The house stood behind two imposingly large trees, their crowns interlinked high above. Mira looked carefully, trying to figure out what trees they were with leaves as large as human faces. “Ficus lyrate or the fiddle leaf fig,” a voice emanated from within the overgrown garden. Mira and Shyam peered through the enormous black iron gate to see who might be speaking to them, but they could see no one. A profusion of foliage screened every living thing from view. Even on a quick count, Mira checked off at least thirty varieties of plants of varying hues: greens of every conceivable order, purples, maroons, reds, and the speckled ones which snuck into the spaces in between. The entire place looked like the plants had the run of it, but instead of the usual calm and peace that comes upon one in a garden, Mira felt her heartbeat quicken, filling her with dread.
Shyam didn’t look very pleased either; he was itching to return to the hotel, where, he fancied, a late lunch of Sri Lankan delicacies awaited. The buffet ran during specific hours; he would be really annoyed if Mira’s unplanned sojourn cost them their lunch. He put his hand on her arm, “Oy, let’s go back. Seems like no one lives here.”
“What? If no one lives here, who just spoke to us?” Mira brushed off her husband’s arm, who took to loudly swatting mosquitoes. “Hey, shhh! Let’s at least try. She’s the most renowned writer living in Sri Lanka today. It could be really interesting to meet her!”
“Asia – in all of Asia!” That raspy voice was at it again. It really did seem like one of the fig trees was speaking to them. But suddenly, a tall man in a cane hat emerged with a trowel in hand, sweat falling from his nose. He wiped his mouth and moustache with his left forearm and looked at the two interlopers closely. “Are you here to see Marianne? She doesn’t take visitors these days.”
Mira looked crestfallen. “Oh. We were hoping to meet her. We’ve come from India.”
“Yes, yes, people come from all over the world to see her. We should charge a fee, I joke with Amruthalingam.” The man roared at his own jest. “OK, stay put. Let me go see what she is doing.” And just like that, he disappeared into a path leading back to the house.
“Who the hell is Amruthalingam?” whispered Shyam into Mira’s ear.
“Shh! Let’s just wait, ok?” Mira stared into the clearing between the trees that must lead to the entrance to the house. She had the mien of a fan, Shyam chuckled, as he saw her feet tap impatiently, holding on to the gate as if she would wrench it open. He poked her side with a tickling finger. “Oy. Will Mary mata give darshan today? What do you think?”
“Ooof! Can you quit bothering me, Shyam!” Mira did look like a devotee in front of a sanctum.
It was as if the land had erupted into life and magically sprung up around the house, making only enough room for the house and nothing else.
“Come on in! Come in, you two,” a voice boomed out from within. Mira’s face instantly lit up and she yelled, “How? The gate is locked.” She rattled the gate to show it was, indeed, so.
“Go to your right and behind the gammalu tree, you will find a small gate. Come in from there.” This time, the voice that issued the instruction was a thin, melodious voice.
Shyam and Mira looked at each other, wide-eyed and beaming: “Is that her voice?” Mira gestured excitedly and pushed Shyam aside, “move, moooove!”
They walked past the thick border wall covered with eaves, which yielded to an unexpected tree. And there, right behind the tree trunk was a small black gate. As Mira unlatched it, she thought of little Mary Lennox entering the secret garden, and her heart raced with joy.
Shyam was right behind her, her hand in his secure grasp. It was a marriage in which Shyam often silently manoeuvered from behind, anchoring Mira’s instinct for adventure. Now too, he pressed her hand, gently pulling back as she strode forth. There was a well-trodden path to the house from the gate: it was obvious that although the imposing and intricate black gate was the main entrance, this was the way that everyone used. Shyam looked for a car inside the garden but couldn’t see a garage or an automobile that could explain the big gate. He was struck instead by the sight of a defunct fountain. In its centre was a knock-off Roman statue of a naked Cupid; mischievously, he wondered if water spouted from the little dick.
“Well, she is, after all, the greatest living writer in all of Asia. Are you going to let some dogs stop you?”
