Killing the Red God

A serialization of my novel, "Killing the Red God". | Copyright: Hari Kumar | website: | If this is your first visit, please start from the bottom (start of Chapter 1)

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Location: Singapore, Singapore

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 28

She is silent for most part of the drive, looking out through the window at the passing world. I am uneasy at her silence.
"Kavitha," I say, "I am sorry if I hurt you. Didn't mean what I said, okay? …Just that I know you so little, yet all these incidents…"
"Will you stay?" she says, still looking out through the window.
"Will you stay the night… at my place? …Please?"
"But I…"
"I am afraid…please… just one night."
I don't answer. I feel like being drawn into a whirlpool that I cannot escape. The doctor's words echo in my brain.
"Have you eaten… breakfast?" I ask.
She shakes her head.
I pull into the parking lot of a shopping mall.
"I'll stay in the car, if you don't mind. Feeling dirty after the hospital. Need a shower… Just get me some brunch… anything will do."
I buy two packets of chicken rice from the food court in the basement. As I walk back, I am trying to think. I try to convince myself: I am not attracted to her; she is trouble. Big trouble. But some part of me refuses to listen. Some part of me has been smitten by the hurt in those eyes. Some part of me wants to know more. Some part of me wants to kill itself. Some delicious part of me…
I keep the food packets carefully in the rear seat. I place my hands on the steering wheel and smile at her. "I'll stay tonight. But one condition: I take you out in the evening."
"You mean, like a date?!" she is amused.
"Well… sort of. That is, if you can assure me that your husband won't put out a contract on me," I snigger.
"Oh, he couldn't care less. He wouldn't care if I were doing an orgy with a gang of studs in front of him … but what about your wife? Wouldn't she be expecting you?"
I start the car, "She couldn't care less either. Now she is probably somewhere in Hong Kong making a million bucks for her employer."
"So we're free," she touches my thigh.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 27

In the morning I call up my office and tell them I am taking leave.

She is braiding her hair while talking to a nurse by her side, when I enter the ward. She is looking much more cheerful and energetic than the previous night. Her face lights up when she sees me.
"Valsamma says that you carried me all the way to the hospital… You're getting good at it, aren't you? …She says you looked like young Sunil Dutt and I like Nargis… Will you carry me back also, please?"
The nurse giggles covering her mouth and then lightly slaps Kavitha's hand, "I never said that."
"No. She actually said Ajay Devgan and Kajol. But I thought Sunil Dutt-Nargis combination was more tragically romantic… like us."
"Kavitha! I never said that either. I just said you make a nice pair, that's all."
"We're neither tragic, nor romantic," I pretend to be serious, "Now, Kavitha, come on get ready, I have to drop you back."
She looks at me and pulls a long face. "You have saved me from death and now I am your responsibility… I am twice born now - a baby. So you will carry me back."
The nurse looks amused. I am not. I wonder why I am doing this.
"Kavitha," I say in a measured tone, "If you don't come now, I will just walk away."
She grabs my hand, looks in both my eyes in quick succession and smiles cautiously, "I am sorry, I will be ready in a moment," she says quietly.
"Come to my home, when you're free, okay," she tells the nurse, before accompanying me.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 26

After work, I take the route to the General Hospital.

"You're a naughty girl," I say crossly, seeing her eyes focussing on me.
She smiles feebly, "And you're a good boy," her voice is a whisper.
"I guess that's why, I am used and abused by naughty girls like you," I say in jest.
"I am sorry," she says quietly and looks away.
"Hey! Just a joke, okay?" I laugh and gently squeeze her hand.
Her smile is forced.
"The doctor says you can leave the hospital tomorrow… After some formalities… Answer some questions… see the social worker etcetera etcetera… Do I need to inform anyone?"
She shakes her head, "My husband's on tour… Will return only after a fortnight."
I pull a chair and sit by her bed in silence. We both make no effort for small talk. An hour passes before the doctor comes in. He sees her awake and says some cheerful things to her. Just before leaving, he signals me to accompany him.
"She is very distressed due to some incident that happened to her recently. It may take a while to heal the wounds, but until then, those close to her must treat her with warmth and affection… And try not to let her be on her own… At least for some time. I can sense she is a fighter, she wants to come out of it and live life, and that's a good sign… That was why she wrote that note to you."
I nod my head. "What am I to do?" I wonder. I don't even know her well enough.
I stay till the visiting hours are over.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 25

