The Day before Onam
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A woman came out the house that was the biggest and luxurious on the shore of the national Highway 17 that connected Cannanore and
, just at the junction before the
suburban bridge. Vinod, her husband might be in his room preparing his speech
to be delivered in front of the judge. Their married life would end today. Calicut
It was the month of rain, but that day the sun was bright and that was good. She stood in the sunlight on the terrace.
Smitha worked in the State Bank. Her husband Vinod was a real-estate broker, a term he always disliked to be addressed with. Her only daughter, Priya was in a prestigious school in Mumbai and only son, Prakash was doing his MBA from Harvard. Her husband’s second son though, studied in a much less expensive school in Kerala that taught MBA, the same subject, but included a set of extra curricular activities including student strikes, breaking the glasses of State Buses, and damaging public property. However, He was not a regular visible participant in these activities. His name was Raghu and just once, he was officially ‘caught’ by the law for damaging public property and was put away. Vinod had to spend a lot of money to release Raghu.
He was a scrupulous child. Never again he risked being found out.
Vinod had another wife, Pallavi before he married Smitha. Raghu was the son he had in that marriage. Vinod divorced her when he found Smitha was a better choice for his prudential plans. Smitha was never married before. Her father thought about her secure future and after many considerations he decided Smitha would be happier with this man who knew how to be in the bright side of success. Even though divorced, Vinod still paid for his son, her step son. Smitha never minded it, she never cared about money her husband made, usually, until it all came down like a castle of cards.
Smitha thought about it again, but she could not understand now why she did not dislike or give any particular concern for her husband’s paternal inclination before. Things started falling down the previous year. Even her father had predicted that the real estate business in Kerala would not be affected by economic crisis. Predictions were wronged by some unprecedented influences. She could not understand what. They said it was the ripples of the global fiscal crisis, but she was sure it was something else that happened with her husband’s business.
Thinking deep about the reasons of the financial cripple her husband was now in, she could locate only one cause; his exclusive and unsevered connection with the past. Past if did not let go at the right time, could become a snare that could bind you hard and can take you down…down...real down. And that was what happened, she was sure. He still paid for Raghu, the student revolutionary. Her own son and daughter were lacking the same support from their father.
“I cannot bear this discrimination anymore,” she had said the previous month. He had remained silent to all her questions and that she felt endlessly disgraceful because he seemed not to bother to acknowledge her presence.
“You never loved each other,” her family councilor friend, Swetha had said. For Vinod, it was a solid financial backbone that he expected in marrying Smitha, his previous wife had no job. For Smitha, it was all for her father, her only blood-relative existed upon earth that kept her from being an alien, self-born. She needed to please him and so Vinod was a viable option. For her father, maybe it was the prospect of real-estate and its immunity to the global financial crisis.
Smitha was about to turn away from the terrace when her attention spilled at the nearby small tile roofed house. In front of the house was a little girl, making a floral carpet. It was the day before Onam. She realized it with an unspeakable pang in her heart. The previous year, her son and daughter were here, celebrating Onam, making floral carpets and making sadhya, the Onam feast. That was when the whole family came together, for the final time. Vinod was there too, even if the business was off track already, he never showed it then. He appeared all excited, helping kids and no one had spoken about Raghu. She remembered that even then the absence of Raghu’s reference made her feel relieved.
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She never actually liked Raghu. Her dislike towards the boy was not just because now her husband was borrowing money from her to help him in his cultural activities, which always involved political leaders and parties, though only once it was the police and the courtroom. It was also because Raghu represented what she displaced when she entered Vinod’d life. And she never even doubted the fact that she had this thought running all through her veins ever since she heard Vinod talk about Raghu, twenty one years back, even when they met for the first time.
It was after the previous Onam Vinod revealed he was bankrupt, but she took it bravely. They had her salary to survive on, which was good money. But then…Raghu had needs too.
The thought of her son asking her about how they would celebrate this year’s Onam returned to her mind. It was how they parted and he bordered his plane for the
previous year. She returned from the terrace to her room, which was in the
first floor. The door to Vinod’s room was visible from the stairs and she saw
it was not opened and the bottom of the door still had a dark border. US
He might not have woken up yet, she thought. Should she wake him up? She did not feel it unusual to think that way. Today was the perhaps the final day of them together under this roof, if everything went fine. Today they will be granted divorce. Swetha had promised that. And she had also promised Smitha that she would drop her at the court, so that Smitha can avoid the embarrassment of asking the ex-husband a ride to the very ceremony that made him her ex-. It sounded funny when she thought about it.
