It was still dark, the dawn delayed by the heavy monsoon clouds that had gathered in the night. Urmila stood at the open window and let the cool wet air wash over her hot skin. She was still shaking from the intensity of her dream, still weeping with the shock of waking up - and finding him gone again from her side, as she had found him gone that dark morning seven years ago.
She closed her eyes in an agony of remembrance. They had been married just three days. The mehndi was still bright on her palms, her hair still wound with flowers every night. He had been kind and gentle. She had been young and trusting - she had believed in him. But he had left without warning, without a word of explanation, left his young bride, his home, his parents, a promising career...
She had been devastated. In the beginning she had blamed herself. She had driven herself nearly insane, replaying every moment with him, repeating every word she had uttered, reliving every tiny nuance in her interaction with him in an effort to find what it was that had driven him away. His family's kindness only made it worse. She didn't want their pity, she told herself angrily. She hated them, she hated herself. She wept for her mother, her father - who would not, could not come - had never come again after that car crash so many years ago. Her grandfather had gone back to their village, secure in his knowledge that his darling child was safely and happily married. Even in her agony, she did not have the heart to shatter his world - she did not call him.
Then she had discovered that she was pregnant. For days she had kept that fact to herself, not wanting to believe. Finally, in despair, she had told his mother. It was only when she saw the tears in her mother-in-law's eyes that she had let herself go. She had wept and wept - she couldn't remember for how long. When the weeping had subsided she had looked up to find her mother-in-law sitting by her side, a worried look on her face, a cup of tea in her hand. Urmila had stayed on with her parents-in-law. Their beautiful top-floor apartment was now her home as well.
The sky lightened from grey to pale yellow. Urmila shook her head and let her long black hair ripple down her back. She looked out over the sleeping city spread out beneath her - at the quiet empty streets that would soon churn with traffic and humanity but now lay like still and straight. In the distance, Urmila could see the sea, grey, foam-flecked, in endless motion.
Her daughter Gayatri had brought back laughter into their lives. The child would laugh and play, unaware, not caring, for the father who did not even know she existed. She was happy and secure in her little world, her mother by her side, fond grandparents doting on her every minute of the day.
A movement in the trees beneath her window caught Urmila's eye. A brahminy kite sat on the highest frond of a tall, slim coconut palm, swaying gently in the monsoon breeze, its pure white head glinting gold in the light of the rising sun.
Urmila wondered at the kite. What was it thinking of? What did it see? Did it see perhaps a nest of twigs and green leaves amid the spreading branches of a large old peepul by a pond? There it had hatched and grown, had learnt to fly, to hunt the winged termites as they flew out of the rain-soaked earth, to catch the crabs and frogs in waterlogged fields. It had learnt the freedom of the skies, the pleasure of young, strong wings that bore it on the rising currents of air; its harsh cry had held the music of youth and life.
Urmila smiled despite herself. She, too, saw an old peepul by a pond, and an old man and a child walking hand in hand. She saw the child sitting at the old man's knee, listening wide-eyed to his tales of courage and wisdom, patience and strength. And she heard music...the music of her childhood...a young voice and an old lifted in the first clear Om of a new day...
She heard it again, this time much closer - her daughter Gayatri with her grandfather, singing the first Om of the morning.
Urmila looked out of the window. The brahminy kite launched itself into the air, gliding strong and solitary into a rising current of air. Urmila smiled again and turned away from the window, to join her daughter in welcoming the day.