She Spoke in Tongues - 10

Glory Sasikala

Serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala

CHAPTER 10
moon had seen it all, it was time to make amends
spread her gentle moonlight before darkness descends

Sitara was driving. The car right in front of them was moving rather slowly. They could see the driver grinning at them in the rear mirror. “Wretch!” said Sitara, “Wait till I show him!” And she stepped on the gas. The car shot off like a rocket, and as they passed the car in front, Sitara honked and honked. “Wheeee!!” She screamed at the driver, “That will teach you a lesson, you road-hogging rogue.” Suddenly the man turned into a cop, and he set the police siren going. “Wheeeeee!!” They were in trouble! “Wheeeee….!!”
Tharani woke up with a start. The alarm was ringing. She had been dreaming. Sigh...Sitara was troublesome even in dreams. Tharani reached out and switched off the alarm. She reached up to her hair and lifted it all up to the top of her head and made a knot. Then she adjusted her night gown and got out of bed. She went over to the bathroom, brushed her teeth and had a shower and changed into a sari. She then put on a bindi. After all, Sushanth wasn't dead. They were just divorced. The bindi was so much a part of Tharani's appearance, it was impossible for her to think of giving it up. She then made her way to the kitchen and filled the kettle with water and set it to boil. She hummed as she made her coffee and took it to the hall to drink it in peace and read the newspaper.
Life had been good these past five years. They had indeed travelled a long long way. She still remembered those two days so clearly just as if it had all happened recently. The girls being expelled, admitting them in a different school, Ramesh bidding them goodbye....Sushanth asking for divorce. She had lost contact with Sushanth. Shanthi had moved to Mumbai to be with her husband. There were no other means by which to be updated, but since she had not heard from him, she presumed he was okay. Shanthi had written in regularly in the beginning, but with passing years, the communication had petered out. Tharani was not very worried. She had to live her own life. She had to take care of the girls, educate them, and get them married.
They had moved to a different locality almost immediately. The house had been smaller, but Tharani was able to reinstate her tailoring business. When the people there realized that the family was okay and not up to any funny activities, they became quite friendly. The girls had done well in the new school. They had made quite some friends too. Ramesh kept in touch with them through mails. He never called or visited, but he had sent them money regularly till Yamini started working. He was now the proud father of a boy and a girl. Sheila now studied in the same school as the other two girls had, under Ramesh’s recommendation.
Yamini had joined engineering and completed college only the previous year. She had immediately got placed in a multinational company as a software engineer. Sitara was following closely in her footsteps and was in the last year at engineering college. Sitara worked part-time as a medical transcriptionist. Yamini had done the same while still at college. This allowed the girls to buy and maintain a car and help out with some with the finances. A year after she started working, Yamini applied for a housing loan and they were able to move into their own modest flat in the same area. So now Tharani had her own house! Her children had all grown up to be fine young women. She could not have asked for more. Well, maybe she could. She dreamt of the day when Yamini would get married. She would then have a baby, and she, Tharani, would be a grandmother. She felt there could no greater joy than that. She would, of course, take care of the baby... that was her favourite daydream.

Yamini had written to Ramesh requesting that she be allowed to repay the money they had taken from him and to please quote an amount. He wrote back an amount that wasn’t even half the amount he had spent on them. In fact, it was an amount that could be repaid in easy instalments in five years. He requested her not to argue, that he considered her his sister, that he had funded them only because he could afford it. She could do nothing but agree, but she decided that when Sitara started working too, she would repay a similar amount each month for a separate five years. Sitara agreed to it because it really was a very affordable amount to repay each month.
Tharani finished her coffee, picked up her cup and started to make her way back to the kitchen when the doorbell rang. “What the...! It's only 7 am!” The maid, of course. “I told her to come in later.” Tharani opened the door, and when she saw who stood there, she froze. It was Sushanth. He looked tired and shabby, his hair was in disarray. And he held on to a suitcase. He stood there, his eyes pleading. “Tharani, please may I come in?”
And she just stood there, her eyes down, her face wooden and devoid of any expression. She did not move.
“Tharani please! Please!”
She moved aside and he walked in. He looked around at the hall. It was not a big hall, but tastefully decorated and homely. He turned to Tharani. She still stood at the door, her eyes down, her face still expressionless. She was still, very much like a statue.
“Tharani, I...”