There was something about the whole place which felt a little off. As they walked in, Mira and Shyam took in the full size of the garden. Oddly enough, one could see no flowers anywhere – it was a cornucopia of leaves. It was as if the land had erupted into life and magically sprung up around the house, making only enough room for the house and nothing else.
After a five-minute ambage, they were standing before a long, curving verandah with three wide steps leading into the dark interior of the house. Thick Doric columns pillared the building; yellow walls in disrepair indicated that the house would need new paint in a couple of years. The floor was a deep oxide red, of the kind Mira had seen in many homes in Southern India. Above, the leaves gently cradled the mouth of the house, creating an arbour, haloing the place with the promise of a great unknown.
Although her heart was hammering, Mira tried to appear calm: “Hello?”
Suddenly, ferocious barks sprang from within. A din ensued. Between howls, growls, barks, and yelps, Mira and Shyam stood greatly alarmed, hand in hand, ready to take to their heels.
“Gabriel! Ernest! Stop it, you two. Or I am going to come and shoot you dead!” The man’s voice boomed above the din. There was the sound of someone hitting something; in no time, the dogs quietened.
“Anglo dogs?” Shyam whispered into Mira’s ears. He was grinning but Mira was not to be distracted.
“So scary. Should we go in?” She asked hesitantly.
“Well, she is, after all, the greatest living writer in all of Asia. Are you going to let some dogs stop you?” Shyam gargoyled his face menacingly. Mira pinched him hard. “Oof!”
“Oh Appah, stop! Do not mind our dogs, don’t! Come on in, both of you.” A midsummer noon vision in blue and white floated towards them. Shyam and Mira understood that this was the source of that melodious voice they had heard earlier.
“Hellowww! I am Lakshmi, but please, call me Lakhee – everyone does! Come, come! Mamah will be so pleased to see you! Soh pleased!”
Mira was a little confused by the air of informality and intimacy with which the woman was inviting them in. Did she confuse us with someone else, she wondered, as Shyam held back her hand tightly, indicating that he didn’t want to go in yet.
“Hel…hello.. I’m Mira and this is my husband, Shyam. We are from India and we were wondering if we could meet—”
“Of course! Of course! You must! You must!” She had a very odd way of repeating and emphasising every second utterance.
As Lakhee moved closer, they noticed her pale face was simultaneously childlike and ageless; a small rosebud mouth and framed wide eyes – caught, it seemed, in a state of perpetual surprise. At just about five feet, she looked anything between 20 and 40 years of age. Her unbrushed hair reached just below her shoulders, as if she had been solicitous that morning only to put on face powder and lipstick. Beneath the layered blue batik kurta all flounce and swirl, her body remained hidden, and Mira watched warily her white cotton shawl trail loosely behind her like a cape on a wraith.
“Please. Please. Do tell us more about you! And please come in!” Lakhee cooed at them, and Shyam and Mira were whisked into the house.
It took them a while to adjust to the darkness within the great hall; what had looked cavernous from the outside was indeed a cavern within. The entire place was packed with furniture – everything looked ancient, full of history and value. There was a film of dust everywhere and Shyam shuddered at the thought of dusting the place. With so much furniture, it’s a miracle they can even move about!
A large piano caught their eye right away – a grand! Mira’s eyes widened in a visceral wow. Right next to it was a huge plant, half of whose foliage was falling over the piano and a sitting stool which appeared to have become the abode for a precariously balanced pile of books. In fact, books lay strewn everywhere. There were at least three different sofas in the room: the biggest one was in the centre, a sable green velvet affair, devoured by cushions of varying prints. The whole place looked like a bazaar had bloomed inside their living room.
The walls of the hall were covered in a miscellany of photo frames and decorative plates. One was half plastered in wallpaper as if someone had begun a DIY project but quit midway. There was bric-a-brac everywhere; everything from the outside world, it seemed, had made its meaningless way into the room.
