Shashi reached up and ran her gloved hand along the dusty shelf. Her hand stopped at an unexpected undulation. She held and tugged at what felt like a flat block. It came off in her hand with a whiff of dust. It was an old book, covered neatly in a newspaper which had worn off at all edges. She wiped it with the cloth in her hand and opened the cover gingerly-
And scribbled on the bottom right was her father’s name with a date-
Dr. Rustom Khouri
17th May, 1966
This book was a year older than she was. Surprised, she turned around a leaf. She never took her father to be a reader of a book like Wuthering Heights. She recalled him as a voracious reader, but only of newspapers and editorials. If he had been a connoisseur of such dramatic fiction, he had definitely done a great job of hiding it from her. Though he had never stopped her from reading whatever she wanted, he had on several occasions asked her almost confoundedly what drew her to ‘these melancholy stories’. But she had never had a convincing answer for him, just that she loved reading them since she could remember. He would smile and walk away.
She took off her glove and turned another page carefully, with affection, running her hand across the yellowed paper. He had passed away quietly in his sleep three years ago, just a year after her mother died of a long sickness. While she had always been close to her mother, it was her father’s death that had been especially hard on her. He had died almost suddenly, leaving her unprepared and alone. It had taken her almost a year to make her peace with his absence.
Just as she turned another page, she saw a photograph tucked in its pages. It was a black and white picture. Dr. Rustom smiled brightly sitting on a Royal Enfield bike. He had one arm around a pretty young woman standing next to him, who also beamed at the photographer. What was stunning was the resemblance the young woman had with herself. She was the exact carbon copy of the woman in the photograph. What did it mean? Who was she? Was she…
Shashi stood still, the photograph in one hand and the book in the other, and stared out of the window. Thoughts raced through her mind like a whirlwind. What should she do about this? Who should she ask? Should she go out there and find her? Was she even still alive? Why didn’t dad ever tell her? Did mom know?… A million questions took hold of her. Surely, there was something she must do now…
The people she could confront were gone and with them, the answers she wanted. She was too old to rewind through her life with the new information. She was too rigid to change the truths she had believed all along. And so…
She looked back at the photograph for a long instant, tucked it back in the pages of the book and closed the book. Then she walked slowly over to the shelf, reached up and slid it towards the back of the tall shelf. She wore her glove and started wiping the dust off the cupboard next to it as if she had never found it. For another day, or perhaps for someone else, she decided.