Anima is going back to her hometown. But how will she get there when she doesn’t know where it is...
Her day passes with agonising slowness. Westwards, the sun hangs like a huge orange ball on the horizon devoid of heat, halo or even glow. Against the canvas of the crisp blue sky, it looks sorry and forlorn. It is at this time that wistful shades of longing swoop upon her.
For months now, she feels this restlessness, the desire to go out and find her childhood home, to look for her friends, to talk, laugh, play and sing with them. Her quest took her wandering for several hours.
It was only when she started ringing neighbours’ doorbells did they report to the family. Her son rebuked her. Her walks were curbed. He put a padlock on the gate and on the back gate as well. Since then she has been telling herself: escape, Anima, escape.
Many a time her mind loses its clarity and she is befuddled. Shapeless blundering forms crisscross in front of her, faces she knew once float hazily. She tries to place them in time and space and relationships and feels a clamp upon the mind. She must go and check her old home. The matted growth of memories must be sorted out.
As she struggles, some part of her present comes and stands right in front of her. It has a booming voice and a demanding tone, an impatience, a hurry that she fails to understand. A pen in hand, he asks her to take out her cheque book, showing her what looks like legal papers with green stamps on top, to will away her home to her son, living upstairs. “Mother, you are ill; why not have this worry off your head! These are bad times, should you not leave your money and house safe in the hands of your own son?”
A sullen silence ensues. In a few moments, her son has raised his voice, snatched the sheaf of papers from her hands and walked out, concluding that her bouts of forgetfulness were pretence and that she was scheming and plotting all the time. They saw her in bits and pieces; her son and his wife, a glimpse here, and there. How should she tell them of her yearnings and the confusion in her mind? There are days and moments when her mind lights up like a thousand suns and at others, she is groping in the dark. They were always in a tearing hurry. She heard the car screech stop, the door banged shut, the crunch of boots on gravel pathway and off upstairs with no stops in between.
No doubt, she is biding her time. The day arrives soon enough. Anima slips out quickly, her essentials in a plastic bag and a little pouch of money. She didn’t count, just dumped it; a wad of crumpled soiled notes. At the interstate bus stand, grey and yellow buses stand in a row; scruffy conductors at the door calling passengers, announcing destinations. She gets on to the first bus. It is nearly full and ready to leave.
Once out of the dusty road of the town on to the highway, green fields move rapidly interrupted by thatched roof cottages. A group of school children board the bus in a picnic mood and break into a song. She loves the jig of the tune, so she decides to join in. At the sound of her high-pitched singing, the man next to her is startled and folds his legs and arms to create distance and show disapproval. Bursting into a song makes her happy. After a long time Anima has discovered a sensation of freedom coursing through her veins. Where is her hometown?
Big city troubles
The big city is beckoning from a distance. The number of buildings and vehicles start increasing, making her slightly dizzy. Those walking are taking such rapid strides to reach the next corner, the next street and from there, if uninterrupted, would rush to reach the edge of the universe.
The smooth black sorceress of a street takes a turn. With high-rise buildings on both sides, and the weak sun banished behind them, the cool breeze makes her shiver. Anima stops a few moments under an awning to rest her legs. A girl in a very short skirt, skimpy blouse and large dangling earrings is standing there. Anima looks at her in wonder. ‘’Aren’t you cold?” Anima asks.
Just then a group of men in yellow sweat shirts and red badges descend upon Anima. “We have been looking for you.”
“We mean, looking for oldies.”
“Oldies!”” a perplexed frown pleats Anima’s forehead. “I am sixteen.”
The group seems to think it’s a good joke. They hold her hands and thump her back to congratulate her upon her spirit. Even the girl in the short skirt laughs heartily before getting into a big car that suddenly swerves towards her.
Anima is whisked away and made to stop before a van. The van displays a hand-written placard: Meals on Wheels for Older Persons. Below that in small letters: International Day of the Elderly. She is asked to sit on a plastic chair and offered rice and red kidney bean curry on a disposable plate. The gravy is watery with a few kidney beans floating in it. She finds it yucky but forces the mush down her throat lest they think her impolite. They ask her to sign her name in a register. A robust young man with a paunch takes the mike and starts making a speech, “Friends, the test of a civilised society is in how it treats its elderly…” Anima got this clearly though the rest sounded blah blah to her. Then they asked her to vacate the chair, since another person was waiting for food.
With her lunch inside her, Anima feels drowsy. She enters a quiet park with triangular flower beds and a row of roses in them. She sits on the stone bench and watches the madding crowd pass by. Then she dozes off, her head swaying to left, right and forward. She wakes up to a different scene altogether.
The city at this hour is all dressed up and glittering with neon lights; huge billboards come live with pictures advertising products. The honk of the cars and the clamour around has reached a high decibel, causing a hum in her head. An ambulance zooms down the street with a blaring siren. A few more follow. Further ahead, the traffic comes to a standstill.
Why are people moving so fast, as if a calamity had overtaken them? Perhaps her life is in danger too! She is seized with terror. She wants to speak with someone but everyone is on the run. “I want to go to my hometown, where stars glitter over hill tops, and breeze blows over tamarind trees, its dried seeds tinkling like anklets, the silver river…” She screams silently. No one hears.
She feels small, frail alone, orphaned. Who is this right before her? Her two-year-old, arms outstretched, wailing, curly-haired, chubby-cheeked, her son? She rushes towards him. Just then, a host of people come between and he melts into the crowd. She is overcome with aching love and panic. She must go back where her son is; she must go back where she came from, riding a bus. Where had she taken the bus from? Her heart stomps in her chest. She tries very hard, holds her head in her hands, pushes her brain to its utmost but cannot recall the name of the town she came from.