Shyam still held Mira securely. Her hand responded to pressures from his, a tacit language between the two enabling them to share their mutual sense of alarm.
“Don’t be put off by Gabriel and Ernest. Those jokers are all bark and no bite. Bloody good for only chomping through meat and bone!” The tall man was back inside the house and came forward to meet them both. “Hello! Hello! I am Kasinathan but call me Kasi – everyone does!” He held out a hand to Shyam and Mira as they reintroduced themselves.
“Are you wondering why those names?” Kasi asked in the manner of an adept guide.
“What names?” Shyam replied, a little perplexed. Mira elbowed him discreetly. “Oh, the dogs! Yes, are they significant names?” Shyam asked, without a clue.
Kasi’s face became lopsided with a big smile, “Oh, come on, you two, guess! You are book readers, you should know.”
“Actually, I’m a mathematician – ” Shyam began shyly.
“Is it for Hemingway and García Márquez?” Mira almost screamed out her hypothesis.
“Brilliant, Watson! So elementary, when you think about it, no?” Kasi laughed. “Marianne loathes these two writers – so, we thought we would surround her with the names because she loves the dogs! And that, right there, is what you book lovers would call a paradox!”
“She loathes Hemingway and Márquez? But why?” It was Mira’s turn to be baffled.
“Oh, Marianne has her theories. Wouldn’t we all want to know! She calls these writers misogynistic.” He said the word with a practised emphasis. “She will have nothing to do with their writings, you know. ‘My whole body of work will be a response to their callow tales of male egos and anxieties,’ she likes to say. She will not brook women being thought of as less. And I agree! Look, Lakhee is the light of our lives – and Marianne has brought her up as proud and strong. Lakhee, where did you go, dove?”
Lakhee popped up, dove-like, in front of them with a book. “Are you here to get Mah’s newest? It is making such waves, I tell you! I told her, see if people will not come hounding you again!”
Kasi bellowed, “Lakhee, what do you mean hounding? Have you seen our hounds? So bloody docile, I tell you! I could have bought two goats and they would have been more useful!” Kasi’s favourite topic, it seemed, was his dogs.
Shyam, who had been quiet, said, “They sound aggressive. That’s a good quality in a guard dog.”
Lakhee looked surprised suddenly, her eyes widening at Shyam. Then, abruptly, she moved towards him, arm outstretched. A confounded Shyam took a step back, but Lakhee kept walking past him towards an open window behind them and bolted the panel. “This is so odd! So very odd! I am positive I shut the window an hour back. How did it open? Appah, what is this!”
Kasi snickered loudly. “It must be the ghost of Mrs. Perera. Doesn’t Marianne say she doesn’t like closed windows?”
“Oh Appah! Now don’t you encourage Mamah’s stories! She will just make up anything in that mysterious brain of hers, I tell you!” Lakhee seemed to have this unusual way of aspirating her Mamah and Appah.
Shyam and Mira looked at each other:“Mrs. Perera?” Shyam mimed privately at her. Mira looked away instantly; if she laughed now, it would be so embarrassing!
All this while, there had been no sight or sound of Marianne herself. The low afternoon sun threw a veil of shimmering dust upon everything in the room as if someone had scattered a fistful of sand in the air. It was a large colonial-style hall, with high upper beams and long windows that let in sunlight in streams. Not a single electrical light was on in the room, the inhabitants relying entirely on natural light during the day. Mira found it hard to focus as the crowding furniture created penumbral sections, casting dim, moving shadows as if the room had more than four people.
She had the mien of a fan, Shyam chuckled, as he saw her feet tap impatiently, holding on to the gate as if she would wrench it open.
By now, they had all circled towards the sofa and although no one had asked them to sit, Shyam, who was tired after all the walking around town, sat down on one side. After seeing that neither Kasi nor Lakhee minded, Mira also sat down, glad to rest her legs. There was a peacock chair next to the sofa upon which Kasi descended. Lakhee was still floating around the hall, moving things from one table to the next, her shawl trailing in the air, like an extension of her self.
