‘Sureshetta ,what time is it?’. Madhavan was anxious. ‘Why’, sniggered grumpy Sureshettan,’ you have an appointment with the minister after serving us tea?’. Madhavan sighed and wiped the tea stains off the table with the cloth that was perpetually on his shoulder. She still wasn’t here. It has been three days now. Usually around 10 in the morning She would come, all draped in that sari, pottu on her forehead and a smile on her face. ‘Oru Chaaya, chetta’. One cup of tea. And after wrapping the end of Her sari around the steaming cup, She would sit there lost in thought. Before leaving She would always pack one of his special plantain fries. And then She would leave, the polyester draped lady who was never without a smile. Now that he thought about it, there were days when She didn’t smile. Those were the bruised days. She would walk in with a swollen lip or a bluish patch on her forehead. On those days She would sit there holding the hot cup, swaying lightly. On those days She didn’t want his plantain fries.
She had been there when his daughter, Meenakshi, burst into his shop with a copy of Malayala Manorama. ‘Accha, Look I made it into the top 100 in the Medical Entrance Ranklist!’. He had been so proud of his Meena that he had hugged her, something which had never done, and for the day every cup of tea was on him. When he refused to take money from Her for Her chaya, She had smiled and he had noticed a missing tooth.
Three days without her smile.
Where was She?
Where was She?
Even though Mubarak was blind, he always knew when She passed him. It was just before the Ernakulam Express chugged into the station. He would hear the tinkling of anklets and then the sound of a coin dropping into his bowl. He would breathe in the scent of jasmines and then he would smile at his unseen benefactor not knowing if She ever smiled back. He liked to think She did. On some days the feet with the anklets seemed to be in a hurry. But there always came a coin with that sound.
But today he didn’t hear any tinkling of anklets, though there were quite a few coins dropped into his bowl. When he didn’t hear it for the first time, two days back, he was a bit disappointed. After 2 more days of no tinkling, he was worried.
He wondered what must have happened. Was She sick? Has She moved to some other place? ‘Or maybe, Mubarak’, he smiled to himself, 'She must have stopped wearing her anklets’.
He strained his ears to get at least a faint whisper of her anklets. But all he heard was the chugging trains, passengers haggling with coolies and the shouts of ‘ Chaaya, Pazham pori’. No anklets.
Where was She?
Sudha looked at the empty seat across her. She sighed. Three days and no sign of her. Usually, by this time She was seated in front of her with her feet tucked under Her and Her purse clutched under right arm. As the train jerked forward they would start talking.About Husbands, children, magazines, movies… She smiled remembering the day when they had argued over whether Mammooty or Mohanlal was a better actor. They knew each other’s husband’s names, the kids- Sudha had a daughter- Lakshmi and She had two sons- Mohan and Vinay. For Vinay’s birthday Sudha had bought a Pencil Case and given it to Her. She had smiled gratefully. And when it was Laksmi’s birthday She had given Sudha a packet of Ladoos. Lakshmi’s favourite sweet. Yes, They knew each other very well by now, except the names. Somehow, that was never asked, maybe they were never meant to know it… their names were swept under the seats like some other things that were never discussed- bruises and a missing tooth...
Sudha looked wistfully at the empty seat where She should have been sitting. She longed to tell her confidante the latest news in her life- Sudha gently placed her arm over her stomach and smiled affectionately at it. Sudha had wanted to discuss names with Her. But now there was a void where She should have been…
Where was She?
He was Her husband. Jaya, That’s what he used to call her when they were newly-weds. Things were good then. He had money and She gave him two sons. Then came the thunderclap burning away his shop, his dreams…his life. And Her's.
She was supportive. She never complained. Ever. Even before dying, it was as if She knew what was in store for Her. He took another swig from his bottle. And moved towards the boys.