servant, be gentle at the same time and have a smile on her face. And you came to my door knocking because you couldn’t find anyone else? What gave you so much confidence to demand this from me?”

“Well, this was one of your downfalls. False pride! Remember, in the end you are a divorcee who is in her early 40s. Your job is not that great. Your daughter is clever and you need financial support to bring her up. She needs a dad too. If I were in your place, I would compromise. This is a really good offer. I didn’t want to, but my mother said I should give you a chance.”

“What chance? You left us for someone else.  We both are doing fine here. Anu will get scholarships to study further or she will take student loan.  She doesn’t need a dad to do well in life. All she needs is honesty and hard work. I feel sorry for you. If you had asked me to reconcile with you for our daughter I might have. But I should have known. I feel awful that I let my daughter meet you this time. But I thought people can change.”

“She is my daughter too. I can meet her whenever I want. You cannot stop that. In the end she will realize what is good for her. My offer for her to come to Australia with me still stands.  I don’t need you there to look after her.”

Mum stood up. And dad had to leave.

“Anu, where are you? I am leaving. Come and say bye.”

Anu closed her door and pressed her back against it. She hoped that mum wouldn’t call her.

“Leave her alone.  She is upset with you. She will call when she calms down.”

“Don’t poison her mind against me.”

“You yourself are enough to do that.” Anu heard his footsteps down the stairs. Mum knocked on the door.

“Mum, I am sleeping.”

“But you are talking to me. Let me come in.”

“Okay. If you want...”

Mum sat beside her. And she moved her hand through Anu’s hair.

“Do you know Anu who are the weak people in this world?”

Anu shook her head.

“People who are afraid to make a change or take a decision or to face a situation or to face other people.”

“I am not weak Mum. I feel sorry for dad that he will be all alone because we won’t be going. Shall we?”

“I won’t be.  He loves you and wants you to come. Do you want to? “

“Well Mum, all these years he was never there for me. Now he doesn’t really want me.  Now I know why he left us. We are better than him. We are strong, kind and successful people. He is weak.”

“Why do you think we are successful?”

“Because if we have problem, we solve it. We help others and we are happy.”

“Wow! Are you training to be a preacher Miss Anu?”  Anu hugged her mum. Very soon Mum’s shoulder was wet with Anu’s tears.  In the evening, Mum and Anu were watching TV. Phone rang.  Anu picked up the phone.

“Hi Dad.  I am okay. Yes, it was good to see you too. Sorry, what did you say Daddy? “After listening for a minute Anu said,

“No dad. I don’t have to make a choice between you and Mum. But you should have chosen me over everything a long time ago. You should have put me first like Mum did!  Best luck with your business.  Bye dad.”

Anagha Kawley, Auckland, New Zealand


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