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Hard Stains
Hard Stains
★★★★★

© Anonymous

Abstract Children Drama

64 Minutes   37.7K    576


Content Ranking

HARD STAINS

 

Chap-1

 

Gayatri found it surprising. The stain was hard, and refused to go off the sticky dark bottom of the copper utensil. It was as if it was the scrub in her hand, which was feverish and tired, and not she, really. Sitamaa should have left some food cooking in the vessel for more than the reasonable length of time yesterday, and hence ended up cooking some stain, instead of whatever she had in mind when she had started out. The inevitable traces of the crime were still found clinging to the clever bottom of the utensil in question. Gayatri rubbed it hard for another time, and when it seemed that a small helpless portion of the grease had happily torn off the vessel, the scrub gave place, to show her how it was only her hopeful imagination that made her believe so. The stain was still sitting there, safe and glad, as if it were absolutely untouched. She let some water onto the utensil, and when it fell across her feverish hand, she could instantly feel the heat. She thought if it was the water, but then, she knew it was herself. She could sense the radiation all through her body. There have been times when she had worked with a fever, but today seemed quite tough on her.

There were a few more plates and vessels lying aside, with their own incredible varieties of stains and correspondingly histories associated with their coming into existence, which most likely had to do with Sita’s inattentiveness during her cooking attempts. She didn’t look at them though, as she had chosen not to. After quite a bit of scrubbing, the stain seemed to have gone, and when she placed the cleaned vessel along with the heap of its fellow clean vessels, there was some obvious sense of relief, that she could sense arise from somewhere deep within her feverish self.

“Are you done with the vessels”? That was Sita, trying to make sure that things for the morning were proceeding as planned. She didn’t want to get late to office that day, like she didn’t want to, any day.

“Almost, Sitamaa”, said Gayatri, in a heavy breath. She couldn’t believe that she had to inhale quite a bit to just utter those two words in an audible manner.

“I need to get some clothes washed, today. Cheenu had spoiled his uniform yesterday”, came the voice from inside. “He is so naughty. Gets his shirt dirtied almost everyday. Only, if you wash this today morning, can we have a shirt for him for tomorrow’s school”.

Gayatri wasn’t put off by that next item waiting to squeeze the work out of her body. She just didn’t react to it. You would have seen her hear that, seen those words drop into her ears and seep into her, but when you would try to find where they vanished, you would get lost in the maze that was there and miserably fail to find them in the dark depths of her feverish soul. She did hear what Sitamaa said, but it didn’t seem to mean any trouble for her. It was as if there were this machine by name Gayatri, one that knows no fatigue or feeling, and it would go on for any length of time, faithfully and meticulously. To the eyes of an outsider, like, that of God, or like that of the eyes of readers who would read about this if you were to write her story, this passivity of hers would definitely have been surprising. But, for one who knew her well enough, it would be just a basic fact of nature. Her calm was an inevitable corollary of the theorem of existence of the very universe.

Gayatri had lived the body and soul of a housemaid for a few years now. She had executed the fateful trick everyday of her life for fifteen years now, in all its monotonous and dry detail. She had never let lethargy or physical pain come in the way of the tedium of the act, during sick times, poor times, hungry times, weak times, sad times, tired times, and in general, all times when just plain misery visits one assuming any of the various subtle forms it is capable of, which is, believe me, a terrific feat, one that defies simple human notions of feeling and failure. And, as you think deeper about it, you would think she had not a soul, and that the body that was hers was numb and incapable of sensing pain. She was Gayatri, the machine. But, as you would think deeper, you would know this wasn’t true. For, Gayatri was human, like you and I. The seemingly inexplicable constancy and perfection of her execution was a simple trait she had inherited over the tediousness and ruthlessness of plain Time. And, you would know she was human in every real way.

In a couple of years after marrying Murti, a little while after Murali was born, is when Gayatri had started her life as a maid, which you would understand is not a rewarding career, and was just a necessity for plain goals of survival. Murti had to drive trucks frequently across various states carrying loads of mostly uninteresting stuff, like mud of different colours, granite, iron rods longer than the truck itself, and yeah, all that kind of stuff, which you could well imagine. His whereabouts were for most times, not known, until he’d come back one day after delivering loads to strangers. He would be drunk when he was back, and then he’d lay asleep for a whole day on the corridor, and a log of wood at the same point in space, for all practical matters, would not have made much of a difference. You’d see him sleeping, and you’d imagine at the back of your idle mind, the times when he had waited for hours on long queues during cold nights at toll posts, the times when he had smoked countless cigars to stay awake on unforgiving nights as he drove the monster on an endless highway with blinding lights weakening the nerves on his body, bit by bit. He’d then wake up after his penance-like sleep, and give a few hundred rupees (in the order of 5-6) to Gayatri. “Put this in the brown box”, he’d say, and then he’d leave the house to go visit his friends in the city. Murti would not express care for Murali or Gayatri explicitly, other than the times when he had dinner at home late at nights. He’d have this local magazine in his left hand, as he ate, and one unsuspecting moment, he’d happen to utter something like, “How is Murali doing? Did he have any health problems this time?” and then it would suddenly strike you how he was a man of the family after all. But, the time he got to spend at home was anyways little. Soon, he’d go on another of those endless truck trips. So, you can say, it was Gayatri who really took care of Murali, as he grew from the tiny baby he then was, to the boy he was now, roughly 13 years old. And, she had managed to get him into the Grace Matriculation School four streets across the main road, which was a school where typically kids from families that survived on monthly salaries studied. She had got a fee-concession for Murali, using the fact that her father had died when he was in an army (He had really died of pneumonia, in a training camp in the Northern ranges). But for that concession, she wouldn’t have managed to get him into that school.

She had, in this inconceivably long span of time (you’d think you’d conceive a time as long as 15 years, but you really cannot, for the basic fact that, one is simply not the person he/she was 15 years ago), worked in quite a few homes around. She had mostly washed clothes, scrubbed vessels, cleaned homes, et cetera… at various homes. There would be times when the people in one of her work-houses would move to a different place, and suddenly her survival would be put into such a trouble, as a significant fraction of her earning would be cut-off without warning. She wouldn’t have enough money for just the food and Murali’s school requirements. It goes without saying how she would have gone hungry those times. Times when she felt the most hungry, she had hated food like she had hated nothing else. It was an unreasonable constraint imposed on an equally unreasonable system where she was forced to exist. One has to have food. Everyday. If she hadn’t had to get food for Murali and herself, she wouldn’t have to go through all that. She’d manage for a month or so, by getting extra money from one of her other current employer, if she had one, for which she would have to either over-work that month, or would get reduced money the next month. Somehow, she’d pull herself through all those times, until she found a job for herself in another place.

 

Somehow, life had helplessly dragged its weak feet with time, and you see her now, in Sita’s place today, and as you know, she had some fever and was on her way through finishing her work at this place. She had been working in Sita’s place for a little over five years now, and this, needless to say, was a more or less permanent and dependable source of money for Gayatri’s monetary needs now.

 

‘Sitamaa’, was a nice woman. You would see her take the 314-C to the Meridian Technologies every morning at 9 and there, you’d see her working on documents, files and all those tons of papers you could imagine, through the day in the finance section. She was a woman of few words. She had not much to share with her colleagues other than statements like, “Can you please pass me the glue?” “When is Mr. Williams coming today? I need to get some papers signed” in a tone which assumed a more or less constant pitch, and exhibited little variations of timbre. Her deep serenity would strike one in a strange manner and wild talkers with an arrogant air of pride and chit-chatters with no visible depth of character would go calm as they pass her by. Sitamaa was a widow, but when you would see her, the image that would instantly come to your mind would be one that of a ‘mother’, and you would feel weirdly happy for her young boy though you wouldn’t have seen or known him. You would also feel glad for Gayatri, for she worked at Sita’s home.