“What is it, Amma?”
“Dilu monay, you have to listen to me carefully and promise me you will do as I tell you to.”
“What is it, Amma…It’s very late…I am tired. Can’t this wait till next time?”
“It’s very urgent…You have to promise me first. Upon my life…”
“O for God’s sake, Amma, I promise, okay?”
“Upon my life?”
“Upon your life.”
“Good…You must do as I say…For my sake…For your sake…For Pooja’s sake.”
“Yeah yeah, okay”
“I know you don’t believe in all this…but still…I will mail you a small packet within a week. It will have a small thakidu (a talisman) in it. Keep the packet under Nisha’s pillow without her knowledge. Within a week she will change her mind and Pooja will come back to you…”
“O stop it, Amma! You know very well I don’t believe in all this nonsense. I knew when you called me ‘Dilu monay’ so lovingly that this was coming…”
“Listen, monay, this is Cherumana Thanthri’s thakidu. His thakidus have never ever failed. I know that for a fact. You know, he is a Devi Bhaktha and a Brahmachari of the highest order. You cannot find such people today. You should listen to his manthras, the way he sings the Devi Mahaatmyam. Such power! such devotion!…Besides, tell me, what’s in it for me? What do I gain from all this? I am doing this only for your benefit, your happiness. Pooja’s happiness. You know that.”
“Yes yes. I know, Amma, I know. You have always meant well. But your methods are ridiculous…”
“But you promised… you promised me that you will do as I say… Now if you break your word, only I will suffer… I might die of cancer or something…”
“Okay, Amma, okay. Mail it to me, if you want. I will do as you ask. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to sleep.”
“Good night, monay. Call me next week, okay. I will be waiting.”
“I will. Good night, Amma.”

(To be continued...)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 24

“Monay, I couldn’t sleep…” Amma’s voice is a whisper, but tinged with remorse. “I have been trying your number ever since your Achan went to bed. Where were you? I even called your cell; why didn’t you answer? Is Nisha not there?”
“Nisha’s gone to Hong Kong, Amma. On business. I was not at home. Had to meet a friend. Switched off the mobile,” I didn’t want to say I had been to the hospital to avoid the many questions that it would surely give rise.
“Are you angry with me, monay?”
“I thought you were the one who is upset with me, Amma.”
“How could I be? How could I ever be?”
“I know, Amma. Anyway, I am sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t mean to.”
“I couldn’t sleep at all. I kept tossing and turning… Now I am so relieved…”
“It’s very late, Amma. I am tired. I have work, tomorrow…”
“All right, all right. I won’t disturb you. Call me next week, okay…I will be waiting, as usual.”
“Of course, Amma…You too go to bed. And sleep well without thinking of this and that, okay.”
“Now I will, monay. Now I will…good night…O there is one more thing…”

(To be continued...)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 23

I grab her and rush to the elevator. The man at the reception (the same guy I saw yesterday), gives me a strange look after seeing her once again unconscious in my arms. I ignore him and rush to where I had parked my car yesterday.

I return to my apartment at 2:00 am, exhausted I just want to throw myself into bed. I hear the phone ring as I open the door.

(To be continued...)

