They entered the apartment at around ten the next morning. After the usual pleasantries with Taruna’s parents and her younger brother, Ravi, were done, they went into Taruna’s old room, to freshen up. The Bastard was locked in another room: gladly, they didn’t see him.
Once inside the room, Taruna hugged Ankush tightly. It was a gesture to break the general air of silence that had built around them in the train. But it was also a gesture that affirmed that such a thing had existed. They kissed, lightly.
Later, while having breakfast on the dining table in the living room, with his father-in-law and brother-in-law giving him company (Taruna was helping her mother in the kitchen), Ankush’s eyes fixated for a minute on the closed gate of the other room, inside which the Bastard probably lay dying. The thought that the nasty old man might be aware of his presence discomfited Ankush. Then he looked towards his wife, working in the kitchen. How wrong would it be if a slice of bread toasted by her ended up going to the man?
After breakfast, two of Taruna’s cousins – Akanksha and Avantika – turned up at the door. Ankush’s presence apparently meant that it was a special Holi for them. Everyone, including Taruna’s parents, moved to the rooftop of the building. Ankush remained a favourite target for colour-splashing, a role he took on sportingly. Taruna’s brother Ravi once put ice cubes inside his shirt. Taruna saw this as the most carefree gesture the two of them had shared till date, and it made her happy to see the two most important men in her life come closer. In the raucous enjoyment, Ankush and Taruna’s recent inhibitions were also shed. Soon, everyone was drenched and painted beyond recognition. Group photos were taken, as if to commemorate the disfigurement all of them had accepted for the day. In the hustle-bustle, Avantika’s mobile phone fell in a bucket of coloured water while she was trying to take a selfie. Miraculously, the phone showed no signs of malfunction after she took it out. ‘Holi Hai,’ everyone shouted in unison.
But the group’s energy was expended by then. Soon, the cousins left. ‘You guys are old, but we have more Holi to play for sure,’ Akanksha announced before leaving. Inside the house, Taruna went to the bathroom adjacent to her room for a shower. Ankush sat on the floor in the room, waiting for her to finish. He heard scraps of conversation from the living room. Taruna’s parents were arguing. The Bastard had fallen in his bathroom while they were celebrating upstairs. Ravi was trying to calm them down. Then Taruna came out of her bathroom and it was Ankush’s turn to bathe. ‘There is an argument,’ he told Taruna before going inside.
By the time Taruna dressed and got to the living room, there was no argument. She saw only her mother, busy with something in the kitchen. She had grown bulkier since the wedding, Taruna noticed. To help her in readying vegetables for lunch, Taruna proceeded to clean the coriander. ‘What happened?’ she asked her mother after a while.
‘He fell in the toilet,’ she replied.
‘So?’ Taruna’s mother turned to face her. ‘What do you mean, so?’
‘Your father had asked Ravi to check on your grandfather,’ her mother said, returning to chopping the tomatoes. ‘He just got too excited playing Holi with you and Ankush.’
‘Does he need assistance while going to the toilet?’ Taruna asked.
‘He doesn’t need to be washed, thankfully; he manages to do that himself. But it’s better if someone lends a hand in helping him sit on the pot.’
‘Disgusting,’ Taruna hissed.
‘Don’t say that. That’s how old age is. That’s how our old age will be, and I hope you and your brother can at least help us sit on the pot.’
‘You know I won’t say the word when you or Papa are old.’
Her mother said nothing to that. When the coriander was clean and cut, Taruna walked into her parents’ bedroom, where her father was doing something on his laptop. He hadn’t cleaned himself well, and parts of his ears and neck still had dark-green colour on them. It looked ugly.
‘You haven’t washed well,’ Taruna said.
‘It will go in a couple of days,’ he replied.
‘Sometimes it can take longer. Just looks bad.’
‘Why don’t you keep an attendant?’ she asked him after a pause. ‘Ravi can’t be burdened with caring for him.’
‘Your brother is not burdened with caring for him.’
‘Why don’t you hire an attendant for your burden, then? For mother’s?’
‘It costs money,’ her father said. ‘We will hire an attendant when we can’t do without one.’
Taruna sat down on the bed, by her father’s stretched legs. She placed a hand on his knees. Her mother and Ravi came in too, and sat next to Taruna’s father.
‘Ravi doesn’t have to sleep in that room,’ Taruna said. ‘He can sleep in my room, with me and Ankush.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ her father said. ‘What would Ankush think?’
‘He knows. He will understand.’
‘I don’t mind sleeping in the other room,’ Ravi assured Taruna. ‘And it’s just for a night anyway. I usually sleep in your room these days.’
‘Knows what?’ Taruna’s father asked her. ‘What does Ankush know?’
‘He knows what that man did to me,’ said Taruna.
‘Are you stupid?’ her mother was scandalized. ‘Why did you have to tell him that?’
‘Why not? I’d told him months before marriage.’
‘He’s a nice man, Ankush,’ her father sighed. ‘But such things do no good.’
‘Oh come on, you two,’ Ravi stepped in. ‘It’s alright if she told him. It’s good, even. He’s her husband and she can tell him what she wants.’
Their parents shut up. Taruna whispered a thank you to Ravi.
Excerpted with permission from the short story “Good People”, published in the collection Diwali in Muzaffarnagar, Tanuj Solanki, Harper Collins