Categories
Index

Borderless, September 2021

Editorial

The Caged Birds Sing…Click here to read.

Interviews

Professor Anvita Abbi, a Padma Shri, discusses her experience among the indigenous Andamanese and her new book on them, Voices from the Lost Horizon. Click here to read.

Keith Lyons talks to Jessica Mudditt about her memoir, Our Home in Myanmar, and the current events. Click here to read.

Translations

Be and It All Came into Being

Balochi poetry by Akbar Barakzai, translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Adivasi Poetry

A poem by Jitendra Vasava translated from the Dehwali Bhili via Gujarati by Gopika Jadeja. Click here to read.

A Poem for The Ol Chiki

 Poetry by Sokhen Tudu, translated from the Santhali by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. Click here to read.

About Time

Korean poetry on time written and translated by Ilwha Choi. Click here to read.

Of Days and Seasons

A parable by the eminent Dutch writer, Louis Couperus (1863-1923), translated by Chaitali Sengupta. Click here to read.

Road to Nowhere

An unusual story about a man who heads for suicide, translated from Odiya by the author, Satya Misra. Click here to read.

Abhisar by Tagore

A story poem about a Buddhist monk by Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read the poems

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Michael R Burch, Sekhar Banerjee, Jeff Shakes, Ashok Suri, Tim Heerdink, Srinivas S, Rhys Hughes, A Jessie Michael, George Freek, Saranayan BV, Gigi Baldovino Gosnell, Pramod Rastogi, Tohm Bakelas, Nikita Desai, Jay Nicholls, Smitha Vishwanathan, Jared Carter

Nature’s Musings

In Sun, Seas and Flowers, Penny Wilkes takes us for a tour of brilliant photographs of autumnal landscapes with verses. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Memory Gongs, Rhys Hughes creates a profound myth tinged with a tongue in cheek outlook … Click here to read.

Essays

Crime and the Colonial Capital: Detective Reid in Calcutta

Abhishek Sarkar explores the colonial setting up of the Calcutta detective department in 1887. Click here to read.

The Myth of Happiness

Candice Louisa Daquin ponders over the impositions on people to declare themselves happy. Click here to read.

Once Upon a Time in Burma: Of Babies and Buddhas

John Herlihy takes us through more of Myanmar with his companion, Peter, in the second part of his travelogue. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

Bhaskar Parichha explores links between Politics & the Media. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Cyclists

Mike Smith muses about a black and white photograph from his childhood. Click here to read.

Leo Messi’s Magic Realism

Sports fan Saurabh Nagpal explores the magic realism in famous footballer Messi’s play with a soupçon of humour. Click here to read.

Infinite Possibilities & Mysterious Riddles

Keith Lyons gives a lively account of traveling across borders despite the pandemic. Click here to read.

Word Play

Geetha Ravichnadran explores additions to our vocabulary in a tongue-in-cheek article. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In When I Almost Became a Professor, Devraj Singh Kalsi gives humour tinged reasons on why he detached himself from being an academician. Click here to read.

Stories

Flash Fiction: Turret

Niles M Reddick relates a haunting tale of ghosts and more. Click here to read.

Silver Lining

Dipayn Chakrabarti travels through moods of the day and night. Click here to read.

Captain Andi is in love

Dr. P Ravi Shankar explores a future beyond climate change in Malaysia. Click here to read.

The Cockatoo

Revathi Ganeshsundaram captures the stardust in ripening years. Click here to read.

The Missing Tile

Saeed Ibrahim’s story reflects on the ties between an old teacher and a student. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Return of the Ghost, Sunil Sharma explores the borders between life, ideas and death. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Somdatta Mandal, showcasing Tagore’s introduction and letters. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal reviews Anvita Abbi’s Voices from the Lost Horizon. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Wendy Doniger’s Winged Stallion and Wicked Mares. Click here to read.

