“Ammachi” I called a little bit more louder. I was still standing near the main entrance. I wanted to go to the kitchen and look for her. But I felt, if there is something wrong, then I can run to the safety of the open land and the paddy fields. I didn’t want to be trapped inside the house.
Time stood still. Except for the howling of dogs in the distance, there was no sign of any other activities. I didn’t know whatelse to do. That is when I heard footsteps outside the kitchen door and I waited anxiously. Someone was wiping their feet on the door mat.
I didn’t know who it would be. I looked behind me, charting my escape route. There is no point running to Chackochan’s house, the owners wouldn’t know me. I should be safe, if I can make it to the main road.
I watched someone openingg the bottom half of the kitchen door* and entering the house holding an elephant yam.
“Where have you been? I have been calling your names so many times” I shouted. I was just so relieved to see my grandmother
Ammachi dropped the yam down and looked at me stunned.
“You scared me Nina. Why are you here?” She sounded irritated
I looked at her. What did she ask? Did she really ask me, Why am I here?
Before I could answer Ammachi spoke again
“Nina, why did you come at this time of the day? Look outside, it is so dark. If anyone attacks you, Who will come to rescue you? Girls shouldn’t travel alone at this time of the day. You are old enough to know that Nina!”
I wasn’t sure what exactly I felt. I did all this for my grandmother, so she won’t be alone for Onam. She just didn’t sound like, she appreciated what I did for her.
I thought of walking back to the main road and catch the last bus and go back home. But it was too dark and I didn’t have the courage to walk all the way back to the main road. I cursed my stupid brain for giving me stupid ideas. I went and sat down on the parapet wall. I wanted Ammachi to say sorry for hurting me like this. I knew she would say sorry. So I waited.
As soon as my butt touched the parapet wall, the mosquitoes started to attack. I was getting bitten all over. I knew all I have to do is go inside the house. But I wanted Ammachi to say sorry first. I wanted her to feel sorry. She had no right to scream at me like that. I am her grand daughter, the only one who loves her and she better treat me well!
From the veranda, I could see Ammachi cooking in the kitchen. She wasn’t even looking at me. I knew this isn’t how it worked all these years. She usually used to come with a sweet smile and ask
“Deshyayo ente kuttikku?( have I made you mad) and kiss me.
What in the world has got in to my grandmother? Why is she behaving like this?
I looked down on the ground. Can snakes climb up the wall? I wasn’t sure. It was too dark and I couldn’t see anything. I was whacking the mosquitoes and scratching my body at the same time looking around for the shiny eyes of snakes, when I heard Ammachi speak
“Nina come and have your dinner”
I was just so relieved to hear Ammachi call me. I just wanted to go inside the house, away from the snakes and mosquitoes. Besides, Ammachi made the first move. She called me! So technically I didn’t lose the war.
Ammachi was already sitting at the table. I looked at the dishes on the table. Corelle dinner plates!
White plates with blue colour snow flakes around the rim. Those plates were my mother’s dream. Ever since she saw them in her brother’s house, she wanted them.
“Where did you get those plates?”
Ammachi looked up at me. Something about the way she looked at me, that wasn’t normal. She took her eyes off from my face and started to mix the moru (yogurt curry) and the rice.
“Where did you get those plates Ammachi?” I asked again.
“Come and eat your food Nina” She replied
I had to know. I sat right in front of Ammachi and asked her again
“Who gave you these plates?”
“Oh! Suzy brought it”
“You won’t know her Nina. Now stop talking and start eating. The rice will get cold. I made your favourite yam curry”
No She didn’t. She should know I don’t like yam. She couldn’t have forgotten that. Even Chakki knew that. There was only yam curry and moru(yogurt Curry). If Ammachi really wanted to make something for me, then she would have made my favourite green gram curry.
I knew in an instant, I have lost the one person who loved me for what I am. I just couldn’t figure out what happened. I left this place happily 8 months ago. When I was here, I took my grandmother to watch Kathakali. Everything was perfect. Now all of a sudden what happened?
May be to make it more interesting, a cricket started to chirp continuously. That stupid creature must have known the turmoil in my heart and like Emperor Nero, he was playing the fiddle, only difference, my heart was the fiddle.
Shut up, I felt like telling the cricket. May be it really heard me, because it started to chirp more loudly.
I looked at the plate in front of me. Some how I felt the plate is untouchable, that it was from someone I didn’t want to be associated. I could hear Amma’s words. Did you know your Ammachi has been pushing your father to find a new wife?”
“Ammachi Who is Suzy?” I asked again
“Oh Nina, stop irritating me. Suzy is the sister of Achayan’s older sister’s husband”
“You won’t know Nina. She is a distant relative”
“Really? If she is a distant relative, then how come she was so generous to give you new dinner sets, coffee sets, new couch, new table cloth for the dining table and don’t forget, she even gave you curtains for the windows and the doors?”
“What is your point Nina?”
“You tell me.What are you hiding from me?”
“I am not hiding anything from you”
“Really? Then why are you not telling me who is Suzy?”
“She is your father’s second wife”
There was a temporary moment of silence. Even the cricket had taken a short break. May be I didn’t hear it right.
“What did you say?” I asked again
“I said, Your father wants to marry Suzy. She is a nice woman”
“Really? What about my mother? Is she not his wife? Or has my father converted to Islam, so he can have 4 wives?”