She looked up then with such fierce anger, “Why are you back? What do you want?”
Sushanth placed the suitcase on the floor. And then, he fell flat at her feet, and started crying loudly, “I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Please forgive me! Please forgive me!”
Tharani looked at his prostate form on the floor and felt nothing but disgust. She moved away from him.
The girls heard the wailing and rushing out of their room. “Mamma! What happened?!! Oh!”
They saw their father there on the floor, his arms outstretched, wailing.
He continued to cry and say, “I'm so sorry! I've been a fool! Please forgive me!”
Sitara looked with horror from him to her mother. Sheila looked on wide-eyed. Yamini looked down with concern at her father.
She moved towards him, and she bent down and touched his head. “Daddy, please get up. You're scaring Sheila. Whatever it is, we can sit and talk. Please get up.”
She turned to Sitara, “Sitara, please go make Daddy a cup of coffee.”
She turned to Sheila. “Sheila, go and run the water for the bath.”
“Wait!” said a voice. Yamini turned.
“I won't stay here if he does,” said Tharani firmly, “You decide.”
Yamini looked at her mother, “We will talk things out, Amma. He's tired.”
“There's nothing to talk. Send him out right now or I leave!”
Sitara looked on interestedly. She gave the cup of coffee to her father. He placed it on the table and looked sadly at Tharani.
Yamini went up to her mother. “You can't talk like that. You know you can't. Please come in and hear what he has to say. We'll decide what to do after that.”
Tharani did not answer.
“He is our father. What do you expect us to do?”
There was silence for a while... Then Tharani came in. She went into the next room and stood near the wall, at the back of the door, where she could listen clearly to the conversation without being seen.
Yamini took a chair and sat opposite her father, “Why are you back Daddy?”
He looked at his eldest. “I've lost everything Yamini. I...I've been a fool. I...I trusted her.”
“The woman?”
“Yes.”
“What's her name?”
"Veera.”
“Okay.”
“She took all my money, my savings, and she left me and ran away. She and her brother.”
“Oh.”
“Yes, they left overnight.”
“They fled?”
“Yes. We've not been able to track them.”
Yamini nodded. “It won't be easy. They must have planned it well, covered their tracks.”
“Yes.”
“So now you have nothing left and nowhere to go, is that it?”
“Yes. I...I'm so sorry I left you all. I'm so, so sorry!”
“But Daddy, you realize you're divorced from Amma right?”
“Yes.”
“So what is it you want us to do? You can't both stay here together. And she stays here. That's final. It's not even a consideration that she leave. So, what is it that you wish us to do?”
His voice was low and choked up, “Please allow me to stay.”
Yamini stared at him.
“Where will I go?”
“Appa, you can't stay here, you know that.”
“I promise not to trouble her. I won't even go near her. Just give me a small corner in your house to keep my things and sleep. I'll eat out. I won't disturb you all in any way. I promise.”
Yamini looked helplessly at him. She wanted to help him but she knew very well that this was not going to work. Her mother...
“Yamini, could you please come in for a moment?” said Tharani.
Yamini got up and nodded to her father. She then went in and behind the door where Tharani stood.
“Yes, Amma?”
“He can stay.”
“But...”
“I'll manage. He can stay here in the spare room. I’ll cook for him as well, but he is not to be in the same room as I am. He is not to speak to me. Ever.”
Yamini listened seriously, then she looked down and was silent, thinking deeply.
“Okay. I'll tell him that for now. But if it doesn’t work out, I’ll check out if I can get him some alternate accommodation. Also, he must work. It's a must. I'll talk to the hotel owner at the end of the road. They’re looking for a cashier.”
Tharani nodded.
Yamini went back to the hall.  Sushanth, of course, had heard their discussion.
“Well, Appa?”
He nodded. “It’s okay by me. I'd only be too glad to be working again.”
Yamini smiled at him, “Come, let me take you to your room.”
He got up and followed her into the house. Right at the back was a small store room.
“You can stay here," said Yamini. “There's a separate bathroom and restroom at the back. Please use that.”
He nodded.
Yamini hesitated, then said, “Daddy?”
“Yes Yamini?”
“Please... Please don't talk to Sitara or Sheila. They're not used to... They've been through a lot. Please wait to see if they accept you.”
He nodded. He was crying again. “Yes. I understand. Yamini....”
“Yes Daddy?”
“Thank you."
Her lips trembled and she ran out of the room.
