The luxury bus left a billow of grey smoke behind as it roared and drove down the slope of the hilly road. The perplexed face of Shyamal calling her aloud from the footrest of the rear door of the AC bus faded. Standing in the middle of the road, looking at how the two rainbow parrots drawn as décor at the rear of the leaving bus, Saavan suppressed a chuckle. It was funny the way the birds faced away and yet their necks were turned to look at each other. ‘Till we meet again,’ the sign in between the two birds read in Kannada.
It had been drizzling throughout their stay at Coorg. Saavan checked on her backpack, it was well covered, like her head and rest of her torso. Her trousers and sneakers were sort of waterproof, bought during her solo trip to Hong Kong three years back, survivors of many a trek that she did in-between. A few solo, with fellow trekkers, most of them with her husband back home, Ananth.
‘What would he be doing now?’ Saavan wondered and felt the flat screen of the mobile in the pocket of her jacket.
“The signal may be weak up here, you may hear false rings,” that was her usual refrain, “Don’t worry, I shall be fine.” Ananth knew that, being her companion since teenage that he was, Saavan was at her finest when alone.
“Leave her alone,” her mother had advised him during their early days of friendship, when she was angry at an irrational rebuke from a teacher in high school and was sulking, “She will be alright in some time.”
‘I will be alright,’ Saavan muttered and began her walk up the slope, ‘I just need to reach that junction. Then, climb.’
“That seems like a lot, Saavan,” Shyamal had cribbed about half an hour back, Saavan checked her Fit-bit. Just thirty minutes, and this, their sprint of an affair…
“That sounds dirty, affair,” Shyamal had problems with a lot of things, one being the use of the word, “That happens to the people who screw for benefits, or just like that.” At this point, he would always look into her eyes, when they were together, or take a pause, if they were talking or texting, “We love each other, right?”
He needed to convince himself. In the pyramid of words to define what two married adults could be into, love came at the top. It seemed pious, almost legitimate.
“We enjoy each other’s company,” Saavan never wrote or told ‘Love you’ or ‘Miss you’ in these fifteen months, she recalled on seeing a barrage of texts from Shyamal that were landing on her mobile, “Isn’t that enough?”
“No, we are not animals,” Shyamal would scoff, “We need more than just ‘company’.”
“Companionship,” Saavan muttered to herself the word she often used to tease the man, “But we can’t leave our lives behind.”
Shyamal knew she was right, yet would say, “Can’t we?” Saavan felt sorry for him, almost, “At least for a few days,” he would plead, “Like a couple?”
Saavan felt like a goddess, granting a boon to the nagging Shyamal, when she agreed for this mid-week trip to Coorg. They were on ‘work’ – she for on an inspection to site for an HNI client’s villa and he?
“No one wants to know where I have been. That stage is long past,“ he had said.
To Be Continued in Part 2…
Saavan walked up the gentle slope of the road for about five hundred meters before she stopped at a shanty by the roadside selling hot beverages. The drizzle had grown in volume. Saavan looked up. The house was further uphill towards her left. It was just ten past three, she had time to reach up there.
She took shelter, ordered for a cup of elaichi tea and put the backpack down before sitting on a bench.
“May I borrow your fire?” She asked an elderly woman in Kannada and lit up her Lights. Among the local ladies of the hills, she was no more an oddity. At such a place in Bangalore, she was more likely to be a unique piece for her gender.
A deep puff was comforting, an act she could never do when the non-smoker Shyamal was around, even after they were through in the bed. She knew him as a much senior client for the firm she represented, and it all started with her respect for his intellect.
“That makes you uncomfortable?” Shyamal would laugh, “Respect? After an hour of foreplay?” He would cough and laugh more when she refused to let Shyamal rub her feet and nibble at her toes. “That’s prudish!”
“Call me whatever,” she would draw her feet up, pressing her bare legs together, “If I am not comfortable, I am not comfortable.”
A herd of sheep passed through, the ten-year-old shepherd keeping himself dry with an old plastic wrapper of 20 kg flour, the image of Ganesha on that glistening in raindrops. His eyes met Saavan’s, in a reflex she put her left hand holding the cigarette down. If it had stayed, the life that blipped for a few days inside her, if it had blossomed, it would be as old as the boy.
“Smoking during pregnancy caused it,” Ananth would never fail to remind her, whenever she asked him to plan for another, “What will be different this time?” Saavan would fight, scream, explain how illogical that allegation was, but nothing changed. Neither her habits, nor Ananth’s lazy accusations.
“Why are you still together, I don’t understand.” Shyamal had shrugged when she told him this story and how much she wanted a child, “And you won’t let me do the honors as well.” She won’t take Shyamal’s calls, reply to his messages when at home. She was Ananth’s best friend for more than twenty years now. She didn’t want to disrespect him or hurt him. Ever.
“But he will be,” Shyamal said after breakfast, when they were packing to leave earlier that day, “How long can we go on without anyone’s knowledge?”
“And I thought I am the practical one!” Saavan tried to make it lighter, “You’re a soothsayer now? So many talents, eh…” She had poked her index into his slightly bulged tummy. He didn’t like it.
“It’s easy for you to joke,” Shyamal shifted to his sulking self, “Age is on your side, no?”
“Hello! Thirty-seven and counting, Mister,” her sleek, athletic frame pinning ill prepared Shyamal on the disheveled bed, “One for the road?”
“Master… deflector,” Shyamal surrendered to her kisses, “Never serious.”
