Mom wakes me up from my nap. “Your father will be home any minute now.” I turn over to sleep a little bit more. “Did you hear me? It’s 12 O’clock. Get up.” The afternoon sun shines bright through the window, illuminating the wall, all my books in the bookshelf, my bed and me. I turn towards the window with my eyes closed, a reddish-orange veil falls over them while the heat slowly raises in my face till it starts to sting my cheeks. I am tempted to open my eyes and look at the burning sun directly, but my body doesn’t listen to me. My eyes stay shut rebelling against my thoughts, instinctively. Repulsed, I wake up and sit at the edge of my bed, touching the warmth in my face, and my eyes opens to the coolness, slowly, they blink like they are testing the coldness of the water. “Your tea.” Mom puts down a hot tumbler of tea on the bed side table. I stare at the steam raising from it when I hear my dad call my mom. I take the tumbler and walk out of my room and go straight to the stairs that lead to the terrace, though I feel my dad’s eyes pierce through the back of my skull, even though it’s tempting to turn back and stare at him with same intensity I keep climbing the stairs.
I’ve been back home for six months now, six months since graduating from college. Dad’s happiness that his only son was now a graduate slowly evaporated when he realised that I haven’t found a job yet.
“What do you mean they didn’t select you?”
“I don’t know. My name was not on the list.”
“Pa, who knows? Maybe they took bribe”
“All 200 candidates bribed their way through the list?”
“This is low even for you.”
“Say it’s your incapability you didn’t get the job.”
“Karthick’s dad got him a job and how do you think?”
“Karthick’s dad! I’d rather you beg on the streets. I paid for your education; I won’t pay for your job too. Look, your son wants me to bribe!”
I was sitting on my writing desk when mom came into my room with a hot tumbler of tea. “Listen to you father. Don’t be selfish.” I kept writing. “It’s like talking to a wall with him. He won’t budge, you know it and I know it. You sit and think on what to do next, ask Karthick maybe he’ll help recommend.” I rather beg on the streets, I thought. “Drink your tea before it gets cold.”
That was two weeks ago. Now the initial frustration on my dad for not understanding the ground reality wore off, I wanted a job too. Sleepless during the nights and still waking up early to escape from any further advices, and jumping back on the bed immediately after he leaves for work, my mom waking me up before he comes home to have his lunch was not an ideal routine. If only, I think. With tea in my hand I open the gate to the terrace and step out on the warm red-cement tile. I pull the chair from the shade to the balcony. I sit down carefully so as not to spill the tea and raise my legs to rest on the bordering-wall. The kids are playing cricket on the streets. The tress, and the clothes on the line are still; a drop of sweat rolls down from my temple to my chin, I blow into the hot tumbler when I see a car pull up in front of a house, opposite to ours, disrupting the cricket game. The kids huddle around the car, smiling faces come out of the house, they are all dressed in their best. A photographer jumps out of the car and starts taking pictures. A woman around my mom’s age comes out from the house with a plate filled with red water and a camphor lit on one side. The bride and groom get down from the car, their back to me, I immediately notice the long dark plaited hair of the bride, it is decorated with flowers and little white stones that glistens bright in the sun. I catch a glimpse of her fair hand adorned with mardhani and sparkly bangles; she turns to her right and I briefly see her cheeks-- rosy, almost glittery. Her single stoned nose stud catches all the light from the sun so when she turns to face straight the mid-day is almost dark. I see my mom cross the street and join the women in welcoming the bride and the groom. I stand up and go back inside the house.
All through the night, I hear my mom talk about her to my dad, “She’s very pretty, we have to find a girl like her for him.”
“Let him get a job first, then we’ll talk about marriage.”
The next day, I wake up early. Dad is sitting in the veranda reading his newspaper. I climb the stairs to the terrace where mom is drying clothes on the line. “Did you drink your tea, I put it on the table.” I didn’t notice the tea on the table, but I don’t say that to her. I move closer to the balcony; the early sun is slowly stretching its paw on the town. The woman is in the front of her house, crouching, in her left hand she is holding a small bowl with white rice powder in it, she pinches the powder with her forefinger and her thumb and lays a small drop on the ground like the sweat on her forehead. She draws the most beautiful Kolam I ever see in my life. The little kids come out of the house with little bowls in their hands, she allows them to colour each circles and boxes with different colours. The kids make a mess, but she’s looks down very patiently at them and breaks into a most beautiful laugh. I find myself laughing before realising that my mom is with me on the terrace.
In the afternoon, home is almost deserted except for me. I sit watching a program on the tv where people call in to talk to this woman and request their favourite song to be played. The woman on the tv smiles through all the compliments and abrupt disconnections: through callers with noisy backgrounds and through excited callers with their inappropriate compliments, she smiles through them all. I mute the channel, get up and go to the telephone stand, flip the pages in the telephone diary, pick up the receiver and dial the number.
It’s her. How do I know, I don’t know. But I know it’s her. Is her voice as sweet as the anchor? Do I say that her voice is as sweet as those callers say? How do I find that voice, young, bold, angelic? “Hello.” I press the receiver to my ear and try to listen more closely, it doesn’t help, it only hurts my ear. “Hello.” I close the mouthpiece so as not to give away with my heavy breathing. Someone’s asking her who is it and she says she doesn’t know but she doesn’t cut the call either, not for another ten seconds, is she pressing the receiver close to her ear too? Is she smiling through this all?
It became a habit. A ritual that I carry out every day like it would me get me a pass to gates of the heaven. A few weeks later, as usual, I pick up the phone exactly at 11.00 AM and call the house. She picks it up and this time I could tell that she was cheerful. Her “Hello” began with a laugh. I put down the receiver before I could forget that tone.