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by Donna Abraham (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 06-Jul-2017

They were lowering Maa into a hole and I could see her go. There were people all around, and drizzle and dirt. As the prayers came to an end, rain lashed out and through the window I saw women slightly pulling up their sarees and jump over beds of flowers lining various tombstones. Shobin was there too, one foot resting on a tombstone to avoid a water puddle under the other, only to be pinched in the ear by his devout mother. Black umbrellas merged with black clothes and people were running to take shelter in a chartered bus arranged by the mourners of our parish. Uncle Joseph was hurrying Fr. Victor towards the church under a giant black umbrella, its point erect like a magnet as if ready to strike down any lightening that might dare. Papa was whirling Ammachi’s wheelchair in the mud helping rivulets of water flow all the way to Maa. In the ensuing commotion, I rolled down the window of our car and as tears drenched my cheeks I longed for the rivulets to work some miracle.

My mother had succumbed to a long terminal illness. It had been passed down and it seems I was next, though this was a big secret the family was keeping. The public secret was that she died of jaundice.

Owing to my inheritance, rain and I did not go too well together. There was fear of infection and I had been strapped to my car seat while the rest of the family went about their privileged sorrow.

When we reached home, it was quiet. The mourning was over for all except Papa, Ammachi and Me, the leftovers. “She was such a good soul. So many people turned up. Her students were there in hundreds,” said Ammachi to her son in an effort to console him. “The teachers had tears in their eyes. Some of them were openly crying. They must have loved her at school.”

“Did you notice mone, most of the neighbours turned up as well. Though Hindus, many stayed through mass in Church and were present at the cemetery too.”

Papa sat silent through all this. From the dining table in our living room, he stared out into the starless night sky across the balcony of our DDA flat.

“Her friends were inconsolable. I guess, they were all there, her gang of five, with their families,” Ammachi went on. “I heard two of them came all the way from Bangalore? All in all, I think there were about a thousand people.”

“I guess, Maa,” said Papa taking a sip of his scotch, his hand squeezing his head by now as though it were one of those squishy stress buster balls. I closed my eyes. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I felt Papa’s hug and we cried ourselves to sleep. “Don’t worry, Jesus is with her,” something I heard hundreds say that day. I could only hope there was truth in numbers.

 

10th January

Papa

Ammachi

Shobin, Sharon, Uncle and Aunty

Uncle Joseph

Uncle John

Uncles, aunties and cousins - all the way from Kerala??

Classmates – 50

Colony friends – 10

Parish friends – 5

 

After a few days, I went back to school. Shobin, my best friend, sat next to me. The silence between us said a lot that day. “Thanks Shobin,” I whispered under the stairs of my first floor flat on return from school that afternoon. He nodded and I saw him walk forward to his home, his head hung at half mast. That evening while drinking milk in the balcony, through the railings I saw my friends play cricket in the park. Shobin, however, was not with them.

“Xavier!” I heard a scream. I knew it could only be Shobin from the adjacent balcony. I moved to the wall on my right and perched up on my heels to talk to him. “Do you feel like playing today, Xav?” I had not seen him in the park since the day Maa died. “Naah,” the word struggling to come out; my teeth, clenched by my jaw resting atop the shoulder-high balcony wall. Shobin continued to sip his milk.

It was Maa I used to call out to before stepping out to play. Now she wasn’t around. I didn’t know whom to tell, whose “ok” meant permission, whose “ok” meant I’ll look out for you from the balcony. Though Maa had prepared me for her absence, I guess, I’d not paid attention to it all. I hadn’t realized its truth then, or perhaps I was just a bad boy.

Somehow, I could not let Shobin in on my frailties. Thus, the balcony scene repeated itself for another month at the end of which Shobin called out to his mother and ran off to play in the park.

 

20th February

Papa

Ammachi

Shobin, Sharon, Uncle and Aunty-??

Uncle Joseph

Uncle John

Uncles, aunties and cousins - all the way from Kerala??

