Thursday, February 03, 2011

Glowing Embers - Part 3: Finale

Something just did not feel right. He was setting up his cart, and then he saw her. What he saw seemed to confirm his premonition.

There she was, walking as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders. The bleary eyes and puffy eyelids told him a tale of a night drowned in tears. She was no longer in a hurry. She did not care if her dupatta fell off. The once furious pace had now settled to that of a snail’s. She missed her regular bus. But it didn’t seem to matter. She stood at the bus stop, as if in a trance. Hadn’t anybody at home noticed her behaviour?

Buses went by, and still she stood with her vacant stare. Finally, as if jolted into reality, she caught the next bus and was gone. He felt sorry for her. And he didn’t know why.

He was back to ironing. Today seemed relatively light. He could probably finish off all his work by evening. He could then take off to his favourite place for quiet musings – the paddy field at the outskirts of the city. Muthusami won’t mind him borrowing his cycle for today, he hoped. Anyway, he could afford to take a break now. He wasn’t doing that bad. Except for Rupa madam’s sari. He pushed back thoughts of that vile woman as soon as it materialized in his mind, and tried to focus on ironing the dhoti in front of him.

The sun was drowning in the distant horizon; the paddy field lay stretched before him, like a verdant carpet. The plants swayed to the gentle breeze – as if it were being caressed. He stared into the distance. He liked being alone. But today, he wasn’t. Thoughts of her refused to part. Why was she sad? Why did he care? Why was she haunting him? A lot of whys that had no answer. It was growing dark; he should be heading back home.

The next intersection meant his neighbourhood. He got down from the cycle and decided to walk his way back. As he turned at the junction, he found her at the bus-stop. Sitting on the bench, deep in thought. She was startled by his arrival. She looked up. He stared. She smiled – a sad smile. He didn’t know what to do. He continued to stare. “You are the one who’s ironing our clothes na?” She asked. He didn’t say anything. “It has come out well.” Silence. He gave a faint smile. “You are shy, aren’t you?” she said half-teasingly. And yet, her eyes were sad. He could see.

He felt awkward, just standing there. He walked off. A few steps later, he turned back to see her still looking at him.

He walked back into his house, almost looking stupefied. “What has gotten into you? What look is that on your face?” Ponamma asked him. He shook himself out of his reverie and tried his best to hold a straight face. “I hope you’ve not gotten into any bad company. Don’t fool around here. Just do your work and be decent”. He went in to have dinner.


Next morning, as he walked towards his spot to set up shop, he noticed a huge crowd. People were clustering in groups and discussing something animatedly. He caught various conversations in snatches.

“...Her parents had no clue. Like anyone would believe it... they don’t know how to bring up their daughter.”

“It seems she was seeing a doctor for her depression…. That man was responsible….”

“...It was a suicide… she dishonoured her family or so….”

“….I heard she used to go for tuition to some place; it seems it was her teacher!”

“They were always reclusive. No one knew much about them. If I’d known that the girl was of such repute, I wouldn’t have lent out my house to them on rent. The Sheshadris appeared like decent people!”

“….The body has gone for post-mortem examination…. Police will follow up soon…. God, what a commotion it’s going to be…”

“Now how will they face the people here? I heard they are leaving town….”

“…Who would have thought that meek girl would turn out to be a rotten apple? Can’t trust people these days…”

“She swallowed a whole bottle of sleeping pills, apparently…”

“...Since morning this is the only thing I’ve been hearing about….”

He couldn’t move. The more he heard, the more weak he became. She committed suicide? He felt as if he was being swept away by a tornado. A million thoughts crossed his mind. And he remembered – the sad smile; the vacant stare. Her on a bench. Looking at him.

If only he had talked to her. Maybe she was choosing between life and death yesterday. If only he had said something.

He sobbed silently. There were many moments in his life he wished he could talk. That God hadn’t snatched his voice. But today was like no other.

                                                                 THE END



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