Chapter 1 -- Part 22

An SMS: “complt this: when love is done, and the end begun…”
I reply: “no cause for gloom, new loves shall bloom.”
She responds: “but the heart is dead, the spirit’s fled,”
I say: “the heart never dies, the spirit shall rise,”
In reply, I get a call. She says one line: “Come raise my spirit,” and hangs off.
Somewhere in me an alarm goes off. Something’s wrong.
The taxi takes sixteen minutes to reach her condo. On my way, I try to call her. There is no response.
Her front door is open wide. Things are much the same as I left it the previous night.
The TV is blaring “Wheel of Fortune”, with Pat Sajak cheering up a woman who has just become “bankrupt”.
Kavitha is sprawled on the sofa in front of the TV. She is wearing a blue churidar and appears to be asleep. There is a small empty bottle on the coffee table and a note is under it. The note said, “Save me, Dil”.

(To be continued...)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 21

“I don’t believe it! The Barrister does not have tear glands!”
“You may not believe it, but that is the truth,” Amma says with finality. “…You never could see the softer side of him.”
“He never would let me see it, Amma… If, as you claim, he has one.”
“Oh yes, he has. Chellappan always says — of course, not when he is around — ‘Angunnu is like a coconut, hard and rough outside, soft, white and pure inside.’ I think it was last Wednesday. He was reading the Mathrubhoomi reclining in the easy chair at the veranda, when he fell asleep. The paper slipped from his grasp and fell on the floor. When I bent down to pick up the paper, I heard him distinctly utter in his sleep: ‘Kuttoosay, nee eviday poyi? Achante kooday olichchu kalikkathay. Achan vayasaayi poyi (Kuttoos, where are you? Don’t play hide and seek with your father. Your father is old now.)”
“Kuttoos? Who is Kuttoos?” I ask.
“You will not remember. Neither did I, for a moment. But then I recalled…that was a pet name by which he used to call you until you were a toddler.”
“O Amma, don’t give me all these stories…I know you have been trying hard to bring us together. But the ball is in his court, Amma… You know that… The wounds he gave me in that April night, thirteen years ago are still there…They some times fester and clear pus comes out from my eyes…It’s up to him to heal me…Only he can…” my voice breaks.
“How dare you say these are stories! It’s the truth… Yes, I have been trying to bring you two together. But not by spinning stories, mind you. You are being selfish. You only talk about your wounds. What about mine, caught in between, thrashed between immovable rocks…?”
I hear her cry softly. I say, “Amma, I am sorry Amma. I didn’t mean to…”
“Don’t call me next week,” she says abruptly, her voice trembling, and cuts the line.
I dial her number immediately. It’s Chellappan, “Is it Dileepan kunju? Kochamma says she does not want to talk to you now. What did you tell her, kunjay? You are still as naughty as you were twenty five years ago…”
“Never mind,” I say, “I’ll call later,” and hangs up.

It’s around ten, when my mobile beeps.

(To be continued...)

