CREATIVE FICTION : Summer by Annie Louis
|Photo credits : Archita Murthy|
I was 13 when I told Amma that I would never wake up at 6:00 just so that I could make breakfast for my husband who would conveniently wake up at 7.
Amma smiled and said, “Things will change!”.
''You will eventually make breakfast for your children because of all the brimming love, and so you might as well let your husband eat.
You don’t wanna starve that poor fellow, do you?''
She laughed saying this and licked the batter off her fingers.
I woke up to the smell of burnt toast and sweet coffee. I tried to cover my face while sipping the coffee but either way he caught me and sighed!
“I added only one spoon of sugar,” he says, clenching his teeth; I knew he added two spoons. I laughed and said it’s fine, I am not just a sugary person, sorry! Amma’s laughter zoomed in and out through my ears.
Amma made toast when she ran out of things from the list - breakfast menu, she even considered Upma and pancakes to be superior than toast. Toast was our siege food, so it naturally translated into a lousy breakfast for me.
But when Dhruv makes toast burnt or otherwise it becomes perfectly healthy and filled with love, at times it overpowers my grated coconut chutney and steaming idilies.
It was my day off, and I couldn’t wait to have the house to myself- Geetha would come but i had time! Sweeping under the hidden fourth corner of the dining table, and catching hold of the twirling hair meant that you knew how to sweep. It meant that you cared and so Geetha stayed after the first time she cleaned our floors. Geetha came, the mundane tasks never seemed to bore her, she popped the bubbles while doing the dishes. She hummed a few old romantic songs as she slid the mop across the floor, she rattled the occasional apartment gossip and left me alone when I sat on my chair with a book and my dabba of sweetened aval.
I dozed off while reading, my fingers still smelt of the rice and buttermilk that I had for lunch, the turmeric scent just latched on, no amount of hand wash could peel away the scent.
I liked the overpowering scent, it reminded me of home where spoons were used only to scoop out the achar and the fingers did the mixing and eating. Accounted spoons of honey that followed, the nap, the giggling and summer rains.
After the evening rain that lashed on, the trees looked defined as though some artsy child borrowed every black marker in town and added colour to the tree barks.
The street looked deserted, back at home the slippery roads always filled up with kids, big and small.
The leaves tossed around pearl-like droplets and we tried to catch them on our coloured tongues right after eating the worm like candies from Mr.Edward chettan’s petti kada saying, that the water droplets gave our tongue a sharp-ticklish feeling, some even said it made their candy-sour tongue sweeter. All of us agreed to the fact that only rain water could do these freakish things to our tongue. Not the pot water or the naked Bisleri bottle from the refrigerator.
Mr. Edward Chettan's full name, like how Mini Miss likes to hear when she asks our name is Mr.Edward Pacey. Whenever children giggled and asked him where he was from due to his funny looking blonde hair unlike the black-haired or the bald appachans in our town.
He would proudly say with a childlike grin that his city where the Nazis bombed rose back from the scattered rubble, he was from Coventry, a city in England.
He always drew in a large portion of the air, puffing out a larger sigh before beginning his tale, “The huge Chestnut tree next to my little cottage blew in shrill wind through the windows reminding me of how unforgiving the weather outside was.”
Have you ever seen snow, Manu? asked Mr. Edward Chettan. He loved to amuse us with questions.
Manu giggled, grabbed a handful of candies and nodded “No!” before tossing them into his mouth.
“Well I have!” said Mr. Edward Chettan, “I have seen the snow, the storm, the cold bickering wind, the icy lakes and winter’s wrath.”
Back in Coventry when Mr.Edward Chettan was a just a petty young boy he and his brothers would pick on the fallen chestnuts, dusting away the mud and went home with nails filled with wriggly dirt. They would often climb up the tree branches looking out for their father, who went to India the previous summer. They received letters when the mailman had an extra day to spare because their cottage was a little away from the centre, other times they went and collected them.
