The Visit

The fan was creaking in the room; it was the only noise in the silence that had suddenly descended. This was the sort of silence where the participants smiled quick awkward smiles around which never meant anything special. She spent sometime looking up at the rafters of the house. The burnished wood looked like it had survived the ravages of centuries.
“I wonder how old this is? Dare I ask him?”
She dragged her eyes back to his face. He was smiling his usual wide toothed grin: slightly ingratiating and almost a smirk.
“So, what are your plans?”
She mumbled an answer that seemed to cover her near future adequately. Her mother broke in smoothly to cover whatever confusion she felt. That left her free to look around the room again. Her eyes wandered over the cheetah’s head, the staircase to the loft, the basement (which her mom had told her was used to store grain in the old days) the calendar fluttering in the breeze, the tattered furniture. Incongruously, a huge Coke bottle stared back at her; they said it was a CD player. The modern touches in the room: a TV, a VCD player, the music system and a curio shelf filled with cheap dolls, just served to remind her how far they had come.
Twelve-thirteen years ago,there was no TV (She’d cursed that, “NO TV during VACATIONS?”), no video player or music system. The radio cranked out Akashvaani. But they still had fun. They’d sit outside on the porch during power cuts; all her cousins came together for vacations and sang and played cards even by candlelight. She remembered being the pesky little kid, the one everyone pampered and spoilt with toffees. The one that used to ensonce herself into the nearest cousin’s lap and demand to hear a story from, the one that begged to be allowed to play grown-up games like Monopoly and ’28’ because there was no fun in being left out. She remembered the nights, sleeping on a straw mat, a tasty snack for mosquitoes; the shadows outside looking more menacing in the darkness, the table-fan whirring in its futile crusade to drive the heat of the night away.
Her grandmother and she had arguments over who had the last toffee, at least until the year ammachi had completely lost her memory. The new routine included the question, “Are you married yet? Who are you?” everytime she visited. Laughter almost bubbled to the surface when she remembered the expectant look on ammachi’s face as she used to look at her hands to the ever-present packet of toffees her visitors brought her.
There were no toffees this time.
She snapped her attention back to what her uncle was saying, “…And they’d taken his gall bladder out.” He finished it off with a kind of gory delight.
“Don’t you need a gall bladder for proper functioning of the system?”, asked her mother.
She mumbled again, “It’s just for enzymes.”
Her uncle laughed, “Yeah, they do it at the Sayippu’s Hospital even now.”
“So, how’s your health today?” enquired her mother of her aunt and uncle.
“Haha.”, he laughed, “I am still taking my pills. Five of them, three times a day.”
Aunty added, “I am better than usual. I had an eye infection….” They were confirmed hypochondriacs, a genetic failing she always hoped she’d never inherit.
Her mother was continuing the small talk, “I thought you’d be busy today.”
Aunty dear stood up with pride and looked at her busy husband, “He had three separate appointments today. A wedding, a baptism and a funeral.. “
“Speaking of weddings, when is George’s wedding?” George was her favourite cousin, the one whom she teased mercilessly about how he was going to die a bachelor. So far, he was on the right path; her only unmarried cousin.
“My dear uncle, always so busy with the small world around him,” she thought and smiled slightly and looked at her daughter. She remembered being overawed by her oh-so-grownup cousins. They could do everything so much better than her, they could do nothing wrong. Surely, they were supermen and women.
And then, suddenly that awe had vanished. She’d grown and they’d suddenly diminished in stature. They were as mundane as the rest of the people she knew. It wasn’t their fault, she knew that, but was it hers? She suddenly wished she had the old days back.
She stood up abruptly, without excusing herself and ran outside to the porch, to the steps she remembered. This was the front of her ancestral home. It was seldom used now, the cars used to stop at the back door now. But the water wasn’t as she’d remembered. Water hyacinth grew thick on its surface and the boat was pulled high and dry. She knew it had been ages since boats had plied on the small canal (could it be called a creek?), but she also remembered shivering on the steps leading into the water. There had been a time when they went to church on a boat; that had been nice. They had gone to the church, before coming home.
