Timelines crisscross, confounding her... a look at what happens when past and present mingle.
The day dulled and the afternoon shadows of eucalyptus trees formed a filigree pattern below. The slight nip in the air suggested September. It bore hints of a tired summer slowly on its way out. The jamun trees no longer bore fruit but leaves still adorned them, lending an opulent and contented look. The lone neem stood on one side bereft of its leaves, its gnarled branches looking sad and forlorn. Its bitter fruit made a squishy carpet interspersed with crunchy yellow leaves in the compound. She sat on her wicker chair, her gaze fixed on the school gate across the road, as if waiting for someone.
Inside the house, doors opened and closed. The inexorable rhythm of household activities did not tolerate any intrusions. Her restlessness, anyway, made her an outdoor person. When she stepped outside she left a huge vacant space behind her. The residents of the house observed this with keen interest. They jostled to cover that space. Their needs were like ever-growing green fungus that settles on any inert space and thrives in little niches. It started with babies and bikes. Then air conditioners came and sat tight on windows. Gadgets whirred in small rooms and competed with crying babies and complaining mothers. The four walls of the house were not a stretchable elastic band. So inside they inched and squeezed into spaces relentlessly, befitting the vigorous dynamics of the upcoming young generation.
The more they expanded, the more she receded into the background; into the room at the back. Years of neglect had rendered it decaying and decrepit. Things smelt like a sour smelly old woman who had not showered in days. Doors flaked and creaked. The netting on the windows lost shape, sagged and then burst into gaping holes big enough for the street cat to enter and find a cosy place to birth her litter.
Outside, little chinks in the recesses of her memory open and she smiles warmly to herself. The chinks become larger and larger and fill up with cameos. Her mind's eye takes her very far in time. Then the far and the farther get very close, so vivid, almost palpable. The faces that float often in her consciousness....Was it her father or her husband? She can see glimpses glowing through a prism, sometimes familiar sometimes strange... reciting Browning's poems to her, or was it Eliot? One by one they all departed; first her husband, then her close friends, leaving a gaping void in her life.
She wipes her eyes and a horrendous sight overcomes her! Both flanks of her almirah stood open ...and her wedding sari...wait…who was trying to wrap it around herself! She runs inside and fumbles with the door. Where are her keys! She tries to think but can't, her mind just clams up... she gulps a glass of water down. Her parched throat softens a bit.
The September clouds have dispersed. Her brightly patterned sari shines in the dying sun's last flickering light. Inside the house, the fading light symbolises teatime. Vimi will bring it outside to her; the cup of lukewarms anaemic tea.
She doesn't like the tea. Her aquiline nose droops a little as the hair sticking out of her nostrils bristle. Precisely at that moment her teacup falls and hits the jagged stones nearby. The clanky sounds fracture her thoughts.
Timelines crisscross, confounding her... life seems to be a code that can no more be deciphered. Why is this long dark road winding in her head! Her father and husband, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters form tiny specks that merge into one another, forming a big black circle that she no more knows how to enter. So she goes round and round but doesn't reach anywhere and then does not know where she herself disappears. She feels scared and wants to let out a long wail and cry.
Just then a sudden gust of wind lifts the yellow leaves and they are airborne. Could she not go with them and land up in a distant land? Dust gets into her eyes and blurs her vision.
She is still rubbing her eyes when the school gong sounds. Her Madhav would be out any moment. She gets up with a springy step. How long has she been waiting for him! Did she meet him yesterday? Or was it last week? At 16, she was not even conscious of her blooming beauty till Madhav looked into her eyes. She remembers clearly the first stirrings in her heart and the thrill of the first touch. And the juicy mangoes he got from his backyard! Here I am, she thinks, all of 16, waiting for my Madhav!
The young man is out of the school gate. She notices his sweaty brow. In an intuitive flash, she knows he is thirsty and runs towards him with her water bottle. The bus is approaching and, as he boards it, she is left standing on the road.
The junk dealer screeches at her to stop. He takes her elbow gently and escorts her across the road to her own patch of retreat. She holds his hand.
“Bhaiya, I want to run away. Will you help me escape?” she says, plaintively.
This sudden speech alarms the junk dealer. He is afraid of the ire of her sons and would like to make a quick exit. But how can he just go away! He sits on his haunches for a few minutes. His compassion impels him to say some soothing words.
The September evening breeze feels cool and she shivers in her half sleeved blouse Is it already December, she wonders and replies to herself in the affirmative. Where are the mangoes that Madhav promised to get! She finds a scrap of paper and writes; “Dear Madhav, it is December and I have been waiting for mangoes. Will you get some for me...will you remember, Madhav? Please Madhav.”