Tharani’s mind was in a muddle. She did not know what to make out of the situation. It could not go on forever surely—living in the same house as her ex-husband and cooking for him. And as was her wont whenever she was in trouble, she had a bath, got dressed, and left for the temple. She did her puja, then settled down under the tree to think. This tree and this temple had been her refuge and here succour. Although there were three children in the house, it had been a lonely journey. There was no adults to talk to, no one to share her worries. Shanthi had left too. Even now she was alone. She wished she could call out to a friend and talk. But there was no one. Just herself and just her God. What was there to think? He had returned. He had left that woman and come back. Tharani felt an unreasonable rage against the woman who had stolen her husband—if there was any such thing. Women don't steal. The man has a brain and he doesn't use it very much. But the woman had dared to cheat, she had dared to rob and abscond. Tharani spent several pleasant moments imagining what she would do to that woman if she ever caught her. She wondered if she should do some puja against her? She decided against it. It was never good to do negative pujas more than necessary. Karma was a bitch. Besides, she had promised the children to walk down the straight path, and she meant to keep that promise.
She abandoned her plans and thoughts about that woman (as she called her) and returned back to thinking about Sushanth and what his return to the family meant. Nothing offered itself. He was back and only time will tell if it can be worked out and whether he could really stay all his life with them….not talking to her, not being in the same room as her but living in the same house. Then an alarming thought struck her. She was on the verge of looking out for bridegrooms for Yamini. How would this affect that? What should she do...say.  She decided to be honest and tell the truth. Then God willing, it will all work out.
Not for a moment did it occur to Tharani to think that Yamini was her source of income and what could happen to her and her other two girls should Yamini get married. The house was hers too. Where would they all go? Tharani was a lioness. She knew she would survive. She could not live at the cost of her daughter’s happiness. Yamini must get married. After all, that is what the struggle had been about all along—to see the children educated and settled. And then, of course, to become a grandmother... Tharani became engrossed, once again, in that daydream. She smiled to herself. Everything will be alright.
Days slipped by...
Sheila had been peeking into her father's room off and on. She was in her early teens now, but she remembered distinctly being carried by him, being bought toys, being flung up in the air, sitting on his big, broad shoulders… She wanted to talk to him but she was too shy. Sushanth noticed her frequently passing by his room, which was odd because his room was right at the end of the house. Sometimes the shadow lurked outside his door. And he moved to the door and looked out and smiled at her. That was her undoing.
“I came first in class.”
“Aha? Congratulations!” he said, smiling. “You have your report card?”
“Yes,” she moved nervously from one foot to the other.
“May I see it?”
“Yes.”
She went to her bedroom and brought it. Sushanth had gone into his room and she hesitated at the door. She looked outside and could not see her mother or sisters. She went in.
When Yamini came home, she paused at her bedroom door. She could hear laughter from her father’s room. Sheila and Sushanth....
She smiled to herself and went into her own bedroom. She had been spending time with her father too, talking to him… man to man now. She was his eldest.
Sitara ignored Sushath’s presence completely. When asked to give him his food, she just kept it inside his room and walked out. He tried talking to her but she did not respond. She showed no interest in him whatsoever and pretended he did not exist.
Then one day, it rained heavily. Sitara had her own two-wheeler. She was driving home when it started to rain. She had to stop by a mall and take shelter. But eventually, the rain petered to a drizzle but there was a lot of thunder and lightning. She got on her bike and drove home. Half-way through, she had to pass a highway with fields on either side. As she drove on, she noticed a man standing under a tree by the roadside. She passed him, but something about him was rather familiar. Her dad! What was he doing here? And why was he standing under a tree in this weather? She swore under her breath and turned back.
Yes, it was him, standing there under the tree, soaked wet.
“You can't do anything right, can you?” she shouted. “You do know you shouldn't be standing under a tree in a thunderstorm, right?”
“There's no other place to stand,” he shouted back.
“Come on! Let's go home!”
He came to the road.
She tried hard not to smile, but her lips trembled and the smile was out. He grinned back through wet locks covering his eyes, looking rather boyish. He got on behind her and they set off.
“I'm cold!”
“Yeah, right!” she said, “What are you doing down this road?”
“I went to the mall to get a pair of slippers.”
“Did you?”
“No. It was too costly. I’ll get some from the cobbler. He makes good slippers.”