Categories
Stories

The Cockatoo

By Revathi Ganeshsundaram

A Cockatoo. Courtesy: Creative Commons

She moved softly towards the edge of the balcony and stood there for a moment looking at the well-kept garden below. She could see an old man sitting on a bench, leaning heavily on one armrest, and she smiled in aesthetic pleasure at the picturesque contrast his grey shirt and trousers made with the dark brown wood on which he was seated and the sea of bright green grass that surrounded him. A row of colourful parakeets dotted the back of the garden seat and its other armrest in an uncannily equidistant arrangement, thereby completing the scenic view.

Although the old man was facing away from her, she was struck by his drooping shoulders and the overall impression he gave, of flagging hope. What ailed him?

Was he a convalescing patient, or an anxious relative? Was it a sick spouse he was waiting on, or an injured grandchild?With a pang, she thought: Is it a birth that awaits him, or…?

So many questions!

She sighed, a little disappointed that she would not be here when the answers came, in their own sweet time.

Something large and white swooped down just then, and she saw that it was a cockatoo, eagerly pecking at something in the as-yet dewy lawn, and as she watched, she saw two more alight nearby. She vaguely remembered reading something mystical about these birds but could not recall exactly.  

Some distance away, a rather ugly turkey waddled onto the scene, and she could not stop herself from thinking that it somehow spoilt the pretty picture-postcard effect. She smiled then, a little guiltily. Who was she to judge?

Someone had left a wheelchair out here, which was rather strange, given that they always seemed short of wheelchairs when you asked for one. Although she no longer needed it, she felt an urge to go over and seat herself in the rather abandoned-looking contraption. That was when she realised that there was something wrong with one of its wheels. No wonder it was not in use right now!

But it was still most disorganised of housekeeping to have left it out on the balcony, she thought as she settled herself in it, anyway.

It was so calm and peaceful out here in the early morning and she was glad of the solitude. Before long, there would be bedlam in the ward, but for now, she was on her own.

So quiet, so strange. Nothing had prepared her for this – it was really, so very peaceful.

And yet, why did she have this unfulfilled feeling, this one unchecked item in her bucket list?

Could it be that she had wanted it too much? Perhaps, she had wished too hard.

What was it they said – Let it go, then it will come to you? Perhaps she had never really let go…

She sighed again. Nothing to complain about, after all. A good husband, although he had died many years back, may he rest in peace. Good sons, who were taking turns looking after her. Why, even now, one of them was sleeping soundly back in the room, exhausted no doubt, by the several night-time interruptions that he uncomplainingly stayed awake to attend.

Her eldest. Her heart went out to him. She wished she could tell him that she had not meant to be a bother, that she had not wanted to trouble any of them. But they had never really been good at expressing feelings to each other.

Well, things would be all right. Eventually.

She was aware of the stranger’s arrival on the balcony even before she saw him. She let him stand there for a moment and get his bearings before she turned to acknowledge his presence with a smile. He smiled back.

It felt as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

He leaned over the railings to look down into the garden and she too turned to look again at the bench below. The old man was now rising from his seat, using the armrest to propel himself into a standing position while resting his weight on a stick. She noticed that his walking aid had a clawed foot with four prongs. It was strange that she could count them from this distance, but she supposed it was one of the perks of her situation.

On the man’s stirring from his hitherto statue-like posture, the parakeets on the bench took flight and rose into the air as one, like a multicoloured festoon on an invisible string. How pretty!  

Her companion on the balcony had turned around now and with his back against the railings, was looking at her. She gazed back at him serenely and they smiled at each other once more. It seemed that no words were needed.

But it would still be nice to talk.

Almost as if he read her thoughts, he said, “It’s so peaceful, isn’t it?”

She nodded, raising her eyebrows in agreement.

“What a contrast…!” he continued, gesturing with a circular motion of his hand towards the inside of the building and indicating a lower floor. “I mean, down there…”

She understood.

“Heart attack?” she queried gently.

It might have seemed a terribly rude question to anyone listening, especially since they were her very first words to a total stranger – her sons would certainly be horrified if they knew – but she was over eighty and old age brought with it certain privileges that the young could never understand.

