The rain god, Indra, had been severe the night Sujatha was shut outside the gate. Sujatha’s legs beneath her wet nightgown shivered. The incessant monsoon showers of Hyderabad that touched the glass windows in her room–her plate of onion pakoras and steaming cup of ginger tea–was not as appeasing when it hit the face hard. She held her two children, tightly.
‘Why did Mummy wake us up? Why are we going to granny’s home?’ seven-year-old Rushika asked her nine-year-old brother, Rithwik. ‘Hush,’ He said, putting his index finger on his lips.
Sujata stood for five minutes. The wrath of Srinivas’s anger made her forget the chill of the water that touched her skin. As her children held her tight, she realized they must be feeling cold. She picked her black bag and walked towards the end of the lane. The shutters of the stationery shop, the laundry shop, and the tailor, were pulled down. The doors of the houses in the tall buildings were closed. The street that was abuzz all noon with hawkers, school children with heavy school bags, tired office goers, was desolate. She craned her neck right and then left. The street light and the rain washed the street with a shade of sparkling yellow. She let a couple of autos with leching drivers pass. She saw an auto speeding towards them.
‘Auto, auto,’ she shouted. Her heart calmed when she saw a man sporting a white beard inside. His eyes appeared kind. She had been trained to board autos with old men who were kind.
‘Himayatnagar,’ she said and boarded quickly in to the auto. Rushika quickly ensconced into her lap, wet with rain, and Rithwik sat beside her, clutching her arm.
The ride seemed longer than usual. Her heart was beating fast. Her eyes felt heavy.
‘Amma, traffic jam,’ the auto driver responded when she asked him the reason for the delay and snail-like pace of the vehicle. The water splashed inside from a passing red Maruti car. ‘Eww,’ Rushika and Rithwik, shouting in unison.
‘Sorry, beta,’ the auto driver apologized. He engaged the children in a fable about a bear and a lion. His auto sped and they took a right into the lane of her mother’s house. The swaying Ashoka trees and the scent of the familiar relaxed her. She rummaged for three ten rupee notes from her purse and clenched it in her fist.
When the auto stopped, Rushika jumped into the puddle of water and giggled. The ring of her fluty giggle curled Sujatha’s lips in to a smile. Rithwik jumped from the bars at the side of the auto and opened the cream huge gate with a zig-zag pattern. They bid a bye to the auto man and ran towards the door and jumped to ring the bell but they could not reach. Sujatha knocked the wooden door, incessantly. Her younger brother opened the door. He was holding a candle in one hand. She entered inside and his books were spread on the floor with another candle beside it. He held Rishwik’s and Rushika’s palm and took them inside where their grandmother was seated on the bed and was reading a version of Ramayan by Molla by the light of the candle.
‘Ammamma..’ the two children ran towards their grandmother and held her by her rotund waist. The candle fell on the bed.
Sujatha ran towards it and set it straight immediately. ‘What are you doing?’ Sujatha shouted at her children. ‘Have I taught you this? Did you learn to throw things away from your father?’
‘Shh..’ her brother said as walked into the room with two towels.
He gave one to her and rubbed the children’s wet heads with the other. He took them to the verandah where he was studying. He gave them a blank paper each and showed them how to make a boat. Sujatha’s mother placed the book aside and went into the kitchen to prepare tea in one vessel and boil milk in another. Sujatha sat at the corner of the bed and cried, copiously, wetting her shoulder bone. When her mother gave her the cup of tea, Sujatha placed the cup aside and held her tight by the waist. Her mother patted her head.
‘Calm down. Drink this.’ Sujatha drank the tea and the ginger in it made her throat warm. There was a sudden rush of blood in her head. She wiped her tears, again.
‘What’s the problem?’ her mother asked.
Sujatha choked as the rush of words were stuck in her throat. She closed her eyes:
‘It’s not just you, your entire family is like that.. you illiterates..’ Srinivas said pushing away the plate of rice and beans curry.
‘Dare you say anything to my family again,’ she retorted.
‘How dare you raise your voice!’ he shouted, ‘Get lost you witch, you ate my mother… and take your children with you.’
‘Where will I go? This is my house,’ she asserted.
‘Get lost,’ saying he got up and kicked the chair. He stormed into their bedroom, threw her clothes in the bag and woke their children up.
‘He.. shouted… always.. so many fights.. so many years.. I was quiet..’ Sujatha said suddenly. ‘Let’s talk tomorrow,’ she said, and walked towards her bag to pick out her night dress. She stared at the haphazardly placed dresses. What was she thinking all these years? He would suddenly change?
She picked up a nightgown and walked towards the washroom without a candle.
When she returned her mother asked, ‘You have become brave. You would never step in to a dark room before.’
‘Oh .. I did not realise.’ she said.
‘You sleep with me and the children with sleep with your brother… And remember: whatever it is I am with you,’ her mother assured her.
Her mother had placed a pillow on the right side of the bed–the side of the bed she loved and craved to sleep on. She rested her back on the mattress. Her mother placed her hand on Sujatha’s tummy and patted her cheek, and all her fears disappeared into the flame of the candle.Categories: Short Stories