Chapter 1 -- Part 20

“What kind of a father are you?” she asks before even saying “Hello, Aaraa?”
I am ready for it: “Not a very good one, Amma” I say and then adds with some sarcasm, “Not as good as the one I have, anyway,”
“Let’s not bring your father into all this, okay. Don’t forget that it was he who taught you and brought you up under his close supervision.” she stresses those words.
“Let’s not talk about that, Amma”
“Yes, let us not. Let us talk about what you are doing to that lovely angel of yours… I received a letter from Poojamol today… Do you have any idea that the poor child’s school has closed for two weeks? Any idea that she is alone out there?” Amma’s voice is shrill.
“You know about my problem…”
“What is your problem?” Amma cuts me off. “Why can’t you get her enrolled in Singapore? Why? Why?”
“You know that Nisha does not approve of it. How many times have I told you that, Amma.”
“How many times did we tell you not to marry this Christian girl?” her voice is softer now. “You could have got such a lovely proposal…We had such dreams for you…”
“You never did, Amma. In fact you said you would support me whatever my choice was. It was Achan who was against… Anyway, it is more than thirteen years now, Amma. We have gone through this so many times…”
“Hmm. It just pains me still…You have to call me this way… like a thief…” I hear her sob.
“Amma…” I pause hesitantly, “…why don’t you visit Pooja, she would be so happy.”
“I wish I could, monay…You know how stubborn your father is even now. He says, if I go, I need not return. Last time I went to Kochi, supposedly to attend a marriage, I had visited her. When he came to know about it, I received such a scolding I cannot forget.”
“You worship him too much, Amma…Once in a while, you have to stand up for what you think is right…I can understand, he may hate me for what I have done, but why show it on such an innocent child?”
“You think that way, because your wife does not respect you,” Amma’s tone is suddenly harsh. “If only she had an ounce of respect for you, none of this would have happened. Poojamol would be happy living with the both of you and everyone would be happy.”
“Let’s not bring Nisha into this, Amma…That’s something I cannot help.”
“Then don’t ever tell me to rebel against your Achan,”
“But…if only he had seen her…at least once.” the words choke in my throat.
“He doesn’t want to see her, because if he did, his heart would melt.”
“That is, if he had one…”
“You don’t know your father, monay. The other day, Chellappan was telling me that one night after everyone had slept, he saw your father quietly opening the doors of your room, where all your things are still there untouched as you left them. Your books, your bat, your photographs, your posters, your cassette player…everything undisturbed for the past thirteen years. Even Shanthamma is not allowed inside your room; that is the only room in this big house that I still have to dust and sweep, myself. Anyway, when Chellappan peeped in, he could see your father holding your photograph — the one in which you are holding aloft that cricket trophy — and looking at it longingly. Chellappan then told me one thing which I myself found hard to believe, but he swore upon his family deity, so I believe it is true… He told me your father’s eyes were wet.”

(To be continued...)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 19

I wait for an hour before dialling India once again. Nisha must be in the 'plane by now, I think as the phone rings.
I ask for Pooja and tell the Warden Sister that I will call again after ten minutes. The warden informs me that it is study time now and the kids are not to be disturbed, unless it's very urgent. After a brief hesitation, I ask her whether someone else had asked for her in the past one hour.
"For Pooja? Only you have called, Mr. Dilip." she replies.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes yes of course of course! I have been here since afternoon. So I am very very sure no one else has called."
I thank her before hanging up.

I wait until it's 8:40 pm. It is 6:10 pm in India, the Barrister would have started for his evening walk to inspect the neighbourhood and see whether everyone pays due respect to him.
As always, Amma picks up the phone at the second ring.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 18

When I make love to her, she talks. To the ceiling, to herself. Her plans will spill out with every thrust of mine as though these secret blueprints were locked up in a region deep inside her vagina. “I will do an MBA,” (grunt), “I will get a job in an MNC,” (grunt), “as a marketing executive,” (grunt), “I will rise to the top,” (grunt), “buy a car, Mercedes or BMW,” (grunt), “a condo,” (grunt), “all the five Cs,” (grunt), “have holidays abroad…”
Just before I come, she would say, “remember to take it out.”

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 17

She had a full length mirror installed in our bedroom, where she would stand naked looking sideways with her hands lightly supporting her heavy breasts as if weighing them to see which was heavier, and ask me: “Dilip, do you think my breasts are full enough…? They are not sagging, are they…? I guess an implant would not be necessary — what do you think?” I would utter the same refrain: “If they were any bigger, dear, they would burst.” Then she would turn her attention to her tummy, “My tummy, do you think a nip and tuck would do me good. Perhaps an inch off here.” Then she would make her hands like a vice and clasp a fold of her tummy, “You don’t think I am fat do you? I guess all that dieting and jogging and Yoga and organic food is not helping much, right?” her eyes would be lit with horror now, to which I would reply, “If you’re fat, Naomi Campbell is a pumpkin, dear.” That always made her happy, though she knew I was lying. Not that she was fat; she wasn’t. She was just fleshy and always felt comfortable under me when I made love to her.
Then she would make a ninety degree turn and give the mirror a full frontal. “My thighs. They are a bit lumpy aren’t they?”
By this time my patience would be wearing thin and I would reply, “Not lumpy… A bit curdled, maybe. Like stale yoghurt. Sometimes they smell like it also.”
“YOU!” she would shout and reach for the pillow to throw at me.

