The old battered truck chugs me up
by Parvathy Narayanan
To the house where my people live
At the belly, it sits roosting,
Of this mountain range of spices
Redolent, of coffee flowers
And ginger drying in the sun.
Nostrils weary of soot and dust
Draw in deep the new sensation.
I step down on the gravel track,
Stiff hands, I stretch out, till they crack
My travel stock of possessions
Hangs limply from my sore shoulders
Stooping as they already are.
Ah, The demands life makes of one.
I sense two pairs of fond eyes
Petting my back with their softness
I turn around and there they are
Standing atop the steep stone stairs.
It’s one of sun’s little tricks, you think
He is making you see double -
A yellow birdie on each blue frock.
No, these are indeed two cherubs
Twin- faces but different looks
Oblique and shy, one smiles at me
The other airs his nonchalant gaze.
My aunt - their mother, keeps her watch
Lest they tumble and hurt themselves.
I hope to win their affection
Tactless as I’m with children
With those candies dressed in blue wrappers.
And I do succeed. Partially.
Longingly they clamber on to my lap
To claim their edible trophies
But soon I’m repudiated
For the hen that never laid an egg.
Dribbling the sticky caramel
They stalk the rather annoyed bird.
Meals here are somewhat frugal fares
For want, of time, more than all else
My aunt fends for the whole household -
Two kids don’t make it easier.
To my dish’s left and right they sit
Claiming their share from what is served.
In our cozy fraternity,
Where we lunch from a single plate,
And dinner etiquette least mattered
I find myself much buoyant.
But just when I turn to the saltcellar
One decides to offer his service,
I’ve to chuck what remains of my meal,
While his mother hunts for nappies.
No dreams invade my midday nap.
Across a sea of thick black fluid
A ripple of voices is heard, making plans
Of angling in the rocky stream
From deep cold mines shines a gem of thrill -
Let me make the most of a day spent here.
“Wait for me”, I call out to them
“I’ll be happy to throw a bait”.
Out I step from the bed and boot cut jeans
And find comfort in old checkered pants.
My piscatorial schemes are deterred
When two outstretched arms bar my way
The demolisher of my luncheon?
Or his inculpable sibling?
I really can’t say which is which.
He wants to be a part of this
Enterprise he is too young for.
A sudden fit of misanthropy
Gets the better of my goodwill,
As inexpiable as it is
And I ignore those hopeful eyes.
A keen wail of disappointment
Whirls round the silent rooms
As I leap out to make my getaway-
But not before I’m caught red-handed.
Listening to six rubber slippers,
Flapping all the way to the stream
I bow my head to granny’s sermon
On caring for the weak and old.
“Callous”, she shakes her head,
“As a single-child always is”.
The little miscreant surveys me
Sitting cozily at her lap.
A tear still clings to his lashes
More accusing than all the flak
His spirit, unlike mine, was not
An acquaintance of splintered hopes
And what right did one Beelzebub have
To set him on this bleak meeting.
With a slight sigh of compunction
And a vague fear of rejection
I gather him up in my arms
And go out in the paling sun.
With every new domestic beast
Added to our itinerary,
A fine n’ tender note is struck
And all my flaws are forgiven.
Night brings with it the orchestra,
Of insects and their monotone.
There still hangs somewhere in the room
A lullaby, where my angels sleep.
An air about them, of heaven
And flowers that bloom in paradise
Switching off the old low watt bulb
I tread out softly, not to break
Those bright dreams when fairies visit.
I wake up to the old radio
Singing its devout morning tunes
And a broom swishing away
The rusty leaves of yesterday.
Post-breakfast is packing time-
With honey, herbs, jackfruit chips
And other modest gifts, which stand,
For urbane expressions of love-
Anomalous in the country,
I stuff my unsuspecting bag.
Two aids I have at my service
Pulling out whatever I put in
Many things they demand to know
Grave, inquisitive and concerned
Of course I’m obliged to respond.
That they don’t speak my adult tongue,
Is so sad - I’d many things to ask,
Nor do I remember theirs.
With my potbellied bag, I step out
The truck is waiting. Impatient.
I turn to ruffle two unruly heads
And wait to be kissed in return
Waves wash over glazed blackberries,
Amidst a flood of mournful babble,
Now I don’t need to know their speech
To grasp that they want me to stay
I get down on my knees for them
My heart labors to keep its pulse
Like the penitent sinner, who
Kissed her Lord’s white feet, which with
Her chaste tears she had washed and dried,
I press my lips to fluffy cheeks.
Where dwells my heart and happiness,
I tell them, I can never be.
The truck raises its hue and cry
And now jolts down the bumpy road
Rich memories I take with me
Leaving behind all my prayers.