But, it is also true that, you would feel glad for Sita to have Gayatri working for her. Well, it was a matter of mutual support for either of them. But, maybe, it was more than just monetary support or household help. You wouldn’t be sure, as you would have never seen the two of them share any bit of personal talk other than about the work that was in store for the day. Gayatri never chit-chatted, and Sita didn’t either. But, you’d see them in the same home every morning talking to each other about dirty vessels, spoilt clothes and milk spilt on the floor, and you’d think, for reasons you wouldn’t be able to discern, that they did share a relationship which was more than that between a plain housemaid and her employer. If transactions of menial currency papers weren’t happening between them, and if Gayatri weren’t the poor hungry helpless worker who had to be provided a living by Sitamaa, you would rather like to call them ‘friends’, who were maybe, not too close. But, since there was money involved in the relationship in the mentioned manner, you would fail to imagine them to be friends, the way you would have liked to.

 

“Are you fine? You don’t seem to be doing well”, Sita said. “Come here, closer. Let me see”, she said. Gayatri traversed the space between them in weak steps, and reached Sita, who was standing with Cheenu’s shirt in her hand. As she touched her forehead, and felt the fever, she said, “You can go home today and take rest. I’ll manage it today. It is just this shirt”.

“No, Sitamaa, I am fine, you are getting late to work”.

“No, I am telling you it is alright”.

“No, Sitamaa, I am fine”.

“Well, if you insist, just wash this shirt for now, and make a move. You can wash the rest of the clothes tomorrow”.

“Okay”, said Gayatri and walked away picking the shirt from Sita’s hand. Sita walked back, hurriedly into her room, to gather some files that she needed to take to her office that day.

Gayatri opened the tap and let some water into the bucket. She added some washing powder and dipped the shirt into it. Her energy was almost drained for the day. As she wet the shirt and took it out, to rub the dirt off it, she saw Cheenu coming into the room. He was a thin boy, and a little short for a 13 year old. He wasn’t wearing a shirt then, and was getting ready for his school, Grace Matriculation School, yes, the same place you’d remember Murali was studying too. Cheenu stood there, with his hands cupped on his hips trying his best to strike a majestic posture, and as you’d notice lines on his chest through which his ribs try to show off, you’d smile to yourself as you find your sense of humor get tickled mildly. Cheenu always tried to rule the place he was in, which wasn’t unreasonable, given his age and the fact that he inhabited a child’s body, which tried to compensate its meekness by some extent of ego built into its brain.  

“I need a shirt for school. Where is my shirt?” he demanded.

“I had washed one yesterday. Mummy might have ironed it yesterday evening and put it in the green cupboard. Ask her, and she’ll give it to you”.

He ran back in a ‘swish’ and came back in a moment, with another ‘swish’.

“Mummy said she didn’t iron any clothes yesterday.”

“Okay. I will get one ironed for you now”.

“I need it quick. Mummy said, it is getting late for school” he mumbled.

“Yes, Cheenu. I’ll just get it done in no time for you” she smiled at him.

Cheenu seemed convinced with that, and then there was the ‘swish’.

 

Gayatri thought of Murali then. She had taught him to get ready for school all by himself, and Murali had learnt the art to near perfection in the past couple of years, an impressive feat for a boy his age. Everyday, before Gayatri would come to Sita’s place, she would have his breakfast done in a plate, which she would promptly cover with another. She would also place his uniform folded on the elevation inside her hut that had been built by raising some mud out of the floor, which served as their table. She would wake him up before she leaves, and then Murali would go through a fairly predictable routine of taking bath, dressing himself up and having breakfast. Once he was done, he would lock the hut, go to Babu’s hut, and give his mother the house-keys, after which he would walk to school. You would imagine how Murali would grow up quickly into the independent man, who would walk with determined eyes, and a look at his mannerism and the air he would assume, would make nerve ends at your subconscious depths fire impulses all the way down to your helpless feet that would make you give him way as he would pass you by. But, all that is when he grows up into the independent man. For now, he was still a kid, just that, he was quite independent among ones of his age. And, today, he would be getting ready for school, and before Gayatri comes back home, he would be gone, leaping past the four streets he would need to cover, to reach Grace Matriculation School.

Gayatri had finished pressing Cheenu’s shirt, and then, she left for home.

“I am leaving for the day, Sitamaa” she said, as she wiped her wet hands on her crumbled cotton sari.

“Just a second” Sita went into her room quickly. She then came back with something in her hand. “Here, have this tablet now”.

Lines of gratitude formed along weak curves on Gayatri’s face, as she got the tablet from Sita and consumed it in a gulp.

“I am leaving now, Sitamaa” she walked out of the home into the streets, till she reached her home.

 

She got the keys from Babu’s mother, and went into the hut. She put the straw mattress on the floor, and then fell asleep. As she was beginning to sleep, she could feel herself gasping, and there was radiation all around, as if this were Hell, and it was as if the hut was on fire, fire that glowed with a strange shade of red, a shade that reminded you of a word which was spelt E-V-I-L, for this was Hell, and that is the shade of red you would get to see at Hell the day after you would wait on an endlessly long queue to be judged for your life which had just expired, and after the long Wait, you would hear the hammer strike the bench with a thud, and a strange voice summarize the Judgment in an elegant single word that is spelt S-I-N-N-E-R. The hut was on fire, and amidst the heat, she fell asleep on a straw mattress, which was, now wet with sweat that tore off her skin and seeped down to the earth through her crumbled cotton sari.



Chap-2

 

Grace Matriculation School – Std. VII ‘A’. You would see wild excitement in the faces of young children in the otherwise lifeless classroom as the seventh hour of the day was coming to an end.  You would see the glistening look in their eyes and you would know something was to come, something that they had all eagerly awaited since morning, through every hour of the day. You would then, hear every second of the clock tick and you would see the minute hand impatiently march towards the mark that read ‘12’, slowly, yet steadily. If you would move your head down from the clock a little, you would see the blackboard where Miss Karen had drawn the taxonomy of living organisms in a tree-like structure.

Kingdom -> Family -> Phylum -> Subphylum-> SuperClass -> Class -> Order -> Genus -> Species, it read.

Miss Karen had also jotted down the biological names of a variety of species, in a tabular form, starting from primitive protozoan life forms all the way ‘down’ to advanced-life forms.

‘Daucus carota’ – carrot, ‘Periplaneta americana’ – cockroach, and so on, and at the end of the table, there was ‘Homo sapien’ – man, which gave some a weird and uncomfortable feeling that, biologically speaking, man seemed to be symmetrically placed alongside carrots and cockroaches. Some were glad though that the Homo sapien was still regarded to be an advanced life form and that seemed to make the whole system of classification really acceptable.

Three minutes left for the hour to end, and having copied the table down to his notebook already, Boy One looked yearningly out of the window, towards the playground. He could hear Miss Karen utter, “Tomorrow, I will pick one of you at random, and ask you the biological name for a random species. If you don’t answer, you would be getting an imposition to write the whole table for 20 times”. Miss Karen seemed unpredictably ruthless at this. Whenever this part of the hour comes, everybody impatiently awaited as to what number she would come up with, and this is something they failed to estimate, irrespective of being in her class for more than six months now. Boy One was still looking out, as if the announcement of the imposition was not of his concern really. He knew randomness was sometimes as good as impossibility, at least in a class of a near hundred strength. And, he, for a moment, funnily felt, that even if he was picked, it was likely he would be asked the name for a cockroach, which he knew was ‘Periplaneta americana’ anyways. He distinctly remembered that name, as he found it hilarious to know cockroaches were American in origin.

