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Sehaj Villa
Part II

A Short Story by T. SHER SINGH




Continued ...



I open my eyes. We’re still in bed. I can see from the light filtering through the sheers in the window that it’s still in the early hours of dawn.

I feel the weight of the world. I don’t understand why I feel no energy. It’s only been two weeks since we moved into Sehaj Villa. It’s been a whirlwind no doubt, these last few months, but why am I feeling so drained?

I lie there, motionless. “I’m in no hurry,” I say to myself. I know Aggie will be up any minute. She’s the whirlwind, if you ask me. If the world is yet to stir, it’s because she’s still asleep.
Difficult though it would’ve been to even imagine this when it all got started, we’re finally settled in our one-bedroom unit at Sehaj Villa.

Yes, one-bedroom. And that too is a liberal description, considering the dimensions of our four little rooms. One is, of course, a bedroom. The second a living-cum-dining area with an added nook for a mini-kitchen -- not big enough to cook in, but to heat, refrigerate, store, etc. The third is the toilet, the fourth the bath.

That’s it. Who would’ve thought we could’ve possibly adjusted down from what we had to what we now have -- and be content?

I won’t take any of the credit. It was Aggie’s decision.

Needless to say, we had the choice of carving out for ourselves any sized apartment we wished. But Aggie insisted we take one of the existing units, albeit one of the most spacious ones.

“You’re going to start helping in the cleaning, are you?” she had asked me pointedly.

To be honest, we aren’t living in much of a spartan lifestyle. The lodge has been transformed into a dreamland by Aggie … and more.

We had what no other business or seniors’ home has: a surplus of money. Having dispensed with the idea of having heirs, and having liquidated all we had, we had done two simple things: put away a reasonable sum for a rainy day, for ourselves -- which too would revert to the Sehaj Villa Foundation if it remained dry to the very end; and the rest was poured into the Villa.

Aggie simply took over the project, as if it was hers and hers alone to begin with. Well, it was -- we are here because of her, aren’t we? -- even though the original idea had indeed mushroomed into a mega project. But it was as if she had launched herself into a new career, and I had retired!

“Bear with me on this one, Tabby,“ Aggie said over breakfast on our second day in our new home.

“What do you mean?” I had asked.

“I know you can do wonders with this place,” she said. “But, you’ve done your thing all your life. This one, let me do it my way … please. Trust me, I’ll be fine. You’ll like what I do with it, I promise. So, why don’t you sit back and enjoy.”

I took my time with the granola. Then, I put down my spoon, folded my napkin, and said, “Fine, sweetheart. It’s all yours. I’m here if you need me … but you won’t. I know.“

It wasn’t easy for me. But then, I had thought, what did we have to lose? What was the risk?

If I did anything, it was only to implement her wishes.

Her wishes! My thoughts race back to the first time I saw her … the first time I met her!

Hold your breath. It was the day we were married. And I didn’t get to see her face until after we were married. Hours after.

They were days when ancient traditions ruled, and arranged marriages were still de rigueur. I had entered our bedroom and shut the door behind me: we were alone together for the first time. The light was dim. I stood there with my back to the door, wondering what lay ahead … both literally and otherwise.

I saw her figure on the bed. Sitting up. The chunni was no longer covering her face. She was struggling with the clasp in her hair, trying to free the jewelled pendant that fell over her forehead.

I stood there. I could feel my blood thumping … in my chest, in my veins, in my head. Yet, I couldn’t move. She didn’t look like her photo -- that single image they had cared to show me when I was told I was going to be married.

Was it a mistake? Wrong person? She? Me? I’d never seen anyone so beautiful.

“Help me with this thing … please … ji!” she said.

It was the first time I’d heard her voice.

I didn’t know what to say, what to do. My body wouldn’t respond.

“Please …” she said again.

I found myself sitting on the bed with her. She pointed to her head. I reached up and fumbled with the clasp. She winced. Sorry, I said.

Somehow, it came off. She raised her face and looked at me, straight into my eyes.

I looked away, pretending to look for something in the far corner.

“I’m nervous too …” she said.

We sat there, motionless for a while.

“I want to say something,” she said.

I nodded. Our eyes locked again.

“Just one thing.”

I could barely hear her. I was too busy pinching myself. “She’s not real!” is all that my brain was saying. Shouting. Screaming.

“All I want to say,” she said, and as she whispered, her wrist jangled as her hand reached out and came to rest on my knee. “All I want say, ji, is … treat me right … always … and we’ll be friends … for life.”

I just stared at her. I think it was at that moment, that very instant, that I fell in love with her.

And have been, ever since.     

*   *   *   *   *

I turn to see if she’s awake yet. I can’t … I can’t move.

I don’t remember too much after that. A lot of blurred movements, a lot of commotion. I close my eyes.

I open my eyes again. It takes me a while to focus. Someone is talking to me. He’s telling me that I’ve had a stroke. That I’ll be okay. That I’m in a hospital. Aggie’s face appears above me. Are we back on our bridal bed? I flicker my eyes to say “yes,” because I still haven’t found my voice.

We had to operate … to remove a blood clot, someone is speaking again. But all’s well. It’ll take some time … but you’ll be fine …

I close my eyes. We’re back on our bridal bed again. I put my hand on hers.    

*   *   *   *   *

It's a few weeks before they say I’m ready to leave.