“I’ll take you to the mall tomorrow. You can pay me later.”
“Thank you,” he said, humbly.
“You really are shameless,” she remarked. “Taking money from your daughter. Totally useless.”
“I'm sorry.”
“We all are,” she replied, “anyways, how's your job going?”
“Good. I’m sitting and counting cash all day long. Free food, wi-fi…”
“Aha? Who’re you networking with? Your girlfriend?”
“She's gone. I was talking to Vineeth Uncle.”
“What's he saying?”
“He's asking me to get back to Mumbai.”
“As a partner?”
“No, as a worker.”
“Don't do it.”
“Right now, no, I don’t think so. I want a break.”
“And later?”
“I don't know. I don't want to go back.”
“Then don't.”
“Okay.”
“hmmm....you're docile now all of a sudden, aren’t you? Get down.”
He got down
“Had your fangs removed.”
He looked at her and grinned. She smiled back.
“Wait,” she said as he turned to go in, “I have a towel with me. Rub dry, then go in. You know mom wouldn’t like you dripping water all over the place.”
He took the towel from her and rubbed himself well with it and gave it back to her.
“What! I’m supposed to carry this in, is it?”
They laughed together.
The interlude set things back to normal between father and daughter and soon Sitara was regaling him with stories about her college life.
Meanwhile, Tharani had started actively looking out for a boy for Yamini. She placed her profile in various matrimonial sites and she passed the word around whenever she went to the temple. Soon, she found the family she was looking for. The lady was divorced and she had a son, who was a professor. Tharani was excited. A divorced woman would understand her situation. This just might work out. For Tharani, the added joy was that the boy was from an upper caste…and they were not particular about caste! Tharani had little clue what caste she and Sushanth belonged to, which made her respect the caste system a lot and wish to belong, as mentioned earlier. Overall, she felt it was a good proposal. The thing was would Yamini accept to see the boy? She had shown no interest in men after Ramesh had left and neither had Sitara. Both of them concentrated on working hard and making ends meet. They were also very protective of Sheila.
That evening, she decided to ask Yamini. She waited for the girl to relax after coming back from office. She heard the girls giggling and talking and she went into their room. “Yamini, I need to talk to you.”
They all looked at her. “You talk to her right here, right now. No secrets,” said Sitara.
Yamini looked at her sister and grinned. “It must be about you. What have you done?”
“Me? I splashed water from a puddle on to a man's white dhoti today,” she giggled, “Splash!! You should have seen his face!”
The girls giggled. “Did he scream at you?” asked Sheila.
“Yes!! He said some interesting bad words. Something like...” she said something in Tamil.
Tharani looked horrified, “Sitara, you should really stop doing things like that. And don't say those words. They're unladylike.”
“So am I,” said Sitara, sagely, “I didn’t do it on purpose. He was walking too close to the puddle and there was no other way out.”
“You could have stopped and asked him to move on,” Yamini pointed out.
Sitara shrugged, “I honked. He was moving so sloooowly. Slow motion…” She pretended to float in the air and flopped on the bed.
None of them could help laughing at the mischievous girl.
Tharani caught Yamini’s eyes. She nodded and went out of the room with her mother.
But Sitara called out, “Hey! Not fair! I want to know what’s going on! I'm coming!”
Sheila added, “I'm coming too!”
“You stay here,” said Sitara, “I'll come and tell you.”
The girl pouted but stayed put.
Sitara went to Tharani’s room too.
Tharani closed the door.
“Yamini, I've seen this boy's profile in the matrimonial site. And it’s perfect.”
“Pooh! Is that all?” Sitara exclaimed and flopped down on her mother’s bed.
“Yes, so now you know, you can leave,” said Tharani, “And don’t touch that! Or that! Or that!”
"I'm staying. Who knows, the guy might be just who I'm looking for.”
“Yes, he just might be the type to tie a stone around his neck and drown,” Tharani just could not resist saying sarcastically.
“And we'd live happily ever after at the bottom of the ocean.”
Tharani looked at her with horror-stricken fascination for a while, then she turned to Yamini, “Anyways, as I was saying, I’ve found the perfect family. The mother is divorced and she has a son. He is a professor. They’re interested in you.”
Yamini looked round-eyed at her mother, “They are? How do they know me?”
“Well, the profile is put up by his mother. So I guess she is the one who is interested in you. I want to ask them to come over this Sunday.”