The letters were crisp and the only warmth they felt was from the last line- Missing you all, Eddie, Rob, John and my darling Susan.
Their father returned an autumn evening, when they were playing the shadow game amidst the rotten-orange leaves and twigs. The children bid goodbye to the chestnut tree and the creaky cottage, as their father said they were leaving for India. Rob and John did not survive the sail, but Edward Chettan sure did.
He always laughed at the end of the tale shaking his belly, the checks on his shirt going criss-cross he said, “Oh Yes! I survived the sail and that’s why all you lads get to eat your worm like candies and colour your tongues.”
I miss candies and their colours, feeling wet grass on puny feet.
The children came back home with water in their shoes, they pulled their socks down and threw them at each other. I yelled from the kitchen,
“Tara! Kiara! Stop fooling around, go take a shower and change before you both come down with a fever”. “If you both don’t come down in 10 minutes I will not let you float your paper boats in the puddle”.
“But mumma, we are downstairs" giggled Tara before running up the stairs.
Dhruv came home early today, he didn’t get caught in the traffic caused by the flooded water, he gave me a peck on my cheek and dragged me to shower. The idea of showering together may seem romantic but to me it was often a place to ditch the excess mother energy that I had in me. The gel trickling down my back, the soapy bubbles all the rubbing, the wet hair, the damp air the sloppy kisses, the water pace we kept altering, the grabbing, holding and caressing it was almost perfect; yet sometimes I yearned for the showers I had near the well, where we lined up in our panties and Achachan would empty a bucket of water freshly drawn from the well on our heads.
Tuesdays were movie nights, watching lion king 5th time in a row became a part of our routine with buttered popcorn.
We often had funerals (the Hindu kind) scheduled on Tuesdays, and Tuesdays were when amma would burn the garbage beside the huge rock with hidden violet flowers. She would gather around all the crunchy dried leaves, a few branches and dump the waste. We usually wait patiently till she sparks the matchstick and flick it down, she stands there waiting for the fire to blaze up and push the mischievous leaves back into the flame with her left heel accordingly.
As she left, she would warn us not to go near the fire, “Especially you, Manu!” she would scream while wiping her leg on the rag before stepping into the kitchen.
It was a perfect spot for the funeral, a quiet place where we could mourn peacefully shedding a few occasional tears for our imaginary departed friends. The best part was when we said the eulogy, it was not so much of an eulogy but just a few of us saying what a good man the departed soul was, as and when we fancied. We would pick lots to find out who would get to play the wife’s part in each funeral, playing the wife was fun.
She got to cry the most, mumble gibberish words and scream the last words,
“Ayooo ente chettan enne vittu poiii ”,as the fire burned down leaving behind the powdery ash.
Summer rains meant fallen mangoes. So when it rained we all quickly agreed to a christian funeral, since we always held one when it rained. We would march into our houses seeking eagerly for our poppy umbrellas, some plain black, some with colours and spots and quietly walk out because we were adults going to attend Thomas Chacko’s funeral, and we respect the dead. Only children make noises, and till the funeral got over we were adults.
The funeral would get over quickly, saying our silent prayers, offering our red and white flower bunches and in the end one of us would take charge and would say,
“What a wonderful man Thomas Chacko was, he loved, fed and clothed his family. May his soul rest in peace.”
I always wanted to argue that his wife fed, bathed and clothed his children but I didn't, and would join the others with our plastic buckets to pick mangoes.
Those mangoes were the pulpy ones, the ones you didn't need a knife to eat them. You just squish them, tear the skin out and suck in the sunny-yellow pulp. We used to race up to the hills, curse the bats for making holes through our mangoes and count who had the most number. We washed the grassy-green mangoes down the stream that flowed each time it rained, placed our bottoms on the slippery rocks and complained about the thread like mango fibers that stuck between our teeth but that never stopped us from eating them again.
