Chandan was Grace’s best friend. It was because of Chandan’s insistence that the family had agreed to let the poor orphaned Grace live with them in their house. Although she was mostly looked after by one of the servants called Gayatri, Chandan and she were very close. He would spend a lot of his free time doing things with her. They would play games together, explore the little forested area behind their colony, spend time sitting at the bus stop down the road and watching the world go by. He told her his secrets and she tried to cheer him up when he was sad. She really missed him when the family went away.
Grace shook her head and wished that it was evening already. Then she would be able to see him again. No one had told her that the family would be back today, but she had heard the cook, Suman, ask the milkman to deliver extra milk this morning. That meant that the family would have to be back today. As they had driven away on the holiday they should be driving back in by evening. Mr. Sharma disliked driving after dark on road trips. If they were flying home in an airplane then the driver, Gopal, would come and take the car to bring them back from the airport. And as far as Grace knew Gopal had not been to the big house since the family left.
Grace stretched a bit in the tender morning sun. Soaking up those sun rays was feeling good this winter morning, but now her stomach was making its presence felt. It was time for breakfast. Grace knew Gayatri would have already cooked breakfast by now. Gayatri would be waiting for her to come in and eat before she left to do her chores in the house for the day. She would come out after breakfast because this was too glorious a day to spend indoors. Plus her stomach was rumbling and she could do with that breakfast now.
Gayatri was getting ready to go to work. She was the maid in the big house. She did all the sweeping, swabbing, dusting and general cleaning around the house. She was second in the hierarchy only to Suman, the cook and that was because Suman had been with the family ten years longer than Gayatri. As she rolled up her hair in a bun she looked at Gayatri, “Oh there you are. Wonder why you disappear so early in the morning for your walks? I have to give you breakfast before I leave, you know.”
Gayatri dished up the food and served Grace. Then she went back to getting ready. “There is a lot to be done today. The family is coming back this evening.” Grace smiled to herself, she had already deduced that much from the flurry of activity in the kitchen. Gayatri continued, “I have to make the beds up with fresh linen and do the dusting or Madam will get angry when she comes home. You will have to be left alone today Grace.” She looked at Grace as she continued eating her breakfast, “Please don’t go anywhere today. I will be too busy to stop work and go look for you.” Gayatri fixed her sari pallu and tucked it in her waist, she was ready to go. “I will be back around one to feed you lunch. Be careful and don’t run away somewhere. I’ll be glad when Chandan returns and takes care of you again.” Gayatri walked out of the room as Grace finished eating.
Grace almost snorted. Chandan look after her? It was usually the other way round. Didn’t she stop him from hurting himself on more than one occasion? He would get into all kinds of scrapes if it wasn’t for her. Still, she admitted to herself, it would be nice to have him home again. She decided to slip out of the house and into the garden again. There was nothing much to do inside anyway. In the garden she saw those tiny white flowers that Chandan like to pluck. What did he call them? Candy Tufts. He was always trying to put one behind her ear and she would always shake it off.
Wonder what new tricks he would come up with now? Grace thought of the time when he had put her on his skateboard and rolled her down a slope. She had been petrified the first time but after a while she had begun to enjoy it almost as much as he did. He was really good on the skateboard. He did all kinds of stunts on it. He did also manage to fall off it fairly often, but thankfully he had never hurt himself very badly. His mother Maya fondly called him a rascal and Grace thought that suited him just fine. She missed him terribly.
Grace was woken from her nap in the garden chair disturbed by loud voices and wailing in the background. She blinked her eyes open to see Gopal, the driver, walking away from Suman, Gayatri and the other servants towards the garage. He opened the garage door and got into the car. As he drove away Grace tried to figure out what had happened by listening to the babble of voices near Gayatri. The younger maids were sounding worried and asking a lot of questions while Suman and Gayatri were trying to calm them down.
“Why is Gopal taking the second car?”
“The other car met with an accident and cannot be driven back.”
“When did it have the accident?”
“Gopal said it was this morning after the family started to come back here.”
“But how did it happen?”
“We don’t know the details.”
“Did they get hurt? Are they alright?”
“They did get hurt, but it was more scratches and bruises. Everyone has been taken to the hospital and the doctor said they could leave after the treatment. So it can’t be anything very serious.s ”
“When will they come home?”
“Gopal was told that they have to be driven back home, but he had no idea by when they would reach.”
“Will they come today?”
“They should reach home by late evening if the doctor lets them go soon enough.”
A cold chill went down Grace’s spine as she heard and processed what had happened. The family had been driving back home when they had met with an accident. Oh dear! She hoped that nothing serious had happened to any of them. They were after all her adopted family. She could not bear the thought of one of them, especially Chandan, being hurt. She stood still, rooted to the spot, long after the maids had all dispersed to do their respective jobs and chores. She sat down on the front steps that led up into the house.
The sun went from one side to the other and set. The street lights lit up the road and still Grace just sat on the front steps. She had this irrational fear that if she was not here to meet them when they came home, one of them may be badly hurt. Eventually after many hours of waiting, Grace finally spotted the car as it came down the road. Grace took off running towards the gate at the end of the driveway. She didn’t care how undignified it looked. She just had to make sure that Chandan and his families were all fine. She ran after the car as it slowly made its way to the front door.
She reached the gate just as the watchman opened it and the car entered. Everyone had come out of the house to welcome the family home. The car doors opened and there was general confusion as they disembarked. Gopal went to open the boot to help take out the suitcases and a couple of maids began gathering the smaller bags. Grace stood back till she saw Chandan. He had a bandage on his forehead and a dark blue bruise forming on the side of his face. He looked tired and exhausted and Grace had never been happier to see him. He turned and looked at her and Grace jumped right into his open arms.
“Gracey! Girl have you missed me? I sure missed you,” he said as he held her up in his arms and ran a hand down her back. Grace turned her head and licked his face. She was so glad he was back. He tickled her below his chin as he carried her into the house. Everything was alright now for Grace as Chandan was back home, safe and sound. Chandan really was the best friend that a dog could have.
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