Anila scrutinised the grocery list once again. Pennu was about to go to Ponkunnam to purchase groceries. The red LPG cylinder connected to the gas stove was half empty and so the empty one that stood under the sink had to be exchanged for a full one. 'Where's Kuriappy?' Anila demanded of Pennu.
'He's stepped out to fetch an auto,' Pennu explained. She was quite new and not used to the way things were done in the House. Anila was irritated, but calmed down as she heard the putt, putt of the approaching auto-rickshaw. Kuriappy got out of the vehicle which came around the House and stopped near the back door to the kitchen. He clambered out of the auto quite laboriously and entered the kitchen. Kuriappy had a dirty towel around his neck which could have originally been white in colour. Sweat dripped down his face and was absorbed by the towel. What was he waiting for? Did he expect Anila to help him lift up the empty cylinder and carry it into the auto? After a minute's hesitation when nothing was said, he gripped the cylinder's circular top and tilted it to one side so that the other side lifted up by a few inches and rolled it by its edge in a semi-circular motion. When the cylinder completed a semi-circle, he tilted it to the other side, and made a semi-circular movement in the opposite direction. After a few minutes of such zigzag movements, the cylinder reached the door. Pennu followed him. When he reached the door, he stood to one side of the cylinder and looked at Pennu who, after a moment's hesitation, hurried to the other side of the cylinder. Kuriappy and Pennu jointly lifted the cylinder a little, each gripping one side of the cylinder's circular top with both hands, and carried it down the short flight of steps. Pennu was all set to carry it down in one go, but Kuriappy needed two breaks before they reached level ground. Why couldn't Kuriappy heft the cylinder on to his shoulders? Anila wondered. It was an empty one for God's sake. She noticed that Kuriappy was panting slightly. How was he going to lift the full cylinder which Pennu would bring back from Ponkunnam and bring it into the kitchen? Finally the cylinder was inside the auto, which was quite brand new. For a brief second Anila wondered why the driver had agreed to transport an LPG cylinder in his brand new rickshaw. Most probably, he was not the owner, but had only rented it. It didn't matter. Anila had more important things to worry about. The driver put the vehicle into gear and the racket became much louder. Pennu climbed in.
'Straight to Ponkunnam?' the auto driver needed confirmation, even though Kuriappy must have informed him of the destination.
'Yes, Ponkunnam,' Pennu confirmed. The auto moved off.
Kuriappy started to walk around the House to its courtyard in the front. Anila was about to remind him to be around in an hour's time when Pennu got back from Ponkunnam. She changed her mind and decided not to. She wouldn't be around when Pennu got back with the groceries and a new cylinder. She didn't care if Kuriappy wasn't around. Let Pennu wake up her mother-in-law and manage as best as she could. She went back into the kitchen, took off her black rubber slippers which she left at the entrance to the kitchen and put on her fluffy pink flip-flops. The sound of her mother-in-law snoring could be heard as she walked past her in-law's room. She grit her teeth as she climbed the stairs. She was going to do it now. It was something she had been planning for a while, yet she had not even started to pack. It was not possible to keep secrets in the House. People walked in and out of everybody's rooms. A packed suitcase would have invited a barrage of questions. Their bedroom was at the end of the corridor that led from the landing. Benson's clothes lay in a pile in a corner, smelling of sweat, liquor, spicy food and a host of other unidentified smells, accumulated most probably from the club where he spent most of his waking hours. If she were not leaving, she would be picking them all up and dumping them into the semi-automatic washing machine which had been repaired recently. But no, she would not do that this afternoon. Let Benson take care of his own laundry henceforth. He was a grown up man with too much free time at his disposal. She quickly glanced at the large clock on the wall. It was too dark in the room for her to read the time. The sun's rays filtered by the monsoon clouds and the thick blue curtains hid the peeling paint and threw dark shadows in the room. The buckets of tears which Anila had shed in that room were not visible either. She pressed a switch and two of the five bulbs lodged in ice cube shaped shades that hung from the ceiling came on. It was almost three o'clock. Benson had reminded her many times to replace the fused bulbs. It irritated him, he had said, even though the two bulbs that worked were sufficient to light up the room. The previous week, Anila had asked Kuriappy to add a few sixty-watt bulbs to his grocery list, but Kuriappy must have forgotten. And Anila had not reminded him even though Kuriappy was quite old and needed reminding. Kuriappy had been with them for a very long time, much longer than they cared to remember. Benson could buy the bulbs himself. Let him do something useful for once. If his father would let him, that is.