“You mean you and the mother of the boy are interested in each other. You should get married.”
“Shut up Sitara!” Tharani said, looking like she’s like to swat her daughter.
Yamini’s eyes widened, “What! Are you crazy?? This Sunday?”
“Yes,” said Tharani, puzzled, “Is there a problem?”
“But… I don't even have any intention of getting married. I haven’t thought along those lines at all!”
“I’m not asking you to do anything. Just meet the mother and the boy. There’re just the two of them. Then we’ll see how it goes. This might not be the person, but we’ll get an idea how to go about things.”
“Ah well,” said Sitara, philosophically, “And there’s always the possibility that I might like the boy or the boy might like me better.”
“Yes, that too,” said Tharani sarcastically, “I’ll lock her up in her room for sure.”
“You wouldn't,” said Sitara, shocked.
“Yes, I think you and Sheila can stay away.”
“Try and stop me,” said Sitara.
Tharani sighed, “The person I want showing some interest isn't showing any, and the one I want out of my room right now is jumping up and down. Yamini, please say yes, for my sake. It’s not a big deal. You’re just going to meet some people.”
Yamini smiled, “Okay Mummy. Only for your sake. And also maybe Sitara here might like him…”
'Oh! Shut up both of you!” said Tharani, exasperated.
But someone was listening at the door. Someone who then stealthily moved away… Someone who then got dressed and left the house in a hurry...
That night, Yamini went into her father’s room to give him his dinner.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked her.
“Rice and sambar and some vegetable. There’s apalam too.”
“Sit down, child. I want to talk to you.”
Yamini looked sharply at him. Then she placed the food on the side table, closed the door, and came back, and sat down on the bed opposite him.
“I heard your mother and you and Sitara talking. Is it true she is looking out for a bridegroom for you?”
“Yes… They’re coming this Sunday.”
“Do you want to get married?”
Yamini shook her head uncertainly, “I don't know... I haven't thought about it. If I liked the boy, then maybe...”
“Have you thought about the consequences?”
“The consequences of me getting married? No, not really...”
“Where will we go? Where will your sisters go? This house belongs to you.”
“But...of course you will all stay here! I don't think I’ll marry anyone who will agree otherwise.”
“There is also the question of your horoscope,” he said, looking at her strangely. Her mother would have instantly known he was going to lie.
“My horoscope? I didn't even know I had one.”
“Well you have.” He reached out to the window sill and took a folder. He gave it to her. “This is your horoscope. I got it made from a jyothishi (astrologer) by giving him your time of birth. There is a problem with it. The boy you marry will die within a couple of years.”
“What! No ways!” said Yamini. She opened the folder and tried to read the strange parchment paper in it with nothing but strange signs.
“I can't read this.”
“The jyothishi did. He is a famous man. He is never wrong.”
“Oh okay. So I can’t get married I suppose.”
“You can, child. There are ways to get rid of the problem, but you must be honest about it to the person you’re going to marry. You must tell them it is so. Also....you must tell them that you're not a virgin.”
Yamini blushed deeply, looked down, and kept quiet. Her lips trembled.
“There's nothing to be ashamed of. Virginity is not a big issue nowadays, but hiding it is an issue. You can’t start a relationship with deceit.”
Yamini got up and ran out of the room.
Someone had been listening to the whole conversation. Tharani had just been passing by the room when she heard voices and stopped to listen. She now barged into the room and caught Sushanth by his shirt and shook him, “You wretch! You dirty, selfish ***!! How dare you! How dare you talk to her like that!! How dare you come in here and spoil our lives!” And she beat him with her fists, every which way she could. He tried to fend her off but she was furious!
Sitara marched in, looking as furious as her mother, “Oh yes! Beat him up! You made Yamini cry? How dare you?”
“Stop it! Please!” Yamini ran in and fended her mother off.
She pushed her right to the door. “Stop hitting him!”
“Devil!” screamed Tharani, "All he thinks about is himself! His needs, his comfort! Throw him out!”
Yamini took her firmly by the arm and led her out of the room and into her own room and shut the door. “Chill Amma. I'm not a child. I can make my own decisions. I know he's making up the horoscope. But...yes, he's right. They have to know I’m not a virgin.”
“But...”
“No buts, said Yamini, firmly, “They have to know. And I...I don’t want anyone to know. If you’re thinking about what is good for me, you will spare me the pain and call this off. Please!”