(To be continued...)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 16

But Nisha Jacob2 was a different version. Sleeker, sexier and more purposeful, I was initially happy at the transformation. What led to this transformation? I don’t know. Perhaps it was those smart executive women in their high heels and business suits, carrying neat briefcases, walking clicketty-clack along the corridors of Shenton way offices spreading the fragrance of Poison and confidence that first attracted her. When we first came to Singapore, I remember seeing her gaping wide eyed at them as if they were living gods. She started buying fashion magazines by the dozen, a long file was bought, a scrapbook made. The scrapbook filled with pictures of stick-thin models in summer and fall collections. Our living room became littered with Elles and Vogues lying with their guts torn out like hapless roadkill.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 15

Their fists clenched, their brows arched in violent rage. My heart began to beat faster. I scanned the gallery but couldn’t find any familiar face. I stole a quick glance at Nisha. She was surprisingly composed. When they were about three meters away from us, Nisha suddenly grabbed my bat and stood in a Jacky Chan fighting posture.
“Next guy who takes one step will have his head go for a six!” she said calmly.
The guys stopped dead in their tracks, looked at each other, unsure of what to do next. Then one of them said, shaking his finger at us, “Watch out bitch! We’ll take you later.” And turned back.
“Come, take me now,” Nisha said as she took one step forward swinging the bat in the air.
The six took to their heels.
We both laughed out loud.
“You were impressive,” I couldn’t hold back my admiration.
“And you were not,” she retorted bluntly, returning my bat.
I was more amused than insulted at her bluntness.
“I am just a shy fellow… Gandhian. Violence does not appeal to me.”
“I know. I can see that in your eyes. Sensitive. Almost like those of a woman.”
“You are a woman. You don’t have sensitive eyes,” it was my turn to be blunt.
She laughs, loudly, ungainly. “Hey! We’ll make a good husband and wife. Two minutes and we are already fighting!”
“Opposites attract,” I said good humoredly.
“Opposites attract,” she nodded in agreement.

(To be continued...)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 14

What struck me in Nisha Jacob1 was her boldness. After a particularly good inning (68 runs), I was walking back to the gallery, when this girl in a tight pair of Levi's and an equally tight Tee-shirt approached me and thrust a small notepad to my face. The slogan on the Tee-shirt said "You have the right to remain silent, so please SHUT UP."
"Well played," she said. To my questioning look at the notepad, she added quickly, "Now, don't get carried away… It's not my autograph - that's reserved for the likes of Gavaskar, Ravi Shastry and that new boy wonder, Sachin Tendulkar - just jot down your phone number, okay… I need to know you better… Maybe we can have some fun," she smiled. I had a tough time keeping my eyes away from her generous chest. The noise level from the galleries increased as a bunch of monkeys from the local arts college started to hoot and holler seeing us talk. I tried to spot some of my fellow team-mates, but they were seated at the high end of the gallery reserved for players and hence I could not see them clearly from where I was standing.
"Idiots!" she said looking at the gallery in contempt, "Can't a woman talk to a man in this country?!"
Without a whisper of protest, I quietly wrote down my telephone number and returned the notepad. Looking back, I wonder why I did that. Perhaps, it was just one of those things people do without a thought. One of those reckless little things that finally mould your destiny.
"Don't you have a tongue, man?" she says receiving the notepad.
"Oh, I am sorry… It's your tee-shirt."
"What about my tee-shirt?" her face hardens.
"The slogan says to shut up."
"Oh! That… I am sorry. Just ignore it," she laughs.
"What is your name?" I ask while walking back with her by my side, my bat between us.
"Nisha…Nisha Jacob. First year B.A at the Women's College."
The noise from the gallery increased to deafening levels. It now resembled the sounds emanating from the gorilla cages of the local zoo during the mating time. Above the din someone shouted, "WE'LL SHUT UP IF YOU SHOW YOUR BOOBS, DARLING!"
I saw her eyes turning red. "Bastards!" she said as she bent down, picked up a stone and hurled it at the direction of the voice. There was a cry of pain, followed by some sharp shouts. A gang of six guys materialised out of nowhere. One of them had a bleeding cut on his forehead. A handkerchief was kept pressed against the wound.
"BLOODY BITCH!" one of the guys yelled at Nisha as they approached us with angry strides.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 13

