Thursday, 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Sudha Viswanathan


                                                                        The Maple Tree

Maple tress had always been my companion. It was probably because, I was born in a house, in whose courtyard was a magnificent maple tree bearing yellow flowers.
My mother used to tell me that she would sing melodious lullabies sitting under the shade of the tree with me on her lap. The rustling of the branches of the maple tree would provide the soft percussions for her lullaby and as a child I would sleep in the warmth of all this concocted music.

I grew under its shade. I had got this strange idea that whenever I sat beneath it and revised my lessons, I passed my exams with flying color. I would chide myself pretty often for this childish notion, but somewhere deep down my heart I strongly felt the veracity of this truth.
“A girl does not continue to live in the same house for the rest of her life. She has to go some day to her husband’s house.” My granny’s sermon of womanhood and her life often upset me. I had to go someday leaving my parents and all kith and kin. However more deeper was the desolation of leaving the maple tree. 

“It cannot be transplanted, or we would have given it to you as a dowry,” my father would tease me often.
I could not have asked more from the almighty. When Raghu took me to his house the first time after our marriage, I instantly fell in love with the beautiful, well kept house. Only my mind knew the secret of this predilection. The window in our room opened to give me a full view of a huge maple tree and I smiled recollecting what my father had said about sending the one in my courtyard as a dowry. Yes it looked like the same maple tree, with yellow flowers bloomed in bunches all over and they dazzled in the sunlight and swayed in the wind as if they were giving me a warm reception.
My life once again started revolving around the new maple tree. The only difference between this and the one in my house being that, I could only savor its beauty standing at the window, while back at home I would run now and then to the courtyard to sit beneath it and share my joys and sorrows with the branches of the tress which seemed to respond with rhythmic beats to match my mood.

After a tired day in the office, I would get back to the window with a steaming cup of coffee. It looked like each of my nerve beseeching for some respite, felt greatly relaxed.
Raghu would laugh at my obsession towards this maple tree, but he was a loving partner and would often give in to my whims and sit with me after dinner at the window to hear the rustling of the branches of the maple tree.

Our life was complete with the birth of Arvind. I gave up my job to nurture my son. Like me, he also grew listening to the various tales of fairies residing in the branches of the tree. His eyes would scour the entire tree in the hope of spotting a fairy.
Everything was going fine, but then predestined things can never be stopped, until some huge miracles happen and miracles do not happen in everyone’s life. 

Raghu was hardly 48 when he suffered a sudden massive heart attack and left me and Arvind to face the world all alone. Arvind was eighteen when this catastrophe struck our lives. It was precisely eighteen years after I gave up work too. 

