She Spoke in Tongues - 6

Glory Sasikala

Serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala

raging storm, core on fire
reaching out
for the moon, the tide's desire

It started as a slight twinge in the lower abdomen, and Yamini ignored it at first. But by the second period post lunch, the pain had increased, and by the end of the period, it was quite unbearable.
"Yamini, what's the matter?"
"Ma'am, my stomach hurts."
"Oh! Come here."
Yamini left her place and went over to the teacher. "How bad is it?"
Yamini’s lips trembled, "I can't bear it."
If it had been some other child, the teacher would have had doubts, but this girl was one of her best students. "Apart from being so shy and introvertish," she thought. Aloud she said, "Go home, Yamini. You might need to see a doctor."
"Thank you, Ma'am."
And Yamini picked up her bag and left the classroom.
She reached her apartment, took the lift, and knocked on the door.
She heard Tharani say, "Coming!" But the person who opened the door was a young man. He looked as blankly at her as she did at him.
"Yes?" he asked.
"I...I live here."
"Oh!" and he moved aside to let her in. Yamini walked in. Tharani came out of the kitchen carrying a cup of tea. She was surprised to see Yamini.
"Yamini! You're home early!"
Yamini nodded her head, and without saying another word, walked into her bedroom and locked the door.
Tharani came over and gave the cup of tea to Ramesh. "I think you'd better leave."
He nodded and took the teacup from her. But then, he sat down on the couch to drink his tea. Tharani went over to the bedroom door and knocked. "Yamini! Let me in! Yamini!"
The door opened and Yamini allowed her mother to come in before shutting it again.
"Who is that?" she asked.
"That's the boy from the rice shop. Ramesh."
"Oh...okay." Yamini was a sensitive young girl and she surmised quite correctly what he was doing in their house. She did not ask any awkward questions. Besides, her stomach still hurt very badly.
"My stomach hurts. I can't bear it." A tiny teardrop trickled down her cheek.
"Oh dear!" said Tharani, "It must be something you ate. Lie down, let me see."
She examined Yamini, then said, "It's in the lower abdomen. You have a stomach upset. Just lie down and shut your eyes. I'll make you a brew. It’ll be alright in a jiffy."
Yamini nodded and closed her eyes. Tharani left the room.
"You're still here?"
"Yes," said Ramesh, looking blissful and settled on the couch. "How is she?"
"Stomach ache. I'm going to make her a brew."
"Oh! What will you use?"
He got up and followed her to the kitchen. Tharani looked uncertainly at him. She was not sure she wanted him there. Wasn't he supposed to leave? But she did not say anything.
"First you keep a bowl of water to boil. And then..."
She moved around as she spoke, filling a bowl with water.
"I'll cut the herbs. Is there anything you want that is not there?"
"Let me see. Yes, I need honey."
"I'll go get that."
"You will?”
"Yes. I have my bike"
Tharani looked at him curiously. Despite being in his twenties, there was a certain engaging innocence about him. She was dealing with a young person, nearer her children’s age.
He nodded enthusiastically and left. He was back soon with a bottle of honey. Tharani filled a small bowl with the brew and then went and knocked on the bedroom door. She was startled to find Ramesh standing right behind her.
Forgetting the need to be polite and talking to him more the way she spoke to Sitara, she said, "That's enough. You go watch TV or leave. You can't come in."
He actually listened to her and obeyed.
Yamini drank the brew, and after a while she did feel better.
When Yamini came out of her room later that evening, she was startled to find the young man still sitting there on the couch and watching TV. He was laughing loudly at something on a show.
She walked into her mother's bedroom. "Ma, why is he still here?"
Tharani looked up from her sewing machine, "I don't know."
Yamini sighed. "I suppose you can't ask him to go."
Tharani did not answer her.
"I have to go to the hall to get my books."
Tharani looked at her daughter, her face crimson.
"I'll get it for you."
But Yamini shook her head, "I'll go. It's okay."
She went into the hall and to the table near the couch. Ramesh looked up at her. When he had opened the door to let her in, he had taken in only her overall appearance, and he hadn’t been very impressed. He had decided that she was a rather plain schoolgirl, quite dark, with long hair done in two plaits. She had now changed into loose-fitting pyjamas and a black T-shirt, neither of which did much for her appearance, but he couldn’t help be distracted by the swinging grace with which she crossed the room.