A loud wail cut through the afternoon. “That would be Gabriel. He’s the clever one. He knows we have visitors and he wants a sniff.” Kasi’s big smile and wide teeth were out again, his eyes glowed as he lumbered up.
Mira, alarmed, cried out, “No, no. Please, don’t bring the dogs here. I am very afraid of dogs.” She held out her hands in a gesture of no.
Kasi bellowed his big laugh. “Would you like some water? I am afraid we are out of wine. Who finished it all, you might ask? And I would have to concede: yours truly!”
“Appah, you are overdoing it, I tell you. How will that infernal pressure of yours ever come down if you ignore what the doc says?” Lakhee had moved closer to Shyam. Mira wondered how she got there; just a moment back, she had been near the piano.
“Come, come, sit near the light where I can see you. Sorry, what did you say was your name? Ram?” Lakhee instructed as she took the cushioned stool near where Shyam was sitting.
“Rum! Now there’s a drink for plebs, if you ask me. Never got the hang of it, you know. Is Old Monk still a big thing in India? But how would you young ones know? It’s all this silly fluff the youngsters drink these days – cockatootails, mockatootails and whatnot.” Kasi laughed and spoke at the same time, loud and full-throated as if he were speaking over a chasm. The hall echoed his resonant voice which boomed through the particles in the air. He now moved towards one of the many tables in the room and grabbed a book. “See this?”
Mira and Shyam glanced at each other nervously and then looked towards the book. Kasi came over to the sofa. He thumped on the cover and a puff of dust rose up. “The Fruits of the Sea. This is a great book about fish. All the way from the ocean to our table.”
“Did you write it?” Shyam asked ignorantly.
Kasi let out a laugh. “Nononono, my man. I bought it. I picked it up in England, you know. When was it, dove?”
“1989.” Lakhee cooed back.
“Yes. That was a great trip. Absolutely fantastic trip. Marianne was being felicitated at King’s and we were the toast of the university. Amazing time. Amazing book. I picked it up at a small bookstore, you know.”
“Didn’t they offer Mamah a job, Appah?” Lakhee queried innocently.
“Yah, but I tell you, who wants to work in England? Then or now! Why did we become independent if we only wanted British jobs? Hah, as if we could be persuaded.” Kasi dramatically dismissed England from their company.
Gabriel – or was it Ernest, Mira couldn’t tell – was still moaning somewhere. The water had long been forgotten. Marianne was still missing. The city seemed far away. Mira wondered if the trees and bushes muffled sound. Only light seemed to get through; otherwise, life inside the great hall seemed moated away from the outside world. She suppressed a yawn and looked at Shyam who, Mira found, was looking funnily at her. His eyes motioned her towards Lakhee, seated on the stool right next to him. Lakhee was eying Shyam like a child looking at an ice cream walla.
“Dove, do you know if Marianne’s appointment for Saturday has been confirmed?” Kasi shifted his gaze slowly to his daughter, who let out a high-pitched scream, “Appahhh!” She shot out of the room like a tracer bullet with her hand to her head.
Kasi looked at Mira and smiled. “What would I do without this girl? She is the brains of this family, I tell you. Marianne’s calendar is chock-a-block full of events, and there’s no secretary, obviously. We have to do everything. The phone rings incessantly. This Saturday appointment, for instance – Marianne agreed at the last moment, you see. But have we confirmed? I was just thinking about that when you said that thing you said.”
Maybe we are not alone. I mean, Mrs. Perera is definitely around. And probably also some guy called Amruthalingam. And the two dogs – what were they called, Gabrielo and Ernesto? Are you sure we are alone?”
Shyam looked quizzically at Mira: what was the thing he said she said? She whispered, “phone kidhar hai?” Where’s the phone? They spoke in Hindi when they wanted to be private and so far, it had worked well for them because, despite Bollywood, no one in Sri Lanka really seemed to know the tongue.