Boy One turned his head away from the playground and softly muttered to Girl One in the bench to his front, “Two more minutes to go”, in a sound he made sure, Miss Karen wouldn’t be able to hear. Girl One mildly chuckled trying her best to control her excitement. Miss Karen swiftly moved her head towards the table where Boy One was sitting, as if she had heard some noise from over there. Boy One could feel his heart pace all of a sudden. “God! Please save me”, paced the heart. Miss Karen regarded any form of ‘sound’ in the room, to be sacrilegious. Discipline was holiness, Biology was religion, Taxonomy was God, and she, the priest, did not tolerate irreverence at any cost. Luckily, she hadn’t noticed, and after scanning the suspicious area with her sharp eyes a couple of times, she returned to the board. Boy One proudly smiled with a sense of accomplishment. It was not an easy task for one to do a wrong and go unnoticed by Miss Karen.

 

And just then, the bell rang with a kkkkkkkkring. Miss Karen walked out and the children noisily ran out of the classroom towards the playground. In another ten seconds, the room was totally vacant but for a Feverish Boy who was lying face down onto his folded hands on his desk. Mr. Samuel was standing in the ground already. He was the P.E.T. teacher, and technically speaking, was responsible for improving the physical fitness of children, which was merely another way of saying that, he was the guy who would let children go play when at school. The children were glad to see him, not because they liked him, for he was rude and always carried a cane with him, but because he never used the blackboard, never used pieces of chalk and never gave assignments to be worked at home. Some even thought Mr. Samuel was possibly uneducated.

“All of you stand in a double line at a single-arm’s distance”, he commanded. You could quickly see Boys and Girls form in two separate lines, and looking at the line, you could get a rough idea as to who formed Pals in the class, for Pals try to stick next to one another when they stood in a long line. There were two such sets of separate lines actually, since different two classes had their P.E.T. period at the last hour of this day.

“Go for a round now”, came the command. This was the painful part. You have to run around the whole wide playground once. This was the only time when you wished the playground were smaller, but, you put all your energy into the running and get over it, and then you get to play. Boys and Girls started running in the same order as they stood, trying to cut the round shorter here and there, as and when Mr. Samuel had moved his sight away from them. Some tried walking instead of running whenever he didn’t notice.

Somehow, they had managed to complete the round and then the two sets of two lines formed themselves again, and if you were magically placed on the sky above them, you would see two sets of two long wavy lines define themselves through a series of tiny dots, spaced at an arms length from one another.

“Class Leaders, Go and get the balls and bats now”, Mr. Samuel said.

The Leaders ran with helping Boys towards the Sports Room, and within few seconds from then, they brought a handful of bats and balls. There were all kinds of games, tennis, football, basketball, volleyball, cricket, et cetera. Mr. Samuel distributed the balls and bats one game by one to the students, and he asked them to “Go Play”.

 

Boy One did not feel like joining in any of the games today, and he instead ran towards the Fun Park at the north corner of the playground. The park was a small section in the playground, where there were slides, merry-go-rounds and recently, they had also erected a new iron structure with crisscross arrangements in various directions through which one can climb up and down a maze in three dimensions. This was the center of attraction today for many students, and when Boy One ran towards the park, this was what he was really having in his mind. From a distance, it looked like several students had already gathered around the maze to try that out. The structure was about 15 feet tall, started out with a broad base of cubical grids gradually converging into one cube on the top, and you would immediately guess that, the idea of the game is to make it to the cube on the top. Boy One saw another boy sitting on the topmost cube, and he saw him smile.

He didn’t know that boy, for he was from the other class, who had their P.E.T. period now.

 

Boy Two was not looking down. The top of the maze was a place where only one can sit, which gave one a sense of superiority over the rest. The act of getting to the top is really a conquest of a tiny scale. At least, in the typical world of children, such as Boy One and Boy Two, filled with a mysterious sense of inquisitiveness, and a vague restless drive to prove their supremeness, things like that iron maze are elements that are worth fighting for. Boy One saw Boy Two, who was not looking down. He was staring into the air with straight eyes from over there at the top, though there wasn’t anything there, and it was as if he refused to look at what was Down. There were several Boys swarming around Boy Two, from the grids at the second level, trying to squeeze on to the top, but he wouldn’t bother to move. It was like a race between tiny kings to conquer their own piece of lands as soon as possible. Boy One could see them telling something to Boy Two, and though he couldn’t hear what they said, he could make out that they asked him to make some space. Boy Two paid no attention to them, and it was as if he was stuck up there, just like his eyes were, to a distant unassuming point on the horizon needlessly. Boy One felt a weird form of anger rising in him, and he found the whole sight irritating for a reason he did not bother to analyze. To him, it was plain injustice, and he decided he had to set it right. And, so, he moved forward, taking the few steps that were necessary to reach the base of the maze.

There were roughly ten odd levels of cubes one had to climb to make it to the top. The first few were broad enough to accommodate lot of people, and the traffic flow was quite smooth over there. As one got closer to the top, it was tougher, due to increased congestion, mostly due to arms and legs of children oriented in various directions. Boy One started climbing along the periphery of the structure. There were more adventurous Boys who had gone into the insides and were exploring their own bit of territory there, which seemed a bit risky given that, one wouldn’t want to lose hold and bang against iron rods. Boy One gradually got to a point from where he had to climb just two more levels to reach the cube on the top. But, there were just too many other Boys standing there, and, the whole task seemed impossible. Boy One decided it was time he forsook the periphery, and got inside. An attack from the inside seemed ideal, and there was no way Boy Two would anticipate it, given that he already had no idea about the geography of the lands below him.

With just little more effort, Boy One had made it to a spot below the topmost cube, which seemed quite strategic. A sudden launch into the cube above squeezing through the sides of the legs of Boy Two seemed to be a real smart idea. Boy Two wouldn’t anticipate such an infringement into his territory, and he was sure to be taken by surprise, and if you were there watching the whole scene from below, on the ground, you would suddenly become impatient, and you would be surprised if you had noticed your hands, for they would unconsciously rise and find place into your mouth, seating the nails on the front teeth, and you would bite them out and spit them onto the hot sand, but you wouldn’t notice that really, as you would be watching up, waiting to see if Boy One would really make it or not.

It was one of those moments when you have waited long enough through an incredibly complex plot of a story, that built a heavy network of disconnected pieces of information into your brain and there was just this one missing piece left, and you knew if that were there, everything would fall into place and all of the agonizing mystery would cease with that one single connecting point of data. You would have waited till you had built the whole freaking plot onto your mind for what seemed like an eternally long Time, but you wouldn’t wait for the End, and just then, as you are subject to the Wait, you would feel the depth and seemingly infinite richness associated with every tiny piece of time as it crawls by, in an almost ruthless pace that seems irritatingly slow when compared to that of your heart which would only race with every beat, and you would just not wait, and if you were God, and you had the magical keys to the clock of the universe, you would unwind the spring with utmost impatience, turn the gears and the cogs and run the wheels as fast as you being God could, till the whole mechanism sets itself into a ridiculously high speed, and you would stand out of Time and sweat it all out on that complex machinery, till you hit that single unfilled piece of information point and in a single stroke of climactic orgasm, all points of bifurcation in the future collapsed into one meaningful possibility and simply dissolved into History. You would then sit back and sigh, and find a smile seat itself on your face in an inexplicable fashion. Well, this was one such moment, at least for the You waiting on the ground.

You waited, and waited, and it looked like Boy One had given up. He had not moved for quite sometime. You would then feel that, maybe, he would not reach the top, and Boy Two would keep smiling. He was the Victor for the day, and it would seem like another of those cruel monopolies that leaves a helpless feeling in your cold stomach. But, then, you also wondered if it was not really a sign of defeat, and maybe, was rather more like the calm of a hungry panther that had set its eye on its prey, and was tactically planning on a sudden vicious attack.