Tara and Kiara liked their mangoes diced, they’d never try to taste the mango seed, they didn’t want the yellow liquid to flow down their fingers to the wrist and stain their white frilled tops, they will never know what it is to suck on the seed that leaves your teeth sour for two days, maybe they will!
Summer was a joyful period with no textbooks and pencils to write our impositions. Amma let me leave my hair loose sometimes, she even allowed me to tie up sleek buns like the neat saree clad women who went to work with a black handbag where their steel tiffin boxes bulged out.
One such summer mid-day, was when Dora streamed on the television in a Malayalam channel for the first time, me and the rest of kids ditched the sofa and sat on the cold marble floor to escape the heat the cushions had gathered up. Right when we were lost in the land of Dora the power went off. We all sang in chorus an unhappy “Ayoo” and went outside where the sun shone mercilessly.
While we sat on the stairs picking up pebbles we met kunjukuttan for the first time, it was a he and he was a healthy white fur ball. All ‘he’ cats were by default called kunjukuttan and so no time was wasted on naming him, we picked him by his colour and called him Kunjukuttan.
He purred when we tickled him, he walked gracefully sliding between our feet and meowing for milk but his nose, his nose gave us devilish pleasure. Touch his nose, and he would hiss at us with a frown forming on his little cub like face.
Amma didn’t like Kunjukuttan, so once while she was going to attend a prayer meeting, she put him in a plastic cover and went. She let him loose near the town, but he knew the way back home. He was here before Amma reached home after her prayer meeting. She never attempted to get rid of him again.
Kunjukuttan was not a conventional lazy cat, he would be up and alert when Pappa got ready to go to the store. We would wave at him and he would wave back at us as he sat on the backseat of our jeep. He would come back with Pappa in the night, and at times when he missed the jeep while strolling the town streets he would come back with our auto chettan in his auto.
Since Kunjukuttan curled up under the backseat his white fur would be greased with black coloured oil and dirt, and so angel suggested that we give him a nice cold bath.
Angel held him under the pipe and let the cold water run, he squirmed like a dying fish and ran before we could roll him up in a towel. We barely got to see him the next two days, he was shivering and walked around as though there were electric shocks passing through him, on the third day he lay dead and we attended his funeral, this time no one picked lots to play the wife. We buried him with lots of flowers and cried for the next three days.
The city had its charm, the windows became doors with birds that chirped, yellow curtains and the houses with wooden floors and cookies being made in the oven.
Maybe I am fine living in a world where toast triumphs coconut chutney with chillies, where mangoes had to be diced up and the seed thrown out, where the rain water spurted out sewage and the puddles lacked colour, where the feeling of wet grass tickling your feet was lost between the mowed lawns, maybe I am not fine.
I hope to run through the narrow streams one again, whistle at the fishes, grab a handful of butter biscuit from Mr.Edward chettans petti kada, and swirl in the kanji and payar with dry chillies to bite on after a tedious way of the cross.
I want to be able to pick up stray cats and call the he ones Kunjukuttan, she ones Molly. Run into baby amma’s house without ringing the doorbell, where she fed me pepper fish fries and rice balls named aa and ee.
I woke up with empty thoughts, the coffee smelt less sugary today, the milk lay cold as Tara and Kiara fought over who gets the lilac socks today. I called Amma, like always the phone rang for 30 seconds until the lady with the electronic voice said that the customer that i am trying to call is not picking up their darn phone.
I hope one day she decides to pick my call, meet Tara and Kiara, I am sure she will love Dhruv, his broken Malayalam and her school-bred Hindi ought to make the perfect pair.
I want my summer back, with the water droplets, the burnt cashews, the scraped knees and fried coconuts.
Annie Louis is doing her Under Graduation in EJP (English, Journalism, Psychology) from St.Joseph's College, Bangalore. She reads, dreams and writes occasionally. She hopes to meet Arundathi Roy someday and tell her how much she missed Rahel and Esthappen. Like the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, she too truly believes that women cannot only change the world but also accessorize it.