He did not seem to mind, anyway, as she had known he would not. He raised his fist in a thumbs-up gesture and smiled at her again. Such a sweet smile he had, too.

“And you?” he asked.

“Well, just old age – all sorts of little complications… That is how it starts, you know.”

He looked doubtfully at her. “You don’t look that old to me – I mean, really – I’m not just flattering you…”

It was interesting that he could blush, even now.

She laughed. “I’m eighty,” she said and at his look of surprise, went on with a smile, “I believe you – that you are not flattering me – people always said I was very well-preserved…!”

He snorted. “What an expression! Sounds as though they’re referring to a bottle of pickles!”

She laughed again and looked at him with interest. “You can’t be above sixty-five yourself…”

He cast a sidelong glance at her, looking both pleased and self-conscious as he replied, “I’m seventy-two.”

They smiled again. It was such a comfortable feeling, this camaraderie with a perfect stranger. And yet, it did not feel like he was a stranger at all.

“What kept you?” she asked. Another strange question it would seem, to any eavesdropper, but to him it made perfect sense.

“The doctor would not let me go,” he said. “A very conscientious young chap… It was awful to see the look on his face – I felt I had let him down…”

She nodded. It was ironic that one tended to feel sorry for the people who left, when it was those left behind who needed sympathy. Her thoughts went to her sons, and then she wondered about her companion.

“Who do you have here with you?” she asked, a little curiously.

He coughed in embarrassment. “Nobody, really. A neighbour brought me here, and I guess my friends will be in sooner or later…”

“I’m sorry.” She really was. She thought again of her two lovely sons and was grateful.

She looked away through the railings and was once more impressed by the scene before her: It was as if someone had daubed bright streaks of paint onto a green canvas – a few large and white, and several smaller ones of varied hues – only, none of those spots of colour were still; some of them took wing even as she watched.

She was aware all the while that he was glancing at her on and off, so she was not surprised when he asked again, “And you?”

There was the faintest trace of anxiety in his voice, and she thought she caught a flash of jealousy in his dark eyes before he looked quickly away.

“My elder son is here with me now. He’s the more responsible one though he hates to show his affection openly…” She smiled with a mixture of fondness and regret as she thought of their most recent disagreement. She had not wanted to be hospitalised, but then she became so sick that she no longer had any say in the matter.

Looking back now — all those arguments seemed such a waste of time. And life. Or perhaps both were the same.

She looked up to see him listening intently and went on, “The younger one is more talkative and has been keeping me amused during the day – he should be here too, shortly…”

She waited a moment to hear the unspoken question she knew he was bursting to ask, but he was silent. Taking pity on him, she decided to answer it for him, “My husband is no more. He died many years ago.”

“Oh – I am sorry…” he said in genuine contrition.

She spread her hands philosophically. “It is okay, it was a long while ago. And I suppose we were just two good people blundering along together…”

He looked sharply at her then and she went on, “Somehow, we didn’t really connect – otherwise, he would be with me now, don’t you think?”

He looked down at his feet, his hands on the railing behind him. “My wife and I divorced a good many years back…” He coughed again. “I never really wanted to try again after that.”

She nodded. “You were waiting, but nothing ever happened.”

He glanced up at her in surprise. “You understand?”

She smiled, then. “I waited all my life.”

Perhaps it was something in her voice, or maybe it was the way she tilted her head when she looked at him. Nevertheless, that was when the shock of realisation hit him. He kept staring at her speechlessly until she asked gently, “What kept you?”

This time her meaning was different, yet he understood her perfectly. He came forward eagerly then, and reaching down, took her hands in his.

“I don’t know, I’m not sure… Was it Fate?!”

Their eyes met fully for the first time. Such dark eyes, a lifetime of longing. And his smile – the sweetest thing she had ever seen.

Behind them, the ward was coming to life. She thought she could discern sounds of panic, some sort of a flurry.

“Shall we?” he asked, still holding her hands. She rose from the wheelchair, but then could not resist turning to look towards the rooms.

