It was that time of the day when a little rain and few clouds make the sun give everything around a dusty look. Sitting at one end was Grandma enjoying the weather and watching the mundane everyday affair. Children were playing in the courtyard, with Mala shouting, asking them to go and play outside.
“Shanu! Go outside and play, your father is about to come. And I won’t be saving you from the beating this time”, Mala shouted again.
“Ma today’s saturday. He won’t be back till 9”, came the retort.
“SHANU!!”, she came out with a broom in her hand, threatening to sweep aside the kids as if she’s had been transformed into Gulliver or they into Lilliputians.
The kids ran away, but then stopped again just outside the main door, turning back to ascertain the resolve in their mother’s eyes. But there she was, just an arm’s length from them, still marching towards them. With a loud shout, mixed with laughter and thrill, they ran again, this time not turning back till they had left 4-5 similarly constructed houses behind.
The courtyard is pretty small, though big by any standards in their locality, as few seasons ago Mala’s family and theirs decided to bring down the wall separating their houses so as to increase the courtyard.
Today Grandma was alone at home as Biju, her son, had taken his wife and their son to the nearby Circus. It was Biju’s father and Mala’s father in law, who had struck the deal. Both had been partners in the Pan-Bidi shop they had been running together for 15 years. And since most of the time one was at other’s house, one fine day they decided to bring the wall down. People around were filled with envy when they heard the news, not that they didn’t envy their friendship before but the thought of an increased courtyard added weight to it. So much so that grandma considered their death, after an unruly drunk driver ran into their small pan-bidi shop during night, to be the bad omen brought by covetousness of the community. Now she seemed to have gotten over the incident, partly by the fact that both would be together in the after world.
Grandma was looking across the sky, may be hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband in some formation of the clouds, or may be wondering how many rains it will take for his memories to wash away.
There was a knock on the door, as the door was open the men outside were peeking inside. They were in bit better clothes, or rather far better clothes going by the standards around the slum they were living in. As is the instinct always, Mala sensed them from some government office. May be they are in there to give the compensation for the accident that took three seasons ago, grandma wondered. She looked at them and then turned her gaze away as she saw Mala marching towards them. Of late she seemed to be quite detached from anything that seemed to happen around her.
Grandmother looked at them again, as the noise of their chattering grew. She saw Mala and the three other men coming towards her.
The one in black shirt asked, “AuntyJi, Who is eldest of the family?”
“Tell them Ma, who is the elder one Biju or Shyam”, added Mala.
Grandma looked at them with a blank not understanding what they were asking. The other two men looked impatient; one in white shirt muttered something to the one in black.
Mala rephrased the question again, “Ma Isn’t Shyam elder than Biju?”
Grandma shaked her head, though nobody could decipher whether it was affirmation or she just wanted them to ask the question again. Mala looked worried, managing a smile she looked at the officer in Black. Slightly nodding his head, the officer said, “Alright, it ok now”, and he wrote something in a paper, then asked Mala to write something, then nodded again saying something to grandma, which she again couldn’t understand.
Fifteen minutes later she was still sitting at the same spot. It was getting dark now. She could hear the chirping of the kids, they were coming back. Shyam had been back home, few minutes ago and she had been hearing him and Mala fighting again as usual. Suddenly there was a big bang at the main door, Binu came jumping in and as he caught glimpse of grandma he came running towards her.
“Ma I saw a huge Lion there. A man was making him do things as if the Lion was a cat.”, said Binu with excitement. Just then he saw the other kids and ran towards them.
Shyam had come out now and was taking to Biju. Biju was now shouting at Shyam. They looked to be fighting over something, but grandma couldn’t be sure, she dismissed it as a daily chore and turned her gaze towards the kids. Mala had also joined the fight, and then suddenly Shyam slapped her. There was silence for some seconds. Grandma looked at them more attentively now, though again she couldn’t understand much but they seemed to be talking about some Municipal Officers, doing some legalization, and the land on which they were living now now was in Shyam’s name.
As Shyam moved his eyes from Mala to Biju, his expression of hatred slowely turned to be of being ashamed. Grandma now understood what had was happening. With her eyes watery now, she turned her gaze again towards the sky, hoping to unite with her husband soon.