When I met them for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a shiver of anxiety. They looked every bit attractive and sophisticated a couple could possibly look. I reached them slowly and called them out.

"Ahem..errr.. Mrs. and Mr. Sridhar?

"Yes" said the lady and gave me a bright, dimpled smile. Her smile however, did not hide the flicker of hope and anxiety in her eyes. The myriad of emotions that played in her eyes, showed the years of hurt, pain and the small hope that lived through all the sad times. Her husband looked calm and gentle. He gave me a small smile.

"Am Meenakshi" I said, "You can call me Meenu"

Together we waited for our turn. Fifteen minutes later, we were seated in front of Dr. Regina, a kind , rotund person with fine wrinkles that portrayed her age and experience

"So, Mrs. And Mrs. Sridhar, we spoke about it during our long course of conversations, are you happy with your decision?" she asked with a gentle smile at me.

"We’re really happy with our decision and after all these years… Am finally ready!" breathed Mrs. Sridhar.

The next couple of hours buzzed away with a lot of technical terms and medical check-ups and all through the process the only thing that registered in my mind was the slow bubble of joyous disbelief and slow hope that blossomed in the faces of the lovely couple. We narrowed down the details and decided things together.

The days blurred and moved fast. Synching of period dates happened, IVF cycles followed, legal technicalities sorted, fertilization happened and one fine day I was entrusted with Pavithra and Sridhar’s biggest treasure. My job was to safeguard it with my body and soul, and hand it over to them, when the time is right. I was crystal clear about it. Any kind of emotional attachment would put me in a deep mess. Besides, I had my five years old, Dhruva at home. He was my world.

Days moved on and I started feeling familiar changes in my body. The sight of food became nauseating, and mornings started with me bending over the sink and emptying my stomach over and over. My little Dhruva watched it all with incomprehension, stood near me on top of the sink, trying to hold my head like I do to him, whenever he was sick.  Pavithra called me every day. It had become a ritual for the two of us. We talked about anything and everything and the only word that would indicate her excitement and fear was the “take care” she said at the end of our conversations.

3 months down, my belly started developing a bump. All these days I restrained myself from caressing my belly. But I couldn’t help it anymore. I gently touched my stomach and closed my eyes, feeling the life growing inside me. It brought a torrent of tears, which I refused to shed. I opened up Pavithra’s picture in my gallery, whenever I felt this tinge of emotion.

Our next monthly checkup was a joyous shock. We realized that there were two tiny tots in my womb that required my care and attention. It gave me a burst of joy. I almost wanted to say Dhruva that he has two brothers or sisters coming, but Pavithra discussing about colour coding cribs, brought me down to reality. It was their children. It was the beginning of their family.I told myself that a hundred times.

I was having my usual round of walk of lunch, when I first felt their kick. It was a jolt of shock, a tremendous feeling of joy that every mother would feel. I called up Pavithra to tell her the wonderful news, locked myself in the restroom for a good ten minutes and cried my heart out. It was difficult than I thought it would be. As days started nearing the end, I could feel the lives inside me becoming more and more alive. Every time I had a pang of emotion, I called up Pavithra and asked her to visit me. We sat together for hours and I  listened quietly while she spoke to her kids. It helped me erase the thoughts of “my babies” that threatened now and then to crop up in my mind. I attached myself more and more to Dhruva. I read to babies whenever I could, and insisted to me and them that I was their aunt. Life was an utter mess with difficult days and anxious nights.

"Do I have the courage to hand over the babies?" I asked myself everyday and gave myself a firm "Yes" as an answer standing in front of the mirror

It happened one such time. I had an excruciating pain that felt like a pulse. Just then Pavithra entered my house. We started timing the pulse while Sridhar drove us to the clinic. The pain came in fast waves, and instinct told me that the time was near. Dr. Regina was standing there, ready for the process. 4 hours of struggle and encouraging "push" buzzing I felt a familiar back splitting pain , after which a head slowly came out. It was quickly followed by another.

I did not see the babies. I watched Pavithra's face that was coated with joy and wonder, and the silent tears the gentlemen near her shed . The last thing I saw before slipping into comfortable darkness was the joyous couple , holding their bloody , little bundles of joy.

I was examining my hospital gown when they entered. I knew it was time for goodbye. Strangely , I felt very light. They placed the lovely little boy and girl on my lap. They excused themselves for an appointment that did not exist. I touched the little heads with my hands. There was a peaceful contentment . I did not feel the electric jolt I felt the first time I touched Dhruva. I thought the boy looked like Pavithra. I did not have a farewell speech to give them. I just watched them and said "Take care of mommy and daddy!" They shivered and snuggled in response to my voice. On cue, Pavithra and Sridhar entered the room. I gently transferred the kids to their eager hands. I didn't feel the urge to hug them or kiss them. All of it was done by their parents.

I watched them with a tear trickling down my cheek which dissolved softly in the upward curve of my lips. I was proud of what I was. I was their surrogate. Their temporary treasure vault.