The sun stretched its arms languidly over a vivid blue sky to let a bunch of golden streamers in soft hues streak the virgin canvas like a painter’s adept, smudgy strokes. As dawn demurely took off her veil to showcase the morning’s dazzling splendor, the house by the beach was bathed in a shimmering, sparkling delight. The drapes were still drawn but the rays streamed through the hurdles and gushed over the bedspread. She opened her eyes slowly and took in her surroundings. The soft curtains to match the décor of the room, the huge four poster bed, an inheritance from her grandmother, the downy mattresses and pillows to match on which rested her head, the light blanket half covering her frame and a strong, sinewy arm draped over her body in a loving embrace, protecting her from all evils and reminding her of the night previous. The most fulfilling night of her life!
She tried to slither out of bed but the arm held her back. She smiled to herself. Yesterday morning she had had a tiff with him on a trivial issue. He had left for office in a huff renouncing breakfast. The whole day she was tortured by the slight furrow between his brows, the tightening of his lips into a straight line and the brusque manner in which he had departed for work without even waving her a good bye. She could not concentrate in her everyday chores; by midmorning despair overpowered her and she thought of ringing him up and apologizing. But his secretary said that he was awfully busy and had left instruction not to be disturbed the whole day. She failed to notice the slanting rays of the afternoon sun on her money plant and was completely oblivious of the cacophony of a bunch of parrots which chose to screech a debate over a spread of grains, swinging their long green tails on the clothes wire tied in her back yard. By evening; she was on the verge of tears.
The door bell rang. Unusual! She did not expect anybody at this time. He usually returned late from office. And today she was not quite sure when he would be coming back. There was no message either. It seemed as though he had excommunicated from this world.
She staggered to the door. Unbolting the latch she felt a slight tremor coursing down her spine. He stood there with a bunch of yellow roses in hand. Her favourite, he knew. A pair of outstretched hands hugged her to a broad chest while a kiss made up for the heart burns of the day. It was his turn now. He apologized and confessed that he too had not experienced a moment’s peace throughout the day. In the end, unable to do much work, he had left office early. The stress of the morning was so much so that he had intermittent spells of absentmindedness and was about to bang his car into another one in front in a fit of distraction. But fortunately he had a narrow escape. Hearing this, she gasped. But all was well that ended well he said and was emphatic that he was okay.
They had an early dinner in companionable silence and then walked over to the old Kali Temple just a few yards from the house for thanksgiving to the deity who had miraculously saved his life today. He strongly believed in Her. While returning, they made a detour and strolled on the silvery white beach holding hands. The sea was pensive. The waves lapped up to their feet as they approached. The moon loomed large, too large, to be imprisoned in the cupped palms of the night. They stood there for a few endless moments absorbing the moon, the sea, the sand and the soft spring breeze which brought the fragrance of some unknown blossom from a faraway land.
The night was blissful. They melted in each other’s arms longingly forgetting what had happened in the morning and forgiving each other for the exchange of hurtful words in the beginning of the day. As they held each other close time stood by and a sublime serenity engulfed them for infinity.
She caressed the arm which would not let her go. After a while she slid out of bed and padded to the kitchen. She let the water boil on the gas stove as she took out a pair of dainty China cups and placed them on matching saucers. The set had a delicate, floral design. Then she poured the hot water and soaked the tea leaves in the pot and stirred lightly after sometime with a spoon. He liked to have a light brew early in the morning without sugar or cream. She had adopted the same taste. All the while she hummed to herself, his favourite song, which she thought she would later croon into his ears to wake him up while serving the steaming cup of bed tea.
There was a light knock on the door. A few drops of the golden brown beverage spilled on the kitchen slab as she poured the tea in the cups before hurrying to open the door. That must be Manno, her maid, a sprightly girl of twenty married to the gardener’s son. Both of them had been serving her for quite some time now. She had issued a standing instruction to Manno not to press the bell early in the morning. Its shrill tone could even wake up the dead. She wanted the morning to unfurl like a blooming bud.
She opened the door and saw Manno brushing past inside the kitchen. A searing pain shot up her left arm, a cold hand squeezed her heart. The pain was so excruciating, always pouncing on her unaware, especially, when she was in no mood for tears. She flopped down on the couch placed next to the door pressing her right hand on the left side of her chest. The agony did seem to subside after sometime.
Manno was working in the kitchen. She could make out from the orchestration of her glass bangles and the percussion of the pots and pans. A bang and a loud crash! Something must have slipped out of her hands. Clumsy girl! This noise was surely going to wake him up. She must have a word with her.
As she was about to get up to give her peace of mind to Manno and of course take in the tea to the bedroom, the girl appeared quite suddenly on the kitchen door way. She looked up from where she sat. The door to the porch on her left was still open. A strip of sunshine played hide and seek with the shadow of the palm fronds outside. The rectangular drawing room looked over to a thin slice of passage left of which was the kitchen. The girl poked her head out of the kitchen door. Her head was covered with a shawl. Funny, it was spring. Why did she have to cover her head? Manno looked hesitant. Her big doleful eyes had a strange searching look and something more. She could not define what. A sliver of her body showed, most part of it remained sheathed behind the passage wall and the kitchen mesh door. Everything about her was so awkward and funny.
“Bibiji?” A strained note
“Yes?” She sounded a bit irritated, startled out of her reverie.
“Bibiji”, Her voice paused on that word for an infinitesimal moment.
And then, “Today is Babuji’s barsi (death anniversary), isn’t it? You have again by mistake prepared two cups of tea. You generally do on this day, don’t you?”
The house stood still on the beach like a sullen witness cautiously scanning the periphery with hooded eyes as daylight receded on tiptoe and dusk set in. The sea waves murmured a cadence which perhaps matched with the Eternal rhythm. A sea gull covered light years with a plaintive cry. And a stark silhouette sat on the drawing room couch, unmoved by the pain which ripped her soul apart and crushed the two halves with brutal deliberation one after the other while innumerable shards of broken bangles strewn all over the floor smirked at the mute figure with undisguised disgust. Fate had not given her even a nano second to say sorry or good bye. The carcass retrieved by the Police from the site of the car crash was too mangled for recognition. Still she could have recognized him amidst the debris. But groping in the darkness with flailing hands she was too busy trying to catch hold of a firefly which swished past her grip with practiced ease taunting her at the same time not to test the irony of the lines etched irrevocably on the inside of her palms by an Unknown Quill. That is what her grandmother kept on whispering to her bemused ears again and again and again….till she lost the count of time.