Suddenly, you got yourself out of your thought train, as you thought you noticed the left leg of Boy One twitch a little. He was going to do it now.

One. Two. Three. And, then he jumped up, blazing through the sides of Boy Two from under the cube, and from the way the whole deed was executed, you knew Boy One would succeed even before he was entirely on the top. Boy Two stumbled at the unanticipated arrival of an unforgiving stranger, and as he felt he was about to fall, he quickly put his foot on the nearest metal structure. He had almost totally come out of the topmost cube in his desperate helpless reaction, and as he stepped out of the cube, you can sense the frustration arising in him even as he was trying to stabilize. The king was dethroned and you saw Boy One smiling at the top now. He had made it. He was not looking at Boy Two yet. He was feeling contented, for reasons that are obvious. And, just then, he felt a hard blow on his head, which for a moment seemed like it blinded his vision. Boy Two had risen up from his position, and struck at the back of his head with his fingers clutched together, a simple act of vengeance, of one who was unreasonably deprived of something he treasured. Boy One got up in rage, and turned back to face Boy Two. You stand from below and feel lost. You thought the end had come, but it hadn’t. And then, you found yourself still waiting to Know. And just then, Boy One gave a blow on the face of Boy Two, and watched him tumble from the grids at the top level to two levels further down. You just hoped that he wouldn’t fall all the way down, as it might even prove to be a fatal, and then you would guess that when all this is over, the school was going to ban all games at that area, or at least have supervised games here going forward.

Boy Two tried to rise again. All this wasn’t going to end easy. His left leg was hurt in the knee, and he was sitting in a bent manner. There was a thick line of blood that started out from one side of his forehead, and traced its trajectory to a point halfway into his left cheek, just along the sides of his left eye, and you were obviously glad that his eyes were safe. The skin was torn a little there, which would mean, Boy Two had to get some stitches done there today, and his left eye seemed weirdly bulging out a little, as some of the skin around the eyebrow had moved out of the way. There was also little blood that glued the trouser to the knee and painted a circular stain on the outside, and he realized he couldn’t totally stretch his leg, as it wouldn’t straighten without some pain. But then, he knew he had to seek revenge. He started ferociously crawling his way towards Boy One.

Boy One saw him crawl up towards him in the same bent manner that he was sitting, and he for some reason decided, he rather climbed down quick. It wasn’t safe at the top and the ground was a safer location for any kind of duel. He hurriedly stepped down to the cube at the next level, and squeezed himself into the swarm of boys who were standing there, and watching the battle with awe. They quickly gave him space, only to find Boy Two quickly follow in succession on four arms. Boy One was not looking back, for he felt he would somehow accomplish the descent before Boy Two would reach him. Just then, he felt Boy Two reaching his right leg with his arms. Even before he could react, he grabbed it and pulled it backwards quickly. Boy One who was running his way down felt a sudden jerk and he felt himself leaning forward, and as he fell, he dreaded the pain that was imminent even before he made it down. He fell, his leg held by Boy Two on the immediate higher level, face down, onto the iron structure in the next level and then you heard it. It was a sound you wished you never heard. The sound had a distinct loud metallic quality to it, and it was not possible for you to just rub the memory of the sound off your dizzy brain, and also the fact that the hateful vibrations due to that formidable sound were set into the idle husky sullen air that day, due to the impact of the bones of a poor child and a ruthless iron structure, and when you just happened to hear that, a small part of your tragic self broke down and cried into the dark helplessly.

You wouldn’t want to know anymore, and rather wanted to go hold them apart, but you then realized you weren’t in the playground that day. And, even if you were, maybe, it was too late for you to think this, for it seemed like it ended, and now surprisingly though, you wished you hadn’t waited for the end and known all this. Maybe, if you were God, you should have really stopped the clock instead of setting it to run.

Boy One had been struck hard, and you watched him lay there motionlessly. Drops of blood dripped from the rod where he was lying face down, and for a moment, it was as if the metal rod was soaked in blood, and it seemed like, it too hadn’t recovered from the impact yet. Some students ran out of there, to call for help. Boy Two stood there, watching Boy One lie there still, and tears rolled down his torn left cheek, as if to race with the blood that dripped out of Boy One’s head. His face that looked ugly and in that sense a bit scary just a while ago when you saw him crawling towards Boy One crazily, looked so terrified now, and for a moment, you wondered if you felt more sympathy for him than Boy One, though he was really subject to much lesser physical damage.

A whistle was heard from the distance, which thankfully replaced that deadly metallic sound that seemed to be yet lingering in the still air, and your idle brain. Mr. Samuel came running towards the scene, crazily blowing into the whistle he carried. It was a sign to stop everything. There was going to be no more games for the day.

Boy Two heard the whistle, looked towards the direction from where Mr. Samuel was coming from, and he felt as if the world was going to end, and he wasn’t ready to face that. He crawled down from the cubes, and ran as fast as his limping leg could let him, away from the park, off the playground and out of the school.



Chap-3

 

5 p.m. Mr. Samuel had knocked the door twice now, but there was no response from inside the hut. He had admitted Murali in the Intensive Care Unit of the Central Hospital, where he was being given dosages of glucose, and a surgery on his skull. He had suffered from excess loss of blood from a broken skull, and was also getting blood pumped into his body. Mr. Samuel had got the address of Murali’s home from the school records, and hurried to the place in an auto-rickshaw. He got there, and found the hut to be locked from the inside. Even after knocking few times now, there was no response. He then, walked towards the neighbor’s hut whose door was open. Babu’s mother was sitting on the floor cutting vegetables for the night’s dinner.

“Excuse me, madam”.

She looked up.

“Is that Murali’s home?” he enquired pointing towards the direction of the hut he had knocked a while ago.

“Yes” came the response.

“I knocked the door a few times. There was no response. It is an emergency. I need to meet Murali’s parents right now”

“Oh! Just excuse me for a second. I’ll be back”. She ran in hurriedly, washed the vegetable skin off her hands, and came out as she was wiping her wet hands on her sari.

They walked towards the hut now, and this time Babu’s mother knocked.

“Gayatri. Gayatri. Come out. Somebody has come for you. He says it is an emergency”, she yelled at the top of her voice, and knocked the door heavily. There was a little noise inside, this time. From outside, Mr. Samuel and Babu’s mother could sense somebody moving inside.

“I am coming”, came a soft voice from inside, and in a few seconds, the door opened. Gayatri stood there, with the end of her sari’s head in her hand with which she was wiping the sweat off her neck. She looked at Mr. Samuel. She hadn’t seen him before, and couldn’t think of what emergency situation this could be.

“Yes. What can I do for you?” she said.

“Madam. I am the P.E.T. teacher in Grace Matriculation School. Can you come with me right now? Your son Murali got injured in the school today, and I have admitted him in the hospital”.

“Oh! My God! What happened to him?” she asked worriedly.

“Nothing to worry, Madam. He is safe. Can you please come with me now?”

“But, can you tell me, what happened?”

“I’ll tell you as we go from here.”

Gayatri felt nervous. She looked at Babu’s mother.

“Don’t worry, Gayatri. I will keep an eye on your house. Leave to the hospital now with this gentleman here”.

They made a move, and as they did, Mr. Samuel narrated very briefly, how he was injured in a fight with another student, when at school that day.

 

Central Hospital. 5:30 p.m. You hear the deafening sound of an auto-rickshaw as it pulled itself to a halt near the gate. A woman wearing a worried face and a gentleman with deep brown eyes got down from the auto, and the man cut the fare quickly. They hurried towards the building, and climbed onto the first floor. They had to cover the full lengths of three corners of the buildings to get there. The I.C.U. Ward. A nurse just came out from inside the glass doors that closed behind her. She was looking down when she came out, and when she was about to cross the man, looked up at him.

