Mirai poured another cup of tea for me and for herself and continued.
“There was a framed photo on the mantel that showed a young man with my mother, taken shortly after their marriage. I had heard that he was a brilliant engineer, who had taught in the university and done some research on his own. It was the research and some publications based on it that got him the position he was offered in some US university. He had left and never looked back. It was as if he had wiped clean the earlier part of his life.
“Every two or three years, he would visit India briefly, to meet his university colleagues and us. He would send some money periodically, but we hardly depended on that. My mother’s family was affluent, and we never ran short of living expenses. I went to good schools and then went to a well-known university. In all these years, barring the few hours he allocated us during his infrequent visits, he was no more than a shadowy presence in my life.
“It took me a long time to adjust to the reality that he had abandoned not just his wife, but also me, his daughter. He had carved out a new life for himself in a distant land, reportedly joined an international engineering group as their scientific advisor. We had no longer a role to play in his life."
“The person I eventually married turned out to be an engineer. He worked for a construction group in India for many years and then went to work on a project in Kuwait. We had a comfortable life there and seemed well adjusted when the war with the US became imminent. We were about to return post haste to India when I received an unexpected letter from my father. He had maintained a tenuous connection with me over the years, an occasional letter on my birthday or in Christmas time. He knew of our need to leave Kuwait and suggested that we should immigrate to the US.
“To my surprise, he quickly filed the necessary papers and even offered to host us the initial months in his Maryland house. Three months later, I was living in my father’s home, with my young son and my husband, who started looking for a job. By then, my father was not only a partner in the large engineering firm where he had been working for years, he had also started a consulting firm of his own. He had initially suggested that my husband could work for him, but now he reneged on that assurance. I was disappointed, because my husband now faced the uphill task of find a job in an unknown city in an unfamiliar land.”
Mirai looked out the window and struggled with a painful recollection. Then she said, “My husband found a job after several weeks and we quickly moved out of my father’s home. I felt we had nearly outstayed our welcome. Curiously, the Dutch woman my father was living with now seemed more sympathetic to our situation than my father. I formed a good friendship with her and we continued to remain cordial friends.
“My mother had passed away while I was in Kuwait. My father was my only living parent, and when I had received his invitation to come to the US, I had hoped to develop a new and close relationship with him. I had dreams of retrieving the father I had lost as a child. I wanted to know him and take care of him. I also wanted him to know me, to help him build a relationship with my son and my husband. Now I knew that was not to be. He had done me a good turn. That was all. He did not want to get close to me, the only child he ever had. It hurt me, but I accepted that a somewhat distant link is all I could ever hope to have with him.”
Mirai put down her cup after a last sip. She sighed briefly and said, “When he died three weeks ago, I sat next to his bed and held his frail hand. No, he never became my father. He had no intention to resume a role he had forsaken years ago. But I wanted to be his daughter. I wanted to play that role as best as I could. I held his hand until the moment, late in the night, when he breathed his last. His Dutch partner whimpered. I remained wordless. I had done what I wanted to do. Sadly, but scrupulously, I had played my role, my daughter’s role. That was the only satisfaction I had.
“I gently dropped his hand, put on my jacket and walked slowly to my car outside. A pitiful, poignant chapter in my life had finally ended. I started the car.”