Monday, November 01, 2004


Through the stained glasses of her window, she was staring at the autumn leaves that were on their way to extinction. The cigarette in her hand was about to end, the ash dropping from its burning end on to the table cloth she didn't give a damn about. Just as every morning, she woke up dishevelled and stinking, made herself a coffee and sat in the corner table of the restaurant. For about 2 decades now, she's been living in the solitary room on the ground floor of her tavern. She doesn't remember the last time the place hosted a traveler, the last time she spoke to any living form. The tavern was a mess but she had stopped to care long ago - the linen was ages old, the sheets housed moth balls, the crockery in the restaurant had taken a pale shade of disdain and the table tops grazed the floors on one end.
Once in a month, the postman took mercy on her and brought some eggs, milk and oil. The day he dies, she thought she'll probably die of starvation. She doesn't even remember the way to the nearby village now - Half a century ago, the lonely uphill road was the single link that connected merchants with the vineyards on top of the hill to the markets below - The grapes and the wine from the vineyards were a connosieur's delight and hence trade flourished and so did the number of travelers who spent their nights drinking and sleeping with buxom damsels who were happy to offer them company for a dime and a nickel. After the war, the peasants of the annexed villages were offering grapes, though a trifle sour, for a tenth of the price and slowly these vineyards were left to decay sparing a few which sent back a barrel of wine for the affluent for christmas.
One spring afternoon, a rugged texan young man had stopped by the tavern (then her mother's) and won a place in her mother's heart and bed with a single smile. For years they lived as a family, with the tavern as their home and the whole hill as their playground, kitchen garden and the rest of the world. One day her father left to get some wood for the stove - the wood never arrived, the stove never was lit again. Her mom waited for him for months, hung chimes on the doorstep hoping that they would ring to announce his arrival - all it did was to let dry winds, storms and street urchins play with it. Soon her mom lost her mind and slit her wrists in the bath tub - She was seventeen then.
She was thirty now - but she looked a dozen years older. In one dark-lit corner of the room behind the huge wooden doors lay the chimes under a blanket of cobwebs and dust.
The days were getting shorter with every passing day and this one seemed to end before noon. The skies were getting darker and the leaves were falling more rapidly now. She sat there toying with the cup of coffee wondering whether she has to fill it up or go back to sleep. She finally decided to take a shower - didn't remember the last time she did that. Just as she was about to leave, there was a knock on the door and a young face popped in. His hair was in all directions, his cheeks red with the cold wind outside, his lips white and his fingers a shade of poison-blue holding on to a piece of paper. "Are you open?". She waved him in and went about looking for a menu-card. Didn't remember the last time she used it and she had no idea if she still had one. She looked at him and waited to catch his glance. "Coffee?" her voice came out as a croak. "Yeah. thanks". He shifted his glance to the piece of paper in his hands, staring at it disbelievingly and occasionally shifting his glances outside to the window or to the roof on top as if saying a prayer. A couple of days ago, he must have been impecabbly dressed, probably as a student in one of those rich schools down town, in a navy blue suit, a matching tie and neatly combed hair. But the cruel southern wind had painted an entirely different image on his face. There were patches of dust on his parched skin and white flakes around his ears. Something stirred within her - probably sympathy manifesting itself as curiosity. She went into the kitchen, boiled the coffee she had made for herself, added some lemon to it. She reached for the satchel full of chocolates she had bought long back and placed some on the saucer. Just as she left, she checked herself in the mirror and groaned at her disgustingly chaotic web of curly hair, quickly tied a kerchief around it behind her neck. Just as she served him coffee, she glanced at the letter in his hands. The piece of paper looked very old, crumpled and torn in the ends. It was brief note - "mother .... ill... as soon as ... regret .... ". His fingers were still brittle as he picked the cup and he spilled some coffee on the table. He looked up to apologise but the words wouldn't come out as he was scared he would cry. She smiled, ruffled his hair and picked up a tissue paper and took it to his lips.
Suddenly realising what she was doing, she dropped it on the table and walked towards the kitchen. Once she was sure that she had a serious look on her face, she turned around and asked him whether he needed anything more or would he just need the bill. "The bill would be great" he said and stared back at the paper. She got into the kitchen, smiled to herself and checked herself again in the mirror. There were wrinkles on her face and the skin was dry around the lips. She quickly rummaged for some cream, patched her face with it and wrote down the price of coffee on a piece of paper. She then thought for a second, flipped the bill and wrote a small prayer for his ailing mother.
The woods are dark, the road worn down
the hope is bleak and no one to tend
Trust takes us through to the light in the end
He guards love and his will shall be done
She walked upto him and left the bill on his table. He looked up at her and asked for the price - dropped a few cents on the table and stood up to leave. Just as he was about to go, he stared at the bill. He picked it in his hands, read it twice and looked back at her. Tears streamed down his cheeks and he rushed and hugged her. Not a word was said. He looked into her face, smiled and walked away.
She walked up to the door and saw him take his bike and ride through the uphill road lit by the dull autumn sun. Staring at the rickety roof, for the first time in years she realised the mess she was living in. She smiled at herself as she realised she had lots to do before the end of the day. As she shut the door, she saw the chimes under all the dust and debris. She picked it up, dusted it with her napkin and hung it before the doorstep, hummed an old song and walked into the kitchen.


Blogger Suki said...

Why art thou stories dipped in melancholy?.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Rathish said...

"The sweetest songs are those that telleth the saddest tales" :-)

1:37 PM  
Blogger X A n said...

melancholy is a form. the essence does matter...

1:02 AM  
Blogger m. said...

oh what a NICE upbeat ending!! im so glad... halfway through and i was dreading the ending thinking it was going to be sadder.. thought shed kill herself!
you write really well :-)

1:59 PM  
Blogger Rathish said...

Hey m, thanks so much. I wasn't sure whether anyone reads these stories anymore! you are really culling out from the oldest archives :) thanks again!

3:17 PM  
Anonymous sudeshna said...

just great

5:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home