Yashoda was packing a small suitcase when a golden-complexioned woman appeared in the doorway. "Maiya!" The woman called. Her beautiful face burned like fire in the last rays of the setting sun. Her dress was dishevelled, its now-faded colour reminiscent of the night sky.
"Radha!" Yashoda exclaimed with joy, as she pulled the woman into a warm embrace. "It's been so long since you last visited! Do you not miss us?" Yashoda complained. Radha shook her head as she stood playing with her long, unruly curls.
Radha spoke, "I heard from the gopis that you were going to visit him. Dwarika is a long way from here. I thought I'd catch you before you left!"
"Yes! That pesky Subhadra finally talked us into going. She said Krishna is performing a yajna. She invited us for that!" Yashoda's face fell, "I'm so sorry, my dear. I should've invited you sooner. I just didn't know how to ask you, when it was my child that left you behind!"
"I did not come here to ask you to take me with you, Maiya. I just came to say goodbye!" Radha smiled softly.
"Why not, Radha? Come as my companion, I am sure your family won't object to that!"
"My family is not the problem. I just don't want to go."
Yashoda sighed, "You must be very upset with him! I understand. You must be thinking that he got married to other women, and forgot all about you!"
Radha chuckled, "Radha is not someone you just forget Maiya. Even now, after so many years, with just one word from me, he will come running from his Dwarika and fall at my feet! Still, I trust my Krishna. If he chose to get married, his queens must be remarkable women. It's not so easy to move on after you've known me!" She smiled, "Whatever it may look like, I am thrilled for him! Believe me when I say that I pray every day. I practically beg the Gods that he may forget me. How will he be happy unless he does? You might ask me Maiya, do I not love him anymore? Tell me this, who in this entire world has even gotten over your son?" Radha smiled sadly, "If you must know, we did not part willingly. We only gave each other up in the face of his destiny. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the society that tore us apart all those years ago will let us live in peace now. Like it or not, he and I are done! I refuse to rekindle this old wound just for a moment's delight." Radha forcefully wiped a lone tear from her cheek, "Think of him also, Maiya! He will be torn apart if we come face to face again. I cannot in good conscience put him through that!"
Radha started laughing. Yashoda looked at her, puzzled. Radha said, "I am just so happy for you Maiya! You will get to see him, touch him and listen to him! Oh, what wouldn't I give to have just a glimpse of him now, but alas! That is not to be! You know, the greater good and all that nonsense?" Radha gripped Yashoda's palms, "Promise me, you'll bring something of his? Even if it is a scrap of cloth he touched or something he threw away! Don't tell him it's for me, just get me something will you?"
Yashoda felt her eyes well up as she pulled the now sobbing Radha close to her chest, running her fingers through her distraught hair.
Yashoda leaned back against the cushion on the chariot seat. The journey from Vrindavan to Dwarika was a long and tiring one. It did not help that their escort to the city, one of the Yadava cousins, was very excited and could hardly stop talking. Yashoda let her mind wander back to Vrindavan for a bit. Radha had come to see them off. She had walked alongside the chariot up to the edge of the village, beaming the entire way. However, Yashoda had noticed her puffy, red eyes. She kept turning away to hide her face, trying not to upset them.
Ever since Krishna had left, the poor girl was left completely emotionally exhausted. Yashoda had also heard from people about how Radha had left her family and lived in a makeshift shelter near the river bank. People had also found her talking to birds and trees as she wandered through the forests of Vrindavan. Whenever Yashoda thought of Radha, she felt a painful twinge in her heart. She felt as though she had somehow let down the poor child. Even though people in the village gossiped about her apparent insanity, Yashoda had seen a rare resolve in Radha. This was a person who lost the one thing in her life that she actually cared about and still refused to give in. Only if people were a little kinder to her!
"Kaki!" Yashoda was shaken from her thoughts by the cheerful voice of their escort Satyaki. They had reached the gates of Dwarika. "Kaki, the chariot only comes this far. Do you see that stone bridge over the ocean? That will lead us right into the city. Shall I order a palanquin to be brought over?" Yashoda declined with a smile.
Nanda had already started walking, clearly impressed with the grandeur that lay ahead. Every shikhara of the city, built on an imposing island off the coast, was wrapped in gold. The buildings were painted in varied, attractive colours. The moon-marked flag of the Yadavas flapped proudly over the tallest spires.
"Is that real gold on the pavement I see?" Nanda exclaimed. Satyaki nodded, laughing, "Well, we had some excess and couldn't figure out where else to put it!" He explained. Nanda nodded approvingly, "And this bridge? We heard of the Rama-setu, and now you guys seem to have figured that out as well! How did you pull this off?"
"Oh, Krishna hired some fancy architect, he took care of the science for us. We don't usually get involved in cosmetic matters!" Satyaki beamed as Nanda raised a brow.
Yashoda let the men walk on ahead, engrossed in their discussion.
The ocean splashing up against her feet made her feel strangely giddy. She had always wanted to see the ocean ever since she was a little girl. She turned away from the dazzling city and took a deep breath. The salty air seemed to alleviate all stress from the arduous journey. The ever-stretching skyline of emptiness seemed to fascinate her. Was she standing on the edge of the world itself, she seemed to wonder. Why had Krishna chosen this place to be their haven?
The last few decades had been tough on the whole family. First Kamsa, then Jarasandha! Yashoda wondered if choosing this island, in the middle of nowhere, was Krishna's tiredness finally seeping through the cracks.
Yashoda had asked Rishi Garga when he had come over to perform Krishna's namkarana, back when she still knew him to be her own flesh and blood, "Swami, how much happiness will my lalla get in his life?" She had asked the clairvoyant sage.
"He will bring great joy to anyone who sets eyes on him," the Rishi had replied. No matter in how many ways Yashoda had framed her question, the Rishi had continued to dodge her.
Yashoda sighed as she wondered if Krishna was happy at all.