Shyam got that the Hindi was meant to exclude Kasi, but there was no need. Kasi had now moved to one of the tables and was unscrewing what looked like a bottle of medicine. “Where’s the damn spoon?” Without looking for one, Kasi downed a disturbing gulp of what looked like cough syrup. He made a sound with his mouth to indicate that he enjoyed what he had had.
Shyam looked around for a phone in that pandemonium of a room. “No idea,” he said sotto voce.
Mira spoke to Kasi with hesitation in her voice. “Is Marianne home? I know, we’ve come without notice, but we didn’t have your phone number. We’re very sorry to barge in like this.”
“Ohhh, never mind! Never mind! We love impromptu visitors! Marianne loves surprises. And how could you have called us? Got rid of the phone some months back, you know. Bloody bloodsucking phone company was overcharging us. So, you know what we did? We quit paying! That fixed them. Good riddance, I tell you!”
Shyam tried to catch Mira’s eye but she was deliberately avoiding looking at him, he could tell.
“So, as you were saying. What were you saying? Ah yes, you want Marianne’s latest book, right? Let me go see if a copy can be found.” Kasi lumbered off towards a curtain which, Mira and Shyam realised, covered a door to another room.
Suddenly, they were both alone. The afternoon had turned sluggish and although the high roof ensured there was a light breeze in the room from all the open windows, there was no pedestal or ceiling fan anywhere and the mugginess was beginning to make an impact.
“What is with this sofa?” Mira said to Shyam suddenly. “Am I imagining it or am I sinking into the damn thing?”
“What? My side is okay. Do you want to come and sit on this side?” Shyam got up. Mira got up too. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What the hell, Shyam! Where have we gotten ourselves into? Why are we talking about the sofa when we are alone?!”
Shyam smiled, “Well, maybe we are not alone. I mean, Mrs. Perera is definitely around. And probably also some guy called Amruthalingam. And the two dogs – what were they called, Gabrielo and Ernesto? Are you sure we are alone?”
Mira was shaking her head now. “And where the hell is Marianne?”
“Marianne’s new book is fan-tas-tic!” Kasi was back. He had brought a clutch of books out and proceeded to put them on a nearby table. He grabbed the topmost and brought it to Shyam and Mira. “You must read the preface. Here. She says, ‘Kasi, my Kasi/ how your finger leads me on’ – there is poetry even in her preface! Only Marianne is capable of this kind of rebellion. Even now, there is steel in that old bird, I say. Did you know that when she approached the National Book Commission, they told her, bring the whole manuscript first, we can’t commit to anything? They think that this… this condition has her beat? Have they forgotten who she is?! Scoundrels! Not fit to publish two lines from Marianne’s pen, I say!”
He held the book open but had still not shared it with either Mira or Shyam. It was a prop to his extemporising, and he was rifling through its pages as he made his point. “Look at this one. I think Marianne wrote this when I was working in the garden. She told me, sitting in her favourite chair, that she was writing me into one of her creations. I told her, it better be among your best, girlie, or I’m not going to do housework for free!” Kasi guffawed. His chest opened out and his salt and pepper hair tousled over his eyes. He had a charming way of smoothing away his hair. “That was a good day. She doesn’t come down very much now. But oh, my Marianne has a thousand books yet in her! Ten thousand, I say!”
“Can I see the book?” Mira interjected softly with an outstretched hand towards Kasi. What condition? Mira wondered, for she had heard nothing adverse about the great writer’s health.
“Yes, yes, I brought it for you to see. But we don’t have free copies to give, ok? Marianne gives away her copies and then we are stuck because we don’t have any for ourselves! So, please no free copies, ok?”
“Could we buy one then?” Shyam averred.
“Buy? Ah. Oh. Righto! Well, if you must buy a copy, I could…um… check.” Kasi moved to the small pile he had brought out. “This latest one is 500 Sri Lankan rupees. Are you interested in some of her other books? Look at these.”
“Appaaah! the Saturday appointment is confirmed. You terrified me, you madman! I had to go check my diary to make sure.” Lakhee floated in. Almost instinctively, Shyam moved closer to Mira, who was reading one of the books carefully.
