“Dad, what am I missing?”
The rain just wouldn't stop! And to add to that, cars were jammed in every possible direction right ahead of him. As Rayan tried to maneuver his Honda through the mess, he spied a harried traffic cop, struggling to manage the chaos but failing miserably. Just then, a mini-bus scraped a Toyota ahead of him and all hell broke loose! Already worked up, the drivers jumped out of their vehicles, itching for a fight; and most of his fellow motorists honked in protest; some even got out of their vehicles to try and stop the brawl.
Rayan looked over at Rishi, his seven year-old sitting in the passenger seat. “Doesn’t look like we can get out of this anytime soon,” he said. “Do you want to hear some music?” he reached out for the radio.
“No.” Rishi said, and continued to stare out the window.
Rayan sat back, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. He continued watching his son from the corner of his eye. Something was amiss, he realised. Rishi was awfully quiet since he had gotten out of school. Was something troubling him? Or was it someone? Rayan fingers tightened on the steering wheel as he thought this last formidable thought. But it kept nagging him.
“Everything okay, bud?” he asked softly.
“What am I missing?”
“Because I am an only child, what am I missing?”
Rayan was shocked into silence.
Rishi was an only child and they had always known he would someday ask about siblings. In fact, when he was younger, Rishi had often asked his parents about their own siblings and had even asked Simi to pray to God to put a baby in her tummy so that he would have a baby brother or sister to play with.
But those were different times and Rishi had been really young then, easy to distract. But today, trapped as he was in the car with his only son, and the seriousness with which Rishi had asked the question, tugged at Rayan’s heart.
“Nothing…” he ventured. “What’s there to miss? You just don’t have a sibling. Some children have brothers or sisters and you don’t. But you are a champ, aren’t you? And you have us, your Mum and me, to play with. Don’t we share your toys? I even fight with you to be fair! And you have cousins, they are your brothers, right?”
Rayan knew he was ill-equipped to answer his son. And wished Simi was here to help. Just as the traffic cleared and they could be on their way, Rayan pretended to concentrate on the road ahead, but his head was swirling with thoughts.
It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried, he thought; because they had – repeatedly – and failed.
When they started out, he had declared to Simi that he wanted her to give him a houseful of kids.
With stars in her eyes, she had agreed to give him anything he wanted. When Rishi was born, Simi had once said their world was complete! But Rayan had reminded her of her promise and she had laughed and agreed “Jo hokum mere aaqa!” It had taken her just over a year to fulfill his wish. And then the trouble began.
They lost the baby just when they were about to share the news with Rishi. Simi was distraught and Rayan was stunned into grief. Thankfully Rishi was still a toddler and they were spared having to talk to him about it.
Months passed. Rishi continued to act as the balm they both needed; and life went on. Then one day a few years later, their gynaecologist asked them if they wanted to try again. They weren’t sure. But Rishi was older, and now constantly kept asking Simi to give him a baby to play with. Everyone thought with enough prayers and care, they would be in for a surprise. And so they decided once again to go down that road. Sweet, free spirited Simi, once again granted his wish and this time they decided to ‘dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t.’’
But they had all forgotten that our stories are already written, way before we are born; and we are meant to only act them out in this world! They were disappointed again. And this time, Rishi was old enough to know. They had had to tell him that the baby (who Rishi had already named as Riyan, a mix of Rishi and Rayan) was lost. God only knew what his little mind understood or what he thought he understood, but the child had been stoic about it.
Simi had been beside herself though, and Rayan had decided that he couldn’t bear the grief anymore.
He couldn’t see her this way, nor did he have the courage left to take any more chances. And it had been an unsaid consensus among them that Rishi would be their only child – for life.
That was some years back. Since then, Simi had been asked many times, by well-meaning friends and strangers about having another child; and she would always smile and give her rehearsed response
“You mean have another rowdy little thing running around the house? No, thank you! I am very happy with just the one!”
Only Rayan knew the truth and would see her true feelings in her eyes every time she was near a baby . He too had similar rehearsed responses ready, in case he was asked the same question; but those occasions were very rare. Everyone always asked the mother, rarely the father; when they were going to have another child.
Simi had once asked him if they could adopt. Rishi needs someone to grow up with, she had said. He needs to be able to share his thoughts with someone just like we do with our siblings, she would remind him. We could adopt a daughter, it would be good for Rishi to grow up in a house with a little sister; as it is, he is so protective!
But Rayan was scared. He didn’t think he could stomach any more disappointments. But more importantly, he didn’t want to disappoint the little child whom he would adopt. Plus, he had heard too many stories about adopted children searching for their birth parents when they grew up; and he didn’t know what he felt about that.
He knew Simi would love the child as her own, but he didn’t want to find himself favouring the adopted child over Rishi, or the other way around. He also knew his family wouldn’t hear of it! His parents were old fashioned, orthodox people. They wouldn’t even agree for him to get Rishi a puppy, adopting a baby was anyway out of question!
He glanced at Rishi looking out the window gloomily and thought, what answer could he give his son? How could he tell his son what he was missing because he was an only child? He thought of his own brother then, whom he could rely on with his life! He thought of Simi’s sister, who stood up for her as much as she stood up to her!
He certainly couldn’t tell his son how much he and Simi worried about him. That they thought he would always have to rely on himself as he grew, with no one to have his back. He certainly couldn’t tell him he was missing a lot of fun and complaining about parents to his sibling growing up. He certainly couldn’t tell him he had no one to talk to late in the nights when he thought his parents were asleep. He certainly couldn’t tell him he was missing out on having a friend for life in the form of a sibling; whom one could rely on for anything in life, even if one fought with him/her or wasn’t even on talking terms with them!
But then Rayan thought of all those siblings who aren’t on talking terms – who haven’t kept in touch because of misunderstandings; and he thought, it was good Rishi was spared the heartache. But he couldn’t tell his son this either; and so he decided to answer his son as honestly as he could.
“Rishi,” he said. “You know your Mum and I tried, you know about Riyan, yes?” to which his son nodded but immediately said, “But we could try again! Maybe this time God will let us have a baby!”
Rayan smiled. “It’s a little late for that sweetheart; and besides, you are so grown up now, you will hardly have time for the little baby! I’ll tell you one thing though, whatever you feel you are missing doing with your brother or sister – play, fight, beat up, watch TV with, chit chat – anything at all; you just have to do it with me! I know God didn’t give you a sibling, but he has given you us parents; and like it or not, you are stuck with us, buddy! And you know what, we are given one life by the Almighty and we all learn to live it the way we get it. I had a brother, never got to know what it is like to have a sister. Your Mum has a sister but is unaware of what a brother’s love is like – we learnt to live with what we got – and you my dear, have been given this like that you have to fill with friends and loved ones – this is the way you are meant to live your life!” and with those words, Rayan swung the car into their car park and said to his son “race you to the front door?” and Rishi bolted out of the car!
Rayan sat there a moment, watching his son enter the house and run to his mum for a hug. He would mention this conversation to Simi, of course, and they would both smile, forlornly, at having dodged the bullet one more time, waiting for the next time Rishi brought it up again.