“…and the baby’s due in December”, she finished. Smiling. Not even a hint of a bump showing.
I’m so tired. These fights with Mum take it out of me.
Once again, we’d argued about what I would eat at dinner. It might make you laugh. But at our home, dinner is a big deal.
It’s the only meal my father and uncles eat at home. My younger brothers come home from school at six. They eat bread and milky coffee and get to doing their homework. Often, they’re so full that they skip dinner at seven-thirty. I used to question the wisdom of giving them bread and coffee when they could eat dinner, but after enough cuffing from mum, I’ve stopped. Once we started arguing about what I would eat, I understood why she encouraged them to eat as much bread as they want.
Dad likes meat at night. And so do my uncles. But it’s just Dad that gives mum money every month. When three grown men eat meat every night, the only thing that drowns out their chewing and burping is the sound of mum’s furious silence in the kitchen. After dinner, every single day, she rages on about having to provide free dinners. And after their dinner, she and I split the remaining meat, bread and milk. A few months ago, mum started telling me to eat dinner with the boys. I realised that the previous night’s meat appeared on dad’s plate in the morning, and mum would have new two pennies at the end of the week. And I realised what my eating bread meant.
I didn’t mind at first. But after being constantly hungry two or three days in a row, I started to rebel. Now, I tell her I’m not hungry when the boys eat and I wait till after dad does. Not everyday. But at least three times a week. The boys’ teacher at school tells them meat is important for us.
Oh. Here comes mum again. She’s changed into the white dress she seems to wear these days. And she wears a silly little hat, indoors. I grind my teeth and grip my chair. I’m not having bread tonight.
“Please dear, please eat something. Even a piece of bread. You need to take your medicines,” pleads Mum.
“Leave her be, nurse,” says a doddery voice behind me. “She thinks you’re her mum. She won’t eat anything from your hands tonight.”
“You’ve been cheating on me, you bastard!”
She hurled the vase he’d gifted her on her last birthday at him. It bounced off his shoulder and hit the floor, shattering.
She was outraged. “And this stupid vase is not unbreakable. You lied about that too!”
She threw all the books on the sideboard at him.
He ducked; unfortunately forward, his face getting slammed by each book on its way down.
“I swear I didn’t cheat,” he screamed, hands covering his face.
“Really? Really? Oh. Of course I believe you. I mean, I’ll just dismiss all the lipstick on your collar, the blonde hairs on your shirt, the black thong panties in your briefcase…you bastard!” Displaying surprising strength for her size, she picked up a bowl of fruit and threw it at him.
“Jesus. It’s not another woman. Will you calm the fuck down?”
She started screeching. “Is it another man? You son of a bitch! How long have you been lying to me?”
Finally, he started yelling. “It’s not another anything. I’m taking drama classes, you idiot! This was rehearsal for a play. Jesus, God!”
#fiction #fictionalcharacters #begging
She hated the beginning of monsoon season. People were always in a huge hurry, less generous and more likely to trample her.
She always gave up going to the station for a week while the monsoon made up its mind about whether it wanted in now or a week later. People invariably forgot umbrellas, wore expensive shoes or clothes and then ran helter-skelter to preserve their precious belongings. Of course, it was a pointless exercise. The rain was faster than them all. And more importantly, had more staying power. How long could you run? But it could rain forever.
She shifted on her mat, folding one leg in half and curling the other around it. This way, she ended up sitting on one half of one buttock. And as anyone could tell you, one numb half buttock was much better than one full one. She pulled the cloth of her saree over her head. It wasn’t cold, but it was good to look like you were shivering.
The tap-tap-tap of the rain had reduced from the torrent it was. She licked her lips, tasting the tang of the coming monsoon on them.
Time for her yearly holiday. She wouldn’t come here for a week now. She’d sit at home, in her shack and her neighbour would give her two cups of tea a day. Her son would feed her a roti a night. It wasn’t a bad deal.
She jangled the tin at her feet and felt for the thin sheet of plastic on which she sat. Around her people walked down the stairs, hurrying to the trains, which then hurried them to wherever else.
She shook the tin at hurrying footsteps. After so many years of begging in the station, she could keep score of how many coins were in her tin by the sound. A good thing too, considering she was blind anyway.
She rattled her tin and raised her cupped hand to the heavens. God might not be listening, but some sap on his way home definitely would.
She bent to pull the stubborn weed out of the cabbage patch. And looked up at the azure sky.
She hoped she’d get some time to take a walk today. It was finally good weather, after so many days of gloomy overcast skies.
Muted sounds filtered through the walls of the surrounding garden. She loved it here. Peaceful. Riotous colour from the carrots and spinach growing there. She liked tending them, feeling useful, renewed – a feeling that was as welcome as the sunshine.
She wondered what lunch would be like today. It was a relief to not have to cook. Her remaining fingers couldn’t manage the pots and pans.
“Hey! It’s time for you to go back to your cell,” a voice called.
She turned. And smiled at the prison warden. “Alright. Can I come out later for some sun?”
“We’ll see,” the warden said, eyeing her warily.
Retreating into her little cabin by the garden, the warden watched the prisoner go back in. And remarked to her deputy, “That one gives me the willies.”
The deputy looked up. “Really? Why? She’s like a lamb, especially if you take her out in the garden.”
The warden almost snarled said, “Do you not know what she did to her husband?”
The deputy looked at the warden. “Yes. I do. But you also know what the husband did to her. Every day. For the last eighteen years.”
The warden shook her head. “She must have begged for an end every day.”
The deputy gestured to the prison garden. “May be she begged for another beginning.”
Fork tugged at his collar nervously. He had to make a good impression. The fate of his people depended on him. He made a mental note to be as polite and helpful as possible.