Should she go down and find out what Rahul was up to? No, she would first finish her packing and then find Rahul, just before they left. Most probably Rahul was playing with the dog. Her father-in-law was insistent that dogs should not be allowed into the House. The kennel itself was a short distance away from the House. Anila looked out of the window. Her father-in-law had gone off to sort out some labour trouble at the plantation and was unlikely to return anytime soon. As for Benson, one could never be sure. He might come back unexpectedly at a time of his choice. Kuriappy had disappeared. If queried, he would have an excuse. He always did. He was either out shopping or running an errand for someone who was not there in the House. For once she was grateful that Chedathi was not around. Chedathi had worked for the family for a few decades. If she were around, Anila would have found it difficult to do what she was planning to do. Chedathi had not come in for the past one week. The previous Sunday, Chedathi's eldest son had dropped by and informed them that she was ill and would not be in for a while. Anila had been so annoyed. How could Chedathi do this to us when we have guests in the House? she had wailed to her mother-in-law. And now, Chedathi's illness turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The previous week had been horrible. Benson's sister and three children had turned up at Simhapara a fortnight ago. The children had their mid-term break and even though Benson's brother-in-law could not get any leave, Benson's sister had courageously travelled on her own with the children all the way from Nasik where they lived. Their grandparents had been delighted to see them. The first week had not been too bad. Chedathi was around and Anila's mother-in-law had pitched in to do the odd chore. But after Chedathi disappeared without any warning, Anila had been forced to shoulder most of the burden, even though her mother-in-law did help a bit. The estate manager did send Pennu to help, but she was totally untrained and could not do the simplest of tasks. Anila was so irritated with Pennu that she did not even bother to find out her real name. What made it really bad was that her sister-in-law and kids expected VIP treatment all the time. They were not happy with the simple food Anila and her in-laws had on ordinary days. The cassava that was eaten for breakfast had to be accompanied with fish curry. Mashed onions and chillies would not do. Palappams required chicken stew as an accompaniment, rather than a plain potato stew. The same item could not be repeated for breakfast. Anila had prepared tubes of puttu, platters of idiappams and idlis, dozens of chappatis, palappams, dosas and pooris on various days. Lunch and dinner required a similar effort on her part. The brown rice they ate for lunch and dinner demanded three or four side dishes. Fish pappas, cabbage cooked with grated coconuts, mutton charu, carrot mezhukkupuratti, pork olathu, beetroot cooked in vinegar, chicken roast, bittergourd thoran, beef olathu, pumpkins, fish fry, lentils of various shapes and hues - Anila had made them all over the past week with very little help from Pennu. As usual her father-in-law praised her to the skies. In the initial years after her marriage to Benson, she had been delighted when her cooking was praised. She was well-trained by her mother. She was the perfect daughter-in-law. Her father-in-law had never eaten tastier food anywhere, except the food cooked by his wife of course who was now content with supervising her daughter-in-law and making her an even better cook. But after the first few years, she had become tired of the constant stream of visitors who had to be cared for and fed, even if they were not very hungry. They ranged from Benson's friends to her in-laws' third cousins to the local labour welfare officer. 'We are known for our hospitality,' her mother-in-law would boast, a boast echoed by Benson's sisters who visited them at every opportunity. Actually the sister from Nashik was not too bad. Neither was the sister from Jabalpur. The real terror was the sister who was married to an army officer, who had developed a habit of barking out military-style commands at all and sundry. She had a fussy daughter who cried constantly.