Our children want us to go home with them. No, I say, home is Sehaj Villa. Aggie nods, and squeezes my hand. “We’ll be fine,“ she says, “trust me.“

A mere six months have passed since we bought the place. And only two since we broke the news to our family that our house was sold and that we were moving into a seniors’ lodge. We’ve survived all the winds and storms unleashed that day as we sat gathered around our living room, our children and grandchildren. “Are you sure, Mum? Dad? This just doesn‘t make sense!”

But now, we are in the calm of Sehaj Villa.  

*   *   *   *   *

Even as the crew began to rip, strip  and hammer, Aggie had announced that Sehaj Villa would henceforth be for Sikh retirees. Period. No if’s, no but’s. And it was not to be a commercial venture, but one that provided what she labelled a “necessary service”. Hence, it would be subsidized. By the Foundation.

So we went about, with the help of a young MBA/Law grad we hired straight out of school and plunked her in the CEO chair, to give the idea form and substance.

I watched Aggie every day, tearing around the buildings like a gust of wind, then out of the door, into her car, and whirring into town to fetch something or somebody, and then back, always in the centre of a mini-tornado of her making.

The Villa filled up in no time at all, and both Aggie and I were relieved of all responsibilities. Sharan, our CEO, had proved to be worthy of every word on her resume. She had even made some strategic donations -- broken up neatly into ongoing, monthly commitments -- to a nearby hospital and hospice. Which gave us rotating visits from doctors and specialists to our in-house medical clinic, and easy and immediate access to their facilities if and when needed.  

Sitting in the gazebo, looking towards the city, I would marvel at the energy let loose by Aggie’s infamous threat to spill the beans to our children, which had initially got the ball rolling.

I mused and I wondered. Had I known in my youth all that I had learnt here in Sehaj Villa, I could’ve conquered the world. But then, I asked myself, to what end, if we’d still need to come to a place like this?

Was the key in letting go things, in reducing our possessions and our belongings and our necessities to the size of a 650 sq ft unit, that set free the creativity? Almost like stuffing into a single, miniscule atom all the nuclear energy of the world.
Applications from single and couple Sikh retirees were invited. Why would anybody want to come here? Well, anyone who saw the promotion package, capturing what Aggie had done with the place, would want to be there tout suite.

And here was the clincher: Each unit, regardless of size, would cost a flat $1000 per month for a single person, $1500 for a couple. Which included all meals and all the benefits and facilities. No leases had to be signed.

There were some restrictions. The applicants had to be reasonably educated, each with a clean record. As long as each applicant (even within couples) was Sikh, no other religious or political criteria applied. Tenants couldn’t be related to anyone on the Foundation or its staff. Or to other tenants.

Still, you ask, why did people line up to get into Sehaj Villa? They anxiously waited to hear back from the Villa office, because tenancy was available by invitation only. And its duration would be at the pleasure of the Foundation. Yet, the subscription was heavy.

Because Aggie had turned Sehaj Villa into a dream world. Everything had a touch of class; no expense was spared. Things I would never have thought of, but she put them in place as if it was the most natural thing to do.

Here’s what bowled me over. Had she asked me about this or that, seeking my opinion, I would’ve likely have said, ’no way’. But once I saw it, it warmed the cockles of my heart instantly.

*    *   *   *   *

Late in the summer, a few months after I‘ve been back from the hospital, therapists work with me three times a week right here in our Villa clinic. Slowly, very slowly, I begin to regain my faculties, but I’m still confined to a wheelchair. My partial paralysis is receding, but not in a hurry.

I don’t mind being pushed everywhere, though. In a perverse sort of a way, I must confess, I’ve always wanted to try out a wheelchair. Why should only children be wheeled around in prams and only the old permitted to use wheelchairs, I used to quip. When I was tired, I’d say I‘d give a lot to be wheeled around for the rest of the day … but only half in jest.

Now, here I am -- my life-long wish finally granted -- in my own wheelchair.

And with all the time in the world, parked in a gazebo, looking over the gardens and a panoramic view of old Berksville.

From the corner of my eye, I can see the new cottages -- six of them -- that have risen on the grounds. For families visiting the tenants, Aggie had announced one day. Fully furnished and stocked, available for up to two nights at a time to visitors, for a nominal fee.

Our kids visit often now. Actually, if you ask me, we see more of them now than we ever have since they flew the nest.

Two of our grandchildren are playing beside me. Aggie and Simran, their mother, suddenly turn up and interrupt our game of Scrabble. “You’re wanted inside,” they say, and wheel me around and roll me down the ramp, into the maw of the Villa. “Sure,” I want to say, but no one waits for my consent.

We sail through the corridors, past the dining area, the library, the computer room, the kitchen … and out onto a new deck. I haven’t seen this one before. Nor the new building standing next to it. They’ve been busy! Doing what?

There’s a whole crowd waiting outside it. All the residents, many in wheelchairs of their own. The staff. I spy my daughter, no, both of them, amongst the faces beaming towards me. I look around. I don’t understand. There’re more. They’re all there. The boys and their wives. And the girls and their husbands. The little ones still bouncing around as I am wheeled in.

All our friends too -- a dozen of our closest friends have moved into the villa as well. My brain is still slow -- but I’m quite sure it isn’t my birthday.

“We have a surprise for you,” whispers Aggie, as she bends over and kisses me on my cheek.


To be continued ...

June 10, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Rosalia Scalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), June 12, 2013, 4:27 PM.

As usual, looking forward to part III. You sure have mastered the cliff-hanger ending!

2: Chattar Raj Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.), June 17, 2013, 12:10 PM.

This is about the 20th time I checked for part-III, just to let you know, your readers get addicted! I need a daily 'DAILY FIX' now. Thanks for sharing, Sher ji.

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Part II"

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