“Oh! Mr. Samuel? We were waiting. Is this the boy’s mother?” she said.

“Yes. How is the boy?”

“Thankfully, he is safe. We just finished the surgery. There was a fracture on his skull a little above his right cheekbone. Fortunately, his brain remained perfectly unaffected in the accident”.

She then turned to Gayatri, and said, “Your boy is safe. If his uncle hadn’t come in time, we might not have been able to save him. He had suffered from lot of blood loss”, and she had momentarily looked towards Mr. Samuel when she had uttered ‘uncle’.

“Just a second. I will go and bring the doctor”, and she went in again.

 

“Thanks a lot, Sir. If not for you, I don’t know if my son would have survived at all”, Gayatri told Mr. Samuel, and as she said, tears rolled out from her eyes.

“Oh! Please don’t thank me, madam. The accident has happened in my class and it is really my responsibility to do all this. We need to take severe action in this regard”.

 

“Mr. Samuel?” came the voice from the ward, as the doors closed behind a man who had just come out of it. He had deep black eyes, and the way he looked piercingly through his thin spectacles, it was as if he was really looking at a spot that was miles away from there.

“Yes, doctor. How is the boy feeling now?”

“He is perfectly alright. But, he is still unconscious, and would need some more dosages of glucose, and another bottle of blood. Also, take this slip to the medical shop across the road, and get these medicines immediately”.

“Sure, doctor.”

“Come back soon. Also, have you made the payment for the operation at the counter over there?” he was pointing towards a section where there was a small queue of people.

“How much would that be, Doctor?”

“Eighty thousand for the operation, and another five, for the glucose, blood and other medicines. I need to get back. Please make the payment and bring the medicines soon. Need to inject them right away.” And he walked away, turning in the other direction, as he oriented his deep eyes to a spot, miles away in that direction.

Mr. Samuel said, “Madam, please stay here. I will go get the medicines” and he started walking towards the exit. As he left, Gayatri sat down in one of the benches outside the ward, and wept silently. The voice of the deep-eyed man in thin spectacles, kept echoing in her head.

“Eighty thousand for the operation…”

“He is still unconscious, …”

“And another five for the glucose…”

“Get these medicines immediately…”

And, she wept there, silently. Murali was saved. It had been as if, she had momentarily lost her life, and her soul had wandered feverishly like a ghost in the wild darkness of merciless Time, until fortunately, a kind teacher and a man with thin spectacles had brought her life back to her. Had you been there in front of the I.C.U. that day, breathing through the sullen air, sitting by the side of Gayatri in that bench and watch the glass doors open and close behind nurses and doctors in white clothes, you would find yourself getting weirdly cynical on yourself, and as a part of you is busy beating down your ego and pride, another part of your atheistic self would for a moment find its confidence shaken heavily, and as you really had failed to find the answer to the question of existence all this while, some element of mysterious faith would adamantly seep into your hardened brains, and you would sigh “Oh! God”. Existence really was a volatile entity, but there were these mighty men who could in mysterious ways, make the soul stick onto the body for a little longer than intended, men like the teacher and the doctor, and for a moment, the theory of angels wouldn’t seem like a far-fetched religious possibility.

But then, you would also think of Gayatri, and the voice ringing in her head. Eighty thousand, a sum that was several times higher than what she might, with a lot of difficulty, save over decades. You would see her tears roll through her fully wet cheeks, and you would for another moment realize that, this wasn’t the end. There was no end really, and there were just these junctures of significant impact, during what is an eternal journey of life through benumbed time. The last time you had read a story and closed the back cover with a deep sigh, or watched a movie and had stepped out wearing a contented smile on your face, you might have failed to realize that the end was really an illusion, a deceptive act played by experts at the game, to trick you into the act of believing ‘things are fine after-all’, and had you been a little more careful right then, you would have known that there were no “happily ever-afters” in real life, and you would have wiped off that rubbish smile off your face instantly. God gave Murali back to Gayatri, alright. But, he had really taken away his soul for a while and was giving it back only at a price, and He demanded one that was far-too heavy for her, and in this sense, He seemed to be not too different from silly men, who belonged to a damned society that was eternally stuck in the curse of materialism. You need to pay something to get something, and whether you are God or human, doesn’t make much of a difference.

At this juncture though, assuming a story that was written of Gayatri’s life was ended here, this really was a happy end, for Gayatri was indeed happy now, for she had Murali back, and her tears that were a sign of her inability to face her future, did not count here, not in this scene.

“What happened, Madam? Why are you crying still? Your boy is fine.”

Mr. Samuel’s voice broke through the stiffness of the silent air. Gayatri rose from the bench, and looked at him.

“I can’t make the payment for the operation. I don’t have that much money with me now”.

“Oh! It should be fine if you can get it tomorrow. I can talk to the doctor about a late payment.”

Gayatri felt numb. She didn’t say a word.

“What happened, Madam? Are you alright?”

“I can’t gather that much money in a day. It would take a while for me, Sir. You should understand. We are not a well-to-do family.”

“I had assumed that, it might not be difficult to get the money. Anyways, back then, what was important was to save the child, and there was really no other way out”. He, then, became pensive.

“Let me see. I’ll talk to the doctor about your situation. Tomorrow, in the school, I’ll talk to the principal and make arrangements to send around a message to students in the school to donate generously for this. We should be able to gather some money this way. But, even after that, you might have to get like a 20 or a 30 thousand yourself, tomorrow”.

Gayatri thought for a while. She should be having around a thousand in the brown box, and she can sell her gold bangle (the last one she had) to get a couple of thousands. Then, she was left with no other option. And, she instantly heard a name ring in her mind. “Sitamaa”. She felt she had to get some help from her. She was a nice person, and she would definitely help her. She thought she would go there now.

“I will try my best, Sir”.

“Okay, Madam. I am getting late. I’ll talk to the doctor about the payment and make a move now. In case of any emergency, feel free to call me anytime. Here is my number” and he gave her his visiting card.

“Thanks a lot, Sir. You came like an angel and saved my child”.

“Please don’t mention”, the angel smiled, and walked away.

Gayatri waited for a few minutes. A nurse came, and Gayatri told her that she would need to go home and that she will be back in a few minutes. “Be quick”, the nurse said. “We would be needing someone around”.

“Yes, I understand”.

Gayatri walked towards the exit.




Chap-4

 

6:30 p.m. The past hour had been the longest one in Gayatri’s life. It seemed to have something to it that was to stick with her for the rest of her life. After leaving the hospital, she rushed to her home, and went to Babu’s place first. She asked Babu’s mother to go to the hospital and be there, and after that, she hurried to Sitamaa’s place.

Sitamaa would be of good help to her. She trusted in Gayatri, and she would help her with some money. And, there was nobody else Gayatri could go and ask help from, now. Gayatri ran intermittently, as she paced towards Sita’s house.

In a few minutes, she was there. She opened the gate and went in, absolutely unaware of the surprise in store for her. As she entered the house, she saw Sita sitting on the sofa. And, she saw her crying. For a moment, Gayatri pushed her purpose of visit onto the back of her mind, and asked,

“Sitamaa, what happened? Why are you crying?”

“Oh! Gayatri. How nice you are here! Cheenu hasn’t come home yet.” Sita was talking rapidly, and was taking heavy breaths now and then.

“Oh!” Gayatri said, and then thoughtfully added, “Did you enquire with his friends? Have they come home?”

“Yes, I called his friend, Vikram. He told me about this bad fight that Cheenu had during the P.E.T. class, after which the games were stopped, and Cheenu is missing since then. Vikram doesn’t know where he is”, she cried.