“Don’t,” he said, gently. “If you do, he will feel your pain and be haunted by it for the rest of his life.”

“How do you…?” she began, but he answered in anticipation, “My mother. I felt it for years afterwards…”

She wavered in indecision, saying wistfully, “If only they could know how peaceful it is, it would not hurt them so much…”

He nodded then, but said again, firmly, “He will be all right – they both will. You’ll see.”

Just a while back, she had been amused by his boyish jealousy. And now, he seemed so much wiser than she. Perhaps, age and time and space meant nothing hereafter?

A large white bird flew up and landed expertly on the balcony railing. As it gazed boldly at them, she suddenly remembered what she had read and felt a strange compulsion to reach out and touch it.

“Don’t! You could lose a finger…!” he cried out, and then they both laughed at the absurdity of it.

She reached out, and the cockatoo – that symbol of light, and change, and of the end of the tunnel – fluttered up and seemed to rest lightly for a moment on her outstretched arm. Then it took off, and as they watched, it flew upwards towards the trees and out of their sight.

“Shall we?” he asked again, and this time, she was sure. They smiled at each other, the sweetest smiles, and it was the most natural thing in the universe.

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Revathi Ganeshsundaram finds the written word therapeutic and loves reading and writing fiction, sometimes dabbling in poetry. Her work has been published in Borderless Journal, Kitaab, Literary Yard, and Readomania

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Stories

Thicker Than Water

By Revathi Ganeshsundaram

From his vantage point just inside the doorway of the international terminal’s arrival area, he observed the children. Full of energy and in high spirits, they were running up and down the waiting section while the grownups chatted. When they neared the coffee shop, however, they halted and looked longingly at the muffins, doughnuts, and other treats that were temptingly displayed behind the glass counter. The boy then whispered something urgently to the little girl, and she obediently ran back to where the four adults stood. Tugging at her mother’s arm, she tried to get her attention, but the women were too engrossed in conversation to pay heed. Besides, such entreaties were routine, and as such were to be routinely ignored!

A helpless glance back at the counter received a glare of such imperative that she turned to one of the men in the group, ostensibly more amenable to requests from her (and therefore, probably the father). He continued to watch with suppressed amusement as the parent was dragged by hand to the shop, where the over-priced sweetmeats were promptly procured with rather too many dollars and an indulgent smile. Duty done, the man sauntered back to his group and was once more lost in conversation.

The children remained near the counter, eyes shining bright with delight as they beamed at each other over the goodies, unwittingly smearing powdered sugar and frosting on chins and cheeks as they feasted. He was rather pleasantly surprised to observe some peaceable and generous sharing of treats too — although, as he told himself in a cynical after-thought, the goodwill might partly have been engendered by a sugar high!

He looked at them more closely. The little girl was chubby and rosy-cheeked, and her hair was neatly done up in two tight braids that were held in shape with predictably bright-pink hair ties. With her beatific smile, she reminded him of a cute angel decoration he had once seen in The Dollar Shop. The boy was taller, probably a few years older, and seemed quiet and serious.

But then, looks could be deceptive, he thought with a rueful smile.

Although the inside of the airport was temperature-controlled, it was winter, and he was glad of the warmth of his jacket. He zipped it up to his throat and began to walk up and down the long and narrow waiting area, momentarily forgetting the children that had so interested him. He had arrived earlier than he had expected to, but it was a Sunday and the roads had been free. The flight had landed on time, and he estimated that passengers would soon be coming out after the usual hour it took to collect baggage and pass through immigration.

A piercing shriek startled him and silenced conversationalists all around. Turning swiftly, he saw the little girl, now in tears, pointing to the boy and sobbing out a complaint to her father, while the culprit scowled and slunk away out of his reach, mightily embarrassed by the scrutiny of everyone in the vicinity. The mother’s attention was also momentarily drawn, and he could hear her call out rather shrilly, “How many times have I told you not to pull your sister’s hair?!”

