They put their hands on Mitra’s shoulder and told her everything will be alright. Her grandmother, who she hadn’t seen for some years now, broke down when she saw her, holding both her hands and crying into them. Her friends visited, but all they had to say was “I’m so sorry,” and then sit by her side and stare out of the window at the concrete neighborhood or at their feet. When the adults hugged her and said “I understand,” she knew they didn’t. None of them had lost a sister; how could they know?
Mitra resumed her schoolwork when they returned from Haridwar to New Delhi, after immersing Veera’s ashes in the holy waters of the Ganges. They’d stayed at one of the dharamshalas, in the company of saints and pilgrims and a couple from Canada. The water was cold; the temple bells clanged around them throughout the day, and the illuminated, colorful bazaars never stopped their murmuring.
It was while looking for a sketch she’d scanned a few months ago that she found it — not the drawing, but the folder Veera had so immaturely named VEERA. She was only ten, but she’d learned how to do the basic stuff on the computer: how to connect to the internet and play online dress-up and cooking games, how to take snips of the models she dressed up or of the desktop wallpaper.
Mitra wasn’t surprised to find Veera’s folder full of such pictures; there were at least three hundred. She sat up in her chair and started browsing through them: here was Jasmine dressed in a golden and white wedding gown; there Cinderella, Ariel and Aurora in glittering dresses with high slits; a random cartoon model in a weird candy pink dress and army green boots. Further on were pictures of neatly served mushroom soups and pineapple cakes, all from those cooking games.
Then there were the random pictures Veera had taken from Papa’s old mobile, capturing anything and everything. Many of them were blurred, as if taken in a hurry. Pictures of her dollhouse, of her Barbie bag, of her green and golden lehenga, and her fluffy lavender pencil case. There was Ma’s picture as she talked on her phone, looking out of the window; one of Papa rolling chapattis, his balding head wet with sweat; some horrible pictures of Mitra crouched over her diary or with her eyes closed, earplugs stuffed in her ears. Mitra had always deleted the pictures Veera took of her whenever she chanced upon them. She wasn’t fond of looking uglier than she already was.
There were more pictures: of a sparrow sitting on her bed in one and gone in the next. Mitra smiled. They’d joked about the bird’s camera consciousness and the precise timing of the picture. There was a picture of the pot in which Veera had planted fenugreek seeds which never showed up, even though Mitra kept lying to her that they would.
And then there was a selfie of Veera herself, flashing her white teeth at the camera. Mitra noticed a little dimple Veera had in her right cheek. She leaned a little closer to the computer screen — how hadn’t she seen it before? Veera’s hair was let down, she was wearing her half-rimmed glasses and a black t-shirt with short sleeves exposing her skinny arms. The skinny arms that had tried, and failed, to reach out for Mitra from under the wheels. If only Mitra was few feet closer.
When the slideshow was over, Mitra closed the window, copied the picture into her folder and deleted Veera’s folder permanently.
Ratika Deshpande lives with nine humans, three cats and a dog. She claims to be a true Hufflepuff and her favorite activities include reading, making lists, practicing lettering and having heated debates on human rights with imaginary people. She was recently published in Flash Fiction Magazine. You can find her at scribblingsofastoryteller.wordpress.com.