She picked up her bag and turned to leave, "You're Yamini, right?"
She turned to look at him, "Yes."
"Which class?"
"I'm taking my board exams this year."
He nodded. She was close enough for him to see her face, and he was startled by the perfection of each feature as they registered on him. Perfect brows, beautiful brown eyes that gazed seriously at him, perfect nose, perfect lips, and a perfect oval face. “My God! This girl is so beautiful!”
Yamini had left by then. Ramesh went back to watching TV.
An hour later, the door went "Bang! Bang!" The bell rang incessantly, and a voice called out loudly, "Maaaaaaaaaaa!!"
Ramesh opened the door to find the twelve-year-old girl who had come to his shop and a younger one, about ten years old.
Sitara stared up at him, "You!!"
He grinned happily at her and stepped aside. She came in followed by Sheila. "Where's Ma?"
"In the bedroom."
"And why are you here?"
"I'm watching TV."
Tharani came out of the bedroom and Sitara turned to her angrily, "What is he doing here?"
"He's watching TV," said Tharani, trying to soothe her.
Sitara grabbed the remote out of Ramesh's hand and threw it on the couch. "Go and watch somewhere else."
'Sitara!" said her mother. "Go inside!"
"Oh! So I am the one who has to leave. And your boyfriend will stay here?"
"He is not..."
"Bah!" said the girl and taking Sheila by her hand, she went into the bedroom and banged the door shut.
Tharani looked with distress at the closed door, then she turned to Ramesh, "I think you'd better leave."
"Okay," he said, reluctantly. "I just want to finish watching this episode."
Tharani sighed, "Okay, you can. But leave right after."
He did not reply. He sat back on the couch, took the remote and switched on the TV.
Tharani went to the bedroom and banged on the door.
And that is how things went on from there. Ramesh walked in and out of the house just like the other family members. He ran errands for them, settled down on the couch and watched TV, said he was hungry, and helped around the house and kitchen. He cut vegetables, and cleaned up. The girls eventually grew resigned to it all. They all dropped any polite facade and treated him pretty much as a family member. "Get out my room!" and throwing a pillow at his retreating form became a normal interaction. He was particularly gentle and patient with Sheila, taking her for rides on his bike and buying her ice-creams and listening to her prattle.
"Divide it first, and then multiply."
Yamini looked up, startled, from the math problem she had been breaking her head over. "You're good at maths?"
Ramesh walked over to the other side of the table in the balcony where the girls were seated and studying. He sat down casually on the railing.
"Yes," he said simply.
"What have you studied?" asked Yamini.
"I'm an engineer," again quite simply.
"What!" said Sitara, "You're an engineer??!!"
"He looked at her with a smile lurking in his eyes, "Why is that so impossible to believe?"
"Because don't look like you're doing anything." Sitara was never diplomatic.
"I have a rice shop," he pointed out to her.
"Yes, but what has that to do with engineering? You're just selling rice!"
"Rice needs a lot of thinking, trust me."
Sitara snorted.
Yamini was looking at him with interest, "Why aren't you working in, like in a corporate office or owning your own company? Why aren't you using your degree?"
"I don't want to. I'm the only son of a landlord. My father takes care of everything now, but he's past sixty, and in a little while, I'll have to take over the responsibilities of running the estate. And right now, I have all the money I want anyways. Why would I work?"
The girls were silent. It sounded logical the way he said it. What it was to be that rich! Then Sitara asked, "So why did you get an engineering degree?"
"I need an education. Knowledge is everything to us. Even apart from education, we read a lot, keep abreast of technologies, policies...  We keep ourselves updated."
“By “we” you mean your family?”
"Hasn't helped you much, has it?" said Sitara, sarcastically.
"Sitara!" said Yamini, shocked at her sister's outspoken rudeness.
But Ramesh only laughed, "I have a younger sister. Her name is Meenakshi. She's in college now, doing biochemistry."
"Oh!" said Yamini, immediately interested, "I intend to do that too!!"