After the momentary lull, people turned away and picked up where they had left off, and he too resumed his pacing, half-smiling. But his thoughts were far away.

A memory flashed into his mind, painful in its intensity. Of a mother’s sorrow and a father’s anger. Of his own shock and dismay. He had not thought that the smack he gave the child in a moment of fury would cause her to cut her lip such that it bled…

As he paused to turn back, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the tinted glass window and was taken aback by the look of deep remorse on his face.

But then, he remembered other incidents. Of his mother applying cold cream on his chest and a penitent little girl asking if she could help –- the feel of her small fingers and the cool, soothing effect of the emollient as she gently rubbed it on the raw, semi-circular marks that had been made by her small teeth…

And the time she had pushed all the things off his desk in a rage, no doubt infuriated by something he had said or done. Words had quickly turned to blows and screams, leading their normally gentle and soft-spoken father to separate them with speech and look of such potent disappointment as left them more shaken than if they had been penalised through any form of corporal punishment. 

He found himself grinning then, feeling oddly relieved that in those years now seemingly eons away, things had not been one-sided after all! Like warriors, they had drawn each other’s blood…

As he reached the coffee shop now, he saw that people had begun to come down the arrival ramp and he quickened his steps towards it. Passengers were arriving singly, or in twos and threes, pushing trolleys or wheeling suitcases, and everywhere pairs of eyes were looking for familiar faces. He too craned his neck, trying to look beyond the tall and stout man, the old lady and her husband being wheeled out by airport attendants, and the harassed-looking couple with several small children.

There she was now!

She seemed rather tired as evidenced by the dark circles under her eyes appearing more pronounced than usual. But more than that, it was her haunted look that arrested him. With anxious eyes she was scanning the waiting crowd and when she caught sight of him, her face brightened briefly with the smile he had once known so well. Although her hair was flecked with premature grey and slightly tousled from the journey, it seemed to have been cut it in a different, shorter style that was elegant and suited her. She carried herself with a quiet dignity and he thought she still looked beautiful.

His heart swelled with a mixture of warmth and pride, that was yet tinged with pain.

They hugged briefly and she replied satisfactorily to his query about the comfort of the journey. As he took hold of her trolley and turned to lead the way out, they passed the family he had noticed earlier, still in their place a little way away from the arriving crowd. They were probably waiting for a different flight, maybe one that had been delayed.

The adults were watching the arrivals with superficial interest, but he noted that the siblings were now quietly going through a comic book together in apparent camaraderie. He suspected that sooner or later, one of them would again be shrieking in aggravation, but right now, the sight of their small heads bent close to each other as they pored over the pictures, cheered him greatly.

“Oh, so cute…!” he heard her whisper behind him, evidently equally struck by the scene. “Yeah, ha, ha,” he responded, feeling a peace settle on him that he had not experienced for a decade.

As the car sped along the empty roads, they spoke a little, skimming lightly over the surfaces of mostly impersonal topics. Common acquaintances back in India, certain kinds of air travellers, and a movie she had watched on the long journey were mentioned without much enthusiasm, with both concurring readily on the respective idiosyncrasies of the subjects under discussion. (In-flight meals were a slightly more rousing matter — she thought they were awful, he exclaimed in surprise.)

In between, he pointed out key landmarks like the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, not much else being view-worthy in the growing dark. She seemed listless, and unspoken emotions hung between them like a heavy curtain that he had not the courage, nor she the words, to draw aside.

But finally, she broke the silence. “I didn’t listen to any of you, did not take you into confidence, and ended up making a mess of my life! And yet, here you are now…” Her voice shook, and she could not go on.

He tried to make light of it. “Well, we only read about extreme cases where women commit suicide because they have nowhere to go — we never read about the scores of families that support their girls in their times of need. They would not make news because that is what families are for — that is what they should do. Families are meant to provide unconditional support!” 

She did not reply, yet something seemed to shift in the atmosphere. And then, just like that, there was no longer any curtain hanging oppressively between them.  

