She Spoke In Tongues - 2

Glory Sasikala

Chapter 2 of a serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala

CHAPTER 2
Think of me and I'll be present
full and bright or just a crescent

“Pass me the salt.”
“Sitara, sit straight.”
“You never tell her to sit straight!”
“Sheila, sit straight.”
“You’re just saying that to appease me.”
“Appease? Who taught you such big words? We don’t need to appease you anyways. You have to do what you’re told.”
“Mummy, I won’t…”
“Yamini, please bring in the ladle. I forgot.”
“I don’t want cauliflower.”
“Mix it with the rice. Here let me show you.”

The conversation went on around the table at dinner. The family had settled down in Madras very nicely indeed. With almost nothing to get them going, no assets or papers, except of course the jewels that Tharani had so wisely or unwisely taken with her, they had managed to come a long, long way. Tharani had given Shanthi her jewels and Shanthi was ever so grateful. The two families kept in touch with each other. Indeed, in this strange country, all the immigrants from Burma kept in touch and helped each other out. They met regularly, celebrated festivals together, took their children out together, had parties. Not that there was much to celebrate, and certainly not enough money to go around.

Both Vineeth and Sushanth had rented houses in the same area, Sowkarpet, so famous for the wholesale markets. Rickshaws still plied here, trams were still on the roads. Each street boasted a wholesale: wholesale of steel utensils, wholesale of bags, wholesale of wedding items, wholesale of sarees. And, a little further away, in a little outer circle that was quieter, and besides a common, on Mulla Street, Sushanth has found a nice house for his family. He now did electrical work and ran a shop. Tharani had started a tailoring unit in the house itself. She was very good with the needle and she had quite a clientele. She was the one tailor who knew how to stitch that elusive perfect blouse that had no creases around the armpit area. She flexed easily with her customers’ needs, understood their needs perfectly, made no judgement calls and delivered on time. Her fame spread by word of mouth and her customers nodded their heads wisely and said, “She is from Burma. These foreigners have magic in their fingers. There is no equalling their talents.”

Two years had passed by. Yamini was now 14, Sitara 12, and Sheila was now 7 years old. They now had sufficient money, enough anyhow to send two children to school. Sitara and Sheila went to a good school nearby, but they could not afford to send Yamini. She had to work too to add to their income, at least till they were well settled. Two streets away lived a small family, a mother, father and two toddlers aged 4 and 2. There was also a very old grandmother. The mother needed someone to help her out while she coped with her family’s demands, and Yamini fitted the bill perfectly. She left for work at around 9.30 am in the morning and returned back home in the evening by 6 pm. She did everything that she was told. Her jobs included running errands, taking care of the babies, helping around the kitchen and helping take care of and bathe Grandma. Very arduous days they were for her, and she was very tired in the evening. But she was a good girl and very understanding. She understood that her family was not as they were before, that money was scarce, that her parents were struggling to make ends meet. As the eldest child of the family, she felt it was her duty to share their burdens, to see that the younger two got a good education. If only she did not like studies so much! If only she did not look at the books with so much longing! Even then, things weren’t so bad. She read Sitara’s school books, kept herself updated. Her employer, Anita, was a good woman too. She allowed Yamini to borrow some of her books so long as they were returned back in good condition.

Dinner was over and everything was cleared up. The table was cleaned, and the two younger ones sat down to study and do their homework. For Yamini, this was the best part of the day. She sat eagerly next to Sitara, picking up the books, reading, hearing their stories about their school.

Tharani washed the dishes, cleaned up the kitchen, made some tea and poured it in two cups and placed the cups in a tray and moved out of the kitchen, and out into the porch, where Sushanth stood by the gate, and from the darkness of the porch, he could see into the house to where the girls sat around the table. He was gazing intently at them and his eyes glistened with unshed tears. Tharani looked at him and knew what he was thinking. “She will do well for now,” she said gently, “Very understanding child.”

“Yes….yes. Of course.”
Tharani looked at him as she handed him his teacup. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking she should be in school. The one child who was born to study.”
“We’ll send her.”
“When?” he shouted.
Tharani’s eyes widened at the passion in his voice.
“When we can afford it. We’ve started earning quite well now. A few more days…”
“It won’t happen.”
“Why are you talking like that? You’ve lost hope so soon.”

“Don’t you see? We’ve reached stagnation. This is how far my business will go. This is how far yours will too. The same clients, the same demands…saturation. We need to think and do something else, something different.”

“Sounds nice. Pertinent question: like what?”

Sushanth looked at her then for a moment, then he turned abruptly towards the gate. In that one moment that she held his gaze, however, Tharani saw something that sent a shiver down her spine. He was onto something, and that something wasn’t good!

But she waited; she stayed quiet and drank her tea. “Something…” she heard him whisper into the night.

Her hand stilled as her cup hovered near her mouth. She put down her cup and went to him and placed a hand over his shoulder. “Sushanth, what is it?”

He looked at her again for her moment but could not meet her eye. She turned him to face her. “Sushanth, what is it? Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

He looked at her then and saw the fear in her eyes, the tiny trickle of sweat at her temple. His eyes softened. “It’s nothing. Just…. Nothing really.”
She continued to look at him. He sighed, “You won’t let go, will you?”

“No.”
“Well, you might as well know. Vineeth is leaving for Bombay.”
Her eyes widened at that. “Why?”
Sushanth shrugged. “He…wants to open a store there. A supermarket.”
“But… where did he get the money?”
“That…” He was literally squirming now, “Look, can you just let this be?”
“No! Tell me! What is it?”
“Well, Shanthi…”
“Shanthi?”
“Well, you know that old doctor man who runs the Pandey Clinic?”
“Dr. Vidyasagar Pandey?”
“Yes.”
“Well, he and Shanthi…”
Tharani’s eyes widened, “You mean…?”
Prashanth shrugged expressively.
“But the man is so old!”
“And lonely?”
“Yes…lonely…..” Tharani’s voice trailed off as a new thought struck her, the one he was dreading.
“Sushanth, you don’t think I should…?”
“No, of course not silly!”
“But the thought occurred to you!”
“No, it did not!” He rubbed his hand vigorously over his nose.
She looked at him then, “Sushanth, you only rub your nose when you’re lying.
“Damn!”

He took her hand then, “Look, I’m sorry. Yes, the thought occurred in my depraved mind, but it’s gone, see? It won’t happen again.”
Tharani wasn’t listening to him. She was looking inside the house to where the girls sat. Yamini was discussing something animatedly with Sitara and showing her something in her book.

“She must study.”
“Tharani!”
Tharani looked up at him, and Sushanth knew she had made up her mind. “She will study.”

The stars looked down at them then, like old sages, and the Moon walked past the stars, sweeping her skirts over them as she did, and she said disdainfully, “Humans beings are so greedy!”

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