He tosses in his bed, the heat is unbearable. He gets up and opens the window for fresh air. He applies neem oil on his skin to protect against mosquito bites, and goes back to bed.
He wakes up with a start; he feels like a large stone is pressing his chest. He sits up and the pain eases. He comes out to the porch and smokes, looking at the night sky. It has been days since he slept soundly, he keeps skimming on the surface and just when he is about to slip away, he gets up with a jolt.
He wonders what is keeping sleep away from him. He racks his brain to recall a lore from the reams of stories his father narrated to him as a boy.
***** ***** *****
The goddess of seven stones, Aatha, woke me up night after night, his father said. She fancied a big temple to be built for her, with doors so big and bell so loud that people in Kanchipuram could hear.
Kanchipuram? That is very far.
I pleaded with Aatha. I am a poor farmer, I earn just enough money to support my family. How can I build a large temple?
Flowers adorned by the priest fell off the stones, the rains repeatedly washed the turmeric paste offered to Aatha.
Aatha is sulking, the priest said. Let me handle this, I will invite her to my dream.
But where can we build the temple, there are only seven stones, there is no image for Aatha, my father said to the priest.
Priest said, this is a ritual that repeats ever so many times – Aatha’s anger, our pleas; Aatha always relents, except when she took away your father’s life, took his breath away by pressing his chest with a stone.