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It wasn’t a nightmare. She wasn’t running from a monster or walking naked into the school cafeteria. But there was a feeling of immense grief throttling her. She was aware of the tears running down her face, as aware as one can be in their sleep and at once, she was also aware of the soft comfort of her bed and the sun shining on her face. “I have a feeling it’s going to end.” Tara whispered, a lingering thought from the rapidly dissipating dream.
He was startled. He hadn’t noticed she was awake. “What is?”
“The world. I can feel it. It’s going to end. I just… I know it.” She paused, eyes shut, straining her memory, trying to remember what had been clear a moment ago.
“Sweetheart, it was a dream, you are half asleep. Relax. Your Mum is still making breakfast. I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
Tara woke up. She looked up at her father, uncertainly. He was standing in the doorway of her bedroom. This was a sight she rarely got up to and she couldn’t help but smile. On the night Tara had developed a slight fever, her mother had frantically tried to reach him. Dad had promised he would return within a couple of days. Tara was annoyed by all the drama, but seeing him, she felt light as a feather; as if all this time there had been a weight on her chest and now that it was gone, she could fly. He had clearly just reached home and was checking up on her. He was still in uniform and looked more handsome than ever.
“The world is fine.” He smiled at her; she was still just a baby to him. He could remember the day he had first laid eyes on his daughter in the hospital, held her, kissed her. He’d called her ‘his little twinkling star’ and the name had stuck. Life had been good. They were just another happy family and he hadn’t realized back then how lucky he was to have one of those.
“As fine as it can be.” He wanted to hug her and tell her he could stay with her till she felt safe. But he didn’t want to make promises he couldn’t possibly keep. He knew better by now and she deserved better.
“Okay, okay, I guess it was just a lone post-nightmare thought. Wake me up when Mum’s done cooking.” She smiled, adding in a loud whisper, “I missed you.”
The door clicked shut behind him and she could hear him whistling on his way to the kitchen. She felt touched that left everything to come home for her.
When Dad came back to the room, Tara was snoring lightly. He sat by her bed and was about to shake her awake, when she suddenly sat up.
“Wha..? Oh it’s you. Sorry… I thought you were…uh… death.” Tara’s hair was in a tangle and her eyes were wide open. She mumbled something and dashed to the bathroom. A few minutes later, Tara came out looking rather more civilized. Absently fumbling with her T-shirt, she looked at her father uncertainly. For a moment they just stared at each other. A smile hesitantly broke out on Tara’s face and she asked, curious, “What did I just say?”
“Nothing. Come on down, breakfast is ready.” Dad chuckled.
Everything was just the same at the breakfast table. Mum had laid out the usual omelet-sandwich-cereal combo and Tara didn’t want any of it. What she wanted to was to talk to Dad about what they’d both been up to and break the uncomfortable silence that the room was engulfed in. Mum stared into her plate, quiet, stern. Dad gobbled up the rare home cooked food, throwing an occasional glance at the newspaper. And Tara twitched about in her seat, forming conversation starters in her mind. Finally, she blurted out, “I had the weirdest dream. The world is about to end today. Go up in a poof! Crazy, right?”
That did it. Next thing she knew, Mum was holding her tight, crying and shouting at Dad. “I told you she’s sick. One visit in a year, that’s all you can manage!?”
“It was a nightmare, Neeta, she’s fine.”
“She had a high fever. Do you have any idea how scared I was?”
“Of course I do. You know how? You left forty messages with Prabhakar. He thought there was something horribly wrong. He’s my boss, damn it, you can’t just call and pester him. I can’t believe you told him it was dead serious.”
“Would you have showed up, otherwise?” Her face had turned red. Tara thought she looked like a dragon, spitting fire.