Saturday, 15 August 2020

Likha George, ShortStory 2020 Longlist

The Perfect Gift

The morning was a little hot than usual. Call it humidity. The sky was clear and my regular visitor Gray, the crow was winging around for attention. It is the about the water in his bird bath. He always liked his water fresh every day. He would fly from the lower branch of the Nutmeg tree to the Coconut tree right across the back yard, gaining full attention from anyone in the kitchen; winging by low and with his loud cawing. It was too conspicuous to miss the drama of his routine.

My mobile rang. Thank God, I had not reduced the sound. Would have missed the calls in the morning as these days I miss putting it back from the silent mode from the night before.

“Amma, Congratulations.”

“Thanks dear.”

“What? Amma, are you still sleeping? Are you not okay?”

“Seriously, Joe? What are you saying? I am very much awake and breakfast is getting ready. ”

“And son, thanks for remembering our anniversary or was it Lily who reminded you ? And yes, do wish us a healthy and safe time together. Am waiting”

I could visualize him, groggy after waking up. But with either FB or Google or Lily prompting him of our thirty sixth wedding anniversary, he would be fully awake. The first thing would be to call me and wish us both with his mischievous chuckle. I was expecting this call. Though boys are boys and they hardly remember such dates. But these days’ things are much easier. It is all about setting up the alarm. Well, I would hate calling this alarm. It should be called a prompter as birthdays and wedding anniversaries are happy occasions and not ‘alarming’.

“Amma, Oh, I forgot. Sorry, I forgot. Ah, yes, it is your anniversary. Is Appa up yet? “Joe faltered. I came back to the conversation.

This guy, my elder one, tall and dark with that deep set intelligent look is neither a stunner nor unattractive. He is what you would call that dignified looking one who is well formed, with an intense look and an air of sophistication about him.

“Yes, he is up and about. And what is going on Joe? Believe everything is going on as usual. And Lily, she must have finished cooking by now”

“No, yeah, well. I will give her the phone”. Joe is not his usual self, but why? I thought to myself. Is it his job? I kept wondering.

“No son, wait. Just wanted to ask how is it going with the Major Inc’s job, you guys are getting it, right?”

“Hmm, I guess yes. We are awarded the part of the work which we were in for from the beginning”. Amma, don’t worry. Everything is fine with my job.

“So, what about the rest of the packages or parts? You were competing to get those parts as well, right?”

“Yes, but I think that may not come through. Umm, oh well, seems, it is about their corporate policy and it is more of their manufacturing aspects which they want to keep for their national firms.” Joe’s voice was heavy.

Oh, this must be why he was sounding a bit off. It is an indescribable feeling in the gut, when your son; a part of you; however much he has grown is faltering when he talks. You know every nuance, every pause reverberates. Well, it is best not to show I noticed. Or is it that things have changed and I have grown old. May be and maybe not. Times have changed and the uncertainties are more real than the certainties. It must be hard these days, unlike our times.

Even before the lock down, things had started becoming difficult. There was this expectation of an economic slowdown as an offshoot of several political and policy decisions, which though at times populist were not doing much good. Jobs and positions were at stake and these were high stake for the middle and senior management employees.

“By the way, Joe, you did not wish me properly so, go ahead do so and dear you can order that walnut cake with praline and please don’t tell Appa.”

“Well, yes. Amma, now you are still your incorrigible self. Promise me you won’t utter anything about body weight. Otherwise, Appa will be mad at me. I really do wonder how he still manages this.”

Now, that is my boy. There was that particular stress on the word ‘manage’ and he knows he can annoy me with that. He has regained his composure and I am happy I could do it even now.

“Oh, don’t worry, he has thirty six whole years of experience and so do I and we are still working it out. And no, I cannot promise about the body weight part because Appa expects me to say it, so we can fight it out. And by the way what has Lily found for us this time. Please tell me. Oh, Appa is here. So go ahead and wish him.”

There was a shriek and a thud and the call got cut. There was no call afterwards. We tried calling them. How many times does one try? It was to no avail and my dear hubby was upset. No, he was mad at me, but well it is a special day, so peace had to prevail. After a little bit of sulking, we shared our worries as to why there is no call and why we were not getting them. Hubby dear wanted to know what Joe had conveyed. When I mentioned that he congratulated both of us, there was silence and suddenly both of us felt why so and why not the wishes the way he usually does. And also there was no word yet from Lily.

The morning went by with the breakfast of pancakes. They had turned out quite fluffy and the taste of eggs in it was just right. The filling also was done for the special day and the coconut gratings in sugar with a pinch of cardamom and the fried, golden raisins and cashew nuts. The steamed bananas and mint tea all tasted nice. Breakfast had come off well and we loved every morsel and enjoyed the relaxed time. It was time to go through the morning papers. We could hear the horn from the fish monger’s cycle from the road below.

Georgie could not call from the ship. So he sent a message. He will call later in the day, maybe even late night through satellite. Anu, Georgie’s wife called and she checked with me about the lucky bamboo, the box of chocolates, the saree and the shirt she had sent.