She saw the land phone sitting on the tea-poi near the sofa in the hall in front of Vinod’s room. It had not rung the whole day, yesterday. She had expected her children to call her… or Vinod. She remembered clearly, how she had revealed the news of their decision to the kids. They hadn’t asked her if there would be an Onam celebration this year. They had just kept silence, both of them.
Smitha heard a vehicle honking outside the gate. At first she had thought it was a traffic problem early in the morning. She looked at the clock on the wall inside her room, it showed 7 am. Then the honking grew consistent. Perhaps an accident, she thought. She considered going out to the terrace again and watching it from there. It seemed unwise, because it could be Swetha asking her to open the gate. Smitha had asked her to arrive as early as possible, but this early was a real surprise. A true friend, Smitha thought.
Smitha opened the main door and found an unfamiliar car in front of her gate. She took the remote control and hit the red button, the gate opened with its regular music. She closed the front door and went inside. Whoever it was, it was not Swetha. So it could be a visitor to Vinod, may be his advocate. But the car that entered through the gate was still unfamiliar. She knew Vinod’s advocate and his car, it was a Hyundai Alto. The car that crossed the gate to the driveway was a Toyota Innova, a taxi.
She went inside and knocked on Vinod’s door. It was the only wise decision she could think of. She was about to go into her own room leaving the guests to her willful negligence when she heard a call; “Amma!”
She turned. The voice was familiar. Her son! “Amma, open the door,” –this time it was her daughter. Were they here? To see the final dramatic act of this play?
Vinod came out of his room too, bleary eyed and with a bed head. He opened the main door. The two youngsters, the brother and sister rushed inside. They hugged their father one after the other, and walked towards where their mother was, at the bottom of the stairs, stunned at this paranormal scene.
“Who invited you here?” this was Smitha’s first response to Priya, who ran towards Smitha and hugged her.
“No one mom. We just wanted to see if our parents are capable of making this crucial decision alone. And if you weren’t, I honestly believed we both could help you,” It was Prakash.
“Come on kids, take rest. You have crossed miles to reach here. Tons of fatigue and germs,” Vinod said as if pampering an LKG lad. He knew how to make people enter into deals, she thought momentarily.
Something kept her attention along with her two kids. It was the movement in the verandah. There was someone else with them, she realized. Not just one, but two.
Prakash went out the front door, suddenly, and came back after a moment. Along with him were Pallvi and Raghu.
“I am sorry if I am causing a disturbance to you. I am also sorry for not asking your permission to enter into this house… your house, Smitha,” Pallavi said.
Smitha and Vinod stood aghast, staring at Pallavi and Raghu. Walking towards Smitha, Raghu bent and touched her feet, as a gesture of politeness. “We are not here to give you trouble,” he said, standing up in front of Smitha. “We are here because Prakash and Priya invited us.”
Pallavi smiled. “I already know what is happening between the two of you and what the importance of this day is in the life of this family. I won’t say this man; your husband; deserves any respect. He left me for money and social security, which he felt you, could offer him. But today when these kids came to me and I saw their tears, I could not deny their request.”
“Can you leave us alone, please,” Vinod said, his voice sounding hollow.
“I can. But I don’t want these two kids to have the same fate as my Raghu. I did not marry anyone else after our divorce thinking Raghu might never get the same love from any other man. And you as his father always met his demands, never even thinking if your wife would like your generosity.”
“I know this very well aunti that the previous time it was your money that pappa gave me. He didn’t tell me, however. I knew about his business being down and I also knew he could not have trusted anyone else at this time of downfall to borrow money from,” Raghu said. “Smitha aunty, I know you never liked me living like a parasite feeding on your husband’s money… your money, now. It’s over… I don’t want anything else from him, except just one final request.” He said and turned towards Vinod.
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Raghu spoke again; “They say one must trade whatever one has to celebrate Onam. Can you trade love with egotism, just this once and let this family be together once again?”
Vinod looked at Raghu, with beads of tears on his eyelashes. Prakash was facing the front door, his right hand over his face. Priya sat on the sofa and blinked off her tears, hard.
“You are not just making a decision here; you are giving your children a new life,” Pallvi said.
She looked at Raghu and they both moved towards the main door. The car was waiting outside. There at the door, Swetha appeared. “Am I late?” she smirked and glanced at Smitha, beamingly. “I hope you are going to give that judge an off day today.”
It had started to drizzle slightly, though the sun was still shining and the beaming pearls of rain created a floral carpet in those dry minds that were in their journey back to togetherness. Pallavi stopped and smiled at this and said; “Happy Onam.”