Venkat Lakshmi had a secret. It was hidden in a tall steel container where she placed the dals. But since the demise of her husband, she placed her secret there. She consumed it occasionally when her heart was too heavy.
Tonight was one such evening. She sat on her iron cot for three hours reminiscing what her son had said, ‘You want the house papers freed, then you need to sign the house on my wife’s name!’
‘What? This house that your father built with his own blood and sweat should be given to this woman who has spoilt your brain?’
‘She is my wife, mother!’
‘And, I am your mother!’
‘You have no option, mother. None of your daughters have so much money. Whom will you ask?’
She knew her daughter-in-law had charmed her innocent son but this was intolerable. She had only a few thousands left and reserved for her secret. And, she couldn’t ask her daughters.
‘Had my husband been alive, this situation would have never arised! I had told him that the woman was evil!’
‘Mother, enough..You have a week to decide. Else I have ways to take it from you forcefully’ Her foolish son said before storming out of the house.
He did not even stay back to eat the sambar rice that she so fondly prepared learning that they were coming from Bangalore after months. Her sons were the apple of her eyes. The second one, born after her three daughters, couldn’t study much because of infrequent attendance to college due to nursing her husband during his last days as her first was busy in his own personal and professional life.
‘What has this life come to?’ she thought and cried.
Crying all night, she slowly shook herself from the soiled pillow on her favourite iron bed, wiped the tears dry of her chubby cheeks, and dressed her frail body in her secret saree. She covered it with a black cotton shawl and slowly walk outside near the gate with a cream and red crisscross pattern on it. She stood there looking out and smiling feebly at every acquaintance who passed by.
Slowly, she stepped out, wearing Bata Chappals placed outside the door beneath the door mat on which the ‘E’ in WELCOME was slowly fading.
Like a detective from her favourite novel, she tip toed and then walked quickly on the lanes where she knew many people. Her daily walking to the nearby Kasturba Park had improved her speed. After walking a kilometer, she placed the towel on her head and place the sunglasses of her 23-year-old grandson Neerav on her nose. Thank god for his forgetfulness.
She would then walk till she saw the board ‘Hanuman Wine Shop.’ She would cross the road carefully to avoid accidents and the consequent actions that could reveal her identity.
She would slip a piece of paper written in CAPITALS ‘MC DOWELS’ and two old notes. The thin short man with a saucepan like face, grey eyes and hands with dirt would hand over the bottle to her. She would slowly place it in the pouch tucked at the end of her saree and walk home, looking through the sunglasses through which everyone looked the same dark colour. She came back home, filled the contents into a steel tumbler, mixed it with the tap water and had it at once.
The fetish for the brown-liquid started after her husband’s demise and the barbaric ritual to help her realise the same. The gruesome reality was thrusted on her by erasing her red bindi with force by her sister-in-law and then banging her smooth hands on the harsh stone so that her glass bangles break.
She wanted to forget it and one day, at her widow-sister’s place, she saw how she calmed herself. A steel tumbler and a bottle of the dark brown liquid. For the fear of being answered wrong, she never asked. Then, she saw the same at her daughter’s house.
When her husband was alive, she always stayed indoors, on her cot. The cot was her place of solace, her relief. This was the place where she saw her husband the first time, where she bore her five children, where she heard the gossip, disinterested, about her other relatives and about the latest gold jewellary, the different lotus or the rose petal designs. But none of them ever spoke about this brownish liquid that calmed the storm in the heart. She would lie down and watch the roof on the cot. She would peel the peas and look at the sun through the bars. Wasn’t the orange sun delicious? She empathized with Bajrangbali who flew towards it thinking it was a fruit.
Bajrangbali was innocent like her younger son who lived with her but he was the epitome of ill luck. Everything he pursued, failed. He roamed across different parts of the state for some business or the other. He had tried his hand in chemical, then computer systems, then fabric. But he failed. He was either duped or he was too innocent for this world. She wanted the house for him. How could she let her cunning daughter-in-law take it?
He was away from home on another assignment and her heart was heavy with these thoughts. Whatever happened to sons like Sravan? She thought and wept while sipping from the steel tumbler. She sipped and had Lays chips. She saw the navy blue sky and the moon that shone through the bars of the window. The smell of the clothes set to dry by her neighbours filled her nose. The mixed smile made her smile. She slowly untied her hair and switched on the radio FM and slowly slipped into a deep sleep, forever.
Categories: Short Stories