Anila flopped down on the bed and cried silently. It was so unfair. God knew that she had done her best to fit into the family she had been married off into. There were so many if onlys in her life. If only her father were alive, he would have found her a better husband. She would not have been married off to Benson who was known throughout Simhapara to be a wastrel. Her parents-in-law's intentions had been quite noble. Marriage would reform their son, they had believed. And it had. For a brief while. They had chosen a girl from an impoverished household in faraway Wayanad who knew her catechism well. Someone who could help their only son who, they had told Anila's mother with a smile, could be a bit wayward at times. It didn't matter that she was not particularly good looking. No one had called her ugly, but she did not have the sort of looks which made people look at her twice. She had spent so much time in front of the mirror at their home in Kalpetta. Small eyes and a small nose set in a large chubby face, teeth which did not protrude, but were not perfectly matched either, a neck which ought to have been longer and a little bit more slender, but wasn't. Her neighbours had congratulated her on her good fortune. Benson was a six-footer with soft wavy hair. He did have a paunch even then, but he was many shades fairer than Anila. But Anila had not been very happy. She had known that it was not going to be a great match. She wiped off her tears. There was no point in moping around. She had made up her mind many months ago. Why hadn't she left till now? She did not have the answer. There was no point in analysing things any further. Her sister-in-law and her children had gone back to Nasik the previous day. That was silly. Why did she have to worry about leaving even when her sister-in-law was around? True, it would have been difficult to walk off undetected if her sister-in-law and their three children were running around the House. For a second she thought of telling Benson and his parents that she was going to leave them and walk off with Rahul. No, it wouldn't do. The sensible thing for her was to implement her decision to leave, rather than pick a fight. Her father-in-law would not allow it if he could. The loss of face would be more than what he could bear. Also, her father-in-law dotted on Rahul. As for Benson, would he hit her again if she told him that she was going to leave him?
Anila started to pack. She took out the medium sized battered suitcase she had kept with her all those years, the one she had carried with her when she came to Simhapara as a brand new bride. Benson had teased her mercilessly about it. Where did you get this from? From your parish priest who took pity on you? She had been so embarrassed about it that she had thrown it into the storeroom where they kept their junk. But Benson had been good to her those days. He would tease her and then buy her gifts. Rag her mercilessly and then treat her with exceptional gentleness. She had been crazily in love with him. And they had made so many plans. Benson wanted to move out of his father's shadow. 'I am going to start my own business,' he had told her within a few days of being married. He wanted to set up a factory to manufacture crumb rubber. No, he did not ask his father to sell the estate, but only to mortgage it to the bank to raise some capital. The estate was not doing too well. Labour was too expensive, too much troublesome. The unions demanded too much and gave back too little in return. It would not be a bad thing to actually sell the estate, but Benson knew that his father would never do that.
