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THE persistent sound of a bicycle bell aroused her from her deep thoughts and she pulled back the curtain a little to see who it was. A little boy was at the gate with a small basket of fruits and she raised her hand a little in saying ‘thanks.’ He hung the basket on the gate and rode away, turning back once to look at her.

It was a close-knit community where everyone knew everyone, but they knew of her story and understood her need to be alone through the news. Through their concern and sympathy, she was now a daughter of the village, though all they saw was a silhoutte behind a curtain.

A few days later she heard a small, distressed voice calling at the gate and looking out, she saw It was the little boy who had brought the fruits. He saw her and said, “I lost my puppy, have you seen her?”
Shamita shook her head, touched a little by the worried look on the child’s face, and as he turned to go, a low whimpering sound came from behind the house.

“It’s her!” he cried with joyful relief, “Can I come in?”
She nodded but the gate was locked from all visitors except her family. She had to now make an exception for the child and pulling a thin veil over her face, she unlocked the gate for him. He ran to the back of the house and came back cradling his puppy in his arms.

“Thanks,” he said, “I think she has hurt her leg.”
Shamita smiled a little, happy for the child and yet concerned for his puppy, and the little boy seeing her close for the first time, asked curiously,
“Why don’t you speak and why are you wearing that veil?”
Shamita shook her head a little, not sure what to say to make him understand, when a Mazda Axela stopped outside the gate and a good looking and casually dressed man got out and called to the boy, “I see you found her!”
“Yes, dad,” he answered.
A sudden fear sent a chill through Shamita’s body on seeing the stranger and turning abruptly, she walked into the house, closing the door.
“You scared her,” the boy said to his father.

“How?” he asked puzzled, “What did I do?”
“I don’t know, but she looked scared when she saw you.”
That night as the boy’s father put him to bed, he asked, “What is wrong with her, dad? Why doesn’t she speak to anyone?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, but it wasn’t quite the truth because her tragic story had been all over the news, but what he didn’t know was how badly it had affected her and tonight he felt a deeper sympathy for her.
He looked at his two children sleeping with deep love, but with an ache in his heart. He sighed deeply, closing the door softly and pouring a drink, he sat on the balcony looking out into the night.

Not one good night’s sleep had he gotten since his wife died three years ago. The trauma of losing her almost broke him, loving her the way he did, the glow of their love story now just an ember.
“So different, we are,” he expressed silently, “Men who love and care and those who hate and hurt.”
His wife’s beautiful memories helped him stay strong as a single parent, but there was a part of him that was empty.

Shamita saw the little boy again a few days later, walking his puppy with his little sister behind him. On the way back, a cat ran across the road and the puppy wanting to chase it pulled hard on the leash causing the children to run and the little girl tripped and fell. She started to cry and the brother tried to pick her up whilst holding onto the puppy’s leash. No one was on the road at the time and so Shamita ventured past the gate for the first time to help the children. The girl had bruised her knees and she took her inside to clean the wounds.

“Are you okay, now?” she asked, wiping the tears from the child’s face.
“She speaks!” the boy answered gleefully.
Shamita couldn’t help smiling a little at his reaction and when the little girl touched her face through the veil and said in a sweet voice, “Thank you,” it touched something in Shamita’s heart.

After they left she once again stood in front of the mirror.
“Mirror on the wall
Speak now to me,”
She pushed back her hair slowly and winced at the ugliness of the scars on her face.

“Why did this had to happen to me?” she whispered bitterly.
“Don’t cry fair maiden,
You are beautiful within”
The mirror seemed to say, comforting words to ease the pain.

The days passed slowly for her, but from the shadows of her loneliness, a glow grew brighter as little hands reached out for hers. The two little motherless children, Aiden and Ashi felt a magical attraction to Shamita. They would often stop by with their fluffy terrier Crystal, bringing fruits and vegetables for her from their garden, and one day they brought home-baked cookies.

A few were burnt and Aiden remarked jokingly, “My dad’s not good at baking, poor fella.”
Shamita smiled a little as she ate one, wondering if there was a mother in the picture because they never mentioned her.
“Can you bake chocolate chip cookies?” Aiden asked.
“Yes, I can.”

“My mom used to bake awesome cookies,” Aiden said mentioning her for the first time.
“Why doesn’t she now?” Shamita asked unaware of the tragedy in the children’s lives.
A look of sadness crossed the children’s faces and Aiden said quietly, “The angels took her to heaven.”

“Oh,” Shamita exclaimed softly, shocked by the child’s answer and looking at them she forgot for that moment her own tragedy, touched deeply by the sad look on their faces, and she hugged them.
“I’m so sorry.”

Late in the afternoon their father came for them but she did not step out of the door, standing by the window with the curtain half drawn. He saw her and smiled slightly, pleased she was making progress with that little show of interest.
To be continued…

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