I had gambled away so much by marrying her. Marrying Nisha Jacob, who was Nisha Dilip Nair for the first five years of marriage, before reverting back to Nisha Jacob.
The Nisha Jacob Version 1 was Convent Educated and Made in India. The first time I met her was at an inter-collegiate cricket tournament. I was then the star opener of my Engineering College cricket team and hence was quite popular among the dreamy eyed girls of the local women's colleges. I was not really an extrovert; in fact I was quite shy when it came to mixing with the females. In spite of that - or perhaps, due to that - I used to get phone calls where all I could hear was a Chitra or an S.Janaki love song played softly in the background. My "Hello?"s were always met with heavy breathing at the other end. Not a word would be spoken to me.
It was a matter of pride for my mother, who would brag to the neighbour over the low compound wall how her son was sought after by the College Kumaris. She had complete faith in me that I would eventually marry a good Nair girl of her choice. Actually I had no intention to disappoint her or Barrister Balan Nair, that pompous father of mine who still thought that the people of the city stood in revered attendance (spine bent, right hand covering the mouth and the left tucked under the right's armpits) every time he graced the streets for his 6:00 p.m. walk, in his silk Nehru jubba and swinging his handcrafted cane. But then fate has a curious way of breaking families and making new ones.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Chapter 1 -- Part 12

“Yeah, what?”
“Nisha, please… I just spoke to Pooja… She would like you to call her…”
“Look, I am checking in… I’ll call her once I am through the immigration, okay.”
I am relieved. “Thanks…darling. Have a nice trip.”
“Yeah, yeah okay…I gotta go now.” I hear a beep. The line is not disconnected. In her haste she must have pressed the wrong button, I assume. I can hear airport sounds, some announcements in the background.
I hear a male voice ask something. I hear her reply distinctly, like a pane of sharp glass: “The loser I married.”
I disconnect the line and stare at the handset before placing it on the base unit. “What went wrong?” I ask myself. I feel a weight in my chest. A weight that spreads to that area between my eyebrows making them sag stressfully, painfully. I place my head in my hands and rub my temple.
I remember…

(To be continued...)

Chapter 1 -- Part 11

"Are you both happy together" — the words buzz in my brain like a swarm of stubborn mosquitoes. I close my eyes and try to picture a pleasant scene. It’s a beach. An ordinary scene of an ordinary beach. Peopled with ordinary happytogether people. Ordinary families. Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters. A father is carrying his young daughter on his shoulder and wading chest deep into the white-blue-green waters. He surprises the child by toppling her into the rushing tide. She emerges wet and squealing. Two young couples are playing beach ball. They kiss after each point made. A family of three is laying a picnic mat on the sands. A mother is helping her son to build a sand house. He places small action figures of the Flintstone family in the house, while his father watches contentedly, sipping beer from a sweating can. Fred, Wilma and Pebbles are there in the little sand house. All happytogether. I see Nisha. She is wearing a careless white tanktop and Bermudas. I see myself beside her, our arms around each other’s waist. We walk along the margin, our feet sporadically drenched by a spent wave. Pooja is on my shoulder, squinting at the sun. We too are a happytogether family. Just like Fred, Wilma and Pebbles. Nisha bends down to pick up a conch shell. She brings it to her ear and looks at me, her head cocked, her large eyes like that of a child’s, a light smile curving her lips.
"If you listen closely you can hear the moans of those who made love on these sands," she whispers softly.
She brings it to my ear.
"I can hear us," I say. She pinches my hand and I pinch Pooja’s feet. And in that instant we meld together as one single organism. With three heads, six hands, six feet and…one heart. A strange word-breathing beach organism.
As we walk along the water’s edge, our footprints are quickly erased by an industrious sea, Nisha looks at her palms where a thin film of moist sand covers it like a rough outer skin.