To Be Continued in Part 3….
So, after packing and checking out when they strolled down the road for their bus back to Bangalore, and Saavan caught sight of this old house at the top of a hillock and wished to climb up, Shyamal thought she was just pulling his leg.
“No! I want to.” She had repeated, “See the Baroque style? Who on earth would build such an elaborate detail of classical British up there?”
“The bus leaves at two forty-five, remember?” Shyamal was restless.
“So? There is another at four-thirty, I had asked.” She was definitive.
“No, I can’t reach that late,” Shyamal sounded defensive.
“Why? I thought no one cares at home when you come and go, right?” Her usual smile and playful banter with Shyamal disappeared. She dared him.
“Are you taking it out on me?”
“That I told you to let your husband know?” Shyamal regretted the words spoken that morning. It was late already.
“What? You think I am that petty?” She stood akimbo, “I really want to go up there and find out about the house.” She looked up, “This was British settlement and all, fine, but still it puzzles me.” She started in that direction and pulled Shyamal’s hand, “Come, na?”
Shyamal nodded his head in disgust and freed his hand.
“I have to reach before eight,” he kept looking away, towards the road that led to the bus-stand, “The flight from Kochi reaches at six-thirty. That’s what she knows at home.”
The last words were feeble. Saavan had heard though, still she asked, “What?”
“You want to come again some other time?” Shyamal sounded compromising, “Next time, I will bring my Jeep. Then you can go around anywhere you like. For now…” He tugged at her and pointed towards the opposite side.
“I have come here before, you know that, right? And I didn’t need any Jeep for that!” Saavan thought for a while, then joined Shyamal, “This house never caught my sight. May be because I always stayed closer to Madikeri.”
This was an expensive home stay, an old and stylish house itself, that Shyamal had booked online.
“There is always a next time,” Shyamal pinched her cheek, trying to cheer her up.
“Not always,” She walked along the rest of the route in silence, quite unlike herself. The bus came from Madikeri a little late, Shyamal reiterating the reason he always relied on his own Jeep for long drives.
Shyamal got up on the bus, found their seats and put his strolley in the overhead cabin. Then he looked back and couldn’t see Saavan. He rushed back to the rear gate against the flow of irritated passengers to the rear gate through which he had boarded.
“What happened? Get up! Seat number five and six.”
“You leave, Shyamal,” Saavan rarely called him by name, “I will come by the next bus.”
“What’s this madness, Saavan?” Shyamal was at the brink of his infamous rage.
“Let’s not create a scene, please!” Saavan smiled though her eyes. The bus started. Shyamal didn’t step down. He couldn’t leave his suitcase behind.
Thinking about that parting look in his eyes, disbelief laced with dejection, Saavan smiled. She looked up. The house shone as a playful sun sprayed its rain coated walls with gold.
To Be Continued in Part 4…
“May I leave my bag here, Ajji?” Saavan put up her best smile and requested the elderly shopkeeper, “I will be back in a while. Just will go there,” she pointed up.
All the wrinkles and crevices on the face of the old lady lit up. She nodded and took the bag from her. Under the scanner of a kind sun, the old face put up a pretty picture.
The house was not at much of a height. The desire path had grass growing on it. It didn’t seem people travelled up there as routine. The soil below was slippery, but Saavan trusted her expensive sneaker and unusual curiosity to keep her climbing. As the slope got steeper, she picked up a dry branch that was lying around and used it as a walking stick. After about fifteen minutes of trek, she reached the house.
The rubble masonry boundary wall around it had breached at quite a few places. The gate stood there, opened, its cast iron rusted beyond repair. There was a garden, the remnants of daisies and lilies growing in the wilderness among the bushes and undergrowth bore ample proof of that. Saavan looked below. The road that had carried Shyamal with it meandered downhill, crossing a stream here and a crevice there.
‘That would take me to sanity soon,’ she whispered to the squirrel on a guava tree that got interrupted in its meal and didn’t seem happy about it.
The house was just two storied, walled with local granite. Moss deposited at the joints of stone blocks. She found some obstinate violets growing up the wall. The doors, windows and the verandah grilles stood out for their exclusive styles. She went closer, the joinery on the closed door still had ‘New Hampshire’ etched on it. She went around, no one seemed to be living there. For a house such abandoned, it sure looked impenetrable.
At the rear, she found a cast iron spiraled staircase, built for the janitors perhaps. She climbed up, fear and apprehension blowing with the wind that took her hoodie down and messed up with her hair like a mother. At the end of that staircase, there was a little balcony. The platform seemed robust and she stepped on it. It creaked, and she stepped back to find that she had stepped on a piece of broken piece of wood. It was in the shape of a cricket bat. Old, worn out, ‘William…’ was all she could read. She picked it up and swerved like a pro. The handle remained in her hands; the flat portion flew away into the valley. She laughed, like she did at the poor jokes of her father. That was before Appa kicked her out for marrying out of caste. That was a good twelve years ago. That was the last they had met.
Feeling her lungs and mimicking the pose of Rose from The Titanic, hands spread, Saavan stepped into that platform. It might have been frail, rusted and all. It might not be suitable for a human load anymore. She closed her eyes, felt the breeze at her cheeks and on her neck, strands of probing air finding their way through her shirt, caressing her breasts and awakening the hard muscles at their peak.
“Hello, Saavan!” She yelled, and the valley yelled back, “Saavan, Saaa…va…n…”
“It’s me!” she insisted and the valley agreed this time, “Me…ee..ee…”