The night was silent, eerily so. The wind whistled through the branches of the trees outside his window, and the crickets had perked up. Through the thin walls, Tanmay could hear the soft snores as his parents slept in the next room. But he wasn’t sleepy. He stood at the windowsill staring outside at the full moon, and listening owl that stood vigil on a tree nearby. He called her Hooty, because she had stood vigil while he slept, always on that same branch.
After a while, he tiptoed to his parents’ room, and went to his mother’s side of the bed. She was fast asleep, but he shook her a bit.
“What is it, Tannu?” she asked, still half-asleep.
“Sleep no coming. Read me story Mama,” he said, shaking her again.
“Sleep will come baba. You go lie down in bed. Mama is tired,” she said, turning away from him.
Tanmay tried shaking her again, but she had gone back to sleep. He went back to his room, and tried lying down, and staring at the slowly turning fan. But still he was wide awake.
It was then that he heard a beautiful song coming from somewhere, and closed his eyes as he listened to that serene voice.
Hush little baby, don’t say a word,
Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird.
And if that mocking bird won’t sing,
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.
And if that diamond ring turns brass,
Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.
And if that looking glass gets broke,
Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat.
And if that billy goat won’t pull,
Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.
And if that cart and bull turn over,
Mama’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover.
And if that dog named Rover won’t bark,
Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart.
And if that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.
When the song was over, Tanmay had drifted off to sleep. He didn’t hear the hoot of the owl, or his mother’s sniff.
The next morning, he woke up to the sunlight streaming in through the window. His mama was sitting near his bed like she was every morning.
“Mama, you sing beautifully,” he told her as she fluffed his pillow.
They listened to the sound of footsteps, and knew his father was awake too.
Moments later, the bedroom door opened.
They saw him look at the two of them, his face expressionless as always.
He saw her look back at him, a small pillow in her hand, as she sat at the foot of the crib they had once bought for their stillborn son.
(14th April 2014)