The Patchwork Shawl

Santosh Bakaya

There was nothing but fog all around, and only if one peered in a particular direction, could one see a silhouette of a woman stooped on a chair- the direction being a three-bedroom apartment, with a verdant lawn, tended to, every Sunday by a friendly, old gardener.
During the winter days, her neighbours would always see the woman sitting on her patio knitting, or wistfully unravelling old sweaters, her face wearing a golden halo, which the rising sun magnanimously gifted her off and on.
In fact, she was always unravelling old sweaters and knitting something or the other. These days she was knitting a shawl.

But for many days now, there had been no sun.

The fog lifted slightly, and one could now get a clearer view of her patio.
A kitten snuggled next to her, looking around at the squirrels and sparrows that scuttled and hopped around. Every now and then she looked up at the sky for a trace of the sun, but it was hidden behind the clouds, having no intention of coming out.  
The kitten had walked into her house only a week back, whimpering and hungry. After downing a few bottles of milk, she was now hopping all over the house, as if she owned it. There was a young maid, forever smiling, who came for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of more in the evenings, keeping the house spick and span, and cooking her meager meals for her.
Part of the wall in front of her house had collapsed during last year’s turbulent storm, and despite the gardener’s repeated reminders to her to get it repaired, she had not got it done. In fact, she knew she would never get it done, because the broken wall allowed her a view of things happening on the road, and in the park in front of her.  

She stopped mid-knitting as something caught her fancy. A pup came racing after a ball that Mr. Kumar from the neighbouring house had thrown in the small park.  

Fetch!  Fetch!” He hollered at him, gesturing with his hands.
 The pup raced in a barking frenzy towards the ball and suddenly stopped in his tracks. The old woman saw something and smiled.
The pup’s eyes were fixed on a colourful butterfly perched delicately on a majestic blade of grass, fluttering its wings.  Soon it flew away, and sat on the bougainvillea bush, and hastily fluttered away from there too. The pup seemed to be totally bewitched and continued chasing it. If his barks could be decoded, they would convey something like this:
Stop butterfly, stop. Stop beautiful creature, stop. Let us play together.”  
An invisible breeze seemed to be buffeting the beautiful butterfly, hither and thither, and the pup dashed around, helter-skelter, a perfect picture of canine befuddlement.
“Have you fetched the ball?” Mr. Kumar’s bellows had become louder.
Mrs.  Kumar also joined him on their lawn watching the antics of Kuki, for that was the pup’s name.
Fairy, for that, was the kitten’s name, lifted her eyes up and dashed towards the gate, almost mesmerized by the pup dashing after the butterfly. She slipped out through the bars of the gate, straight into the park, feet racing in the direction of Kuki. Ever since she had adopted the old woman, she never jumped through the broken wall, but always slipped out of the gate, and always came back, home.
There was no wall separating the old lady’s house from Kumars’ house, and the Kumars were a friendly couple.  Whenever they saw her sitting on her patio, they waved to her, smiling warmly. Ever since they had bought this house after their marriage ten years ago, they had seen her living all alone, and perennially knitting. Her only son had settled in the USA and had never paid her a visit during these ten years.
Their eight-year-old son, Hemant, who was very fond of the old woman, would often go to her house, with something which his mother had cooked, and spend hours there, talking of this that, and the other.
“I think she recycles memories while recycling sweaters.” Indrani often remarked to Ajay, her husband.
The Kumars often came to her house, and sat with her, talking, but never once did she utter a word about her son.  She always talked about trees, plants, grasshoppers, butterflies, caterpillars, the rising sun, the pitter-patter of rain, and the majestic mountain peaks. To them, it always appeared as if she was listening to the notes of nature’s music.
“She is a poet at heart,” Ajay remarked one day.  
“She retired as a principal of a government post-graduate college,” Indrani said.
“One can even be a poet without being a principal, mind you.” Ajay quipped.  
Unfazed by his retort, she continued, “but I could hear a turbulence in that heart.”
“Then you too are a poet.” He said, and Indrani threw back her head and laughed.

Kuki seemed to have lost sight of the gaudy, gorgeous butterfly and was moving around with a crestfallen look.
The moment his eyes fell on Fairy, he started wagging his tail and bounded toward her.
“Hullo, Furriend!” Kuki probably greeted her in this manner, because
Fairy suddenly seemed to grow wings and bounded towards Kuki. They were meeting for the first time, but it was as if both had known each other for ages. The old woman continued to watch them, eyes refusing to leave the sight of the two animals. Then when Mr. Kumar bellowed once more, Kuki bounded home, with one look at Fairy, who also scampered home, both appearing reluctant to leave each other.

On the unbroken part of the wall sat two pigeons- an estranged couple probably, because even in the fiercely cold morning they were not nestling close to each other, but sitting with their backs towards each other. Soon one of them fluffed itself up and trotted away in a different direction, a swag in its gait.
The old woman almost chuckled at this scene.  
The sleepy sun was slowly shaking off its sloth. Why was it playing pranks? It continued to wink blatantly through the smog. Ah, it was fully awake now! Soon, it shook away the cloudy coverlet and was visible to the world.
But a mother’s eyes continued to search the horizon still. When would her son make his appearance?    

There was a happy-sad ardour on her face, and she kept casting wistful looks at the shawl, which she had completed knitting.
From their patio, the Kumars saw her and exchanged questioning glances.
Then Mrs. Kumar raced inside the house and came back in a few minutes, carrying a covered tray. Soon, both headed towards the old lady’s house, Ajay carrying the tray, and Kuki scampering behind. She perked up on seeing them, welcoming them with a very warm smile.
“Where is Hemant?” She asked, craning her neck, peering behind them.  
“He has gone to his friend’s place,” Ajay answered depositing the tray on the table.  
“Aunty, let us have tea and cupcakes together. I baked the cupcakes in the morning. Hemant loves them. ” Indira chirped, removing the napkin from the tray. The old woman picked up the shawl, covered herself with it, and sighed. From up above the sun shone brilliantly.
“The cupcake is delicious, and so is the tea.” The old woman was in a talkative mood today.
“You know… I knitted this shawl from old sweaters of my …son. It feels quite warm.”  This was the first time she was talking about her son.
 On a blade of grass in her small lawn, sat a glistening, shimmering butterfly. Her eyes refused to leave it; it was sheathed in the sunshine as if someone had painted it golden.  

She tightened the shawl around herself and smiled at her guests with the warmest smile ever.  
Kuki and Fairy were happily playing in a patch of sunlight, unravelling an old sweater. She seemed to have found her sunshine.
 It was night where her son lived.
She was convinced that he would shine when the darkness was lifted.
Someday. Yes, someday.


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