He looked at her affectionately, "I'll help you in every way I can to get you there." She met his eyes and she knew he was sincere.
"Will your sister know, as a biochemist?"
"That's her choice," said Ramesh. "She’s already betrothed to the son of another landlord. It's all up to her and her in-laws."
"Will you help me with my homework," asked Sheila.
"Of course, I will!" said Ramesh, and he went round to sit next to her.
From that day on, Ramesh helped the girls with their school work, especially with science and maths. Perhaps because he was closer to her age-wise than with the others, he grew closer to Yamini. He treated her as his equal, discussing her future plans with her, advising her, telling her about his dreams.
"This pin goes right there!" he stood close to her, bending over the table to place the pin. They were doing an experiment in reflection, with two mirrors placed over a chart.
"See if this is okay?"
Yamini bent over the table to his level to take a look. And suddenly, she was aware of the proximity. The pleasant after-shave fragrance wafted over. He wasn't a muscular person, but rather with wiry strength, and somehow she liked that. She liked the way she wore his shirt, the way he was always clean and well dressed...
Ramesh had move to the side to place the pin, and as he bent over, he caught a reflection of her in the mirror. There was desire written all over her face...
Their eyes met in the mirrors and got reflected multiple times.....
Time stood still for a moment, and then Yamini blushed, looked flustered, and ran out of the room. Ramesh looked thoughtfully at the pins in his hand.
"I want to show you something."
It was the day after. The children had all gone to school and Ramesh was alone with Tharani that afternoon. Indeed, their affair had gone uninterrupted despite everything: the girls' friendliness, the disparity in age, and the fact that there was a husband somewhere in the midst of all this. Tharani had written to Sushanth about Ramesh, and he kept discreetly away. He came in two months later, on a weekend, and at that point, Ramesh kept away. It was all nicely arranged and the two men never met. Coincidentally, the supervisor who was supposed to be vigilant about Ramesh and report to his father about his whereabouts had been called off. Ramesh's father felt his son was doing quite a good job. He was selling well and the books showed good profits. It was a good beginning. And so, he had complied with Ramesh's insistent request that he be trusted.
"What is it?" asked Tharani as she lay next to him in bed.
He leaned over and pulled his pants towards him. He reached into the pocket and pulled out a box and opened it. And embedded in satin, was the most beautiful necklace that Tharani had ever seen. It sparkled with white and red and green stones.
"Diamonds and rubies and emeralds," said Ramesh, looking up at Tharani's wonderstruck face.
"You mean real ones?"
"Yes. This belongs to my mother. It's a family heirloom." He looked at the chain. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"It's gorgeous!" said Tharani, looking at him, "May I?"
"Yes, of course!"
She took the chain carefully out of the box and held it reverently in her hands. "So intricate!"
Ramesh looked at her. "Try it on."
"Yes. Why not?"
He reached for the chain and put it round her neck and fastened it at the back. She got up to look at herself in the mirror. Even in her current dishevelled state, she was beautiful, and the necklace shone around her neck. She could imagine how she would look with a beautiful silk sari on, hair coiffured, face with the lightest touch of makeup and her eyes highlighted….and the necklace on… and walking into a room full of people…
"Looks very nice on you." said Ramesh.
"Thank you!"
He came to stand behind her and looked at her in the mirror, "It would look lovely on Yamini too."
Her hand, which had lingered over the stones, stilled. There was an infinite pause as their eyes met in the mirror. And then, she was reaching behind to undo the clasp. She turned and gave the necklace back to him, looking directly and coldly into his eyes, "No."
He did not say anything, but just took the necklace from her and put it back in its box.
Tharani looked angrily at him, "How dare you??"
"Why, is that inappropriate?" It was a sarcastic comment for sure, but the way he said it, it sounded like a sincere query. "She likes me you know."
Tharani's eyes widened, "Why would you say that?"
He shrugged, and she knew that he could tell when a girl was interested in him.
"I think you'd better leave now."
He nodded and pulled on his clothes and walked to the door.
"Can you...can you just leave that here?" Tharani asked him, pointing to the box.
He hesitated a moment, then nodded and placed the box on the sewing machine table. "Please be careful. It's a family heirloom."
