After a long drive through dusty streets I collapsed on the mat that she had laid in a dark room. It must have been late afternoon when I got up, the household was quiet, only the noise of someone in the neighbourhood drawing water from a well. I went to the backyard and splashed cool water on my face; I would have loved a cup of hot coffee before my cigarette. I went into the kitchen searching, there was milk on the stove, there were too many tin boxes on the rack above the stove and I was in no mood to search for coffee powder. There won’t be instant coffee anyway, and filter coffee would take ages to prepare. Surly I walked out, sat on the seat by the door and smoked.
It was late evening when she came from the field where she had gone to wind up for day. She wiped her face with the old cotton sari as she sat beside me, sniffed and made a scene about the smell of cigarette.
You should go beyond the pond to smoke with the labourers, not here in the agraharam.
Ma, give me a glass of hot coffee. Where is the decoction, you know I am coming today.
How long are you staying? It is threshing time and I will be busy through the day. Twenty men have come from the next village and I will have to finish threshing ullundu before next week.
Ma, where is Ponni?
She has gone to her village.
Where is that? She was born here, in this house at the backyard.
Let us not start on this now.
OK. Where is Thai?
She is dead …. let her die…. let her die…
Why didn’t you tell me?
She got up without replying. Next, I heard her in the kitchen dragging the wooden crate where she stored potatoes. I went inside to help her cook dinner.
She was short sightedly looking at the buds on the potato and patiently snipping one after the other. I took a knife and cut the potatoes for her. She reached for the kadai and poured oil liberally, let mustard sputter before she threw in the cut potatoes to roast them.