Monday, October 10, 2005

Short Story - The Alibi (Part 1)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

The Alibi

The ancient wooden gate creaked. Chandrashekar Murthy looked up from the newspaper he was pretending to read. He waited anxiously for Ravi and Suman to make their way up the driveway and through the front door to the huge verandah that he spent his evenings in. The doctor’s clinic was only a short walk away from the house, so Ravi had not bothered to take out the car.

Chandrashekar folded up the newspaper with studied concentration, all the while trying to read the expression on his daughter-in-law’s face. She removed her slippers at the door and placed them on the rack to the side before climbing the stars two at a time to her bedroom on the floor above. Chandrashekar felt his heart sinking, and the look on Ravi’s face confirmed his worst fears.

“What did the doctor say?”

Ravi said nothing. He could tell his father knew. He sank into the deep sofa that lined one side of the wall across from the easy-chair that his father reclined on.

“Why don’t you get a check up for yourself and Suman and see if everything is all right? May be you should get a second opinion, see another doctor. Someone more experienced in these matters. You’ve been seeing the same one...”

Ravi winced. “Appa, you know you’re just saying those things. You don’t mean them. The doctor says Suman and I are fine. This whole thing is beginning to get on my nerves! Suman is upset, you’re upset and I’m just fed up. I feel like a fool every time I go to the doctor.” Ravi buried his head in his hands, unable to meet his father’s eyes.

“Ravi, go to Suman. She must be feeling terrible. We’ll talk about this later.”

* * * * *

Suman bounded up the stairs two at a time, dashed into her bedroom and closed the door behind her, thankful that Ravi had remained downstairs. She leaned against the door and forced herself to take deep breaths. Her heart had been racing and she had felt out of breath all the way from the doctor’s clinic. When she felt a little steadier, she pushed herself away from the door and slowly made her way to the sink in the adjoining bathroom. Her flushed face welcomed the splash of cool water. She looked up and saw her face in the mirror hanging over the sink – the face of a distraught woman. Tears came hot and wet into her eyes. The mirror dissolved in front of her as she was transported to another time, another place – ten years ago, the operating room of the Darjeeling General Hospital.

* * * * *

Ravi climbed up the stairs slowly, one at a time. He wanted to make his getaway from his father, but was in no hurry to get to the bedroom. He reached the door and found it closed. He pushed at it gently and heard the splashing of the water in the bathroom. Suman must be washing up. It was almost time for dinner. He backed up and closed the door gently, thankful that he did not have to see her right then. He made his way to the spare bedroom that they used as a study. He sank into the large leather chair, stretched his legs out in front of him, let his head flop on the headrest and closed his eyes. He willed them to come, the images that haunted him.

They were there, ready, simmering just beneath the surface, and at times like this, when he did not try to push them down deep to a place where he would not have to acknowledge them, they swam up and roamed freely right before his eyes. It was a relief not to fight them.

The images were never the same. Sometimes, it was Amma on her bed, lying still, except for those rasping breaths that seemed to suck what little life there was out of her rather than sustain it. Along with the images came the smells. The smell of the chemicals that were coursing through her body, trying in vain to vanquish the marauding cancer cells. The smell of her room, a strange but comforting mixture of furniture, her clothes, her favorite talcum powder and her hair oil. Sometimes, when the images were of Amma in the kitchen, all those years ago, as he came running home from school, it was the smell of some delicious snack she had cooked up to cajole him into eating before he ran off to play.

But always, whenever Amma came to him, she left him with the image of her laid out in the verandah, waiting for the van to arrive from the crematorium, covered with a white sheet, the smells of fresh flowers and incense sticks trying to overcome the smell of death.

At other times, it was Appa, always aloof and stern, fiercely immersed in work, out of reach and unavailable, his demeanor as starchy as his crisply ironed shirt and dhoti. As Ravi grew older, Appa seemed to add layer after layer to the wall that he was putting up between them. What had gone wrong and when, wondered Ravi. He could not put his finger on anything he had done or said that had made Appa particularly angry with him. Ravi had begun to think he was cursed. The distance seemed to have crept between them and had made itself at home, refusing to budge. The first time Ravi felt it, it had caught him by surprise.

* * * * *

Part II will be up in the next couple of days.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm....nice! Waiting for Part II, III and.....:)

Anonymous said...

The background building is deep and comprehensive. Nice. :)

Shall look forward to the rest of it.

zambezi said...

Great!Looking forward to the rest of the story.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thanks Ravi, Aditya and Zambezi!