“Do you remember…?” he began and launched into one of his amusing anecdotes just like in the old days, and she was surprised to find that she had it in her to laugh again. And the miles flew by.

“We’re almost there now… this is our street,” he said shortly, as they turned right onto a quiet and dark lane.

She sat up straighter and looked out with interest. They were passing shadowy houses with glowing windows, half-hidden behind dark trees that added to the atmosphere of mystery, and she felt a growing excitement as she gazed at them. The scenes had a magical quality that transported her back to childhood, bringing before her mind’s eye the charming illustrations of fairy tales read and re-read in the happy security of her parents’ home. The memory lit a small lamp in her heart that she had thought was beyond re-kindling.

“And here we are!” he said suddenly, slowing before one of the dark house fronts.

As they turned into the driveway, the porch bulb burned bright, and even while the car was rolling to a stop, she saw the front door open and light from the house spill out. Silhouetted in the doorway stood the familiar figure of a woman, pulling her wrap tightly around herself to ward off the chill. It seemed to her as she watched from the car, that the golden rays dancing about her sister-in-law’s head as she waited to welcome her, were just like a star on a Christmas tree.

Then the light in her own heart flared up, flooding her being with a warmth that had nothing to do with the heater in the car. She felt a decade of tension leave her body as the years rolled off her mind and person like a mantle she had just shrugged off.

She turned to look at him as he switched off the engine and slid the gear into park. It struck her then that her brother’s care-worn face now looked relaxed and cheerful, and surprisingly younger, lit as it was by the warm glow from his house and perhaps from deep within as well.

“You’re home now,” he said simply.

And then they beamed at each other, bright-eyed children in a doughnut shop.

Revathi Ganeshsundaram taught in a Business School in South India for several years until she recently decided to take a break to study Counseling Psychology. A self-professed introvert, she is comfortable in the company of family, books, and herself  — not necessarily in the same order. She finds the written word therapeutic and, hence, loves reading and writing fiction, sometimes dabbling a little in poetry. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Stories

Litmus

By Revathi Ganeshsundaram

He did not like animals. Or so he said. In any case, the children were discouraged from harbouring dreams of ever having a pet.

He was an asthmatic. Viewed from that perspective, it made sense. “Father’s allergy will be triggered by pet fur,” they were told.

He was also a stickler for hygiene. He disapproved of children playing with animals, even the pets of friends and relatives. “Wash your hands!” he would say. “Don’t let them jump onto the bed! They must be harbouring all kinds of germs and parasites… And they’ll shed their fur all over the place!”

And so on, for years.

It was a rainy day. The family was away visiting the maternal grandmother, but he had come home for lunch as he always did. He had flexible timings and he wasn’t planning to go back this afternoon. He could work on the research paper he was writing, from home.

He had his lunch, then listened to songs on the radio until he drifted off into afternoon siesta. When he woke, the downpour had increased. It was only 4 p.m. but the overcast skies made the world look dark and gloomy.

He rose slowly, put on his slippers and listened to the sound of the rain increasing in volume. He went around the house, shutting the windows that were still open. Then it was time for his coffee.

He brewed fresh decoction and heated milk in a pan, all the while watching the rain through the kitchen window. After he mixed himself a cup of strong coffee, there was still some warm milk left. Covering the pan with a lid, he took his cup out into the living room to have it in the comfort of his favourite armchair.

The room was now quite dark. He switched on the light and as he did so, he thought he heard something on the verandah and paused to listen.

The sound was very faint, but then he coughed involuntarily, and he could now hear it again, loud and clear. It was a cat! No doubt seeking shelter from the rain in the safety of the verandah, and having heard him cough, responding to him.

“As long as you stay there!” he muttered to himself as he went to sit down. But the mournful mewing only grew louder.

He tried ignoring it for a while, but the incessant wailing soon began to get on his nerves. In addition, the creature was now moving backwards and forwards outside the verandah door, and each time it passed, would thump against it.

He could not enjoy his coffee.

“Shoo!” he called out loudly. “Go away or be quiet!” But this only made the cat more persistent in its clamour to get his attention.