Even the church had changed. It was painted properly, the vicarage almost shiny and new, the water flowing past it had become murky brown, as if angry at the present. There was a pristine new macadamised road now. Everyone walked or came by vehicle to the Sunday service now. The cemetery outside the chapel looked dilapidated and uncared for. Huge granite slabs marked the life and passing of the beloveds of so many members of her family, family crypts and tall monoliths graced the small place. The paint was peeling on one showy tower that proclaimed its residents to be a loving couple. She remembered idly wondering how many more people could have been buried in the same space if the family hadn’t decided to be ostantateous. She’d picked her way gingerly through the dense foliage, feeling sorry for all the poor souls on whose final resting place she’d stamped on. The weeds were nearly as tall as her at the grave and she stood there silently praying for the souls of her departed ones and for the strength for facing the future.
It was almost a family church, they told her. This is where many of your forefathers lived and were buried. She was never sure if that a badge of honour or something to be resented? She was slightly afraid of going there when there was no service on. Afraid even of making conversation in the lonely silence that breathed of centuries of so-called tradition. It was stifling.
Almost as stifling as sitting inside the house. It was much better standing outside, staring at the courtyard. The porch was as she remembered it. An insect bit her, not an unusual happening at all here. The ‘muttam’ was swept clear of all leaves and the sand was clean. The vines were climbing up the pillars. The bamboo grew sturdy and strong by the waterside, and there was that small chair in the corner as usual. Her dad’s. Another baby of the family, she remembered, laughing slightly. The one who got into the most unholy scraps and the one who always strived the hardest: the daredevil of the family. She’d inherited all the traits in equal measure. Her mother used to wonder out aloud what exactly the Fates had done by making her a girl.
There were other kids here: her little nieces and nephews. She particularly didn’t want to meet them, then she couldn’t let her mind wander. But her uncle had other ideas. He went and woke them up.
“Get up, babies, look who’s here? See this chechi. Do you remember her?”
She corrected mildly, “Not chechi, aunty.”
“Oh. Yeah, we forgot the baby has grown up so much.”
“Well, I became 21 when none of you were noticing, Uncle.” she smiled sweetly.
The kids stared resentfully at her, yawning and rubbing their sleep out of their eyes. “No, little ones, I am not invading your space. In fact, I was always a visitor here.” she told them silently.
“Kiss chechi, kutta,” her uncle wanted to show off his grand-daughters. She obediently turned a cheek to the toddler who bumped her nose against it.
“No. no, you can do better.”
She hurriedly got up and cast a significant look at her mother, “No, no, Uncle. We have to go. We’re going home and we won’t get there unless we leave now.”
Her mother got up from the sofa, smiling. “Well, then. We’ll see you later.”
The final byes were exchanged, with hugs and promises to come again next year. She smiled at her cousin and hugged her tight for old time’s sake. “You take care, chechi and say hi to your husband. I’ll see if I can come for George achachan’s wedding, whenever he finds a suitable girl. It’ll be like old times again.”
They sat in the car and waved again, preparatory to leaving Suddenly, her uncle ran out. “You forgot to pay the servants.”
Her mother rolled the windows down and asked softly, “How much?”
Her father’s elder brother smiled ingratiatingly again, “Whatever you can afford. You know you only come once a year, and from the city too…”
Her mother silently handed over a wad of notes, rolled up the windows and she took the car out of the back courtyard and into the narrow alley leading to freedom.
“This needs to be written about. Maybe on my blog,” was her last thought before her mother started talking about their next destination.

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11 thoughts on “The Visit

  1. DJK

    I hate it when relatives expect you to fucking dish out money, just because you earn more. Don’t they see? Its not about how much one earns.. but how much one saves.

  2. Amit

    I can’t very well write a dirty comment here without getting lynched by your adoring fans now can I? :)) So I’ll take a rain check on that…yeah, very well written, and a bit sad..

  3. Shrutz

    @Ashok 😉
    @rockus thanks!
    @Deej You don’t know half of it
    @Amit 😉 I told ya!
    @Auster I am an aunt many times over man!!!
    @Gino I try, what can I say?!
    @Anonymouse Is that what you got from that story? I pity you then.

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