She folded her hands and beseeched.
Tharani looked at her. She sighed. “Okay. I'll let this pass for now.”
“Thank you.”
“Will you throw him out?”
“Where will he go?”
“He can go to hell for all I care!”
“You care, Amma! You care deeply. That's why you let him in. He’s your first and last love.”
Tharani did not say anything.
“There's nothing he can say or do that will hurt us. We're all mature adults here. He can keep trying.”
Tharani got up. “I'm going to my room. I've not known any peace in a while now,” she stopped, then she said, “I think I'll be going to out tomorrow morning. Will you manage?”
“Are you going out to the mountains to see the Forest Spirit to put a spell on him? Last time you did that someone died you know.”
“No. I won't put any spell on him. It won't work anyways. I love him. But I need to know peace. My mind is a constant state of turmoil.”
Yamini nodded understandingly, “Okay you go, but no hanky panky. Promise.”
Tharani came up to her, placed a hand on her head and said, “I promise.”
Yamini smiled. She knew then that her mother meant it. She would never dream of putting her child’s life at stake.
The next day, Tharani woke up early morning. Just like the previous time she had been to see the Forest Spirit, she prepared a complete meal and carefully packed it all in banana leaves and newspapers. She then had a bath and donned a yellow sari with a green blouse. She had to go barefoot, of course. That was a requisite too.
Soon she was in the train and speeding towards the lonesome station. Having been there once, she was more prepared now and less scared. She now trusted the Forest Spirit and felt a bond with her. She got down at the station and watched as the train sped off. Once again, the station of empty of people except for the limping lady station master. The lady looked at her curiously and came limping towards her.
“Haven't you been here before?”
“Yes...I came here a few years back.”
“Okay.” The lady was curious but she knew she was not supposed to ask the purpose.
Tharani did not enlighten her either. She just picked up the bag and walked out of the station and right up the mountain. She found the clearing she had sat in earlier and she took a stick and created a circle and went within the circle and placed the food outside of it and sat down to wait. She knew it could be a long time. Just sitting there was peaceful. Everything seemed far away...even her troubles. What if she was dead? This is how it would be. The girls would have to deal with their father all by themselves and they would have to survive on their own. She thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that they would do okay. They were tough girls and had seen and been through a lot. They were resilient. Yamini...she was the finest girl in the world. She was mature, dignified, and trustworthy. A girl in a million. Sitara...Tharani smiled. So like her. So much so that they understood each other like no one else did. She would eventually grow up, but it was doubtful she would ever get over her temper. And little Sheila was growing up so fast! She was beautiful now. So obviously the youngest…much petted and protected. The older ones would always look out for her. They would see that she lived life the way it had been denied them. Tharani was sure of that.
And Sushanth... Tharani felt a pain in her chest. She looked around, and all of a sudden she felt lonely the way she had never felt before. The only man she had loved had betrayed her in a way they could never get back together, ever. It was goodbye not just in this birth but in all the births to come. No man to love...nobody...  “I don't want to be born again,” she said aloud. "This should be my last birth. I know I haven't been a good person, but I have learnt all there is to learn.”
The leaves fluttered in a sudden gush of wind. A squirrel hopped off the tree and stood on its hind legs and stared at her. Then startled by something it took off. Tharani saw a bright blue light pass swiftly from tree to tree. It grew brighter as it approached her. It was now very bright and on top of a big tree. As Tharani adjusted her gaze, she could make out it was the form of a woman. The Forest Spirit was here. She jumped lightly to the ground and came towards Tharani. Tharani folded her hands and bent to the ground in homage. The Spirit stood there looking down at her. She was the same as before, with a skirt made of leaves covering the lower part of her body, a chain of flowers around her neck. She had a crown of flowers wound around her forehead and flower bangles on her wrists and feet. She was luminescent and powerful…and so beautiful and full of grace! She stepped lightly over the line and placed her hand on Tharani's head. And as if hit by lightning, she removed her hand and her eyes widened. Tharani looked up and saw a look of shock on her face. “It’s my thoughts, isn't it?" she asked. “It's my loneliness that you felt. Please cure me!”
