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The promise - short stories online
The Promise - a short story
Maggie ran down the stone-walled corridor screaming, “Daddy, daddy wait for me.” Her little face was flushed with the exertion, but her eyes shone with anticipation.
The tall, handsome man looked down and smiled at her as he said, “I am still here Maggie, I wouldn’t leave you and go away. A promise is a promise.”
Holding onto her father’s hands, Maggie walked into the courtyard of the huge boarding school. The tall walls of the compound made the place look sombre, and the dark spire-like trees added to the gloom of the place. Outside, the sun was shining brightly, but it was not as hot and sultry as it usually gets at this time of the year.
Maggie looked forward to her day out with her father. She had waited for this day for almost a month. She would tick each day off the calender before she went to bed every day, satisfied that it was one day closer to daddy’s visit. She liked school, but living in the hostel was a drudgery. Her friend, Neena had left the boarding school two months ago, after her parents decided that they wanted her with them. Life after Neena in the hostel, was lonely.
Maggie was fairly outgoing, but she had not met that one person with whom she could be herself. Neena was her perfect match, their interests and values seemed to mesh very well, their upbringing was also more or less similar. Maggie was now lonely and sad. She just did not seem to fancy the lying and cheating which the other children thought was fun. She detested lying, and the hostel matron knowingly used it to her advantage. Maggie was often coerced into giving out information about the pranks the other kids played, whereby she unwittingly got them into trouble. The other kids avoided her and kept away from her. Often she would hear them cry ‘sneak‘ before disappearing into the trees and pillars. Maggie had written to her father about her loneliness begging him to spend the day with her, and now that he was here, she was radiant with joy.
Steven was worried that his daughter did not seem to settle down well at school. He felt that she was too picky with friends, although it was a good thing. He was troubled that he did not have the time to come to see her more often. He was also disturbed that he was ill at ease during these visits. Steven had his hands full, since his wife died. He couldn't manage a high pressure job and a young child. He considered it his fault that Maggie had to be in the hostel. So he did the best he could, he got her admitted to the best school in the country, albeit, at a hefty price. This also meant that he had to drive 200 kilometers up the dangerous mountainous road to see his little daughter. He was angry with his wife..how could she die, leaving him to handle such a great responsibility. Sonia was an efficient woman, she was so efficient that she handled everything on her own, leaving Steven with few responsibilities, other than his work at the office.
Sonia was a beautiful woman, vivacious and wise. He was so lucky to have her, she was in every way his best choice. Their life together was blissful and little did they know that evil lurked just around the corner. Sonia started complaining of back pain, the many doctors visits did not yield any results. More and more tests were performed at each visit, then the pain became unbearable and she was told that she was in the last stages of cancer and sent home to die. Steven’s memory was a blur of hospitals and tears. Sonia died within weeks of the diagnosis. Steven was heart broken and lost. He tried to lose himself in his work.
“Daddy don't you want to speak to me? Don't you want to know how I have been? ” asked Maggie who was eagerly waiting for her father to give her some attention.
“Yes, my dear, tell me.” said Steven shaken form his reverie. Maggie looked into his eyes, she just wanted him to put his arms around her and give her a hug as mother would always do. Daddy would never do that, he was always distant, preoccupied and looked as though her chatter disturbed his most important thoughts. He seemed happy only while he was working, he was not like her friends’ fathers. They were so nice and playful. She often wondered why daddy was so different. He was never rude or uncaring, but just different.
“Daddy, Neena has gone back home, she goes to a nice school in Chennai. Now, I am so lonely here”.
“Neena ? who?” Steven asked absentmindedly, then as if he realised his mistake, he said , “Yes, my dear you did tell me about that in your letter.”
“Daddy, do you love me? asked Maggie.
Steven was stunned, “Yes, Maggie I do love you,” he said hurriedly. “It is just that I am busy and have too many things on my mind that I may seem distant” he added as he sensed what was coming next.
He took her to a posh restaurant, hoping that she would like it. Maggie was excitedly telling him about the play she was acting in, “I am going to be Cinderella, daddy.” Her voice seemed to get louder with her excitement as she said “I got all my dialogues and act right and the judges were so pleased with me”.
Steven sensed that every one's eyes in the restaurant was on them, he motioned her to be quiet. Maggie felt that daddy was not interested in her stories, she hardly ate any of the tandoor roti she had ordered. She knocked down a glass of juice in her anxiety, making daddy cross with her, the lunch was a disaster. Maggie looked crestfallen, she had hoped to get daddy’s love and attention, that was all she ever wanted.
Steven looked at her unhappy face, he felt guilty at having spoiled his daughter’s day out. He wished Sonia was here, she would know exactly what to do, to make things right. He thought hard and long, he decided to take her shopping. They entered a toy shop Maggie seemed bored and wandered around picking up and putting the toy back after a cursory glance. Suddenly Maggie’s face looked animated, she ran past the Barbies and the stuffed toys to the nook that had some beautifully crafted toy cars. She picked up a lacquered maroon, toy car, beautifully crafted from wood, the steering wheel moved and she was fascinated by it. That hand crafted car seemed to fascinate her, she kept looking at it and playing with it totally enchanted.
Steven was astonished, he stood looking at his little daughter, fair, doe eyed, cherubic and radiant. He felt he had never seen her as he saw her at that moment, she was his daughter, she could only be his. He remembered that when he was her age, he would always buy those hand crafted cars, beautifully lacquered and shiny. He had a huge collection of them, even now, at his parents house. The remote controlled cars and the hi-tech expensive cars never caught his fancy. He was always attracted to those beautiful, hand crafted wooden cars. He slowly walked up to Maggie, picked her up in his arms, unaware that people were now looking oddly at a man carrying his seven year old and kissing her on her head and cheeks.
Maggie was surprised, pleasantly, what had come over daddy he was kissing her again and again. With a bag of cars they walked happily to a nearby park. Daddy spoke to her animatedly for hours about his passion for hand crafted toy cars and he even described all the games he would play with them. He promised to take her to grandma’s house during the vacation and show her his collection. Daddy was so excited, his eyes gleamed with happiness, he looked like a young happy boy. Maggie had never known this daddy before, pleased she put her arms around him kissing him, thinking, my daddy loves me. That was all she wanted...nothing else mattered.