The large teak wood cupboard held too many things for her to carry away with her. Anila was determined that she would not take more than what could be packed into her battered suitcase. It was made of jute and had floral prints on it. Her mother had bought it for her a few days before her wedding. And what a wedding it had been. The only son of the man who owned Simhapara estate was getting married. It seemed as if the whole world had been invited and was assembled in Simhapara. There were two state ministers, an MP and a couple of MLAs, a thousand odd relatives of both the bride and the groom, the entire population of Simhapara, workmen from the estate, a dozen priests from various parts of Kerala, around two dozen teachers from the local high school, about five thousand people in total. The wedding photographs filled eight large albums. Anila was determined not to take any of the wedding photographs with her. In any event, her mother did have a couple of albums at their home. As if she would ever look at them. Should she take their honeymoon album? They had had a good time touring the far-east, even though Anila did not like the food in any of the countries they had visited. She had been shocked to find that the Chinese food in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore could be so much different from the food she had eaten in various Chinese restaurants in Kerala. There was one photograph she really liked, both of them standing on top of the Peak in Hong Kong. Her father-in-law was not too happy with the idea of Benson spending so much money on his honeymoon. But he had not objected too much. He had sent Benson to a public school at Yercaud and Benson had his Basics. Benson's Basics, he called them. Good clothes. Expensive whiskey. The occasional visit to Bangalore or Bombay to meet with his old mates. And after he got married, it included an overseas honeymoon. They would go to Switzerland next year, he had promised. He ought to have his factory up and running by that time. It was not very complicated, the making of crumb rubber. There was a large godown on their plantation which had been used by the previous owner, an Englishman, to store procured rubber during the Second World War. It could be cleaned up. Benson wanted to buy brand new machinery for his plant. His father had violently disagreed. A factory at Pampady which had gone bust recently had what they wanted. Benson did not like the idea of buying second-hand equipment for his factory. The bickering between father and son had gone on for a couple of months. After Benson agreed to do with the second-hand equipment, his father had once again interfered. He refused to mortgage the estate. Instead, he wanted Benson to sell the few acres of land his grandfather had bequeathed to him in Mundakayam. Benson had refused. True, the land at Mundakayam was neglected and did not yield any income. But he was damned if he was to sell the only piece of land which was in his name. Mortgaging the estate was much easier. Banks were queuing up to lend them money at low-interest rates. He was sure that his factory would start making money in a year's time. But his father had not budged. Finally Benson had lost interest in his project.
Oh, why couldn't her father-in-law allow Benson to do things his way? What if he made a few mistakes? He would have come out of his father's shadow and become a man in his own right. And Anila's life might have turned out differently. Instead of planning to leave her husband for good, she would have been living happily with her husband and son. Benson would not be spending so much time in the club, if he had something to do. Anila hated her father-in-law a lot more than she hated her husband. She had no doubts on that score, even though she would never forgive Benson for having hit her.
She snapped back to the present. She would need a couple of good night gowns, Anila decided. There was no point in trying to go back with just the clothes she had brought with her from her home. Her original clothes had long since been discarded. Even if she hadn't given them away to Chedathi's daughter, they wouldn't have fitted her anymore. Anila was no longer a skinny girl. They had been good clothes, the clothes she had brought with her when she got married, many of her night gowns and churidhars stitched by herself or her mother with their Usha sewing machine. Anila wondered how her mother would react when she went back with Rahul. She was sure that she would try to send them back. A woman was supposed to put up with everything her husband and in-laws dished out to her. Well, Anila was indeed a woman but she was sick and tired of Benson. And his Basics. Which nowadays mainly consisted of a few drinks everyday at his club. Despite all that, Benson was a better human being than her father-in-law. If only.... Oh! What was the point? Anila was the youngest of three sisters. Both her sisters had been married off to small landowners in Malabar. The match with Benson had been a godsend for her mother who had practically run out of money after her second daughter's wedding. 'God has heard my prayers,' her mother had repeatedly said when their parish priest told her of the potential match. No, she could not have objected to the match even though she knew in her heart that ... No, never mind, it was too late in the day to think about. Her paternal grandparents had originally been from Pala, which was not far from Simhapara. Like many other Syrian Catholics from central Travancore, her grandfather had migrated to Wayanad with his family, appropriated some forest land, cleared it and started cultivating it. It had been a hand-to-mouth existence at first. Soon however, the rubber, cardamom, clove and pepper they cultivated started fetching good prices as a result of the government's protectionist policies. Her grandfather actually managed to send his children to school, while her own father had insisted that all his three daughters should go to college.
