She lay there on the floor , wrapped in one of her those dull coloured sarees.  There was still time to dress her for the final adieu.  People have started streaming in.  everybody entered the room with bowed head not just because the solemn occasion demanded so but because they were in habit of treating her with a deference.  When in her presence the head and eyes as if lowered by default. Even the people much elder to her felt regard for her.

She was hardly sixteen when her parents were killed in a road accident. She was left with three young siblings and a bedridden grandmother. Overnight from a bubbling carefree teenager she was transformed into a mature, stern, tight lipped adult. She donned the role of family head and locked her dreams, choices and even her real self deep down inside her.

A large number of people were there in the room but silence reigned. If at all someone had to discuss something  urgent, of utmost importance, they tip toed out of the room and even there they talked in hushed tones. Her presence anywhere commanded that impact and she still was very much present there.

Suddenly the three year old son of the youngest sister Nima said aloud,’’  Mamma! Anni is smiling!’’The surprise was writ large in the voice of kid too. Everybody’s heads snapped up and their gazes fixed with wonder on the slightly curved lips that gave the impression of a naughty, vibrant smile. Her face looked much younger. It exuded a kind of freshness.  Nobody present there could remember her smiling when alive. Some of them were stunned, some felt sad, other felt really very heavy in heart.  Though most of them could not decipher their own feelings rightly. Did they feel tricked, deceived, sad or simply felt surprised.

I, her only friend from the teenage time knew how Ashi must be relishing the prank she has thrown on the people there. This was her trade mark smile from the times long back.  Whenever we saw her with that smile spread across her face we knew that she is ready to share the plight of some innocent victim of her harmless jokes and pranks. Ashi has finally let that lonely teenage girl caged inside that stern. strong demeanour escape. It somehow made me feel at peace. She is liberated now.

I slowly got up, walked to her room and searched deep in her cupboard. Somehow I knew it must still be lying there. Finally I found it back in the farthest corner under the piles of  loads of papers, wrapped in the same cover, the shocking pink duppatta with glittering magenta border, which Akash gifted her on her 15th birthday. I took it out and spread it on her body.

Now she was ready to start her journey onwards………

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