The Come Back – Chapter 24

by Anita Menon

Little Maya sat on her desk doing her home work in her note-book where the numbers swam in different colours.  Her mother fussed around her, chanting something incomprehensible in Tamil. She understood very little of the language since she was born in London, only going for annual visits to her parents village in Kerala. She was a quiet child, lost in her own little world; painting, writing or simply staring into space with no particular thought in mind.

On one such sunny afternoon, when the numbers in her Math book were totally themselves up in her head, she heard someone call her. Her mother who was dusting all the imaginary dust from all the shelves of her room didn’t seem to have heard the person. Well, it wasn’t a person, but a small shriveled up child sitting on a her bed, dangling his short legs in the air. He wore a checkered white and red shirt and cotton shorts that was fraying at the edges. He was staring at her, completing ignoring her mother in the room. Where did he come from, she thought and she immediately went up to him. Up close, she found his face was full of marks; blue and some red.

” Who are you?” she whispered, not wanting to attract her mother’s attention. Why wasn’t her mother bothered by the sudden appearance of this little boy, she wondered. Her mother had told her about beggar children in India and always sympathized with them. In their native village, her mother donated a money to the local Temple. She also donated food to the scrawny, worn out looking children standing outside the temple. She wouldn’t touch them while doing so, but simply dropped the food packet into their dirty hands. In an event, where any of the enthusiastic little vagrants touched her, she would drop everything there and rush home to take a bath. So if her mother found this little tramp on her bed, she would view it as an ultimate act of desecration and may spend days cleansing their home with holy water and disinfectants.

The tramp seemed unperturbed by her question and took Maya by her hand back to her table and opened her drawer. In there, sat a little diary with a pencil on the side. He took the diary out and opened a fresh page and then handed her the pencil.

” Write.”, he commanded.

” What?” she asked, timidly.

” Write my story.” he answered.

“I have homework to finished. Appa will be angry if I don’t finish it before he comes back from the University.”, she told him defiantly.

Not to be dissuaded so easily, the tramp took her hand and pushed the pencil in and ordered, ” Write.”

Fearing that he may raise an unnecessary ruckus, she obeyed and started writing in her diary; the story of the little tramp. She noticed, that he went back to sitting at the very same place on the bed, dangling his spindly legs in the air, watching her intently. He watched her until she finished the three page story and then when she turned around to show him the colourful pages, he had disappeared. She was disgruntled and stuffed the diary back into the drawer and shut it.Maya went back to her Math book and began looking at her colourful numbers again.

Today, she sat at the busy airport, discomfited by the sea of people around her. She rubbed her hands to keep the non-existent chill at bay. A swarm of blue people and some red ones  whizzed past her. Her agent, Lakshmi handled her tickets and dropped her at the airport. She  asked to extend the deadline of her current project for an emergency had come her way. She informed Lakshmi that she had to travel to London to meet somebody and  gave no details apart from that. Lakshmi, probably decided that this was something that Maya did not do regularly, convinced the publishing house to extend the deadline and arranged for Maya’s departure. Maya observed, Lakshmi was a warm brown that day at the departure terminal, like she was just about to say something emotional which would have been uncomfortable for both of them. Maya turned around quickly to avoid any such intimate interactions, only to feel Lakshmi wrapping herself around Maya from behind her. It was the strangest feeling and some of that warm brown managed to percolate to Maya. Maya stood there for a moment or two and then disengaged. She walked steadily with her hand luggage and a purse, without turning back once.

Sitting on cold steel bench, Maya fiddled with her long, curly, brown hair , making more ringlets. She kept ignoring the kind, old gentleman wearing a red hat, sitting next to her. He had been prodding her to write about him for the past hour. She pleaded with him that she couldn’t do so because the airport wasn’t the place for such things. Also, she had other things on her mind right now but she wasn’t thinking about them. After this explanation, he prodded her even more. So she ignored him.

Then, from the other side of her, the world’s gentlest voice called out to her, “Molu, you have to write about us. You have to tell our story and yours.”

Maya turned to face her father, Dr. Iyer and next to him was a tiny frame in a nine yard; her mother. Her mother was staring straight ahead, ignoring Maya.

” Appa , you know how difficult that is. I have been meaning to for so many years now. Colours seem to fail me.” replied Maya dejectedly. She noticed, how much her parents had paled since the last time she saw them; almost apparition-like. She grew anxious and tuned her ears to hear any announcement in the airport. For the last time, she looked at her check-list where she had enlisted in a step by step manner, the entire process of boarding the flight. The moment she heard the announcement about her flight starting the boarding process, she ticked the item that said ,’Announcement for Boarding’. She slowly picked her hand luggage and her purse and walked towards the gate of departure. Having not been in this commotion for years, she felt numb. She looked back to find her parents fading slowly and that is when she realized that she had to write her story down even if they were in all the wrong colours. The kind, old gentleman in the red hat nodded sympathetically at her and then disappeared.