Mr Pedro had bought me from Neo Arc Lights of Free School Street forty years ago when he shifted to this new flat at Robinson Street. He wanted to surprise his wife. Before that, though my memory is not so reliable anymore, I was possibly manufactured somewhere at Moradabad, in a stuffy factory. Sadiq Mohammad, the artisan who crafted me out of glass shards, lived in the quarters nearby with his family, at the end of a narrow dingy lane littered with cow dung. Mrs Pedro – Veronica to Mr. Eugene Pedro, loved me at first sight, (who wouldn’t love a sparkling new chandelier?), but months later, when she decided to clean me up, she found me terrible. I was too delicate and fragile and required careful handling. I remembered her irritated face when she hoisted herself on a stool craning her neck, balancing precariously on her toes, wiping each crystal of mine, grunting and swearing expletives for her husband’s tasteful purchase.
However, I give all credits of my wonderful upkeep to Veronica because it was only for her I am still here, hung on the ceiling of the drawing room of the Pedros, even after four decades. On a close look, you might find few crystals are missing, but then I am only a chandelier; some wear and tear is expected in four decades. Even Veronica Pedro had lost her two molar teeth from caries; the Chinese dentist at Bentinck Street took them out on two separate occasions ignoring her plea to fill them up with false teeth immediately. He said the sockets were raw, hence unsuitable for false teeth for another six months. They looked like two null black spaces on her upper jaw and were never restored with golden implants as Veronica was promised. Well, that’s an old story, long before Mr Pedro died.
But what was surprising, unlike human, my vision remained as clear as before, while Veronica had turned near-blind from her high blood sugar. Since Mr Pedro had passed away two years ago from a strangulated hernia, I noticed Veronica lost all her desire to live. She stopped giving me the monthly clean-up bath, relegating the duty to a part-time maid.
Strung from a vantage point, I had been hovering over everything, catching prescient view of each corner of this room for the last forty years. I had seen Veronica stepping in as newlywed when she was slender and graceful. Then she became mother to Joe, Miranda and William, her three children, who were born and raised in this house. I had vivid memories of the children crawling on the floor, playing with their Labrador, Charlie. I saw the children bawling, fighting with one another, messing up the floor with their pee and shit, turning Veronica insane. I had also witnessed the poignant moments when all three left the nest, one after another; Miranda settling in Goa with her painter husband while Joe and William, both engineers, flew to the US to chase their great American dream.
The house, once resonant with cheerful laughter, suddenly turned gloomy and quiet, but until Mr Pedro was around he routinely got other rooms cleaned, opened the windows to air the rooms, and I felt there was still somebody living around me. But after his death, since last two years, most of the time the house remained closed from inside. Veronica hardly went out, save for visiting the bank to withdraw money. I saw two maids coming daily in the morning and midday respectively who did their designated chores of the household in addition to looking after the near-blind lady.
Of the two maids, I never liked Lata, the younger one. I thought she was too naive, unable to protect herself. And I was worried not only for her but also for poor old Veronica for I had sensed some weird presage that might befall upon the unlucky lady for some stupid act of this girl. If you ask me why I was biased in my opinion, I have to tell you what I had seen with my own eyes one day.
It was a cold December midday. Sushma, the other maid had left at three o’clock as her time was over. It was Lata’s duty to be around Veronica till late afternoon and cook the dinner for her before leaving. Veronica was feeling under the weather of late, and that day she was sleeping longer than usual in her room when I heard the doorbell ring. Lata was waiting for the bell for she sprang up from the sofa, turned the TV louder and opened the front door and the grill almost silently.
I saw a young man coming in. He wore cheap faded jeans, a black jacket and a grey baseball cap. He sat on the sofa with legs crossed and brought out a packet of cigarette.
“No, no, you can’t smoke here.” Lata hissed, “The old lady has very sharp nose. She will find out somebody is here.”
The young man, annoyed with the restriction, sneered and held her hand and drew her closer. Lata didn’t protest against his advances, allowing her to be drawn into his arms. She sat on his lap snuggling, smelling his deodorant from his hairy chest, titillating him with her bewitching smile. I saw them fondling each other for some time, and soon they turned horny enough and the man peeled off Lata’s saree while she giggled like a moron resembling a sliced watermelon with juice overflowing. Finally they made love on the sofa, their ecstatic shouts drowning under the hyperbole of saas-bahu drama of the TV. I watched their unabashed sex in awe under the fluorescent light, wondering had Veronica’s eyes been normal what she would have done. When they were done and put on their clothes, I held my antennae up to listen to their conversation carefully.
“How long will this continue?” Lata asked biting her lower lip.
“What will continue?” The man still had the leering look in his eyes.
“You are such a shameless person! I can`t get those dirty words in my mouth! You know what I am talking about,” Lata said.
“As long as you want them.” The bastard said.
“I want you to marry me as soon as possible.” Lata said.
“What`s the urgency? Aren’t you enjoying?” The man laughed showing his stained teeth. I felt the scoundrel had no intention to marry her; he was just playing with the stupid woman, but this half-wit girl didn’t have an ounce of common sense.
“There is urgency. I have missed my last period,” Lata said lowering her gaze.
The man stood up suddenly like a pen-knife getting unclasped from its coil.
“What? Aren’t you taking those pills?” He asked.
