Thursday 1 September 2016

Short Story 2016 Featured Mary Anil

Hang Out the Memories to Dry

It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together…all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
“Ammaaaa…” Arnav yelled with all his li’l might. For those unacquainted with him, it could well sound like a shriek of terror. But to Ayesha, it was a normal four-year old screeching for what could range from having found a tail-less lizard right under his drawing book that he had left sprawled on the verandah last night or just his way to test the echo capability of the house.
Masking a grin, Ayesha strolled upto him. There he was, all muddied up right to the brink of his nose -he must have simply forgotten to shower the mud over his head- the inane thought slipped in and out of her mind, as she approached him, all stern and cold.

“Ammaaaa, do you know something? If you bend the branch of this ‘maanga maram’ in this direction, you can use it as a bridge to run up the sun shade and slide down into the pond!” he exclaimed proudly.
Maanga maram’ was his own coinage for a mango tree in Malayalam. It was simply no use tryin’ to tell him that the word was ‘maavu’. He insisted on it just the way a coconut tree was ‘thengaa maram’ for him and not just ‘thengu’.
Ayesha looked at the poor branch all twisted up, barely able to breathe and muttered: “How would you like to have someone bend and twist you out of shape?”
Arnav’s reaction was immediate. “Ohh…I never thought of that. You think it’s dead? Shyoh, paavum*. Come, bro will help you stand up.”
Bro was his ‘buddy’ phrase that he had picked up from the gang of chettais* who hung around the corner of the junction where the house hovered almost as if fighting for survival. 
She had never failed to be surprised at how tuned in Arnav was to her mutterings and whispers and even undertones, but could simply not hear her shout the house down when lunch or dinner was ready.

She always tried to attribute it to sheer impudence, but then his heart-warming smile always managed to reinforce his guilelessness.
Tenderly, together…they patted the branch into its original shape. And when it was done, he hugged her fiercely to mask his gladness at yet another injustice thwarted.
Now, who would hug her with his muddied imprint reflected on her pale cotton saris that he insisted she wear all day long…tears welled up in some recess of her soul, while she sat dry-eyed in this bedroom which till recently they shared…noting the packed suitcase in the hall, yet to be loaded in the dicky of the waiting taxi.

It was just like him to forget how dirty he was and how easily he sullied even the most well-scrubbed three-fourths and T-shirts she laid out for him daily. But then the hug that followed more than compensated for all those ‘vanishing stains and what-not’ detergent powder combined with the extra spin in the washing machine.

It seemed only the other day that Arnav had run…no no no…that’s not the word…skittled…yes, skittled…that’s what it was…he had an uncanny ability to knock down anything that came in his way. Not for him was circumventing any object that sprung up in between him and his target. It’s as if he had a blind spot bang in the middle of his vision which allowed him to see only the end and not -in his case- the way. 

Ayesha smiled involuntarily. Arnav took the idiom ‘the end justifies the means’ to a whole new level every time he barged towards her in barely concealed excitement.
That day too was no different. He had almost knocked her off her feet when he bumped into the small of her back with such force that she had for a moment thought her spine would crack.
“Ammaaaa, you know I too can dance like Malar…see…and off he launched into body contortions which -Ayesha humphed- passed off as the in-thing these days among youngsters.
Malar was his current crush …from the Malayalam blockbuster Premam that everyone seemed to be humming these days. The eponymous heroine even had a song in her name which went ‘Malareh…..something….

And she would never be plain Amma to him. The ‘aaa’ appendage seemed almost sacred to him without which the word sounded if it was never voiced in the first place.

The car arrived dutifully at the door, bang on time. Happiness never lingered, grief never faded…ever noticed that…yet another superfluous thought in and out of her mind. Ayesha spoke tersely to the driver just to confirm it was meant for Arnav.
The child remained blissfully unaware of all the packing. Or maybe, he just did not want to see it. The blind spot must have simply set in again…his shield of defence against the big bad world outside which according to him had good vayampires like Edward and bad wizards like Oldemoth (may Voldemort not come back from the dead)!

