"IWe have two kids?"
"I should've told..."
"How long have we been married?"
"How old are they?"
"Four and Two..."
"We've been married for fours year and we have a four-year-old?"
"Well, Meera was a bit of a surprise..."
Bela wasn't taken aback by idea of having children, per se. It was the notion of having two small pieces of her, of which she had no recollection. How can a mother forget her own children? Mahir attempted to soothe her qualms, but after a while he knew she needed to sort this on her own. She had always needed time alone, even before the accident, and as much as it pained him, Mahir decided to call it a night. He was tired. She was tired. He would return tomorrow, with a cleared head, to try again.
After picking up the kids, Mahir drove somberly through the streets of Mumbai. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was low in the horizon, providing a beautiful array of orange, yellow, and purple hues. Bela has always loved the contrast of color during a sunset. Arriving home, Mahir parked his car and gazed at their children spilled over in their car seats. The past month or so had been extremely difficult for them. Mahir tried his best, but without mommy...needless to say it had been hard. He slowly made his way out of the car, lifting Dhruv and then Meera from their car seats.
"Pappa?" Meera mumbled, drowsy from the car ride.
"Yes sweetie?" Mahir said kissing the top of her head.
"I missed you."
"Oh yeah? I missed you both," Mahir said, squeezing them tightly, lingering just enough to find her scent on them. He loved them so much. "Now...who wants pizza?" Both shouted excitedly before sprinting towards the front door. At Meera's request, Mahir ordered pineapple pizza, which also happened to be her mother's favorite. Dhruv was never fond of the 'napple' pieces, as he called them, and picked every chunk off his slice, much like his mother did with mushrooms.
After dinner it was bath time, which always ended with a soaked Mahir and an unhappy Dhruv. Dhruv hated being in the tubdressed, undressed, toys, no toys, water, no water, with daddy, with mommyhe just detested it. They had tried everything, and the only other optionnot showeringwas not actually an option.
"C'mon Dhruv... Look, it's Spongebob!"
"No, no da-dy, nooo..."
"It's okay ...Look," Mahir said, swirling the water with his hand. "It's fun!" But Dhruv wouldn't have it. He held tightly to Mahir's neck, jumping, kicking, and screaming, as if the water was scorching hot. The neighbors probably thought the Seghals had an appointment with an exorcist every day. When it was finally over Mahir enveloped himthemin a towel and waited until Dhruv loosened his tight grasp around his neck. "Hey," Mahir said wiping the tears on his cheeks, the child's lips still quivering from crying, "It's all done buddy, okay? Let's get you dressed now."
Bedtime was smoother than bath time. Dhruv was still at an age where he would go to sleep on his own when left in his bed. Meera, on the contrary, was a more intricate case. After tucking Dhruv in, Mahir made his way to Meera's room, where he found her playing with her dolls. When Bela was pregnant with Dhruv, she didn't want Meera to be resentful of the new baby. So when Dhruv was born, Bela bought Meera a doll with all the accessoriesdiapers, bottles, pacifiers and she would have Meera do the same to the dolls as she did to Dhruv. Since then Meera would habitually play with her dolls.
"It's bedtime, pretty lady," Mahir said entering her room.
"A little bit more, Pappa?
"It's bed time... Tomorrow you can play more."
"Please, Pappa? Pleeease?
"Meera..." Mahir said sternly. She looked defiantly at him; eyebrows knitted together, arms crossed across her chest. She is so much like he mother.
"Okay..." She surrendered, slumping down on top of the bed. Mahir held up the covers and she ducked underneath them. He kissed her forehead, running his hand through the still damp curls on her head.
"Goodnight, sweetie. I love you."
"Love you too, Pappa." Mahir was almost out of the door when Meera chimed in again. "Pappa?"
"When is mamma coming home?"
Mahir could never get used to that question. It had been asked many times, in several different ways, but the truth was, he didn't know the answer. Not then, and not now. And after today, he didn't even know if Bela would be willing to come home at all.
"Soon..." Mahir responded.
"Yeah..." Mahir said approaching her bed. He knew this routine way too well by now.
"I miss mamma."
"I know sweetie, I miss her toothis much!" Mahir said, stretching his arms from side to side. Meera smiled; that same smile, the one that stole his heart. "It's bedtime now, okay?"
"I don't wanna sleep, Pappa!" Mahir didn't have the strength to fight her tonight. He was less resourceful and resilient today, than most days. Besides, she was on the brink between sleep and awake anyways.