With that, some vague connection formed on Gayatri’s mind, and she was not really prepared to face its implications. The fight had been between Murali and Cheenu. She knew what it meant, but almost inexorably refused to think about it. For a moment, she felt like laughing at herself, and at the whole wide world, for, sometimes when in the deepest of miseries, after a long painful struggle, you find this route of escape, and just then, what you thought was the ray of hope, the light at the end of the dark tunnel, the last alternative in sight, collapses and vanishes in a moment, like a puff of smoke in thin air, that is really everything you can do to yourself. Laugh.

 

“I am thinking of going to the school now. Can you please come with me? We will find him. He should be somewhere around there” Sita said, in an almost requesting tone.

“Sitamaa. Actually, …” Gayatri tried to find words to fill in, but failed to, as she found herself to be speechless and numb. Sita saw her hesitating for some reason she couldn’t understand.

“What? What do you want to say? Can’t you come with me now?”

“Yes, I can. Just that, I have some urgent work, and I need to get back very soon”.

Sita suddenly became silent. She stopped crying momentarily, and she seemed badly irritated at that seemingly nonchalant response.

It is surprising how words sometimes define just about everything that makes a difference. There are layers of gaps between what one conceives and what the other understands, at different stages of the process of communication, right from conceptualization, verbalization, telling, hearing, to assimilation, and when one of the parties involved is in a particular unstable state of mind, which is not a very uncommon phenomenon, it is not unlikely that, the very process breaks down, but, what is surprising is that it can break down miserably enough to make things worse forever. Sita was becoming angry, which was not entirely unreasonable, given her situation, a lonely mother whose only child hasn’t come home, and her only dependable source of emotional support was acting weird at a time when she was most needed.

 

“Then why did you have to come here at this time of the day?” she sounded a little angry.

“No, Sitamaa. Murali is not feeling well today”. Gayatri was looking down.

“So, what is up with him now? Fever? Just like you? You want some money? Is that what you want now?”

Gayatri didn’t say anything. She was just looking down, as Sita kept looking at her. For a few minutes, there was no sound.

Then, Sita went in to her room quickly and came out with a fifty-rupee note.

“Take this, and go away now”.

“No. Sitamaa, you shouldn’t mistake me”, Gayatri said.

“No. That is fine. I don’t think I would need your help today. In fact, never again.”

“Sitamaa, please don’t get angry.”

“How much trust did I have in you? Even today morning, I got you tablets, seeing that you had fever. And, is this all the gratitude you have towards me?”

“Sitamaa, you don’t understand. I need to tell you something important”, Gayatri intruded, in a tone that was a little more commanding than it was in the previous statement she had uttered.

Sita was silent now.

“I myself realized this only after I came here. It was Murali that Cheenu had fought with, today”, Gayatri said, and after a little silence, added, “and Murali is badly injured. He is in the hospital now”.

Sita was silent for what seemed like a second or two. “Do you know what happened to Cheenu? Do you know if he is fine or not? Was he badly injured too?”

“I don’t know about that”, Gayatri said, as she was still looking down.

Sita stood still for a minute, and then she started walking towards the door.

 

Gayatri followed her to the door, as she knew Sita would want to lock it, and now she didn’t seem to have any more place in the house really. It is not a happy feeling to realize how your rights with another person, that you had always taken for granted, however meager they might seem, are taken away from you. The last time the other person takes his/her eyes off your hateful self, you are left with a feeling of helplessness and untold embarrassment. It is a feeling that would eat on your nerves slowly, and leave your heart weeping in eternal shame. Sita quickly locked the door and walked into the street turning in the direction towards the school.

Gayatri stood still for a minute or so, and then, she knew she had to go. And, so she walked away. Her fever was not gone yet, and given that she hadn’t had her lunch that day, and that she had been through a lot of trauma in the past few hours, which was something that she wasn’t prepared for, she was feeling very weak. It was as if she had lived all her life in a day that seemed like it would never end. Though, she was comfortably up and pacing on her feet all this time, she was suddenly beginning to feel a little dizzy, and it seemed like she would fall down before she could take another step. Just then an auto passed by. That sound seemed to trigger some consciousness in her, due to the suddenness of its occurrence. “Auto!!!” she clapped her hands loud gaining a bit of control over her dizziness. “Central Hospital”, she asked, and the meter clicked down with a ‘cling’, and then the auto started on its way to the place where Boy One was lying unconsciously on a bed, in a room with glass doors, that closed behind angels in white clothes. The next day, she would not have the money to make the payment, and it was going to be tough. But, all that was for the next day. For today, she wasn’t left with any more options, and all that she had to do really, was to wait in the hospital, for the rest of the day to crawl its way through, at its own leisurely and dizzy pace.




Chap – 5

“Maybe, what I did was wrong. I shouldn’t have been so quick in my reaction to things. Maybe, Gayatri really had some point. She had seemed very patient all the while, and from whatever I know of her, she was not the kind of a person who could be so heartless, to abandon me like that. Maybe, there was a reason.”

“But, whatever the reason could be, would it not have been possible for her to take even a little time out for my cause? She obviously hadn’t known what had happened to Cheenu, and she didn’t seem to be concerned about that. Maybe, Cheenu is badly hurt, and if that is the case, then, it was really rude of her to behave like that.”

“Anyways, why should this be so important now? She is just a maid working in my home, and why should she have to be concerned about my well-being anyways?”

“Poor Cheenu. God! Please help him wherever he is.”

Sita was thinking of all this even as she was trying to reach the school office number on her cell phone, and she was on her way to the school, in another of the many auto-rickshaws running that day in town, that served to take lone mothers in agony to the places their wounded sons lay unconscious of being.

 

7 p.m. For reasons you don’t understand, you suddenly find yourself walking on a road that heads north from the exit near the playground of the Grace Matriculation School. You don’t understand the reasons, but you still walk, simply because you are a plain victim of Fate, and that is all you are, and to you, there was no real point caring about the reasons. So, you walk a mile along the solitary road that seemed too deserted for that time of the night. The sun had just gone down the distant horizon, and it was as if, the road had lost its last day-companion, and was whining in its solitude. Fortunately, you see a couple of petty shops on the way, where you saw dark-complexioned men selling candies to children and cigars to grown-ups, and you find that moderate sign of life weirdly relieving yourself of your day’s tiredness.

You walk to the shop and ask the man there,

“Did you see a boy limping along this way sometime late in the evening today?”

He doesn’t respond, and just faithfully carries on with his work. He had a pencil stuck on the cartilage of his right ear, and he was looking a notebook revising the day’s expenses. You ask him again, and then finding no response, you walk away.

You walk further north, and in a few minutes, you happen to cross a temple. A wild pulse strikes you at a remote point in your brain, and you turn towards the temple, and get into it. You see the statues there in a nicely sculpted piece of work, and after looking at them for a second or so, you turn towards the right, and walk towards the corner, a place that was absolutely deserted. You see a boy there, lying on the floor. He was either sleeping or was fainted. For a moment, you wish you could take him back to his mother, but you know you can’t, for your existence is fictitious, which is something you had always known really. Whether or not you were there, didn’t make any difference to the world that kept on grinding on its own axis faithfully and meticulously, and all the people in it who had their own lives, and kept on going in their own ways, all irrespective of you. ‘You’ were always the ‘third person’, which though is oxy-moronic, grammatically speaking, seemed like an obviously ‘true’ logical proposition. That you had no life of your own didn’t matter. And, so, you roamed like a ghost, with an existence that was fictitious and hence it didn’t count. You see the boy lying there on the floor and you wait, hoping that a stranger in white clothes would descend from the heavens and come to the rescue, and as you had no other role to play than to just wait and to know dull facts about an uncertain future, you sit by the side of Boy Two patiently. And then, you feel empty, like you always do.