“I keep a diary, you know.” Lakhee smiled disarmingly at Shyam. “I write everything that happens to me during the day. Everything. Nothing is too insignificant to write about if you know how to record it, Mamah says, and I agree!”
Shyam smiled sympathetically. He was a mathematician by training; there was little he knew about literature other than what Mira told him.
“Would you like to read one of my diaries?” Lakhee’s smile had not faded a bit.
Shyam couldn’t hide his alarm. “What? No. I mean, I don’t want to read anything personal. It wouldn’t be right.”
Lakhee laughed, “Ayyoh, soooo cute! Appah is always telling me to publish my diaries. He thinks I have my mother’s vivid imagination and her gift of telling. Don’t you, Appah?”
Kasi was not in the room anymore but none of them had seen him go. It didn’t matter to Lakhee, who continued, “Of course, you can read my diaries! That is the whole point of writing, isn’t it? There must be a reader! How are we writers to survive if you don’t read us? To read is to remember; to remember is to be once more – that’s what Mamah always says.”
Mira looked up from the book in her hand, “Do you write too, Lakhee?”
Lakhee’s gaze came back to Mira. “I was just telling your husband that we all write in this house. Each one of us. Mamah jokes that if you gave the dogs pens, they would too – ha hah!”
As if on cue, Kasi burst into the hall from a door at the back – how did that door materialise, Shyam thought – and pulling on two leashes were two huge dogs. The hall erupted with the din of barking and Kasi’s booming voice: “Did anyone call us? Here we are!”
Mira rushed behind Shyam in fear and panic. Lakhee laughed maniacally. Shyam held Mira behind him by one arm and with his other arm, he motioned to Kasi. “Please, please. Mira is very afraid of dogs. Can you take them away?”
He held the book open but had still not shared it with either Mira or Shyam. It was a prop to his extemporising, and he was rifling through its pages as he made his point.
Gabriel and Ernest were not having any of it. Their barks thudded into the walls of the great hall and bumped against every piece of furniture before hitting the eardrums. Everything was chaos.
“They won’t quieten unless they have had a sniff.” Kasi clarified.
“No, no, no – no sniffs, please.” Mira beseeched. Shyam also refused any sniffing.
“They’re the sweetest clowns in the whole country, I promise you,” Kasi tried again. He was already straining at the two leashes as the dogs kept pulling. But Mira and Shyam stood firm in disallowing any further proximity.
“Appah! Take them away. Can’t you see Ram and his wife don’t want to?”
“Okay, dove.” Kasi shrugged as if to say “your loss” and pulled the two hulking beasts away from the guests. “Come, you two buffaloes! Come back! You want some milk? You are not having any more honey, if you don’t listen to me. N-o-h-o-n-e-y, you hear, you damn lugs? Ha-ha!”
Mira’s heart was thumping, and the books had fallen from her hands. She now picked them up. “Where’s Marianne?” she asked Lakhee in a grim voice.
“Oh, Mamah will be down. She doesn’t like visitors, you know. Especially if we haven’t prepared her for the visit. Her afternoon siesta is vital to her magic! She is her own sweet law, you know, darling. And if she’s writing, who would dare interrupt her! Not even her nurse would take that risk!” Lakhee dramatised a mock shudder.
Shyam grabbed a few books from the set Kasi had brought out. “We’d like to buy your mother’s books, if you don’t mind. And then, we should be on our way.”
“Buy? Oh nononono! Mamah would so not like her books being sold from her home! It would be most irregular.” Lakhee looked unsure. “I mean, if she wasn’t sleeping soundly, I would have certainly asked her.”
Mira looked crestfallen again. “Oh, but Kasi just said that we could buy a copy of her latest book.”
“Oh, did he now? Oh you poor you – just look at your sweet face! Ram, where did you get this irresistible creature! So, so adorable! If Appah said you could buy, who am I to say no? We’ll just not tell Mamah, ok!” Lakhee winked a giant wink, her moonlike face transformed by childish glee at the secret they now shared.