Anila decided to pack the honeymoon album. What if she hadn't decided to study micro-biology? They had told her that India was in for a bio-technology boom, which was going to be bigger than the software revolution. Biotechnologists would make much more money than software engineers. Instead of opting for a degree in computer science, she had stupidly decided to study micro-biology. There had been no one to advice her. Her father had died while she was in the first year of her pre-degree course. If only she had studied computer science, she would have got a job immediately after she passed out of college. She could have gone off to Bangalore or Hyderabad and got a job for herself. When Benson's father approached them through their parish priest, she would not have had to feel so grateful. She could have said No. Would her mother have allowed her to say No? It didn't matter. She knew right from day one that Benson was not right for her. Or did she? Anila sighed again. She did think Benson was good looking when she saw him first. No, she hadn't liked him all that much. But she had definitely fallen in love with him after their marriage. She was in love with him until he had hit her. Anila sighed once more. If only... She realised that she was running out of time. She had to be packed and ready to leave by four o'clock if she were to catch the last train from Kottayam. She wasn't sure if she should walk to the nearby junction where a few autorickaws waited for fares or try to catch a bus directly to Kottayam instead. She was sure that eyebrows would be raised if the daughter-in-law and grandson from the House tried to hire an auto. And it would be worse if they tried to get into a bus. They were sure to be recognised. How would Rahul behave inside a bus? He had never been inside one. Benson had driven off in their WagonR to his club and her father-in-law was using their jeep. Should she have asked her father-in-law for the jeep and their driver for the day? Essential shopping in Kottayam? He would have believed her. She could have gone to Kottayam with Rahul to do her shopping and then disappeared into the railway station. The driver would have waited for a while and then .... Too late for all that. Well, she would hire an auto. It didn't matter if they were recognised. They would get to Ponkunnam by autorickshaw, catch a bus to Kottayam from there. At Kottayam, they would take the train to Calicut. Calicut was quite far away, a journey of almost ten hours. And after reaching Calicut, she would have to catch another bus to travel the ninety odd kilometres that separated Kalpetta and Calicut. They would hopefully get there tomorrow morning. Once again she wondered how her mother would react as she and Rahul walked into the house in which her mother lived with her maternal grandparents. If only Benson hadn't hit her, she wouldn't be leaving. She had made up her mind that night almost three years ago. Benson's father had rejected his proposal to start a new business. This time Benson wanted to start a bus service. There weren't enough buses on the Kottayam-Kumuli road, he had felt. He would buy half a dozen buses, hire a few drivers and conductors and cleaners and serve the people living in the high ranges of Kerala by providing them with a decent bus service. Benson's father had rejected it out of hand. 'You must be crazy,' he had said. 'You can't handle the workers in our estate despite having seen me do it for so many years. How do you plan to control a few drivers and conductors? They will form a union after a couple of weeks and ask for a wage hike. And we will go bust!'
Benson had tried to argue. But his father would have none of it. 'Why don't you help me run this estate better? There is money to be made in this business! Why do you talk of starting a new business when we are not making much money out of this one? To run a bus service successfully, you need to have personal control over everything and everybody twenty four hours a day. Are you willing to spend all your waking hours running buses?' Why couldn't his father understand Benson's desire to be his own man? That night Anila had shouted at Benson. 'What sort of man are you? Why can't you stand up to your father?' And he had hit her with the flat of his fat palm. She had stood in stunned silence before collapsing on to the bed in a flood of tears. No one had hit her before. Not even her father. And Benson had hit her even though she had delivered Rahul just a couple of months earlier. They didn't speak to each other for a day. The next night as they went to bed, Benson had tried to apologise. He was almost in tears, upset with himself and the entire world. Anila smiled to herself. She had always had long nails. That night, she had put them to good use, raking them through Benson's face. Benson had not gone to his club for many days till the wounds healed. But still, she had decided not to forgive him. She never would.
