The familiar stranger

“You know, it was never mine, really. She never did give it to me, really. It was meant to be.” Aparna’s big brown eyes filled with tears as she confessed to her daughter, Meera.

“What? Who?” Meera grabbed her mother’s shoulder urgently, as the clock on the wall struck twelve – the midnight hour. She felt a shiver run down her spine as she couldn’t help but think about the prior events…

********

Early that morning…

The ringing of the phone broke the silence in the room. Meera woke up with a start, grabbing the phone off the hook.

“Good Morning, Madam. This is room service. Sorry to bother you but this is an emergency. There has been a break-in at the hotel. A few valuables are missing mostly those belonging to the hotel. So far none of our guests have reported anything. But we just want to make sure. This is most unusual madam and highly disturbing.”
She heard the voice at the end of the phone.

She blinked for a moment as she felt the piercing green eyes stare at her once again. She looked back into the face on the wall, a face so familiar, yet a face of a stranger.

“Ma’am, are you there? Are you alright?”
“Yes, yes I am fine. I’ll check and let you know.” She heard herself answer back.

Trying to clear her head she hurried to her suitcase. Many of her possessions were randomly scattered all around the room – her cell phone, her purse even her gold chain. But the one thing she valued the most, she had hidden carefully draped in the old black dress in her bag.

With trembling hands she opened the bag and started digging looking for the black dress. But she already knew, she had felt the loss the moment she had heard the manager’s words on the phone.

It was gone, the dress and her mother’s choker. Tears streamed down her face as she hunted everywhere for the intricately carved necklace. Maybe she had just misplaced it. It was a family heirloom passed on from mother to daughter, or daughter-in-law. It was one of a kind made of pure gold embellished with gemstones. It was priceless!

And then her eyes darted back to the picture on the wall, resting on the necklace. The shining red gemstones and the gold peacocks seemed to mock her, the resemblance was unnerving.

Tears streaming down her face she packed her bags. Before checking out she reported the loss to the police inspector, leaving her ma’s address and phone number for further contact. And with a heavy heart she headed back home.

She had no choice but to go back to the same house which she had fled merely a day ago. Ugly words had been exchanged then, threats even. Her ma had been totally against her going to Utharashi for the shoot. Meera had been puzzled by her ma’s behavior, disappointed even.

********

Meera’s mother Aparna had never stopped her before. In fact she had always encouraged her to achieve her dreams and to fly high. Meera’s father had died in a car crash when she had been just three. She had almost no memories of him. But his face was everywhere. In every room, her mother had hung his photograph. And she treasured every gift he had given her, every small trinket. Twenty years after his death her mother still cherished him. Her love for him had merely grown stronger with each passing year. Car racing had been her father’s passion. Winning the Keystone cup his ultimate goal, the same goal had cost him his life.

“Meera if you put one step on that train, you are dead to me!” Her mother had threatened her.
“But ma, I have to go. This is a once in a lifetime chance. It’s a shoot for the Gwalior group, no less. It’s just a matter of a few days. What’s wrong with that?”
“Everything!” Aparna had thundered.

And that night, she had crept out of bed. And she had taken the necklace from the safe. She had stolen the necklace. She had felt a strange force and she hadn’t been able to help herself. Well it did belong to her, rather would belong to her someday, anyway.

“Beta, it’s been a tradition in our family. Your great-great grandmother gave it to her daughter and then…”
Yes, it would belong to her someday too. It didn’t matter.

The moment she had stepped off the train at Utharashi she had felt a shiver run down her spine. It was pretty warm there but yet she was shivering. She felt a sense of déjà vu. She had never been there. But yet…

The hotel, a former palace converted to a five star hotel had been breathtaking. She had been mesmerized by the intricate carvings and elegant landscape, especially by the charming fountain in the middle of the courtyard.

“It was our Maharani’s favorite. She passed away ten years ago, right after donating everything to the government.”
The elderly porter had informed her with a faraway look. The porter had been a former employee of the Maharani. Staring at her strangely, he had led her to her room.
“Ma’am this is the blue room, another of our Maharani’s joys.” He had stated gazing at the large portrait on the wall. And then Meera had felt those eyes the first time…

Captivated, she had stared at the elegant woman on the wall. The simple yet regal hairstyle, the beautiful saree and above all those pitch green eyes, had reminded her of someone. And then she looked at the necklace, she had been stunned! It was the same as the one she had stolen from her mother. But…

Her trail of thoughts had been interrupted by the phone. She had to get ready for the shoot. It was the campaign coordinator on the line. Every minute was precious; it was a costly affair. And the rest of the day had simply flown by. After an early dinner with the rest of the crew, she had returned back to her room to lie down.

And yet again she had had felt a force, this time, beckoning her to the fountain in the courtyard…

Almost in a daze she had walked up to it. There was a woman standing there with her back towards her. And when she had turned, Meera had stared at her shocked. It was the woman in the portrait. It was the same face. And the same green eyes.

“I have been waiting. It’s been a long wait.” The woman had whispered.
And Meera had fainted.

Next, she was awakened by the manager’s call about the robbery.

How she had got back to her room, she did not know. Or did she leave it at all?
Maybe it had all just been her overactive imagination. Maybe it had just been a dream after all.

 

********

Tears streaming down her face she had admitted to her mother about the necklace. But her mother’s words had shaken her.

“Meera you have to know the truth. History does repeat itself. History comes back to haunt.” Her ma had said gripping her hand.

“Just like you, your father had run away from home once. He had run away from it all to pursue his passion – car racing. His family had been furious, especially his mother. She had disowned him completely, totally shattering him.

We had tried to seek her blessings before our wedding but we had to turn back in humiliation. After your birth, despite your father’s anger, I had phoned her yet again. But she had continued being stubborn.

Five years later – two year’s after your father’s death, she had called me but this time I had refused to visit her. I had merely followed your father’s last wishes. In the end, for him only you and I were family, the only family he ever needed. He had left us sufficient money to get by and he just didn’t want us to suffer further at the hands of his relatives. He had asked me to forget everything. He had begged me to tell you nothing, so that you’d have a clean slate, a new beginning.

Just before your father had left his childhood home, he had stolen the necklace from his mother, the family heirloom for his future wife. That was all he had taken. That and his mother’s peace of mind!

“Meera, your grandmother was the Maharani of Utharashi. Maybe she was just waiting there for you. Maybe she was just waiting there for the necklace, her necklace.
You have her eyes, you know…”