“Yes dear, we got it by 8:00AM today. Thank you so much. We liked the gifts“

“Amma, when did Chettan and Chechi call?” Anu waited for me to talk about news from the elder ones and the gifts from them.

Lily and Anu always co-ordinate with each other regarding the gifts, yet check with us individually. After our chat, the call was disconnected. I had to prepare today’s special lunch and time just flew as the ingredients were added and the smell of freshly cooked Biryani wafted out of the kitchen.

There were calls from my siblings and his sister as wells as our cousins. But there was this nagging thought of no word from either Joe or Lily, despite our efforts to get them on their mobiles in between.

Grey was not communicating much today and he with his friends did not come looking for the tidbits and one could hear the cawing a bit far way. The day which was bright and sunny, suddenly became dark and cloudy. It is the summer rains and it must rain in the evening, like it has been these past two days. It had turned sultry and the humidity was becoming quite unbearable. The desert roses which are repotted would need some tending, if it is going to rain heavily.

It was almost lunchtime. Joe’s cake had not arrived yet and I had this foreboding of something imminent. The mutton biryani was ready with all the accompaniments - mango chammanthi, pappadams, lime pickle and date pickle, onion-tomato salad as we always like it. Seems like the microwave chocolate brownie I had tried the other day would come in handy.

It was when I was adding the ‘first’ milk from the coconut grating to finish the jackfruit payasam preparation that the phone rang. Hubby took the call. There was some grunting and the statement “we will come over”.

The inflection was sober and it seemed there is some upsetting news. Slight low voiced argument went on. It was two or three sentences and grunts, then nothing. Once the phone call was over, I waited for him to come to the kitchen and tell me who and what it was. Again, nothing.

No help was forthcoming while I lay the table and laid out my gourmet masterpieces. Hubby was not enjoying the lunch which was abnormal. Still he made some conversation though dodging any mention of the call. Life together has taught me to abide my time. Timing should be perfect, so I had to wait and wait I did. He helped me with clearing the dishes from the dining table and went off to serve the payasam.

I was about to open my mouth to ask about the call when he said, “Let us wait till evening. You must be tired. I will tell you later over a cup of nice masala chai. “

“We will cut the brownie cake in the evening. I guess you told Joe not to send us the cake. It is the first time in the last ten years we didn’t cut a cake for the anniversary.” My resentment had to come out.

Hubby smiled. “Ok, dear. Brownie courtesy my wife will do. What else do you think I would do?” The smile did not reach his eyes and it kept me wondering.

“And you don’t have to call Lily now. Joe said he will call later.” I thought that statement was quite unnecessary. It does not matter. It is just a call and as a mother, I had every right to. But yes, I did not call as he asked. After all, that is what I have done all these past years and why would I do otherwise on this day.

It was right after Gray and his friends took their bath that the rain started. The bathing ritual is fun to watch. It starts at around 3:00 PM. The first one would come zooming in from the nutmeg tree and have a dive in the bath and go sit on the jackfruit tree branch. As he shakes himself and the water droplet fly off his body, the next one would take his dive. There were three regulars and two visitors and this would continue a second time. Then it is their turn to come sit on the bath and plunge themselves for a regular bath and the cacophony is distinctive. After finishing, they would preen themselves in silence. All set and done, each one will caw once and fly off.

It was raining a bit heavily and the sky had turned dark and the lightning and thunder was unusual for the summer rains. Anyway, it seemed to go with the happenings of the day. Lying down taking some much needed rest, I had drifted off into a nap when the phone rang out sharply. I reached out from the sofa, but before I could take the call, Hubby had come in suddenly and literally grabbed it before me. Very unlike him to do so, and he had a very serious look on his face.

He listened, as I watched closely. The brows were knotted and then slowly he smiled. Then he beamed.

“Listen Joe, she needs to be careful. If the need be we will come over or better still, think of sending her over.” I was skeptical. What was going on?

Something from Joe’s side with response of a few more words, on when it will be possible to come over and with two ‘okays’, ‘I wills’ and an ‘oh’, the conversation was over. Something inside me was gnawing, but I waited patiently.I couldn’t believe what happened next.

“Sue dear, congratulations” he said and looking at a belligerent me, he laughed, came over and before I could ask why father and son congratulated me and what was going on, he said, “Grandma dear, congratulations”, took me in his arms and gave the deepest hug ever. I was speechless as realization dawned. This was the gift we were waiting for these past five years - the perfect one.

There had been medical issues and the problems came as the baggage on a conveyor belt, one after the other and each had to be sorted out. The emotional aspects were taking its toll and we were getting a bit worried. The hospital visits and stays; the need for parental support due to the working lives, Lily’s decision to take time off; all these had their effects on our lives, at times stretching our beliefs as well as our patience. It was this morning that the confirmation of the pregnancy tests came. But Lily had a fall as she was coming out of the kitchen in a hurry. They went off to the hospital and those were anxious moments when Joe called the second time. Nothing was clear then. Now, it seems the day has finally come and as we held our hands and listened to the rain, there was an overwhelming peace. Gray broke the silence and flew home, acknowledging the beauty of the day.

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