Rahul's clothes would have to go into another suitcase. Which suitcase should she take? The one which Benson liked to carry when he went off on his jaunts. No, that was not big enough to take all of Rahul's things. There was no way Rahul would survive without at least some of his toys. He was going to be upset in any event. It would be a tremendous change for him. The almost palatial luxury of their current abode would be swapped for the sparse and slightly dinghy house in which her mother and grandparents lived. Would she be able to get a job once she went to Kalpetta? God knew that she always wanted to work. Her father-in-law had offered to arrange a teaching job for her at the local primary school. But Anila had not been too keen on the idea. Kalpetta was unlikely to throw up many job opportunities. Though it was the headquarters of Wayanad district, It was not much different from Ponkunnam. One had to be in Calicut or Cochin or Trivandrum to get a decent job in Kerala. Maybe she would go to Bangalore. Get some job, any job. Maybe as a secretary. Send Rahul to a decent school. Her father-in-law and Benson were all set to send Rahul to Pallikoodam, considered to be one of the best schools in Kottayam. Would she be able to send Rahul to a school as good as Pallikoodam if she were on her own? Anila did not really believe that public schools were all that they were hyped out to be. Look at Benson. He had been sent to an expensive public school and he had turned out to be .... what he was. She on the other hand had studied in government run schools and colleges and was in no way worse of. If she were in Benson's place, she would have done her best to impress her father-in-law before demanding to start her own business. Not that Benson would agree. 'He will never give me a chance. He wants to be the big boss all the time.' Maybe there was some truth in what Benson said. Her father-in-law seemed to be not too unhappy with the way things were. Benson did some minor errands for his father and then spent the rest of his time at his club. His father complained about Benson's behaviour occasionally, mentioned him in his evening prayers and let things drift.
Anila looked at the clock. It was a quarter to four. She had to be out of the House by four since Pennu was likely to return by four fifteen. She quickly grabbed a few sarees, churidhars and other garments and stuffed them into her suitcase. Then she ran into the adjacent room which served as Rahul's playroom. It had Rahul's toys scattered all over its floor. The chest of drawers at the far end of the room held Rahul's clothes. She pulled open the top draw, took out a few shirts and trousers, and threw them on the floor in a pile. She closed the drawer and pulled open the second one below. The television downstairs started to blare, its volume increasing in jerks. Was it Rahul? He was not yet three, but knew how to switch on the TV using the remote. Anila walked out of the room and went half way down the stairs. Yes, it was Rahul who, having managed to switch on the TV, was now examining the various buttons on the remote control in his hand. Anila went back to the playroom. She picked out some more of Rahul's clothes and added them to the pile on the floor. She needed to decide on a suitcase. No, she would take a bag. She went back to their room and took out the black leather duffel bag which was kept on top of the wooden cupboard. She then went back to Rahul's room and stuffed the pile of clothes into the duffel bag. There was lots more space in the bag. Now to collect some of Rahul's toys. Where was his Tiger? Rahul would not survive without his Tiger. Anila could not find the Tiger. She would have to ask Rahul where it was. She climbed down the stairs only to find her mother-in-law sitting on the floor with Rahul, playing with him. Rahul had both his hands on the ground and he was gazing at his grandmother, a mischievous smile on his face. She could not ask Rahul where his Tiger was. Well, he would have to do without it. She started to go back, but her mother-in-law spotted her. 'We are playing akku thikku, she happily informed her. Her mother-in-law spent most of her waking hours with Rahul. Would her mother do the same? Of course she would. No, she wouldn't. She had to run the house, take care of Anila's grandparents and did not have much free time on her hands. Anila picked up a few other toys and put them into the duffel bag. She realised with a feeling of despair that she would now have to leave in full view of her mother-in-law. How would she react? Would her mother-in-law have the presence of mind to call her father-in-law on his mobile? She might. And was her father-in-law likely to use force to stop her? Well, he might too. At that moment a brilliant idea struck her. She went downstairs.
'Rahul, you haven't had your bath today,' she announced.
Her mother-in-law smiled. 'Kuttappa, haven't you had your bath?' She fondled Rahul's hair.
'Did he wake you up?' Anila asked her mother-in-law politely.
'Yes, he did. But it does not matter.'
'Oh, please do go back to sleep. Let me give Rahul a bath.' She picked up Rahul and said, 'time to have your bath, you naughty boy.'
'Nooo,' Rahul moaned, his face twisted into a violent grimace. He held his hands out to his grandmother.