Emptiness is a nice feeling. You can lie on a bed and feel empty all day, and all your life really, and you will hope that it will just pass away the way it did for all empty men and women who had roamed the earth in the past, and it really will. You had lost the reasons, the purposes, your pride, and you owed no responsibility to anybody, not you, not anyone else, and one fine moment, if you were to plainly dissolve into thin air and vanish, things would all be exactly the same, to everybody else, and even to the you who sat by the side of Boy Two now, and felt empty, and it was a nice feeling. There was nothing to look forward to, and nothing to regret. It was plain existence, and it was all a matter of time.   

 

In a while, he came. The angel. But, this time, he was not in white clothes, and the attire didn’t seem to matter. He worked in the temple for few years now, and every night, he would dutifully clean the place, before he locked it for the night. He saw a boy lying down, and rushed to him. (He didn’t see you, for you aren’t real).

“Oh! My God! What is this? What has happened to this boy?”

You, for a moment wondered if he was speaking to you, but he was really speaking to himself, restlessly.

“Looks like he studies in this school south” he said, noticing his uniform.

“Hey, wake up. Wake up”, he tried waking up the boy by shaking him a little.

He didn’t seem to move. The man noticed that the boy was hurt, and it was possible that he had fainted. He then searched for any information he could find on the boy’s shirt and trouser pockets. In the pocket of the shirt, which you knew Gayatri had given him that morning, there was a small purse. The man opened that, and took out the stuff in there. There was a ten-rupee note, a few coins, a library card that had been recently issued, and then, there was a visiting card.

He took that out.

“Mrs. Sita B.Sc., M.Sc. (Commerce),

12, Cinnamon Street,

Then, followed a cell phone number. Now, this is something that almost always worked. He quickly hurried to a nearby PCO, and dialed the number. It rang once, and, for another time. And then, there was a click.

“Hello” came a sound from a lady.

“Mrs. Sita?” he said.

“Yes”.

“Madam! I work in the temple north of the Grace Matriculation School. There is a boy lying down here. I found your visiting card in his purse”

“I am the boy’s mother. Thank God you found him”, and you could imagine lines of relief on her wet cheeks, from over here. “How is he doing? Is he fine?”

“The boy seems to have fainted, Madam. I’ll get him some first aid now. Can you quickly make it here?”

And, then, they quickly decided on an emergency protocol in case the directions were ambiguous or not clear (But, a temple really is a place that is the perfect landmark possible. Ask anybody on the street and they’d know the place), and then, there was another click ending the call.

  In another ten minutes, Sita was there. As she got down from the auto, she came running down inside the temple, and she was crying like she had never cried almost since the time, she had lost her husband to a sudden stroke on his weak and fatty heart.

There were a few people in the temple now, and as they saw a lady running in, they could make out that it was the boy’s mother. To know a mother, you didn’t have to ask, and just had to look.

“She is here. She is here”, somebody said, broadcasting the event, in his own dutiful sense of responsibility.

“Where is my boy?” she asked. And, even as she asked, she saw him. Cheenu. He was sitting now, on a cement slab. They had splashed water on his face, and he had regained consciousness. He seemed alright now. They had cleaned his knees and face, and had applied a bluish liquid on the wounds, that was the emergency cheap medicine used in the locality.

Sita ran towards him and hugged him.

“Don’t worry, Madam. The boy is fine. He seems to have been afraid of something. Since the time he got back to consciousness, he hasn’t spoken a word, and he just keeps crying” came a voice.

“He should have seen something frightening, which is why he has run into a temple for some sense of security” came another.

And, soon, the local men started articulating various plausible theories and hypotheses on the weird incident, of a frightened boy with a wounded face lying fainted on a deserted temple.

 

“What happened to you, Cheenu? Why did you come here?” she asked.

The boy was still weeping. He wasn’t saying anything.

“Madam, take him to a hospital. He is badly hurt on his face. It looks like he would need some stitches”.

 

Sita got up, and tried to get Cheenu up on his legs, but he couldn’t. By now, the wound on the knees had swollen, and as he had been lying down with his knees folded for a long time, it was not possible for him to stretch them now.

Some men came forward, and offered to carry him to the hospital.

Sita and two other men holding the boy, got into the auto that Sita had come in, and the auto started again.

“Central Hospital”, she said, and the auto roared, as if it was responding to her words devotedly, and with a quick U-turn, it started on its way. Sita, for a moment, felt justified in her act towards Gayatri that evening. She was a little glad that she was right after all. Gayatri didn’t deserve to work for her anymore. She could easily find another maid. All you want a maid to really do is to clean your vessels, dresses and home for you up, and you didn’t really have to expect her to support you in any other fashion. It all made sense. And, so, as a contented and relieved Sita felt justified along those lines of thought, the auto headed south across the school, to the place, where a dizzy Gayatri waited in front of the I.C.U. trying her best to hold herself up.

8 p.m. Central Hospital. Babu’s mother walked towards the I.C.U. with a parcel of food in her hand. She reached the I.C.U. and entered the room silently. As of now, only she, apart from Gayatri was permitted to enter the room. Murali was still lying on the bed, and he wasn’t conscious yet. It was as if, he disappeared into a wild dream carrying his physical pain along with him, when all this was going on. There was thick bandage around his head, and there was a thick red stain on the bandage near the region where the skull had fractured. There was a bottle of glucose hanging by his side on a stand, and dripping into his body in small clean and colorless drops. By now, he had many of them injected into his blood vessels.

Gayatri was sitting by the side. She was too weak, and almost fainting. The day was still not coming to an end for her, and now there was nothing on her mind. She was just too tired to think, and she was really just a piece of plain matter placed by the side of Murali.

“Here. Have this. You are too weak now. You need to be strong enough to take care of Murali now”, Babu’s mother said, in a soft voice.

“I’ll go to the restroom and be back in a few minutes. Just take care of Murali.”

“Okay.”

“You can go home now. Isn’t it late for you? Who is taking care of Babu?”

“Not a problem. Babu’s dad is home. He’ll manage things over there. You go, come back, and have food. I’ll leave sometime after that.”

“Okay”, she said, and walked out of the room.

 

In a few minutes, she freshened herself up a bit, and was walking back from the restroom which was on the other corner of the same wing. She was hungry now, and a bit of her numbness had gone. And, suddenly, she thought of Sitamaa. She hoped that things were fine for her now. Maybe, if things weren’t this bad, she could have gone with her to help her find Cheenu. Somehow, she felt, by now, she would have found him. And, she still wished things had been different back then.

 

She was reaching the middle of the wing, as she was thinking all this. Now, this is something significant, for the middle of the wing is where there were staircases that served to connect the different floors of the hospital, and at around the same time, a lady was climbing down from the second floor through the stairs, after having stitches done on the face of her son, who could also walk now, with some effort. And, you stood there, like a ghost, gnawing onto your nails, impatiently.   

 

Chap-6

 

Sitamaa walked down the stairs and a while before she reached the first floor, Cheenu dropped the polythene cover of tablets that he was carrying in his hand. Sita bent down to pick it up, and the result was a disappointed ‘you’, to see Gayatri just crossing the section and going further ahead.

They weren’t going to meet again, and with no other possibility left, you feel like rather heading back to your bed and start feeling empty again. Sita climbed down to the first floor, and headed on her way further down.

And, just then, there was a shrieking sound, which seemed like it shook the whole building and almost brought it down. ‘Murali’, the yelling went, and Sita felt, she knew the voice. ‘Gayatri’ she thought, and she felt she was in deep trouble.