The Spirit looked deeply into her eyes and there was immense love in her own. She calmed down, went into a meditative state and once again placed her hands on Tharani’s head. A whirlwind of dry leaves seemed to rush through Tharani’s mind. Dry leaves, twigs...pain, they rushed in circles as in a hurricane. They slowly turned to colours. Yellows gave way to blues and reds, which turned to pink...lighter pinks and blues...and greens...light greens....light pink....white. The white was serene...peaceful....eternal. It was soft, comforting, protective and full of love. Tharani felt peace descend on her. She felt loved the way she had never been loved before. It was unconditional. It was a promise never to let go. And Tharani felt cocooned in that love. And she knew she had arrived home.
She felt a movement on her head and she knew then that the Spirit had withdrawn her hand. But she was in a state of stupor; she still felt this amazing sense of well-being. It stayed with her and she did not open her eyes. Time passed....time became meaningless.
When she finally opened her eyes, she was alone. Dark shadows everywhere! The birds were flying home. It was evening! She looked around, enjoying the peace. She watched the birds as they noisily tried to settle down for the night. She looked in the distance at the moutains on the other side. How high they were! She looked down at the station. She must go home.
It was quite late when she reached home and knocked on the door. The girls and Sushanth had had their dinner. Sheila had fallen asleep. The other two were awake and waiting, worried for Tharani. They knew that she knew her way around, but they still worried. She wasn’t all that young anymore...
Yamini ran up and opened the door and Tharani came in. Yamini looked at her mother’s face, “You look radiant!” she smiled.
Tharani smiled back, “I feel so happy!”
“What's that?” she asked.
Before Tharani could answer, Sitara walked in, “Where have you been? And why are you smiling so unnaturally?”
Tharani looked at her, “I went to see the Forest Spirit.”
“Oh! You know what happened last time, right? You came back with spells... Who’re you killing this time?” she asked conversationally.
Tharani frowned, “No one. I went because I needed peace of mind.”
"You could have asked me. I would have given you a piece of my mind. Always happy to oblige.”
Tharani pretended to shudder, “Go and bring me some water to drink.”
“What's in those packages?”
“I bought some gifts for you girls.”
“Oh wow!” said Yamini, taking the box that Tharani gave her. She opened it. It contained a pair of shoes that she had been wanting for quite a while.
Tharani gave a package to Sitara. She tore opened the wrapper “Oh wow!" she said. There was a beautiful bag in there.
“You really are very happy!” She stared at her mother.
Tharani smiled back, “I also bought something for Sheila...and Sushanth.”
Both girls stared at her now, then Yamini asked incredulously, “You bought something for Daddy?”
“Yes...I just felt he needed some shirts and pants,” Tharani was actually shy.
“You're not considering getting back with him, are you?” Sitara asked in her forthright way.
“No! Of course not silly! I just felt like doing something good to let go of all the resentment.”
“Hmmm...” said Sitara thoughtfully, “So much blithe happiness is not good for health. But it is good while it lasts. Will you give me something else that I want very much if I ask you now?”
The smile vanished from Tharani's face, “No,” she said firmly.
Sitara picked up the bag and the wrapper and turned to leave, “Stupid and useless Forest Spirit!”
Yamini picked up the packet containing the shirt and pant for Sushanth. She knocked on his door. “Come in!” he said.
“Mummy has bought you something,” she smiled. He tore open the package.
“A shirt and pant! Just what I need!” he said. “Please thank her for me.”
“Yes, Appa.”
She turned to go. He caught hold of her hand, “Yamini, I'm sorry. I'm really really sorry!”
She looked down seriously at him, “You've made some very bad mistakes in life, haven’t you? That horoscope wasn't mine.”
“No...no it wasn't. I was just scared…”
“Of what? You should know I would never leave you and go!”
“Yes. I should have known that. But after dealing with...”
“Don't compare me to someone so low. Please!”
“Yes. Sorry, I won’t.”
She relaxed. “Please relax and be alright Appa. I’m not going anywhere.”
He looked up at her, and she saw a strange light in his eyes, of unshed tears, “I'm your child now, aren't I? You're the boss. You're my mother.”
She smiled, “I remember your lessons. I remember how you carried me on your shoulders when I couldn't walk. I will always be your daughter.”
“Then I must behave like a father,” he said more to himself.
“I should be going,” she said, gently.
He nodded.
That night, around midnight, Tharani heard a soft tap tap sound on her bedroom door. Someone was knocking. She got up in a hurry. The girls! Were they okay?
“Tharani!”
It was Sushanth. “Please open the door!”
Was he kidding her? Why would she open the door? She had made a mistake buying him gifts, hadn’t she?
