Faith6 mins 349 6 mins 349
“Come in,” a feeble yet composed voice greeted Mathai who stood in front of the veranda, surveying the house, adjacent garden and the tall coconut trees . Reassured by the call he entered the house only to take a frantic about-turn and then a leap to the courtyard. From there he chose to run past the gate . There he paused and looked back. A brown dog had already come out of the house and was now looking enquiringly at him from veranda. Another , a smaller, black one, was sniffing around the diary which had fallen down while bolting out.
Now, that was the dilemma. It was unthinkable to go without the diary. For it meant losing bread. For it contained the addresses, details and star charts of brides and grooms. In fact, Mathai had started off as a broker of Christian marriages. It was easier, he knew the nuances far too well. But as competition in the field peaked, it was no longer wise to stick to one community alone and so here he was.
“Come in,” the voice was louder this time, and more reassuring.” They won’t harm you.”
Mathai heaved a sigh of relief and walked confidently past the gate, past the veranda where he picked the diary up and moved into the house. It was after sitting on an old sofa that he spotted at different parts of the room dogs of varying colors and sizes. Each was looking at him silently. He hurriedly made up his mind to flee and lo! There was a dog at the door, looking menacingly at him. At the corner of the room he beheld the tiny frame of a very old woman on another sofa with a dog of a rare breed on her lap.
“Auntie,” Mathai complained,” so many dogs, and inside the house!”.
“ They are my children,” the woman replied,” I live for them.”
By now Mathai was fully convinced he had definitely walked into danger. The woman was mad.
“Lord,” Mathai prayed remorsefully,” Save me. I won’t skip church anymore.”
“ How did you come, by the bus?” the old woman inquired.
“Yes. I have to go back quickly. Please hand over the photo and star chart of your daughter. I will call you the day after tomorrow.”
“ You have to give me a pardon. I lied about having a daughter. I am a spinster,” the woman said coldly.
Mathai felt nerves freezing. Yet asked, “ Why then I was called?”
“It’s for me. You wouldn’t come if I told it was for me. By the way, my name is Madhavi. ”
Silence remained in the room for nearly a minute. The dogs seemed incredibly still and pensive.
The woman enquired: “ How’s your profession?”
Mathai decided to play himself down, taking care not to get entangled anymore.
“ It’s bad these days. Marriages are rare. Fees are low. I’m thinking of kicking the job.”
“How much you get for a marriage?”
“ Not much. Three thousand or four thousand.”
“ I’ll give you three lakhs.”
Mathai felt lightning pass through the spine. Three lakhs! Sufficient to paint the house, sufficient to buy a cow and clear the co-operative bank debt.
Further, it was important to settle scores with this lady who has given hell of a time. Sankara Pillai, fresh from jail was sitting jobless in front of shops. He could be connected with her.
It was as if the heavens cracked down. All the dogs barked together at Mathai with such loudness that he instantly learned something. The dogs not only sense death hour for humans but read human minds as well!
“The person who marries me should be loving and look after my children well after I am no more”, the old woman said. A black dog walked up to her and rested its head on her lap. The woman caressed it and spoke again:
“My poor Jamu is getting rabid for two years. I find it harder and harder to look after him alone.”
At that, Jammu, the dog with head on the woman’s lap gave Mathai a nonchalant yet freezing look which Mathai had no difficulty in recognizing as the look of death.
“I will get you some tea,” the old woman rose and walked staggeringly off into the kitchen. Mathai was now alone with dogs all of which were now gasping with tongues stuck out. With nothing to do Mathai sent a silent prayer to God while admonishing himself for staying away from church so long. The present predicament was undoubtedly the fruit of that.
A huge dog which had so long been silently watching the happenings now rose. Mathai had already spotted it and had wondered if it was indeed a dog or a tiger. But its gasping with tongue stuck out had reassured him. Dogs, however ferocious, could be managed, unlike tigers. Now the huge dog walked upto Mathai and looked straight into his eyes with a queer expression. It looked like the dog was grinning. That it indeed was a grin, Mathai had no qualms about! While the meaning of the grin brightened itself in Mathai’s mind he was startled. The animal was subtly asking:” Can’t you marry her?”. With extreme amazement, Mathai learned one more lesson. Dogs can not only read minds but deposit thoughts in humans as well.
The old woman had deliberately left the scene. Mathai learned he had walked into a trap laid cleverly for him. He stifled a sob. “This is treachery,” he said inwardly. He saw the dogs looking away from him, not wanting to answer his appeal. The thought ‘we have no other way’ crossed his mind, again startling him.
“ I am a poor fellow”, Mathai once again looked at the dogs.
“ Poor fellow! You! How many lives you have spoilt! How many sins you committed deliberately! Let’s leave it. We are not to concern about such things now,” the huge dog continued to grin.
It was necessary to act with tact. Mathai felt it wise to surrender. Some way out would definitely present itself. The merciful Lord wouldn’t forsake. The woman arrived with tea. Mathai suspected there was a slight blush on her cheeks. He remembered her name and asked: “ May I marry..”, with emphasis on ‘I’. He would have gone on to complete the question as ‘marry you?’ but for sudden nausea which he controlled with effort.
It was as if spring suddenly arrived on Madhavi’s face. She blushed in spite of her age, and asked in a surprisingly soothing tone: “ Where are you from?”
Mathai said the place name.
“ Here we have three acres of land, and another two in town. Then some ….two hundred sovereign gold.”
“ Lord!,” Mathai prayed,” kindly delay intercession.”
One year, maximum two. Mathai quickly guessed how long the lady would remain alive.
“Should she live longer, I know what to do,” Mathai had scarcely finished that thought when he felt an acute sting in the left leg. Looking, he saw Jamu withdrawing his canine teeth while
maintaining a threatening look.
“Oh! Don’t bother. He controls the spread of venom and is very loving. He gives me a bite every other day,” Madhavi reassured Mathai while planting a kiss on the dog’s head.
“Let’s make arrangements for marriage without delay,” Mathai said.
All the dogs sprang up. Led by the huge dog they bolted out and began to play around a big beetle which came and fell in the courtyard exactly then. Darkness had fallen when Mathai came out. While on the road he heard a cock crow twice.