Updated: Feb 14
Lucy had been asleep in Ed’s lap for the last twenty minutes of the journey. His uncle was driving the car with his utmost attention on the road. Perhaps, he had decided against facing his ten-year-old nephew, Ed, until he was definitively sure about what words he should offer. Aunt Margaret was sitting in the front seat, frequently turning backwards to check on the five-year old Lucy. She looked peaceful with her tiny arms tucked between her legs and her hair falling across her face. For the last three months, it had been her aunt, Margaret who always put her to sleep. Forty minutes earlier, however, when her aunt had been about to step into the back seat, Ed curtly had refused to shift inside. Without a word, Aunt Margaret had gone around and settled herself in the front seat. Something told her that Ed was putting on a braver show than he actually was.
Lucy, perhaps, had been the first one to realize the awkwardness of the silence that had engulfed them. Breaking the ice-cold elegy of the engines and gears, she had asked, “Daddy wouldn’t want us sitting all dumb, right?”
“No, sweetie, of course, he wouldn’t want…” Aunt Margaret had started, before Ed had cut her short, “But, he isn’t here anymore now, is he?” Looking at his sister, he had continued with all the energy he could muster, “The only thing that Daddy would have wanted would be for us to stay together. Do you remember what he said before she pulled us out?” He had pointed at the front seat without taking his gaze off his sister.
“Take care of each other,” Lucy had mumbled quoting their father from four days earlier.
“Exactly!” Ed had whispered as he guided her head to his lap.
Lucy had felt a surge of emotions too mature for her age. She still missed her Daddy, but it had been her first time experiencing her brother’s positive support. From all she could remember, her brother was seldom kind to her, let alone loving. She had voted against any more words and soon drifted off in her brother’s lap.
Now, watching the hair falling across her face, Ed tucked them behind her ear. Turning his face, he saw Aunt Margaret’s hand retract slowly. Perhaps, she was about to do the same. Ed realized that his grief-fueled rude attitude was making him hurt Aunt Margaret quite unnecessarily, but chose not to substantiate the fact in words. He merely smiled at her. Aunt Margaret, for the first time since Jacob Brown’s death, saw puddles form in his son’s eyes.
“Tuck her in and come back, will you?” Ed heard Uncle Mike speak the first words since the eulogy in the morning, as soon as they stepped out of the car. He knew Uncle Mike was badly broken. He had attended the funerals of five Browns and said the eulogy for three of them, his brother, Jacob, being the most recent among them. Jacob and Michael Brown were the brothers, death alone could do apart; and it did.
“That won’t be needed, Uncle Mike. I’m sure, she’ll be comfy with aunt,” Ed replied. His uncle, aunt and cousin-brother were their only family left. He knew he had to cool down and accept his fate. It wasn’t their fault, anyway.
Ed and Uncle Mike watched his aunt give them half-a-smile and then carry away Lucy in her arms. When she went out of sight, Uncle Mike started walking towards the garden. He watched as Ed took a sprint to catch up, and then, the both of them continued walking calmly. Ed knew his uncle was taking his time. Ed was in no hurry either.
“Do you know what makes you different from other ten-year-olds?” Uncle Mike asked him.
“Not everyone is an orphan at this age,” Ed shrugged.
“Well,” Uncle Mike sighed. “As painfully true that might be, I’d ask you to stop being so harsh on yourself, Ed. Life takes its turns, sometimes so suddenly that we call it a turning point. But hey, although life may be a complex graph with all sorts of curves and corner-points, it never ends. There is no end-point. There is no 'edge of the cliff'. I think I should change the question. How about this one: Do you know what makes you BETTER than other ten-year-olds?”
“I’m not sure what that question means.”
“What makes you better, Ed, is the fact that you are more mature than the others of your age. I’ve watched you ever since you were born. You were like every other kid… UNTIL the day your sister was born. Tell me, Ed, do you love your sister?”
“Of course, I do. She shares my blood, Uncle Mike. And she is so kind and sweet. How can I not?” Edward replied not sure why he was being asked such questions.
“Then why is it that today was the first time I watched you feel protective of your sister?” Ed felt Uncle Mike’s question and gaze tearing through him.
“I don’t know, Uncle Mike. I barely remember my mother. I have heard people say that she died when Lucy was born. Although I can’t really make out how such an innocent thing like Lu could have led to her death, I can’t really help but feel that she is the one responsible… that she killed my mother,” Ed answered with his gaze downwards, the last bit almost a whisper.
“It’s worth giving a thought about where you could have learnt a word like ‘kill’,” Uncle Mike frowned.
“It’s not a very uncommon word to come around, especially if your father is fighting death for three long months… I’m sorry, Uncle Mike. I didn’t mean to…” Ed was cut short.
“It’s okay, Ed. You weren’t being rude, just truthful; harsh, yes, but not rude. Anyway, tell me, Ed, what felt different this morning when you acted so affectionately towards Lucy?”
“After Daddy, I am the only one she has to look up to. I had Daddy for as long as I can remember. She will have me. You just told me that I became mature after she was born. But that is only half the truth. Mommy’s death made me mature, didn’t it? I missed Mommy, and I realized that I have to be strong. Daddy would go to work, and I hated the nanny. You say I’m mature, but I see it as living a life other kids don’t have to. I don’t want the same for Lucy.”
Uncle Mike kneeled in front of Ed and grabbed his shoulders, “Good. Then I think I should finally speak out what I called you for. Had you been any other ten-year-old kid, I wouldn’t have asked you. But you are a ten-year-old young man; not just any young man, but especially a capable one, one who can take care of himself and his sister. And old men like me should listen to the young men in his family. What I’m going to ask you is very important grown-up stuff, and this is not a standard uncle-to-nephew talk. This, Edward Sebastian Brown, is two men discussing some really worthwhile matter of omega-level importance.”
Ed liked the way his uncle made it sound like some cool, grown-up stuff, even though he was sure it wouldn’t be. In the last three months, he had come to know that his uncle did not even ask his twelve-year old son about matters of importance. There was no way he would be discussing something worthwhile with his ten-year-old nephew. He simply nodded his most sincere nod to ensure his uncle believed that his speech was having its effect.
“We will take you and your sister in. You have already lived here for the last three months. You will continue to do so, no doubt. But will it be like my nephew living in my house, or can I call you my son?”
Edward frowned slightly, but his uncle continued looking at him deep in the eye, “Your father was my brother, Ed. I would love to give you the love he would have. Of course, I’ll do that even as your uncle. But, for my brother, for you, Ed, I want to do this properly… only if you are okay with it. Nothing much, just signing a few printed pages in front of some uniformed funny-looking guys and we are done. Please, Ed, let me do this for you, for my brother,” Uncle Mike finished still looking in his eyes.
Ed stood silent for a moment. He felt his sight get blurred with tears forming in his eyes. He finally whispered with an effort, “You want to adopt us?”
“Wow! You know the word. Of course, you do. Not every ten-year-old is a grown-up, is he?” Uncle Mike looked delighted.
“No, they are not,” Ed mouthed, a smile escaping his lips.
“So, what do you say, pal?”
“Yes, yes,” he hugged his uncle, a tear trickling down his cheek. “Yes, Dad.”
Written by: Aninda K. Nanda
Behind the lens: Rajarshi Samanta
Initial draft: March 2017
Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to Rajarshi Samanta for letting us use his photography skills to ornament this work. Check out the rest of his works at