He took another sip of his rapidly cooling beverage and as he did so, there was a difference in the sound of the rain as it seemed to change direction. He could see from the window that it was now pouring in a slanting fashion, at about forty-five degrees to the ground.

The verandah must be completely wet, he found himself thinking. He listened carefully but couldn’t hear anything now. Hope it’s gone away.

He needed some more coffee, a piping-hot cup this time. But when he rose to go back into the kitchen, he paused for a moment, then changed his mind and moved towards the verandah. He walked softly, making as little noise as his slippers would allow him, and pressed his ear against the door. Just the steady, monotonous sound of the rain.

Still, he could not turn away. Curiosity — or perhaps, something more — compelled him to linger a moment longer. He thought he heard something now, very faintly.

He had to know.

Very, very gently, he turned the doorknob and using his knee, carefully nudged the door open a crack.

He was greeted by a loud and pitiful yowling and at the same time caught sight of what looked like a damp black rag, which immediately unfurled itself and started pacing frantically, barely keeping an inch away from the door.

He hesitated. He could hear the rain, smell the fresh, damp earth, and feel the chill through the sliver of gap between the door and the jamb. He could also see that the entire verandah was drenched, right up to the door.

He wrestled with something within himself, then made a sudden decision. “Move aside,” he said. “I’m going to open the door now, move…!”

As he carefully pushed the door open still further, the cat’s yowling hit his ears like a blast of wind, even as the elements themselves tried to pour into the room. He stepped back a little, and emboldened by his moving away, the little bundle of fur slunk towards the door, then shot quickly past him and into the warmth.

He shut the door again.

They eyed each other warily for a moment, and when he did not make any threatening movements, his unwelcome guest started mewing pitifully again, all the while looking up at his face.

“Stop that now!” he said sternly. “I’ve let you in, haven’t I? Now sit still and leave me in peace!”

But it wouldn’t.

It stepped closer to him and before he could realise what it was doing, started rubbing its wet little body against his legs. It took a moment for him to recover from the shock, and then he gave a yell and stamped his feet to chase it away.

“Stay away from me!” he ordered crossly. “Go, go!”

He went back to his armchair and sat down, keeping a stern eye on the cat all the while. When it found that he had no intention of moving again for the time being, it jumped onto another chair nearby and settled into a snoozing position, intermittently making faint mewing sounds which gradually tapered off.

He watched it like an eagle until he felt fairly certain that it had finally dozed off. Its eyes were shut and its paws were tucked snugly beneath its little body, and its breathing was soft but sounded — as if it were wheezing…

It sounded just like him

He listened for some time, lost in thought, and when he finally looked down at his coffee cup, he was almost surprised that it was empty; he had forgotten.

Well, it was time for a refill!

But as he stood up, the feline sprang to life, jumping off the chair and running to him with loud, hungry mews. Once again, he stamped his feet and ordered it to keep away, but though it moved away from him, it continued to yowl and tried to approach him from a different direction.

Scolding, stomping, slapping his free hand on the surfaces of furniture, he managed to make his tortuous way into the kitchen and shut himself in. “I better stay in here if I want to have my coffee in peace!” he muttered to himself.

As he lit the stove to warm the milk again, the mewing and yowling continued outside the kitchen. The periodic thumping against the door too resumed. 

He switched off the stove and tried to peer through the window. The visibility was so low he could barely see the trees outside, and the rain showed no signs of abating.

He sighed.

***

He found a soft slice in the bread box. Rummaging in the cupboard turned up a shallow unused dish. He tore the bread into small pieces and put them in the dish.

Then he reached for the warm pan, and as he poured, the dish filled with the milk of human kindness.

***

Revathi Ganeshsundaram taught in a Business School in South India for several years until she recently decided to take a break to study Counseling Psychology. A self-professed introvert, she is comfortable in the company of family, books, and herself  — not necessarily in the same order. She finds the written word therapeutic and, hence, loves reading and writing fiction, sometimes dabbling a little in poetry. 

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