"C'mon," Mahir said, lifting her from the bed. "Wanna help me with the dishes?"
"Yeah," Meera said stifling a yawn.
The oven clock read 8:30 pm when they reached the kitchen; Meera was promptly asleep by 8:50 pm. She just didn't want to be alone, and neither did Mahir. Mahir sat on the couch with Meera spilled over his lap for the next hour, listening to the humming of the dishwasher. Another day had gone by, and the uncertainties had simply amplified. But tomorrow would be another day; another day.
The following morning was daycare day, as it was known in the Seghal household. Bela had been hesitant with the idea of daycare, but Mahir convinced her otherwise, assuring her it would be good for their children to interact with other kids their age. However, the first day had been disastrous, as Meera resisted the best way she knew howkicking and screaming. It had gotten better once she familiarized with the staff and the other children, but recently she had been particularly difficultseparation anxiety; they called itand today was no different. Mahir had another drop-off, filled with, "Don't leave daddy," and "Can I came with you," before driving to the hospital. Her pleas stirred him to no extent.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Mahir entered Bela's room to find her clutching a few pieces of paper in her hands. Her eyes were reddened and swollen, a sign that she had been crying.
"Did they draw this?" Bela interrupted, stretching the paper for him to see. "Did they?" Mahir nodded, confirming her suspicion. The papers were Meera's and Dhruv's get well cardslopsided hearts, unidentifiable shapes and lines, with traced 'I love you mamma'. Bela let her head fall back on the pillow, tears cascading down her cheeks. All night she had desperately tried to remember them, to see their faces, but nothing came. Nothing ever did.
"I...just...I can't remember them," Bela reasoned, defeatedfrustration getting the best of her.
Mahir reached for his back pocket, fishing for his wallet. "Here, this was taken last Year. This is Meera and Dhruv." Bela took the wallet size picture and gazed intently at it. The picture showed Meera and Dhruv with matching red outfits on Bela's lap. Bela ran her finger across the picture, tracing their smiling faces. "Meera's hair is much longer now." Mahir added.
"HeDhruv looks just like you!"
"Yeah, that's what people tell me," Mahir said with a lopsided smile. "Meera looks like you though."
"From the curls on her head to the tip of her toes. Although, she has my ears, but she is growing nicely into them."
Bela chuckled, wiping the remanding tears descending her cheeks. "How...um... how are they?"
"They miss their mom."
The room fell quiet as Bela continued to gaze at the picture, absorbing every minute detail. Even the wrinkled edges held an untold story. She could imagine the photograph being passed along as Mahir proudly showed it off, retelling anecdotes of their little ones.
"Why can't I remember them?"
"I don't know Bela..." Mahir said snaking his arm around her, but quickly sensed her body tense under his fingertips. "I'm sorry." He said, retracting his arm.
"I'm sorry too." Bela wiped a few tears still feebly rolling down her cheeks, trying to recompose herself. She had to stop doing that every time Mahir entered the room. "Is my mom coming today?"
"Yeah, she stayed at a hotel not too far from here. I asked her to stay at our house, but she wanted to wait for your sister and your dad. I think they're all coming later."
"Okay... um..." Bela paused, hesitating her next question, "Are you bringing the kids sometime?"
Mahir's smile widened, "I could bring them today if you want."
"I think I would like that."
Mahir didn't stay long. His current situation was accompanied by leniency at work, but he didn't want to take advantage. At work Mahir was the happiest he'd been in the past month. He busied himself, attempting to forget the ticking clock. He really needed it to be four o'clock already.
At four o'clock Mahir rushed out of the office, driving purposely to the daycare center. In the back of his mind, he was hesitant to bring the kids in. They expected mamma to be, well, mamma, and Mahir didn't know how Bela would take on the role. At the daycare he was greeted with two of the three smiles that fulfilled him to no extent.
He carried Meera and Dhruv to the car, buckled them in and drove to the hospital as Meera recounted her day. During her breathing intervals, Mahir would respond accordingly. But when she seemed to be emptied from talking, Mahir decided it was his turn.
"Hey Meera, Do you wanna see mamma today?" He knew the last time hadn't gone so well. "I know mamma wants to see you. She misses you a whole bunch."
"Mamma's not sleeping anymore pappa?"
"Nope... And she really misses you guys."
"Did mamma's boo-boos go away?"
"Not all of them..."