Though we were financially sound; the vacuum created by Raghu’s sudden death and loneliness pushed me to take up a job again. It was not very easy to face the corporate world after a huge gap of eighteen years, but I was fortunate enough to get a break in the same field I had been working earlier.
 I would come back home more fatigued than I used to be long before and sit near the window watching the maple tree. Every branch of the tree with yellow flowers provided me with great respite from all the pains and agonies my mind went through. Soon I learnt to live without Raghu.
‘All good things come to an end,’ it is said; so did my stint with this city and the house, came to an end. Arvind landed with a lucrative job in another city and so we had to shift base.
Well I genuinely did not feel sad on leaving my job; but more heartrending was the prospect of not being able to gaze at the maple tree, my companion from childhood. Some compromises had to be made in life.
The flat that Arvind had rented was a three bedroom flat in a posh locality. The house looked bright and airy.
“Mom, this is your room,” he said ushering me into one of the two bedrooms with a neatly arranged cot and wardrobe.
“Open the window,” he said with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. I obeyed him sincerely and was literally jumping with joy to see a vast maple tree with proliferating branches, all holding crimson colored beautiful flowers.
This was something that I had never expected. Arvind had taken the trouble to find a house that overlooked a courtyard with this huge maple tree.
My loneliness once again found respite as I sat gazing at the crimson colored flowers of the maple tree. They once again swayed as if they were singing an ode to welcome me.
Then one fine day Arvind found his life partner, Jia. The couple was busy in their own life. However what kept bothering me was constant bickering between them. They seemed to be having difference of opinion in almost everything under the firmament. That was disturbing indeed.
Their heated arguments even at the slightest provocation was eating in to the peace of the house like termites would do on wood work.
However I would run and sit beside the window gaping at the maple tree and magically their arguments diluted into my ears. It definitely had some miraculous effect on me.
I was soon glad to see that the couple had decided to bury their differences because they were expecting their first child.
The birth of Zara brought a remarkable transformation in the house. The couple hardly had time to fight over trivial issues. The child became the centre of attraction. After Jia resumed work, Zara would be with me for major part of the day. I fed her showing the beautiful maple tree and reciting tales about fairies residing in the branches. She was too small to understand, but she would smile and laugh whenever she was brought near the window.
It wasn’t very easy to nurture an active child like Zara. At sixty five my bones weren’t really fit enough to bend and twist. It took a toll on me. I tripped on the door mat while trying to stop Zara from climbing down the stairs.  I had fractured my leg.
A nurse was deputed to assist me in my day to day routine, Divya. She was a very dedicated girl and took good care of me; however I missed the maple tree. I had to be strictly in bed for a fortnight and that stopped me from going towards the window to gaze at my favorite tree.
At my behest, after a fortnight, Divya slowly put me on a wheelchair and took me to the window. I felt like all my lost energy had been rejuvenated. Every morning, first thing after coming, she would wheel me towards the window. I would sit there for a few minutes and savor the marveling beauty of the crimson colored flowers.
Then it felt like the whole day ahead would be spent happily.
One fine morning Divya did not turn up at her usual time, but I had learned to transfer myself into the wheelchair and push its wheels. I was sitting there gazing at the maple tree. For some weird reason the tree was still. Some sort of gloom was seen all over it. It felt a bit distressing all of a sudden. Something in the air seemed ominous. Some intuition told me that unpleasant news was in stored for me.
“Good day madam,” Divya arrived and wished me as usual. I saw that she was removing some nice clothing for me from the wardrobe.  Then she began putting all my clothes in an empty suitcase and arranging my medicines.
“Jia madam has asked you to get ready and wear these,” she said wheeling me towards the washroom.
I had never learnt to be inquisitive in my life ever. Raghu would often chide me for this apathy of mine. “You must learn to ask questions and not take things in their own stride.”
I knew I was going to be taken out. May be there was a follow up with the doctor, but then why was the suitcase arranged.  Are we going out on a holiday or something? How was I going to manage in this wheel chair?
 I quietly got ready with the help of Divya all the while bizarre thoughts clinging to my already exhausted mind.
 Arvind came in and said, “Mom, we are going to take you to a place that you would genuinely love.” It sounded puzzling, but I nodded.
There was an unusual silence in the car as we drove, except for Zara’s occasional banter. I noticed that Jia was not talking anything and experience told me that her eyes were guilt ridden. Arvind drove without uttering a word.
We reached a two storey building amongst greenery. Two men came and slowly wheeled me inside followed by Arvind, Jia and Zara.
While Arvind and Jia were talking to someone at the front desk, I was taken to the second floor in a lift. Slowly they pushed open the door of a room that was aesthetically arranged. Two cots were there and on one of them was already seated an old lady; looked like a septuagenarian. She forced a smile on seeing me being wheeled in and behind that smile was neatly camouflaged a melancholic tale. Her eyes spoke the truth.
“This is your room mate” one of the men told her and she meekly nodded to give me a welcome.
Everything seemed to be happening in a daze. When the two men lifted me to place on the bed; I caught sight of something extremely familiar near the window on the west side.
“Please take me to the window first,” I pleaded much to their vexation, but they obeyed.
‘And then what do I see???’ A huge and well spread Maple tree right in front of my eyes with golden yellow flowers.
Just then Arvind walked in with Jia and Zara. “Mom I am sure you will love this place. There are many in your age group to give you company. You will meet all of them for lunch in the dining hall down.”
 He continued, “Divya is getting married in a couple of months and would not be able to come for your nursing. We have put Zara with a daycare; it won’t be possible for you to handle her.”  He was desperately trying to justify his move of having brought me here in the old age home, but he did not pay attention to the maple tree on which my sight was glued to.
I could therefore decipher that he really had not taken the pain to ‘select’ this room that overlooked a maple tree, like he had done before when we both had shifted base on him getting a new job in this city. It was a sheer coincidence that this room had been allotted to me.
This coincidence only fortified my bond with the maple tree.
“Take care, we will come back soon,” they said, but I knew they would never come. This would be my home now for the rest of my life. However it did not bother me anymore, the maple tree would still continue to be my companion.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful story Sudha. Truly the maple tree was her true companion.

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