'Go on, moné. Go have your bath. We'll play after you have had your bath.'
Anila started to walk up the stairs, Rahul in her arms. 'Why don't you give him his bath downstairs here?' her mother-in-law wanted to know.
'Oh don't worry. All his things are upstairs. His soap and all that.'
Her mother-in-law happily went back to her room. Anila put Rahul down and made him walk up the stairs. Why did Benson have to take after his mother? If only Benson weren't expected to make money, he would have happily spent his life with his friends and son. Why couldn't he be like his father? Hard-working, motivated and driven. Someone who got what he wanted all the time. All his sisters had more of her father-in-law's qualities than Benson did. They all got what they wanted. Did Benson inherit his behaviour or was it shaped by his father who liked to control everything? Her mother-in-law was a doormat and her father-in-law was quite happy with it. Did he subconsciously try to make Benson a pushover as well? Was he one of those men who could not tolerate another male challenger to his throne? Even if it was his own son? It didn't matter. Anila was going to get away from all that.
As soon as she reached the landing, Anila asked him,' where's your Tiger?' Rahul assumed that his mother had given up her plans to give him a bath. He pointed towards his playroom and started to walk towards it. Anila followed him. 'No, it's not there. Where did you leave it? Didn't you play with it yesterday?' A note of panic crept into her voice as Rahul wandered all over his playroom. Never mind. They would leave with whatever toys she could take. If she packed too many toys, she would find it difficult to carry them all. What was the time? It was almost four o'clock. Well, she would leave with whatever she had packed. Should she change? No, there was no time. The crumbled saree she was wearing would have to do. No, wait, unless she was well-dressed, she would be treated with suspicion. She was not one of those beautiful women who had men jumping up to help her, irrespective of the clothes she wore. And she would need a lot of help before she managed to get to Kalpetta.
Relax, she told herself. She only had to change into a different saree. And comb her hair and apply some make up and get Rahul into a different set of clothes. Her wallet was loaded with money. That was the only item she could pack in advance without attracting anyone's curiosity. She noticed that Rahul had wandered off downstairs. Anila ran downstairs, hoping her mother-in-law would not be there. She wasn't. Rahul had the Tiger clutched in his hands. 'Where was your Tiger?’ Anila asked him as she dragged him upstairs. Why did she ask him so many questions? Rahul was a boy of very few words. 'Moné, give me the Tiger.' Rahul refused to part with the Tiger. Anila had to tug it a few times before Rahul let go. She opened the duffel bag and dropped the Tiger inside. She zipped the bag and tried to lift it. It was quite heavy. She had to carry her suitcase as well. Rahul would have to walk by himself. 'Oh God! Please let things work out,' Anila prayed silently. Anila took Rahul by his hand and they went to the bedroom. She sat Rahul on the bed and started to take off her saree. Rahul got up and started to walk towards his playroom. Anila took longer than usual to change her saree. Her hands were trembling. Now she had to change Rahul's clothes. It was ten past four. She ran into the playroom. Rahul had unzipped the duffel bag, taken the Tiger out and was playing with it. Anila snapped. 'Why did you do it?' she screamed at Rahul and tried to take away the Tiger. Rahul resisted and held back. Anila pinched him on his shoulder and Rahul started to cry. She tried to hush him. The last thing she wanted was her mother-in-law to come up and find her all packed and ready to leave. She held Rahul to her chest. 'It's okay moné. We'll have a bath now. You can play after that.'
Rahul was mollified and stopped crying. Anila realised that she wasn't going to do it. There was no way she could do it. And she woud be stupid to do it even if she could. The realisation slowly sank in. Had she known all along that she would never leave? She couldn't have travelled with fewer clothes or toys. She couldn't have travelled unless she was well dressed. Anila sat on the bed and started to sob with relief. Thankfully, Benson was unlikely to come home anytime soon.
Published earlier in Epic India Magazine
© Vinod George Joseph