She nodded, "I will."
That evening, Tharani carried over a tea tray to the balcony where Yamini sat alone doing her homework. Sitara and Sheila had gone out to play. Tharani mixed the tea and set it next to Yamini's books.
"Drink your tea and have some toast. You need to relax some."
"I need to get these done today." Yamini looked up from her work. She suddenly caught sight of the glittering chain around her mother's neck. Tharani wore a simple salwar kameez, but she had chosen a dark maroon one that set off the necklace and highlighted the stones. They shone and sparkled around her neck.
"It's Ramesh's. His mother’s actually. A family heirloom apparently."
"He's given it to you?"
"No...not yet.  He....he felt it would look better on you."
Tharani's hands shook as she spoke and she put down her cup.
Yamini looked at her mother, then she blushed and looked at the floor. She was thoroughly flustered now and would have given anything to just not be there in that moment.
"No! No! I...I don't know how this happened!" She felt like she was suffocating, "He got the wrong idea."
Tharani nodded soothingly, and drank from her tea, "That's what I told him."
"What did he say?"
"He just nodded. Didn't say anything."
Yamini was calmer now, "Okay."
"I'll give back the necklace tomorrow."
"Okay. Please do."
Tharani got up to leave. "Ma?"
"Did you even consider it? Did you consider…??”
"No. No, I didn't…till he told me that you liked him."
"Oh!!" Yamini was flustered all over again, "He knows! Oh God!" She buried her face in her hands.
Tharani reached out to her and patted her head, "It's okay honey. I'll take care of it and return the necklace. Maybe he shouldn't be around you girls so much."
She picked up the tea things and left. Yamini sat there, her eyes on her book but her mind elsewhere and racing. He'd known! Of course he'd known. She thought back to the moment their eyes had met in the mirror, and she cringed inwardly. "How could I have been that way?" Tears started from her eyes and flowed down her face. She did nothing to stop them or clear her face. She just let them flow. "There's no one here to guide me. I wish Appa... " Her thoughts trailed...  "Who am I kidding?  He's here because of Appa and Amma. He's here because he's paying my fees! Not my mom, not my dad, but a 25-year-old boyfriend of my mother is paying the fees. Oh God!!” Her shoulders shook as she cried. She buried her face in her hands and cried. She cried a long time. When she finally looked up, the sky was dark, with a sprinkling of stars. The streetlights were on. She picked up a towel nearby and wiped her face. Somehow she felt better for crying.
He'd be there for a while in their lives and then he'd move on. He'd marry, have kids, become a landlord… This was just fun time for him, sowing wild oats; and paying for the fun, of course. Throwing money at them from his surpluses. Did his mom value the necklace enough to know he'd taken it or was it just another trinket? How much was it worth? Lakhs? Crores? She was too young to make a guess. “Perhaps enough to pay my college fees, since he is paying my fees anyways.”
She looked into a house across the street. A man and woman were in the kitchen. They were talking and laughing as they moved around. They were apparently cooking together. The lady had on an apron. After a while, the man said something and the lady replied, and then he bent and picked her up and walked out the door even as she laughingly protested.
"Is that love?" Yamini mused, "Or was it just something that led to something else? A game. Is that how it all worked?"
“You dance around each other…some pins, a chart, two mirrors…a man and a woman. After-shaves and shirt worn lightly over the shoulder…strong male hands, eyes meeting…
Even as she watched a shooting star overhead, she felt a strong overwhelming emotion overtake her, and she knew what it was. Desire.
She got up gracefully to her feet and switched off the light in the balcony. She went into her mother's bedroom. Tharani was busy stitching on the sewing machine. "Would you like something to eat?" she asked Yamini, without looking up.
"No, not right now."
Yamini walked over the shelf and took out the slim jewellery box. She opened it and took out the necklace. She went over to the mirror, and standing in front of it, she placed the necklace around her neck and did the clasp. She stood there admiring herself, turning this way and that, so that the stones caught the light at various angles and sparkled.
Tharani looked up from her work and was startled. She gaped at the girl.
Yamini turned to her mother and smiled shyly, "It does look nice on me."

[To be continued ...]

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