It was summer in KK Nagar, a remote part of Coimbatore. The sun was on time without mercy scorching down the land. It was eight AM on an April, Wednesday. The school students flocked at the bus stand. The smile was the common factor in all the students face. It was the last exam of the year. Everyone was joyfully discussing the summer plan.
John was ready to leave for work. His head pained because of low-quality brandy from last night drink. He never had money to drink decent brandy. Every day he drank a quarter. He had breakfast in the kitchen. His wife, Rose prepared idli, coconut chutney, and lentils for breakfast.
Rose was getting ready for the school. She had breakfast and looking for the mathematics answer sheet, report cards and other stationery required for her job. She filled the cloth bag with the bundles of the answer sheet, stationary, reports cards. She placed them in the living room bed.
The house was one long room split into three rooms. First room was visiting room, followed by the living room and the kitchen. The toilet was separate outside the house. The house was part of a three neighbor compound. All of the neighbors worked in the nearby private school.
Rose picked her handbag, checked the cash in the front zip, found a fifty rupees note. She didn’t prepare lunch for the day. The lunch at the school was forty rupees, government Bus fare for up and down was ten rupees, and tea, snacks twice in a day consumed twenty rupees. She was short by twenty rupees. She was looking for the water bottle, after searching for a minute, she bent down to search for the water can, and found it beneath the bed. She wiped the dust in the yellow colored bottle with her red saree and moved into the kitchen.
After filling the water bottle from the water filter, she asked her husband to spare a twenty rupees. John who was unhappily eating the last idli in the plate, put his hand into the pocket, looked at the change, and handed over fifteen rupees. She touched his fingers and picked the cash. Both of them didn’t offer a word to each other. It was strange transaction. The silence was speaking in the room on couple’s behalf.
Rose left the house wearing the leather handbag in the left hand and holding the cloth in the right hand. Her eyes were yellowish red and swelled at the right side of the forehead. As she walked towards the bus stop under the shades of tamarind, her memory replayed last night events.
Her memory without any break played the last night scene in a continuous loop. Everything started at night ten thirty about before bedtime. She was offering her daily prayers in the visitor room. Her husband turned the TV and raised the volume to the fullest. The music channel was playing old classic melancholic songs.
She didn’t utter a word for few minutes her anger floodgate broke in no second, and shouted, “Any decent human knows how to behave in nights. Can you reduce the volume?”.
Her husband, walked into the visiting rooms in steady steps, and shouted, “Why the hell did you say about me an idiot?”. She remained silent, and still, the song was playing in the television.
She stared into his eyes with a fierce look to dislodge his teeth. Again he repeated the same question; nothing had changed from her side. She stared back at him.
He moved back to the room dangling, touched the walls, and turned off the video. She felt the underwater calmness. She continued offering her prayer, with eyes closed. He slowly moved from the living room to visitor room and grabbed the Bible in front of her. She felt his presence as soon as he entered the room.
The Bible was covered with a black zip cover. He flipped the pages, and yelled at her, “what are you praying to god, mad lady?”. She opened her eyes, collected her breath and stood up, said: “Please give me back the Bible.” He moved back into the living room, she followed him without any urgency. She was in no mood to mete arm wrestling. Suddenly walked forward and stood next to the living room door, she moved two steps back. He threw the book on the living room bed, she rushed to take the Bible, and the floor mat at the entrance of the living room, slipped her leg, and her head hit an iron rod.
While her mind played the scene in the background, she reached the bus stop. All the students greeted her and offered to bring her cloth bag to school. She refused to entertain them.
John locked the house and left the key beneath the shoe rack in the entrance. He walked to his workplace every day. His workplace was a fifteen-minute walk from home.
Rest of the week progressed without any unusual scenes. His daughter working in Chennai had returned for the weekend.
The birds were chirping in the evening. The flock of birds flew in v shape in the sky. The crows sat on the compound wall and cried. After six o clock long bell from the nearby church, John walked to the liquor shop and purchased the two-quarter bottles of cheap brandy and snacks. He borrowed the money from her daughter.
As cars surpassed him, he remembered his good old days of his adulthood. He was born in upper caste rich landlord family. He was the sixth child. All his elder brothers were rich and stayed in different parts of the world.
When he reached the house sun was down, and orange over glow spread over the sky. He had no interest to enjoy the evening outside.
He started drinking at the age of 16. At the beginning,
Alcohol was the symbol of status. Everyone drank in his family. He drank every day since then with friends, brothers and some time alone.
The local channel was playing classic Tamil movie Guna. During every advertisement break, he downed a glass of brandy and watched the movie lying in the living room bed.
Before dinner time, landline phone in the living room rang. From the ring, Ophelia, his daughter guessed the call is from abroad. The phone was placed next to the TV. She got up from the bed, walked towards the TV, reduced the volume and lifted the call and said, “Hello.”
After five minutes, she disconnected the call, increased the volume and returned to bed. After few minutes, John asked Ophelia, “Who called us sweety?”. “It’s brother Claudius. He is returning from Singapore next month. He wants to visit us and bringing Jack Daniel Whiskey for you.”
“He is a leech, slowly suck your bed, when you notice, it’s too late; burn down the leech and carry the scar forever. I can’t forget his cruel strategy to grab our house worth of fifty lakhs for mere half the price. He was no different than a money lender.”
“Well, dad. It happened a decade back. Those dark days were scary, and we had no one else to seek help. We can’t do much about it now. He is cunning and clever” said Ophelia in disinterested tone.
“I’ll gulp the drink, and bitch about him, my business partner Ram. Will you visit again next month?”, said, John.
“After hearing this Appa, I’m in two minds. This will be your hundredth time narrating the events” said Ophelia.
“You’re exaggerating my sweet girl. See, my situation, our old house had a mini bar. The bar had all the brands of whiskey, scotch, brandy, absinthe, vodka from all parts of the world. It was work of a year to set up the bar. Now I drink cheap brandy which all the day laborers drink.”, said furious John.
“I don’t care about your alcohol obsession. Tomorrow, I’m attending, Ram’s son Bharat’s wedding. Are you coming along with him?”, asked Ophelia.
“He didn’t invite me. One night, after dinner, Ram reached home and invited your mother to the wedding. I was watching TV in the living room. He didn’t bother to step in to invite me. He is a perfect chameleon.
When I was 22, we started the company together. After six months, heavy metal casting business blossomed, that’s when I decided to get married. He came along with me to look at your mom. Everything went well till I reached thirty.” said John in a sad tone.
The discussion went on and on until dinner time. Rose from the kitchen shouted, “Ophelia, Dinner is ready. Come and help yourself.”
“Nowadays, your mother can’t distinguish sugar and salt,” said John.
Ophelia took a deep breath without offering any reply and walked into the kitchen.