Yashoda unravelled her long braid as she beckoned over Subhadra. Pointing at a hanging matki she said, "Do me a favour and pour a cup of milk for your brother and put it on that stove, please! He will be up soon, and I have to take a bath! do you know how to do these things?"
"I know all sorts of things, Maiya! I can fight, cook, hunt, drive chariots, build mud houses and camouflage in forests! Pouring milk is a cakewalk." Subhadra said excitedly.
Yashoda sighed, "I keep forgetting you are a child of war." She shook her head, "Anyway, you are such a talkative girl! You and Krishna, the two chatterboxes, must drive Rama crazy back in the city?" She exhaled from a blend of sadness and relief, her eyes watering slightly. It had been ages since she had said Krishna's name out loud. Most times, Yashoda couldn't bring herself to utter his name. It hurt too much.
Subhadra kept talking excitedly, "Oh, Krishna doesn't talk at all! Sometimes, it seems like he isn't even listening. I could talk to him for ages and he wouldn't remember a thing later!"
Yashoda turned to face the girl, "What do you mean he doesn't talk?"
Subhadra shook her head, "He's like an ascetic at heart. He takes all due interest in the happenings of the family, but something is always amiss. All his words are carefully measured. Especially since he and Rukmini lost the child-" Subhadra sighed, "Nevermind, I shouldn't talk so lightly of the tragedy."
Nanda stood on his balcony staring absentmindedly at the garden below. He knew the princess was innocent in the throes of his grief, but he could barely bring himself to look at her. So long as Krishna lived under his roof, Nanda had never allowed himself to think about the lost child lest he grew resentful toward the living one. However, ever since the brothers had left, Nanda had found himself questioning the divine plan again and again.
Many times over the past years, he had gone over that night, wondering if there was anything he could have done differently. He sighed. Yashoda had never truly forgiven him, and after that day, they hardly spoke outside of necessity. He guessed he should consider himself lucky that she didn't leave him altogether, but he couldn't help but be resentful at times. It's not like he enjoyed making that choice!
Nanda's mind wandered back to one sultry summer night, a few months after Krishna's departure. He had just completed reading one of the rare letters from Krishna, "Yashode, the boys would be leaving to go to a great gurukul down south." He had walked up to Yashoda standing in the darkness and taken her palms in his, "Why do you not talk, Yashoda? Are you not happy for the boys?"
Yashoda had jerked her hand away, "It would take a very selfish mother to not be happy at her sons' success! However, I have no children, so this doesn't apply to me. As a distant aunt of the two princes, I am ecstatic."
"Surely, Yashoda, you can't blame me! I had no choice!" Even in darkness, Nanda had seen her eyes blaze with anger.
"Of course, you didn't!" She had said through gritted teeth, "You could not have done anything differently at all! You could definitely not have woken me up at that moment. We could certainly not have taken all three of them and ridden away under the cover of the night! Remember, Kamsa did not come into my bedroom and rip my child from my sleeping arms. You did."
"It was part of a greater plan. How could I have gone against God himself?"
"What God, Nanda? I could have forgiven everything, only if you had not lied to my face for seventeen years! Everybody knew, even the boys, just not me! Yet, none of you thought I was worthy of being trusted with this knowledge. What did you think, Nanda? Would I have treated Krishna differently if I knew at what cost I'd gotten him? What did I ever do for you, my husband, to think of me so lowly?"
"Yashoda, I only meant to shield you from the pain! I wanted to ensure you didn't bear the blood of that girl on your hands as well!" Nanda had said through tears.
"All you managed to do was make sure I lost two children at once." Yashoda had said in a heavy voice, "Anyway, let's not do this anymore. I would hate to be another source of worry for the boys. Let us keep out of each other's way and carry on with our lives, separately."
Yashoda had then stormed out of their bedroom, and taken up permanent residence in their guest quarters.
Nanda pulled himself back to reality. There was no point putting it off any further. He had to face the girl sooner or later.
"Hello!" Nanda said softly. The girl turned to face him. She said, "Maiya has gone to take a bath. She asked me to keep an eye on the milk."
"And are you?" He asked.
Subhadra turned back and gasped, "How is it already boiling over? I just put in on there!"
Nanda pulled up his dhoti and squatted beside the stove, poking the matki with a pair of tongs."
Nanda could feel the girl hovering over him. "What use will that be, baba?" Nanda sniffed. He wasn't sure what was making his eyes water- the smoke or her words.
Subhadra laughed and grabbed the pot with a piece of cloth, pouring it carefully into a bowl, "Shall I pour you a cup, baba?" She asked.
Nanda shook his head. Subhadra asked, "Something else then? I could whip you up a fast breakfast before Maiya returns."
Nanda smiled despite himself, "You're a guest in our house, dear. You shouldn't be doing any of this."
Subhadra squatted down beside him, "Weren't you the one who was saying how your children don't need grand gestures, and now you're treating me like a stranger!"
Nanda smirked, "You are just like your brother! Talking circles around me already! Fine, go make some, then we can eat together."
Subhadra laughed and immediately went prancing into the kitchen. Nanda followed her and sat down on the threshold. His heart felt like someone was squeezing till it hurt. If that child had survived, she would've been in her late thirties, surely married by now. Before that, maybe she would have cooked him breakfast just like this young girl dancing around in front of him. They could have had a perfectly ordinary life! No one would've known if he had turned Vasudeva down that night. No one would've blamed him. He would have eventually forgotten the nameless dark child that had turned up on his door on that ridiculous, stormy night. He could've dismissed it as a bad dream.
Nanda was jerked out of the trail of thoughts by Subhadra's lilting laughter.
Subhadra smiled as she arranged the plates, "You and Maiya both say such strange things about Krishna. It makes me think, either you misjudged him quite royally, or he needs serious help, like yesterday!" Nanda nodded.
"You could come with us!" Subhadra said enthusiastically, "Krishna will be thrilled to see you both!"
"Will he? After all that I've done? Why are you so kind to me? Do you not know what I've done?"
Subhadra sat beside him, "I am not here to judge anyone, baba. I only know from all that Krishna says, or rather doesn't say, that he misses you both terribly. Truth to be spoken, in all the years I've been alive, I've seen Krishna smiling all the time, but I've never seen him happy. When I finally started hearing bits and pieces of his story, I realized- rather, I hoped, the answer would lie here in this old village, with you two."
"You put me on a pedestal too high dear. I'm not worthy of such an honour." Nanda sighed.
"Just come with us? You can come as my guests! Get to know the new Krishna, and see if you can find the old one somewhere in there!"
Nanda said, "Fine. I'll think about it, but you will have to convince your Maiya. I'm afraid she forgave neither me nor your brothers after all that."