Shyam took out his wallet. “What about these other two books?” Mira added one more to the set in Shyam’s hand. “Ok, and this one?”
“Oh, these ones are old! But you know, the old ones are classics. She was an iconoclast, you know. She broke so many barriers for us women across the world. The old ones, you can pay 500 Sri Lankan rupees. That’s so cheap in Indian rupees, no?” Lakhee laughed.
“Not really, but it’s okay – we want to buy them,” Shyam replied.
“And what about the latest book?” Mira asked.
“The latest one is, in my opinion, the absolute best Mamah has ever written! Her whole style has changed, you know – ever since…ever since her Alzheimer’s–” Lakhee’s voice grew low and distant. Melancholy stole into the great hall like an unbidden guest.
A moment later: “But, oh my, this new, mature style, they’re calling it – so cryptic, so wise!” And she was back. “So few copies have been printed, you know? It’ll be rare very soon! But the publisher was so professional. Of course, Mamah is an icon – they were only too glad to publish her. Seven hundred rupees is fine.”
Shyam checked the money and handed it over. Lakhee did not count but held the folded notes in her hand tightly. “Where is my bag? Oh, Appah, where did you put it! This man, I tell you.” Mira looked around in that Araby of a hall. An elephant could be sitting in the room and one wouldn’t know.
“It was absolutely lovely to meet the two of you! I cannot believe our afternoon was so well-spent! I must write this whole afternoon in my diary – when it is all still fresh in my mind. If Mamah agrees, I might even send this afternoon as my writing sample!” Lakhee was already moving.
Shyam and Mira froze, unsure of what to say or do. Mira was about to stammer out the one question they had continuously posed all afternoon, when a light pressure from Shyam’s hand restrained her.
To read is to remember; to remember is to be once more – that’s what Mamah always says.”
“Yes, well, it was lovely to meet you. Thank you for your time and… the books.” Shyam said. “Could you tell Kasi we said goodbye?”
“Oh, Appah has probably gone off to write now. All that gardening and meeting visitors gives him a real appetite for the world. He is a writer too, you know. Some other day, I will show you his books. He’s a great, great writer – but don’t let me keep you two lovebirds!” She laughed delightedly. With her arms around Mira and Shyam and just the lightest of touches on their bodies, Lakhee glided them out.
Iridescent light peeked through the trees creating a play of shadows. The house seemed like it had fallen under the spell of the thick web of trees. Crumpled newspapers and a scattering of used books lay across chairs in the verandah. A much thumbed-through book caught Mira’s eye: Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer’s Journey: A Guide for Families and Caregivers by Jolene Brackey.
“Slip out the way you came in, ok? So wonderful to meet you two! I must tell Mamah everything that happened today. She will be so astonished!” Lakhee’s overjoyed face with her frenetically waving hands was the last thing they saw of her, as Shyam and Mira walked away from the house towards the little black gate. A spry, middle-aged woman was entering – she had a smile on her face and a white polythene packet that read “Medicare Nursing Service, Colombo.”
As they marched out quietly, hand in hand once more, this time Shyam leading, the plants rustled in the low summer breeze. Mira looked at the still garden one last time, its enchantment and mystery bringing up her crestfallen face. Her eyes went up to a glass-panelled window where a faded blue and white curtain riffled in the light wind. Mira thought of Marianne, who had been a shining light on solitary evenings in her small home in Coonoor, and her eyes brimmed over. Her feet were unwilling; Shyam turned, bending for a gentle kiss. “Come.”
Far away, a bus’s horn could be heard like a long-lost tune.
Anupama Mohan teaches English at Presidency University, Kolkata, and is the author of 'Utopia and the Village in South Asian Literatures' (2012) and the edited collection 'Maritime Transmodernities: Literatures of the Indian Ocean' (2019). She is also editor of Samyukta Fiction and a writer of fiction and poetry.