"Like the world in a grain of sand,
The new moon in your smile,
Like the fate line in my hand,
And eternity in this while…"
her words flutter out. She looks at me, gestures me to continue.

"Like starlight in your eyes,
A straw sun in your skin,
Like the blueness in these skies,
And the universe within,"
I clasp her hands in mine and bring it to my chest.

The whoosh of the sea scatter our words in the wind. Weightless little words that rise and ebb with the wind and rise again to be caught by lazy clouds of the sea. They will fall somewhere as happy rain and slake the thirst of some family and make them happytogether.
I lift the receiver and dial Nisha’s mobile.

(To be continued...)

Chapter 1 -- Part 10

"Pooja molay!" my voice is loud, almost shrill.
"Enthaa Achaa," she is subdued. That is unusual.
"What is it, molay?"
"Nothing, Achaa. Just…" her voice trails off.
"Just what, child?"
"Just that…I am so…alone."
I have often been struck by her maturity. Her capacity to understand. Especially when she should not be understanding, accommodating. That in some ways, I have felt, works against her. The snatches of time I have spent with her, I have never seen her throw a tantrum. Not once. She would just look at me with her large eyes and nod her head silently when I have finished. Making me hate myself all the more. She should have ripped her hair, stamped her feet on the ground, thrown Barbie on my face and hollered and hollered. It would have relieved me so much. Instead she shifts her eyes to the floor and nods her head sending sharp needles of pain into my chest. Sometimes she makes it worse by saying, "It's okay, Achaa. I know," What does she know? That her father lacks that long, snaky collection of bones called the spine that everyone else has?
"Why, what about Deepu and Mala?"
"Their relatives have picked them up. The school has closed for two weeks, Achaa. I told you last week it would, didn't I?"
"Yes yes. I had called Manish uncle immediately. He told me he would pick you up. He will come there today darling."
"He won't, Achaa …Arjun has chicken pox…Manish uncle left a message with Sister Thresia today morning…He will not be able to come this time."
"Oh…But… are you the only one left?" I could barely hear myself.
"What, Achaa?"
"Are you the only one there?"
"No, Achaa," her voice is suddenly cheerful, "Don't worry, Achaa, there are a few others also. Sister Alphonse has promised us a good time…Movies, park visits…"
"I would have…"
"It's all right, Achaa. I am fine here, don't worry…By the way, Mamma is not there, is she?"
"She had to go to Hong Kong urgently… you know how busy she is."
"Mmm… Achaa…can you tell me the…truth?"
"Of course, dear. Tell me, what do you want to know?"
"Are you both… happy together?"
My grip on the phone tightened. A torrent of words tripped themselves in my brain, falling in a senseless heap.
"Achaa, are you there?" her voice is soft.
I clear my throat. I swallow. "I… we… of course of course. We are… happy."
Happy. That word sounded so alien, when it was preceded by "we are". Like something uttered in a foreign language. Like some script in a drama.
"Why do you ask, molay?" I try to force a chuckle.
"No…Mala told me that if Mamma had not talked to me for over two months then, maybe you are both separated. That is how it happened to her…"
I laugh, a hollow, plastic laugh. "Don't worry, dear. We are still together…She has actually gone to Hong Kong…I will tell her to call you from there."
"I am not worried, Achaa. I know you. And… Oh… I have to go. Sister Alphonse wants to use the phone. Bye Achaa."
I place the receiver carefully in its cradle.

(To be continued...)