Remember the first part of the bit of fiction I wrote a few months ago? Even if you do, go here and re-read it, because here is the next part.
Update: Because many people cribbed that clicking the link above was too strenuous, the entire story is now available below. Read on.
As she looked down at her hands, Saakshi realized that they were still newlywed. The mehendi on her hands, though faint, was still there. She smiled to herself.
She knew that soon, cognizance of her marital status would sink in, and these sudden jarring reminders would cease. She had quite started enjoying them; like earlier that morning, having woken up in an empty bed like always, she stumbled over to the bathroom, only to see Varun shaving. Or the day before, when she opened the closet to find a crumpled boxer stuffed into the sock drawer.
She had a valid excuse for not registering her nuptials just yet, it had all happened in such a hurry because it had had to happen in such a hurry. Just four weeks, no 24 days ago he met her for the first time, and perhaps in the first time in a non-arranged marriage (outside of a television sitcom), they were engaged, and wed as per Hindu tradition in two weeks. From Saakshi’s point of view though, this was dangerously close to being not nearly fast enough.
“I told you that you needn’t come to the airport. At least with trains you can do a proper sendoff in the platform, in the airport you can’t even come in past the check-in counters.” said Varun, gruffly quickly realizing that his tone seemed to express anger, rather than concern over his wife having to take a long cab ride back home.
“Besides, you know it is more difficult for both me and you to say bye this way”. He hoped this would placate his wife, but was relieved to find that she was not paying attention and was staring at the airport terminal where their cab had just pulled up.
While getting out with his single piece of luggage, Varun attempted an awkward hug and a peck inside the car and was happy that he was hugged back.
“Friday by this time, I would be back in Singapore airport all set to come back. Just enough time away from you to miss you.” he said, noticing that Saakshi seemed worried and forlorn. He had a hunch why this was.
“Worried about having to spend a couple of days with ma? Don’t blame you. I didn’t expect her to welcome you, but she has been particularly….”
“Bitchy” said Saakshi. It caught even her by surprise when she thought out loud.
Varun was happy to find that he was not being subject to the silent treatment, even if it meant a comment against his mother. He might have preferred a different word perhaps, but now was not the time to be choosy.
“Just hold on. Will make up for this when I am back” he said. But his wife was already out of the car and had even brought in a trolley, and before he could get out, his luggage was in the trolley with his dry cleaned suit hanging from the handle.
“Didn’t realize I married a rock salesman. Your samples weigh like a tonne. Bet you will be paying for excess baggage.”
A quick hug later, Varun was on his way into the terminal. As the glass door slid back behind him, he turned back to give a final wave, but Saakshi was already gone.
I bet she will take public transport back home. Possibly stopping by for some shopping and some snack to avoid going home and face Ma. Varun smiled to himself.
A train hurtled through the suburbs, crushing the dry human shit on the tracks from earlier in the day. The teenagers on the rooftops in the slum beside did notice the woman on the roof of the train, but did not think too much of it – people in the big city go to any lengths to save on ticket fare. But to see someone wearing what looked like a burqa on a train rooftop was not an everyday sight.
“Focus!” the ninja said to herself as the train passed through a small tunnel. “Remember…it all comes down to tonight.” And when the train came out of the tunnel seconds later, Saakshi was no longer on the rooftop.
Mrs. Bhatt had her head so deep into the top shelf of the old refrigerator that it seemed as if the old rattling appliance actually had a human body to match. The refrigerator light had given up the ghost long ago, and instead of light what greeted her whenever she opened the door was the smell of fish curry, mango pickle, bananas, and various medicine – all combining into a distinctive odor that she associated with her home. She fished out a half eaten bag of potato chips and made her way back to the television set that had the nightly news on.
The old lady slid into her comfortable bamboo rocking chair.Her garishly purple nighty with neon orange hibiscus flowers was almost psychedelic. As she put her hand into the large bag, she was visibly annoyed with the crinkly noise it made. He fingers felt around for an unbroken chip, and once she found one, put the entire potato chip into her mouth, taking care not to bite into them. Having softened it in her mouth for a few seconds, she then quietly nibbled on the snack. Though the television was on, it was on mute. Eight angry men, crammed into tiny boxes were screaming at each other, while three different news headlines, neatly copywritten as twitter hashtags flashed in rapid succession. Mrs. Bhatt looked right through the TV, looking a tad disconcerted.
The window panes rattled lightly as a train passed by a little before the horizon. The old lady picked up a shiny metal alarm clock, and set it to alert her four minutes from then. After unmuting the television, she took out the last of the unbroken chips and bit into it, with the slightest hint of a smile.
The alarm beeped. And almost on cue the lights went out, along with the TV. The room barely lit though, from the neighbour’s porch light. This was not a power cut.
The old lady sat up straight, picked up a matchbox, and held a stick. And waited.
A quick bursting sound, and the neighbour’s light was out, plunging the room in darkness. Mrs.Bhatt struck the match with one quick stroke and lit the candle beside her that seemed to be set up right for this moment.
Picking it up, she ambled gently to the adjacent room.
“C’mon now! Let’s get this over with already.” Her voice complemented the eerie silence in a strange way.
The very next instant the ninja stepped out like a shadow from behind the curtains.
Mrs. Bhatt didn’t need to wear specs even at her age, she lifted the candle just enough to confirm who the guest was.
“Did Varun message you? Has his flight left? When does he reach?” asked the old lady, already making her way back to the TV room.
Sakshi pretended she did not hear the barrage of questions and gently stroked her katana.
Mrs. Bhatt turned a knob near the mains to switch to the UPS. A couple of lights in the house switched on along with the TV.
“You ninja people no, why do you need so much show-put-up and all? Bekaar mein you broke Mr. Godmare’s light. After association complained so much he put that and now you break it just for your entry. That fellow will never put another light now, and the side road will be dark again…By the way did you at least remember to do what I asked?”
Sakshi closed the door of the bedroom with an intentionally audible thud.
In moments the old lady was in front of the TV, the bag of potato chips back on her lap, but snoring.
The TV news was still on with breaking news of a leading industrialist who was found murdered in his home. Police were apparently baffled – and the only clue was a shiny metal star embedded in the skull of the dead man.
The snoring old lady smiled ever so slightly.