Classmates – 50

Colony friends – 10

Parish friends – 5

 

The next day I had made up my mind to join Shobin in the park, after all I was nearly at the tenth hour, but by evening my head started throbbing and fever progressed down my body. Papa knew my high fever and vomiting could be symptoms of my debilitating virus. He rushed me to the nearest private hospital where I was diagnosed with jaundice. The tenth hour moved to the eleventh over a month, and I missed my final exams.

“Don’t worry Xav,” said Papa at the hospital bed on the day the results were expected, “your health is more important to me. I spoke with Brother D’Souza yesterday and he has agreed to consider you as a special case. He says he’ll ask your class teacher to give you a special test once you return from the hospital. And, I know you will. Soon.” 

For someone who barely scored 45% with all help from Shobin, the lack of a best friend was going to cost many more on return, if...

I was beginning to understand my loss, my batch mates.

 

20th March

Papa

Ammachi

Shobin, Sharon, Uncle and Aunty-??

Uncle Joseph

Uncle John

Uncles, aunties and cousins - all the way from Kerala??

Classmates – 50?

Colony friends – 10

Parish friends – 5

 

I returned home after a week. I was glad. The following Monday morning, Papa and I rode to school. On the back of Papa’s scooter, I read through Simple Interest and Compound Interest formulae and crammed Income Tax calculations. But no formula registered. It was well into the middle of the school day when we reached. Thankfully, ours was the lone vehicle parked outside the school gates. Small blessings in disguise, no one to pity the sickly child, huh!

Guard bhaiyya looked right into my eye, recognition or realization, I wondered. He let us in without questions.

“Come here Xav,” Papa called out crossing the open quadrangle of the school. But, I pretended to jump over the interleaved gray tiles of concrete under the neem trees bordering the quadrangle, a game I played when I needed to walk under shadows. Numbers, science and an uncertain expectation of failure circled my head. I tried hard not to look up to the first-floor window of the sixth standard, but I failed. I looked and admired the class where my batch mates had succeeded towards. Thankfully, the window only displayed palpitations of a classroom simmering with excitement. Well, at least, I had not been spotted, ‘Merci Dear Lord.’

“Xavier! Welcome back my boy,” said Brother D’Souza as we entered his cabin. “You look so weak. Poor boy,” said brother squeezing my arm the way I squeezed a broiler’s leg in Maa’s chicken curry. I did not hear the rest of the conversation between Brother D’Souza and Papa. I sat back on the chair, swung my feet in nervousness and fiddled with the glass paperweight on Brother’s desk. The round weight housed an artificial reef of sorts, but its beauty was lost on me cause all I could hope was Brother had not called in any troublemakers from my batch. I don’t know why I didn’t want anyone to spot me, perhaps my failure, appearance or an awkwardness at being treated to a special test, something that could cost me. Popularity, as is, had never been my friend. One favor spotted and I could lose a count with homage. Thankfully, there were no trouble makers during our time in Brother’s cabin.

A blessing later, Brother asked Papa to wait at the reception. “Xavier, you can wait in the Art room. I’ll ask Singh Sir to help you with the exam.”

It was a three-hour mix of Math and Science questions especially designed for me. An unconcerned Singh Sir sat at the helm of the class correcting a pile of books. I sat alone on a chair in the middle of the Art room struggling against fate. By evening, the setting sun had sealed it. I lost 50.

For a couple of days, my ex-friends smirked when they climbed the stairs to their Middle school building and I continued to walk towards the Junior school, and then I merged into the light that new company offered. Shining on all, spotlight on none.

I tried to make it to something, with the new batch mates. Alas! It could not be; I had a relapse. This time, Papa had rushed me to a bigger multi-specialty hospital. He had known Shobin’s mother was a nurse there, but perhaps my limp body lying across his arms, head and legs dangling at ends, had pushed him towards an Emergency that shone a glimmer of rich hope. From what I heard later, Papa had made attempts to hide from Mrs. Jose but she was in our room that very first night I had opened my eyes.

