After getting off the school bus, Rio ran the rest of the distance home as fast as his legs would take him. With his heart in his throat, he walked cautiously towards the kitchen, one step at a time. Then , suddenly he stopped, Mum’s words,
“…now, what did I tell you about ground rules!!! BAG, SHOES, SOCKS… RIGHT WHERE THEY SHOULD BE…” still clear in his memory.
Rio tiptoed back and kept his stuff properly and walked back towards the kitchen.
He paused at the door again,hearing dad’s futile efforts at feeding his younger brother Ringo, a bowlful of lentil soup. His kajoling words, ” just a wee bit more Sonny. And then, we’ll be done!” The subject of dad’s attention was screaming at the top of his lungs, face scarlet from the effort of not wanting to finish the bowl.
A single tear slipped down Rio’s cheek. Gulping the lump at his throat, he sent an unspoken plea in dad’s direction, “You gave him MY nickname!!!… Mum used to call me that! It was my special name”. His spirit launched into a silent rebellion deep inside. But the mind silenced it and went back memory lane.
“Sonny…” Mum’s loving way of making Rio feel special. His special nickname!!
He remembered, the day he came back from school , leaping two stairs at a time to mum n dad’s room. He wanted to surprise mum with his project. He got five stars from Ms Sonia, his social teacher. But he heard some hissing argument between them and stopped dead on his track. He heard dad telling mum, “Rio will NEVER be MINE!!! Why can’t you send him back to the same orphanage you got him from, and take care of the baby growing inside of you? OUR BABY!!!” That was the first time Rio’s heart was broken, with his broken dreams of a happy family.
He needed to escape. Deny it all. He tried hurrying back downstairs but with a loud crash, the object of his pride, the school-project windmill fell on the ground in pieces. Mum came running out of the room. One look at Rio told her all. She gently pulled him to a hug and whispered in his ears, “you are MY son, Sonny. Trust ME”.
He also remembered the day when he went to the hospital to meet his little brother for the very first time. He saw a pink lump of a tiny person in the crib. With fear of uncertainty and a pout that a nine year old adopted kid (who just came to realise he might not be on the list of priorities anymore) asked his mom, “…er…mum… You’d love him more now, won’t you?”
His mother, breathing deep ( Rio did not understand the pain she was trying to mask), gave him a ghost of her old smile and replied, “this is your li’l brother. And I promise you that you’d love him too.” Rio nodded his head in confusion. He didn’t see how.
Ten days later, dad came home with Ringo, Rio’s baby brother. And … behind him… few unfamiliar faces carried mum’s still body. That’s the second time Rio’s life was turned upside down.
“Nnnnoooooooo….Nnnnoooooooo…NNNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Mum! Mummyyyyy!!! MOOOOOM!!! Rio thrashed on the floor next to his mom. He remembered the sleepless nights after that. And empty bedside haunting him with no one to kiss him goodnight.
He blinked furiously and wiped at his tears coming back to present suddenly. With a forced smile, he entered the kitchen and told his father, “Dad, I’m home. Leave it to me. I’ll feed him”.
Rahul looked at him and said, “Wash your hand first.”
Rio took the bowl of soup to feed his kid brother. Ringo giggled at him. With only two front teeth and the rest missing, he uttered in baby babbles,” Lio… lap…”
As Rio picked him up, bit of the lentil soup spluttering out of Ringo’s mouth and soaked the front of Rio’s shirt. His baby brother amused everyone present with a bubble of laughter.
Rio kissed his forehead and whispered, “Yes! I will love you so, soooo… much”.
The grandfather clock on the wall clicked on the cue “tick tock!!”