“I was, but missed few days in between.” Lata looked at her man, frightened like a tethered goat soon to be sacrificed.
“See, I thought you took proper care, I mean, that’s why I never bothered. Now you have messed up everything.” The man said looking upset and clenching his teeth; his cheek muscles standing out for a moment that sent a cold shiver down Lata’s spine.
“Why are you worried so much?” Lata said.
“I am not in a position to marry now. My business has hit a low since few months; I need money to repay my loans.”
Lata held the young man’s hairy forearm in her palm, slowly stroking it as if to make up for her stupid act. But the man wrestled his forearm back, in a sudden jerk. I shuddered looking at the ice-cold eyes of the man that seemed cruel and merciless and shut my eyes thinking that he was going to bring out a knife now. But he smiled credulously instead, cuddling the woman again, whispering something into her ear that I couldn’t catch. Then he kissed her, and departed. From that day, I began to believe that the hideous man might be hatching some plan, but I had no inkling what it was.
Veronica’s nephew, Martin, used to come once a month to meet her from Behala where he lived to help her clear the accounts, pay the maids and other things. He sat at the dining table with all bills and cheque books on Sunday morning after he returned from the mass, filling up forms, guiding his blind aunt to sign the cheques.
Martin drove tram for Calcutta Tramways, an unglamorous job if you ask me, that did not pay very well given the long hours he had to be on his feet manoeuvring the joysticks. Veronica was gracious enough to pay him a monthly allowance for all his help, without uttering it ever, giving it a name of filial duty. But of late, I saw something strange in Martin’s eyes that I couldn’t decipher clearly.
A long-term fixed deposit, made by Mr. Pedro two decades ago had matured and credited to Veronica’s account. It was a big sum because interest accrued in all these years was added to the principal, and was good enough to see her through even if she drew only the interest.
“How much will I get in a month if I put it in FD again?” Veronica asked her nephew.
“Eighteen thousand approximately,” said Martin after calculating the yearly compound interest and converting it into monthly income, “Provided you keep it for more than three years.”
“That’s good,” Veronica chuckled.
“So, do you want me to put it in FD again?” Martin asked.
“Yes,” Veronica said.
“You need to identify a nominee,” Martin said. “Who do you want to be the nominee? Miranda, William or Joe? Or do you have anybody else in mind?”
Veronica remained silent for some time. Martin tried to read her face; he didn’t notice that I was hovering above keeping an eye over what was going on. Then Veronica said, “I’d like to donate the money after my death. All my children are doing well, God bless them, I’d like to do something for the unprivileged kids.”
I saw Martin’s face turn scornful as if he didn’t expect her aunt to suddenly turn such a benevolent. I thought he would argue to prove his point that he was finding tough to express, charity begins at home.
But as expected, nothing of the sort happened and I heard Veronica asking her nephew to get papers from the bank and as well as from the orphanage, she finally decided to donate the windfall to.
A week later, I heard some creaky noise at midnight. At first I thought perhaps it was the handiwork of a rat family that had recently begun their quest of burrowing into Mr. Pedro’s old sofa, but soon saw the front door was rattling as if somebody was trying to open the door with a master key. A slanting ray from the kitchen lit up the passageway, and though it was quite dark, I kept myself focused to the door to identify the intruder.
Following a couple of minutes’ tweaks and tugs the door-lock finally gave in and I saw a silhouette entering. He, (don’t ask me how I knew the person was he and not she!) wore a monkey cap to hide his face. He had a bag slung on his shoulders. I saw him wait for a minute to get his eyes adjusted to the darkness inside. Then he sat down on the worn-out sofa fidgeting with the chain of his bag. Soon he brought out a torch and a pistol.
My heart missed a couple of beats at the sight of the shining black instrument, but immediately my mechanical brain began working to find out who this man would be. I was expecting an accomplice to make my guess come true, but then the man closed the door from inside proving me wrong.
I heard Veronica getting up in her bedroom. Though from the drawing room you couldn’t expect me to see what was going on in the bedroom, I had known this lady for almost four decades. This was the time when her restless bladder made her get up to pee and since she became dependent on others for her laundry, she didn’t take chances.
I heard her shuffling steps and a bang on the door as she groped her way to the toilet. Then I saw the man suddenly getting charged up, brandishing his gun, tiptoeing towards the bedroom.
I closed my eyes because I felt I wouldn’t be able to witness the ghastly scene, the innocent woman getting killed for no fault of her own, but nothing happened for some time. I kept waiting for some time, but still nothing happened. I wondered if Veronica had slept on the toilet for of late she had been diagnosed with early features of Alzheimer’s disease. I waited for another ten minutes, but what appeared to be eternity angered the assailant as well because I heard him tapping the door of the toilet. Perhaps he was losing his concentration for the job at hand.
Suddenly the door flung open and I heard a sharp whack followed by a loud thud. Then I heard Veronica screaming, “Come on, I won’t let you go back on your foot.”
I saw the blind lady engaged in a fierce shadow fight brandishing a cudgel with some unknown attacker while the real attacker hit by the knob-stick, lay on the floor bleeding from his skull. I watched the man on the floor, out for the count, but he was still breathing. He was bleeding profusely and I knew he wouldn’t last long. Veronica kept showering her choicest cuss words to her slayer till she felt sleepy again. She dropped the club off and sprawled on the bed once again.