“Who will take care of your father in his old age Nina? You and your sisters? do you think you will take care of your father?”
“Have you even thought about what would happen to my mother?” I ignored her question
“She chose this life”
“Really, so everything is my mother’s fault eh? Your son is a paragon of virtue eh? Your son is the perfect guy right? All these years, he never even bothered to even come and visit you and you agree to all these nonsense?”
“he is still my son Nina”
“And my mother is still my mother Ammachi”
I was just so mad. I pushed the plate off the table. I wanted the plate to break. But it wasn’t designed to break when you just need it to.
“How dare you Nina? How dare you throw the food? You are becoming just like your mother” Ammachi was seething
“Me? Becoming like my mother? have you gone mad? I learned this from your son. He was a professional when it came to throwing things.”
“Clean up the mess Nina” Ammachi got up from the bench.
“You can do that” I kicked the plate one more time and walked to the veranda.
“I will make you clean it Nina” I heard her speaking
“You haven’t grown that much to make me do it.” I replied
I knew there would be mosquitoes and snakes outside, but I didn’t want to sit on a couch that Suzy brought. My mother came in to this house as a legal wife of my father and only daughter in law of my grandmother. I will not let anyone change that. I went and sat down on the parapet wall. I needed to figure out how to stop this nonsense. I needed a lawyer. I had no intention to let Appa abandon Amma.
“If you want to come inside, you will have to agree to clean the mess you made” I looked at Ammachi, who was standing by the door. She was about to close the door. I contemplated, if I should just push her and enter my home? This is actually my home, built by my grandfather. It was never Ammachi’s home, was it? I have a right to live in this house, Don’t I? Ammachi has no right to close the door on me? Does she?
While I tried to make any sense of what exactly is happening, Ammachi shut the door. I didn’t really think she would close the door. I was all alone outside. Could my grandmother really lock me out? The same woman, who an hour ago told me, girls shouldn’t travel alone at night? I looked around me. I thought I saw something sparkling on the floor? was that a snake’s eyes? I lifted my legs up and rested my head on my knees. If the snake ought to bite me, then let it be. This must be my destiny. Any way I have nothing much to achieve being alive. Death wasn’t a sojourn that I was seeking. Death was a liberation, a freedom from the burdens that I carry.
Darkness around me made me remember the time I was 7 years old. Amma had just came back from the hospital after giving birth to Sally. I couldn’t remember why my parents fought, but I remember Appa pushing Amma out of the house and closing the door. I remember Sally crying all through the night. We didn’t have any feeding bottles as Amma was breast feeding her. My father was immune to the sound of his new born daughter’s cry. I remembered how the maid sneaked the baby out, when Appa was sleeping, so Amma could breastfeed Sally. I wanted to see Amma, but the maid refused. She was afraid that I would make noise and wake Appa.
I was so afraid that day. So afraid that Appa would wake up to find that the maid took the baby out. When the maid came back with the baby, I was so relieved, then I became more afraid thinking that someone would kill my mother, because she was all alone outside.
I was so worried that Amma might leave all of us with the mad man that is my father and walk away. I remembered how I ran outside first thing in the morning before anyone woke up to look for my mother. She was sitting on the steps and resting her head against the wall. She heard my footsteps and opened her eyes
“What are you doing here Nina, go back inside this instant before your father sees you”
That time I thought Amma wasn’t happy to see me. But now I knew, she was only worried about my safety. If Appa had known that I went to check on Amma, he probably would have killed me!
I heard the sound of the door latch being moved. I watched Ammachi opening the door. She didn’t say anything. I watched her going back to her room. This was a house I thought that was mine. My ancestral home where my grandmother and my mother came as a bride and my aunt left as a bride. This was the house, I thought I would leave as a bride. Until this moment, this was the only home I ever had and I realized, it was never mine, it never will be. I was nothing more than a visitor. Much as I wanted to escape the mosquitoes and the snakes, I couldn’t go inside, because I knew I had no right to go inside.
The first bus to Kottayam usually comes around 5.45Am. Around 5.15, I got off the parapet wall, walked around the house, passing the cattle shed and went to the well. For the last time in my life, I used the bucket and drew fresh water from the well. I washed my face and took a sip of water. So I would remember how it tasted till I die. I threw the rest of the water in the bucket and kept the bucket upside down, so the water won’t rust the bucket. I looked inside the well one last time. Was there any fish? I couldn’t see anything.
As I walked, I passed the Shathaveri plant my mother had planted. She brought that all the way from Malaysia, so Ammachi could use the roots to make medicine for arthritis. I continued to walk, by the side of the toilet I saw the old grinding stone that was once my great grandmother’s and now nobody wanted it. I gently removed the dirt from it. Did my great grandmother knew how this would all end? Is that why she tried to kill Ammachi?
I wiped my hand on my jeans and continued to walk, passing the pomelo tree, the mango tree and finally the Rose apple tree. There were no fruits on the tree. may be the tree too lost the will to live and produce fruits that was of no use to anyone. The children all gone..only the shells of dreams about wonderful childhood remained
As I reached the front steps, I realized I walked a complete circle around the house. Like how we do in the temple. Tears started to flow down my cheeks.Because only I knew how much this house meant to me. Only those who lost their home would know how it felt.
* Kitchen door was split in the middle, so in summer months the top half could be left opened and bottom half could be kept closed to prevent the hens/cats/dogs/cows etc from entering the house.