A motherly touch on my forehead had pulled me out of my torment that night. ‘Is it you Maa?’ I remember asking. “How are you, mone Xavier?” Mrs. Jose asked in return and I latched on to her hand afraid to let go. She had stayed for an hour by my bed and I had hugged her in a long-forgotten way. And, then, towards the end of that hour, she had walked over to the table and picked up the blue folder that had my diagnosis. As hard as I tried, I could not miss the ever so gentle twitch of her eyebrows and with that I dropped back into an abyss of longing.

From what we heard, she had been assigned night duty at the Emergency the following day on and the Emergency was a busy place, common knowledge.

 

20th May

Papa

Ammachi

Shobin, Sharon, Uncle and Aunty-??

Uncle Joseph

Uncle John

Uncles, aunties and cousins - all the way from Kerala??

Classmates – 50

Colony friends – 10

Parish friends – 5

 

It seemed with each passing day in the hospital, I was striking through hope at a faster pace. Like hope slipped, my body slid. It was getting increasingly difficult for me to keep food down. A single morsel was enough to make me puke. It was horrible, the taste in my mouth and the uneasiness in my stomach. I don’t know what it was, but I was hapless. My illness was causing confusion and I was delirious. I had no clue how many days had passed. When I opened my eyes, I saw Papa and Ammachi. There were nurses and doctors too, but I held onto the only people I knew in the room, Papa and Ammachi. But they were becoming stale too. I felt like puking when I saw them. I wished Maa were here. I wished Shobin were here. I wished someone were here, I wished Papa were here. I wished Ammachi were here. I don’t know what I wished, I wished I didn’t wish, puke.

Ahhhh! That felt much better, the poison of the virus ejected out of my system. The medicines seemed to be taking effect. I think I stayed in the hospital for another week or so. But unlike Maa, there were no flowers from warm and concerned neighbours at home when I returned. Shobin’s mother was Mrs. Sharma’s best friend, after all. Mrs. Sharma the aunty from the ground floor flat. That night, I updated my list amidst a garish peace and quiet.

 

3rd June

Papa

Ammachi

Shobin, Sharon, Uncle and Aunty-??

Uncle Joseph

Uncle John

Uncles, aunties and cousins - all the way from Kerala??

Classmates – 50

Colony friends – 10

Parish friends – 5

 

I rejoined school with renewed vigor and determination. I had a deep-down desire to get back the numbers. Didn’t I have to, before…

But, I guess, fate would not have it my way. I fell into a trap of infections and sickness and was back into the hospital. I lost count of the days I lay there before I saw uncles and aunts from Kerala. ‘Am I in Kerala?’ I remember thinking and then blank. Darkness. Pain.

When I opened my eyes again, I think I spotted Fr. Victor. ‘Is he praying?’

‘Am I in church? Am I dreaming? Where is Maa? Where is Papa? Ammachi! Am I dead already?’

‘No, they are real.’ Pain. Water. Air.

‘What is happening?’ ‘Are those faces?’ ‘Are those people...so many?’ Tingling sensations prick my body. Cold in my toes, my fingers freeze. I struggle for air, but where is air? I see faces I don’t know. I struggle, there’s something heavy in my shoulders. I don’t understand things around me, I can hardly see. Noises, grey haze and struggle, struggle, struggle. ‘God! help me.’ I wish I could let go. I just want to let go.

I let go. Blank.

 

***

 

Ah! That’s blue sky above, ok! I am being lowered. I see a wooden box around me and now Earth outside the box, ropes hold on to the wooden box to keep it from dropping. A priest sprinkles holy water on me. ‘Oh yes! That’s Fr. Victor.’ Then, I see Papa’s head peep and look at me. He drops a handful of dust on me. ‘Oh! I know where I am.’ I wait to see the faces. I wonder if my list tallies up.

 

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Author
Donna Abraham

Donna Abraham

Written: 5 Stories

Member Since: 02-Jul-2017

Country: India

Category

Emotional Touch