Would he remember her? Maybe she could register her name at the agency to be considered only for Arnav…but does the system there have such leeway…thoughts jumbled through her mind with Arnav skittling them back one by one as usual…with his normal horsing around the kitchen.
Yesterday, he had been a ‘ungry orse’ not so patiently waiting to be fed oths…for a moment, she was lost. Did horses feed on moths? Not that she knew any better. Horses were plain aliens. There were more chances she would have ventured for a second-show all by herself rather than go nuzzle a horse. You see, how remote a possibility was that. But what if she ever ended going for that second-show with Shekharan…that meant horses too could happen…she squished the thought right back into another hidden wrinkle of her soul…safe from pryin’ eyes…no way...goin’ with the leery Shekaran would ensure not being alone…see, she was safe.

“Aah, oats…that’s what he meant…someone must have told him, horses eat oats…now where on earth was that tin in which she had cover-shaken the oats into? There, you go now…the horse now needs to return to its boy-form,” Ayesha suggested…hinting helpfully at Jacob – another of his favorites from the Twilight movie-series.

And before she knew it, he was gone. It was as if Harry Potter had simply waved his magic wand and Arnav had disappeared. Ya Allah, she thought she was inured to the Potter mania and here she’s thinkin’ about witches ‘n wands ‘n abracadabra…what in the world did that even mean…she would have preferred somethin’ which sounded more solemn ‘n mysterious…maybe even foreign…like…Aahvaashu paraanshoh vakollumathaathaa…voh…voh…voh …where did that come from?

Did Arnav leave his spirit behind as solace for his physical self that was utterly lost to her forever? Who was aping whom? Arnav…when he decided to be prim ‘n proper just like her in front of strangers…or was it her…jumpin’ up ‘n down on the  squiggly mattress with its myriad creaks ‘n croaks…never failin’ to elicit a spate of giggles from both.

Ayesha slow-motioned herself into the taxi. She dared not turn to look at the house left behind with the gnarled hibiscus…for fear of being ensnared in unseen tendrils…the half-grown mango tree…you think by twisting its branch that day, Arnav had stunted its growth forever…another one of her inconspicuous thoughts darted in and out of her mind…nothing would be left of their time together.
How can the rich be filthy, when it is money which usually brings in the good in life?...there…it was in and out of her mind before even she could notice it. Playing truant, eh…she smirked at her thoughts elusive.

She had always been proud of her impeccable vocabulary enhanced by her Masters in English language and Literature from Kerala University. It was after all just that which had landed her this job in the first place…that of a nanny to the then two-year old son of NRI parents who had sent their firstborn back home in native Kerala to deal with another newborn who had landed unexpectedly bang into the middle of their already oh-so-busy lives.

She still remembered Arnav’s mom tell her with a hint of regret in her faceless voice over the phone that it was too late into the pregnancy before she even realized that there was another human life throbbing within her. “My periods have always been irregular…sometimes 28, other times 32…it has even recurred after 53 days…apparently the gyny (she made it sound as if an elf or imp was involved in the mishap of conception…bah...there you go…in and out of muh mind…) gave her some crap about her sedentary lifestyle spent on the laptop all was I to know that it was a bloody pregnancy this time around!”

Ayesha had flinched involuntarily at the harshness emanating from the other end. But then it had entailed her being hired as Arnav’s nanny…a job she fell in love with on first setting eyes on the volubly chirpy dark toddler who had been handed over to her at the international airport in Kochi. His parents apparently had no time to even drop their baby on his virgin outing so far away from their swanky bungalow in Wales.

But then, Arnav and she had gone on to build their very own cosy nest in the quaint house with the gnarled hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree at Tripunithura in Ernakulam. Two long bliss-filled years it was…before that fateful day arrived when Arnav’s parents suddenly woke up to the fact that they had a firstborn too in their lives, and it was time they reclaimed him from their native land now grown foreign to their acquired tastes and accents picked up en route to NRI wealth and comfort.
And that was yesterday…Today saw Ayesha leave the already-gnarled house for her old corner in the working women’s hostel room in Thiruvananthapuram on the way to Bakery Junction –a space which she too had reclaimed with the rights of an old pal waiting to renew shared habits and washed clothes hung out to dry on a rope tied diagonally across the open terrace…and that was exactly where she laid out her memories to dry.

* Shyoh! pavum – Sigh…poor thing!   chettai- big brother

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