Meera thought about it for a minute before responding, "Pappa, I wanna see mamma." Mahir felt the thumping of her feet against the back of his seat. He could hear her whispering "Dhruv, Dhruv! We're gonna see mamma." But Dhruv was dozing off, with his head bobbing to the side, not bothered by his sister's pleas. Arriving at the hospital, Meera seemed very eager to go inside. But as soon as they were in the elevator, she became hesitant, hiding behind Mahir's leg. Mahir could barely walk down the hall with her clutching so sternly to his pants leg.
"Meera sweetie, pappa can't walk!" She didn't move, so Mahir continued to drag her down the hall. Once arriving in front of the door, Mahir bent down to her level, with Dhruv still dozing on his shoulder. "Mamma's boo-boos still hurt... I want you to be very careful with her, okay?" Meera nodded. Mahir slowly opened the door, his heart pounding anxiously in his chest.
"We're here..." Mahir said, watching Bela's gaze dart between Dhruv on his shoulder and the small figure hiding behind him.
"Hey..." As soon as Meera heard her mother's voice, she darted from behind Mahir and ran straight towards the bed.
"Mamma! Mamma!" Bela reached her arms down and lifted the little girl to the side on the bed. Bela couldn't contain the tears rolling down her face. She had been mentally preparing for this moment ever since Mahir's visit this morning. Meeting her dad and sister today was overwhelming, but meeting someone you helped create was another ballgame. These little beings were no one's but hersand Mahir's of course. Bela's heart was almost exploding from the fulfillment she felt. The sentiment was so new and so grand that it almost overpowered her.
"Hi..." Bela whispered in her daughter hair.
"Mamma I missed you!" Meera clutched Bela's neck, almost impairing her breathing. Bela looked at Mahir, smiling. Pure adoration was evident in his eyes.
"I missed you too!" Bela said, running her hand through Meera's hair, over her face, and arms...
"Hey," Mahir said approaching with Dhruv. "It seems his nap is going on overtime."
"Yeah?" Bela chuckled. The boy looked just like his father.
"Dhruv... Hey, buddy, wake up! Wake up Dhruv," Mahir whispered, nudging Dhruv awake. His eyes opened slowly, still heavy with sleep. "Look... it's mamma!" Dhruv rubbed his eyes, looking around the strange surroundings; a yawn escaping him, causing Bela to chuckle at his adorableness.
"Mamma," Dhruv said, reaching his arms out for her. Mahir lowered him carefully, placing him on the opposite side to Meera. Bela kissed the top of his head, sensing something familiar about his scenttheir scent. She embraced both children tightly, never wanting to let go.
"Mamma you're squishing me!"
"Sorry..." Bela said, loosening her grip. Her eyes darted to Mahir, who mouthed, it's ok. She shifted in the bed making room for the three on themperhaps it could fit one more. Bela patted an empty spot, urging Mahir to take a seat, which he did.
Meera did most of the talking, telling her mother how she could tie her shoes, and that pappa had brought her and Dhruv to the park, and how Dhruv had taken one of her dolls. Bela listened carefully to the little girl, chuckling at her mispronunciations. Bela would look at Mahir whenever a name was mentioned, or a place she didn't know. Mahir would mouth the answer or include it in a sentence somehow. Dhruv was busy stacking and crushing the few empty Styrofoam cups on the table, unaware of what was going on. They ordered some cafeteria food and ate it as a family, for the first time in more than a month.
It wasn't long before Meera and Dhruv surrender to sleep, their limbs sprawled, and their mouths partedever so slightlyslumbering in the comfort of their mother's embrace. Bed time had come a little bit faster today than most days.
"They are so beautiful."
"So...um..." Bela stammered, "Meera was a surprise?"
"Yeah, but in our defense we were engaged. We were actually going to elope a week before we found out, but we opted for a wedding, wedding instead."
"Was Dhruv a surprise too?"
"He wasn't a surprise per se," Mahir said scratching the back of his neck, "We weren't being very cautious with...um... Yeah... So, when the five hour naps returned, we knew we were expecting."
"Five hour naps?"
"Yes! A minimal of five hours, actually!"
"Oh... that's a long nap."
"Thank you for finally agreeing with me!"
"You know...the doctor said I could go home next week, if I'm ready?"
"Do you think you're ready?" Their eyes suddenly met, wasting no time in putting their feelings into words. Mahir slowly reached for her hand, interlocking his fingers with hersthe perfect fit.
Bela looked down at their hands, heart pounding in her chest. "I think I am."
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