She ran up to the first floor, and looked either side. On one end, she saw two women. One of them was holding both the arms of the other, and trying to bring her back to control. Sita left Cheenu behind. “You stand here. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll come in a minute”, and she rushed towards the place the women struggled.

You rushed to the spot before Sita made it, and then you hurriedly enter the I.C.U. that even Gayatri wasn’t permitted to enter for now. Over there, you saw few men and women in white clothes, and green masks around their noses, hurriedly working at something, something that was on the bed, something that was in pain.

Murali had a sudden attack of fit, and his arms and legs were twitching violently, as if his soul was fighting desperately to free itself from the inside.

“The doctors said he was fine, and I don’t understand what is happening now”, Gayatri yelled, as she was crying. Now and then, she was wildly beating against her chest, in agony, and Babu’s mother was trying her best to hold her back.

“It will be fine, Gayatri. Don’t burn yourself up now. The doctors have gone inside, and they will make sure he is fine”, Babu’s mother said.

Sita just then reached, and she looked at Gayatri, with a wild shock on her face.

“Gayatri!” she exclaimed.

Gayatri looked up, and then, instantly shouted, “Sitamaa!” and then she fell onto her. As Sita held her onto her shoulders, Gayatri cried, “Sitamaa! See what has happened to my Murali”.

Sita’s eyes opened wide in shock, and as Gayatri was lying on her shoulders and crying, she felt sorry for everything. She wished Gayatri had slapped her right then, instead of holding on to her the way she did. Sometimes, you think you understood things right, and you feel you acted smart, but then, when you come to know the truth, it strikes you hard, and you realize how you momentarily became a victim of your flawed senses, faulty faculty and an unreasonable piece of dumb flesh seated in the cranium of your skull, subject to one of its particularly weird moods at the time of the act in question. Well that was how, Sitamaa felt then. Gayatri had come to her for help, just as she thought she had needed hers, and she hadn’t even listened to what Gayatri had to say that day. As she was thinking, she suddenly felt Gayatri gasping for breath. Her body began to shake vigorously, and her eyes were bulging out. She had stopped crying, and it was as if, her body was losing to something else that was taking over her, gradually.

“Gayatri, what happened? Are you alright? Don’t get tense. It will be okay. Hold yourself up.” Sita said, as she was shaking her up as strongly as she could.

“Madam, please hold her. I’ll go fetch some water”, Babu’s mother said and hurried away.

Gayatri was slowly losing consciousness. She had overestimated her physical strength. Though, after freshening herself up, she had for a moment thought she had felt fine, she was really giddy all the time, and had you watched the way she had walked back towards the I.C.U. closely enough, you would have realized that she was tracing a wavy trajectory, with her legs intertwining and coming into the way of each other. Having stayed conscious all this while, she had been left with a feeling that, she could go on this way for the rest of the night.

Eventually though, gravity took over the mysterious forces in her brain that was drained of the very last quantum of energy that she withheld, and she lost herself to it. As her feet lost their function, and she was on her way to reach the floor, Sita tried her best to hold her up, and as Gayatri made the fall, she pulled her up and made her lie down on the floor.

 

Babu’s mother came back with a bottle of water, and splashed it on her face few times. Gayatri slowly seemed to regain some consciousness, but she didn’t entirely recover. Her eyes were closed, and she was still in a dizzy state. Babu’s mother, looking at Gayatri said, “These big people! They are very adamant! They think they know everything. But, you know they just behave like kids! She should have had something to eat, when I had asked her to, long back. She was so unreasonably adamant”

 

Sita felt it strike her strongly. It was like a huge blow. “These big people…. They just behave like kids!”. ‘How true!’, she thought. Just like Cheenu had beaten up Murali in the fight, she too had really fought with her, and maybe, in a manner whose impact was much worse, emotionally. She felt ashamed for her momentary act of infantilism.

 

And just then, the doctors came out, with the glass doors closing behind them.

And then, the night ended itself in a wild dream.

 

In few hours from then, the sun rose from its nap punctually as always and cast its shine, breaking through the thick clouds spread all over the sky.

 

7 a.m. Ward-III

 

Gayatri awoke from the wild dream the previous night had ended in. It was a dream where Murali was grabbed away from her ruthlessly, and before she could get back to him, she fell into an infinite dark abyss all night long. She was on a bed alongside several others in the ward, and there was an injection gradually spitting glucose drops into her blood stream. “Murali” her lips uttered, and she tried to get up from the bed.

“No. Please don’t strain yourself” came the voice.

Gayatri looked up. It was Sitamaa.

“Sitamaa, how is Murali?”

“He is perfectly fine. He had a sudden attack of fit, due to some infection. But, the doctors took care of him.”

“Can I see him now? I want to see him now.”

“You can. In fact, we have brought him to the same ward as you are now. He regained his consciousness yesterday night, just a while after you lost yours. Look to your side”, and Gayatri looked in the direction Sita pointed towards, to the bed next to her.

“The doctors opined that his condition was not serious anymore, and they discharged him from the I.C.U. late yesterday night. He will be admitted in this ward, till he is completely cured”, Sita added.

Gayatri saw two boys there, Boy One, lying on the bed and Boy Two, telling him something.

“Next time, I’ll let you to the top. Is that fine?”, Boy Two uttered.

“No. You be in the top. It is fine with me”, and that was Boy One.

“None of you are going on that thing ever again. You understand?” Sita commanded them, and Gayatri smiled.

 

Sita turned towards Gayatri, and said,

“I am really sorry, Gayatri. I shouldn’t have behaved that way yesterday. I was too rude. Please forgive me”

“Oh! Please Sitamaa, don’t say sorry. It was true that I couldn’t help you really. What if Cheenu was in a serious condition as well? I too am sorry for not helping you yesterday. Both of us were really in a helpless state back then.”

“But, still, I think I was wrong. Please don’t keep anything in mind”.

 

And then, Babu’s mother entered. “Gayatri, Did Sitamaa tell you? She had made your payments for the operation. You should thank her a lot. Nobody would do that for a maid. She is your God. You should worship her everyday for the rest of your life.”

“Sitamaa, why did you have to do this? I won’t be able to pay it back to you soon”, Gayatri said, as she was weeping.

“I am not giving it for free. You are going to help me, in my home, and stay by my side, for the rest of your life, and that is an order”, she said, and then chuckled.

“Thank you, Sitamaa”, Gayatri said, and beads of tears rolled down from the sides of the eyes, perpendicular to her face line, and fell on the bed, wetting it.

 

You would stand there, and you’d feel excited too. Everything seemed fine. There were so many angels around helping things out for Gayatri, angels like Sitamaa, Babu’s mother, Mr. Samuel (You’d later learn that he had managed to collect a donation amount that could almost match the entire expenditure, and so, Sita really hadn’t had to pay a huge sum herself) and all the doctors, and you would for a moment forget that you weren’t real and childishly wish you had an angelic role for yourself too. But, you would know you weren’t real, and hence you would just stand there for a few minutes, having every bit of the moment for yourself. It would feel like a rare blissful state. And, then, you would realize that, this juncture was too good, an almost near-perfect condition, where just about everything was in place, and then you wouldn’t want to know anymore. Gayatri would go on, working in Sita’s place everyday for the rest of her life. Murali and Cheenu would both grow into young men, and there would be lot more things to come. And, this wasn’t the end. But, still, you wouldn’t want to know anymore, for this was bliss and you would want to have it for yourself. So, you would walk out of the ward, down the first floor, out of the building, and out of the gates of the Central Hospital, and then go back to your room. Then, you would sit alone on your writing desk, and without waiting for another moment, you’d open your notebook, and start writing down:

“Gayatri found it surprising. The stain was hard, and refused to go off the sticky dark bottom of the copper utensil …”



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