Sunday 1 March 2015

Prose500 ThirdPrize Vidya Panicker

The Happy Woman

Summer mornings in the house was an entourage of sleepy children and hungry cats, punctuated by the clatter of spoons and plates in the kitchen which ran on a firewood stove. Ammoomma’s bangles clanged ceaselessly, as she mixed coffee, ground chili and masala on the stone and grated half a dozen coconuts to last us a day. This happened every April, when my uncles and aunts happily deposited their kids at this ancestral home, where they shared my room, clothes and Ammoomma.
As long as there were enough mangoes in the large trunk box to last us four weeks, as long as unfortunate baby turtles entered the rice pots left near the pond, to scrape off the remains from the bottom, got trapped and offered us endless entertainment, as long as Ammoomma still laid beside me at night, the sweat of her day long efforts smelling of smoke, raw onions and the sandalwood paste trapped in bits within the wrinkles of her forehead — I did not mind the invaders in my terrain.
Then there was this year when several more people came, most of them being strangers to me — some sat next to Ammoomma and wept, some stood watching her silently. Ammoomma was laid on the portico, balls of cotton stuffed in her nostrils and the thumbs of the feet tied together with a white strip of cloth. A bunch of incense sticks near her head gave out thick white fumes, almost as if her soul was escaping an overused body through a hole in her skull. She looked serene, promptly branded by everyone as a fortunate woman who lived mightily for 60 healthy years, and died in her sleep without suffering, that too on a day when all her dear ones happened to be near.
The mud etched within the calloused folds of thick skin of her feet, which could not be scrubbed off with a whole wad of coconut fiber and its chapped underside with the flesh almost visible, told another story.

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