“Tharani!”
She kept quiet, feeling it was not necessary for her to answer. He sounded okay and healthy, so there was nothing going on there that could not wait till morning.
“Do I want to get back with him?” she wondered, “No, of course not! I can never sleep with a man who cheated on me. It's over.”
She turned to the other side, but the knocking went on.
“Go away!” she said.
Silence... Then, “Okay, I will. But please say you forgive me. Please! That's all I need to hear.”
Tharani relaxed. So that was all it was. He was in one of his remorseful moods. He'd forget all about it and do crazy things again, but he was remorseful tonight. Must have boozed...
“Yes, I forgive you. Now please go back to sleep.”
"Do you mean that?"
"Yes, I do."
"Thank you so much Tharani. I will always love you."
She almost snorted but kept quiet. She heard the sound of receding footsteps.
She turned towards the window. The soft moonlight fell on her face. Her sense of well-being continued. Yellow turned to colours...to white. It was all white and peaceful. She fell asleep with a smile on her face.
She did not see the gathering dark clouds. She did not see the moon hurry to hide behind them.
The next day was Saturday. The girls didn’t have to go to work or college and they rarely woke up early. Tharani woke up, as usual, at 6 and had a bath, donned a sari, combed her hair and powdered her face and placed the bindi between her brows. Then she was all set to relax a bit and have coffee. She made a flask of coffee for Sushanth and placed it on the table. She placed the newspaper next to it. He was an early riser too and would be up any minute now and wanting to read the paper and drink coffee. She switched on the TV and kept it low so as not to disturb the girls. She watched the news and drank her coffee.
Soon she was done. Sushanth was not up yet. She took her cup and saucer and moved to the kitchen and started cooking. She decided she’d make chicken biryani for lunch since the whole family was at home that day.
At half-past 7, Yamini came into the kitchen. “Good morning!” she said brightly, smiling at her mother.
“You're up early!”
“Hmmm...I might go back to sleep. Where’s Daddy gone early morning?”
Tharani looked at her, “I don't know. I didn't hear him go out.”
“He hasn't drunk his coffee. It's still there.”
Tharani's eyes widened. So did Yamini’s.
They ran out of the kitchen and to Sushanth's door. It was locked from inside. They banged and banged on it.
“Daddy! Open the door! Daddy!”
“Sushanth! Open the door.”
But there was no answer from inside.
Yamini moved back and ran towards the door, but it would not give way.
Then Tharani went to the kitchen and brought a hammer. She hit at where she knew the latch would be. Bang! Bang! Bang!
The latch gave way and the door opened. Meanwhile, Sitara had woken up too, wondering what the noise was all about. So had Sheila.
They opened the door and went in. Sushanth lay there on the bed, his hands hanging loosely on either side. A bottle lay on the floor near his right hand. Tharani went close. His eyes were shut and there was frothing at the mouth.
Her lips trembled. Yamini checked the pulse. She felt his forehead. It was cold. She turned to Sheila. “Sheila, go call Doctor Uncle and ask him to come immediately.”
Sheila nodded and ran out. Doctor Uncle was one of their neighbours. The doctor followed Sheila in and went to the bedroom. He went over to where Sushanth lay. He felt his forehead, then lifted and checked for pulse at the wrist. He then went close to the chest and listened. He then used his stethoscope.
“How long has he been this way?”
“We don't know,” Yamini said.
“Past midnight,” said Tharani, “He spoke to me then.”
The doctor and the girls looked at her. The girls were startled and wide-eyed. This was news to them.
“What did he say?” asked the doctor.
Tharani looked uncomfortable, “He…he asked me to forgive him…said he will always love me.”
“Ah, I see!”
The girls and Tharani waited with bated breath.
He turned to Tharani, “Ma’am, I’m sorry to inform you that your husband is dead.”
Tharani sank to the floor. The girls watched her, wondering what to say or do.
“It looks like a suicide. I need to inform the police. There will be a post-mortem done…it will be best for you all to get dressed and…
A sudden wail interrupted him. Tharani was crying. She was wailing. Yamini sank to the floor next to her mother. Sitara had tears in her eyes. Sheila was crying too. Sitara went over to her and put her arms around her.
Yamini hugged her mother close and she was crying too. The doctor called the police on his cell phone. “Hello,” said a voice. He walked out of the room to take the call.

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