“Don’t go there Shaunak”, shouted Jhimli to her son. Shunak was going inside the new toy store- Hamley’s. Jhimli had already bought a couple of toys few days ago, not from Hamley’s, but nevertheless she bought him toys. Neil, her husband was browsing through few shirts from the nearby store.
Jhimli took her son’s hand and stood at the railing from where they could see all floors and stores.
“Ma, I am bored. Can I please go inside? I promise I will not touch anything”
Jhimli saw a group of women, probably single in front of her. They carried a transparent bag and hence she could see the lipsticks of L’Oréal, Bobby Brown and MAC. ‘It’s just one pair of lips,’ she wondered. She could also see the baby doll corsets from the corner of La Senza
“Ma what is that?”
Her son was pointing at a huge sapphire tent made of silk in the first floor. There were kids standing around round tables, with crayons, paint brush and water colors. She smiled. She looked for Neil but she could not see him around.
“Oh well. He will call me.”
She went with Shaunak near the tent and learnt that one of the stores in the mall was hosting a painting competition. She handed a paper to her son and both of them sat down. Shaunak started drawing a landscape. She remembered how she loved drawing and painting as a child. She won several awards too. Her phone started ringing.
“Yeah. No I am down. Umm. I could not find you. Come to the first floor. There’s a big tent. You can find us there.”
Neil came down and she saw him. She waved at him.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Well we have to buy the suit. I am flying day after tomorrow.”
“Oh come on Neil, its jut half an hour!”
They waited till their son finished painting. Jhimli gave him instructions carefully. They submitted his work of art and she asked the lady in charge, “When will they announce?” She was a sweet Malayali lady with glasses and curly hair. She wore an elegant maroon saree.
“After one hour.”
“Yes Ma’am. Here.”
“Ma’am… Ma’am the first prize is a drawing kit worth five thousand rupees”
“Oh wow! Thank you.”
Jhimli hurried back to Neil. They went to several shops but Neil did not seem to like the suits or any of the coats. Jhimli looked around the women’s corner for a brief moment.
Jhimli came from a small town from the outskirts of Kolkata. She finished her college and was immediately recruited by IBM. She worked for few years when she met Neil. They got married and within two years she was pregnant. They decided, along with a host of relatives, that logically a boy needs a parent all the time. He would need love, care and affection so everyone decided that it would be best if she took a break from work. As she looked at the cigarette pants and chambray white shirts, she thought of all the presentations she used to give in front of an audience. She remembered how she learnt to dress smart and how clothes could be deceptive. Everyone thought she came from some la-di-da family in Kolkata.
“Ma, why don’t you wear these?”
“Because I don’t work, only people who go to office wear these.”
Shaunak did not seem to understand. She was proud of her son. From the moment he was born and she saw his tiny head, she knew that she would have a special bond with him. Their favorite part of the day was making clay pots together. Jhimli learnt pottery to keep her occupied. She managed to sell some of them through Instagram and few small-time art exhibitions. She painted whatever Shunak made – tortoise, horses, and sometimes ducks. She created a showcase of sorts in his room which the mother and son flaunted to anyone who came to their house.
“Ma I am tired,” muttered Shaunak.
“Look why don’t we put him that toy train. This ride is about fifteen minutes and by the time he will back, we can finish looking at this store here?” said Neil.
“Okay, so I will go with him?”
“No, there are so many kids and a man is there to supervise.”
Jhimli was not convinced but reluctantly put Shaunak in the toy train.
“Keep an eye on him,” she said to the driver and to the man who was collecting the money.
“Shaunak! You will be okay right? Be inside.”
He nodded happily.
As the train pushed off, “Mom, ask baba to buy those clothes for you.” Jhimli smiled waiving at her son.
Neil tried multiple clothes and yet he did not find what he wanted. Jhimli kept looking at the time. Neil picked up an ice cream for Shaunak. They waited for the train to be back. As the train halted slowly, Jhimli already knew that Shaunak was not there.
“Where is he? I told you to keep an eye on him.”
“Ma’am he must be in the mall. Don’t worry.”
She could hear few other parents saying, ‘How could she!’ and ‘So irresponsible’ and ‘Are they mad?.’
They went to the mall authorities and asked them to announce about Shaunak. They searched all the floors, all the shops and all the restaurants for two hours. As she ran from one corner of the mall to another in tears and agony, the lady from the drawing contest stopped her, “Ma’am why don’t you check the CCTV.”
Neil and Jhimli went to check the CCTV and looked through all the footages. They kept rewinding and looking. Jhimli had gone numb and she went and sat outside. She knew things like these when they happened. She had no prior experience of them; how the world ends for you and how you know that a part of you has been murdered. But she knew it was happening to her. She did not need to see any footage. She did not need to search anymore.
Neil ran out, “We saw Shaunak. The train stopped and a man got in. In the next stop we saw the man getting down with Shaunak. I am getting a photo of the man. We will contact the police. We will sue this mall if required.”
Jhimli could not cry. She decided to go back home alone. She clutched her son’s drawing and passed by all the elegant shops, women with their children, college kids and old couples. She sat in the rickshaw and saw her sons drawing one last time and folded it neatly. She knew everything was over.
The showcase with old clay tortoise and horses stayed there, forever missing their old friends, but never waiting.