(Contd: Yentha Travel: Corridor Of Uncertainty – Part I)
Pradeep and Suresh, our driver and cook decided to sleep early that night. They were sound asleep. A man falling on the river at the front part of the boat could in no way disturb that kind of a slumber.
But then something happened.
Of all the six children sleeping in the two rooms, Reji’s daughter fell and cut her lips badly. Blood. “We need to get ice cubes,” the mothers decided.
They had to rap on the kitchen door for almost 10 minutes before the staff woke up. Glumly, the staff served the ice, and went back to their bed. Suresh closed his eyes to catch up with a spoiled sleep. Suddenly they heard a faint thud at a distance. “It was the sound of a man falling on water,” Suresh recalled.
Shouts. Screams. I heard heavy footsteps, running towards my direction. Again, shouts.
Screams. I rolled uneasily on the dewan, trying to nip the nightmare in the bud. Suddenly I flung my eyes wide open. I saw the kitchen doors at the back of the boat open.
I saw Suresh and Pradeep running in through the corridor with ropes, torch, and cudgels.
One had a knife too. I got up shakily to my feet. I stood there with a gaped mouth as they ran past me towards the rim of the boat.
Then I saw Nisha, Reji’s wife, slumped down in a corner with tousled hair and blank face mumbling, “Reji vellathil poyi. Manu, Reji kayalil poyi. Manu… Reji kayalil poyi.”
“Reji kayalil poyi.” I stood there frozen at a loss for words. “Reji kayalil poyi,” My mind groped around each word she said to get a grip on its meaning. There wasn’t a hint of emotion in her eyes. I felt a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“There…” I heard Pradeep shouting. The water level was quite down from here and it was difficult to find one in this darkness. “There…I can see his hands. Throw down the rope. Hold on Reji…”
I ran towards the edge picking up an indistinct voice from beneath. I saw the outline of a hand struggling deep below in the torch light. Reji had come up for one last time and saw his wife up, up there. “Hold on to that tyre, Reji,” Suresh screamed aloud and dived headfirst into the dark water. Minutes went by as if they were suddenly years. In the darkness below, we could hardly see anything. Then we saw Suresh ladling out my friend from the water to the land, with the help of tyres and ropes. Once out of the backwaters, Reji retched on the shore throwing out all the water he had drunk.
The night was spread across the surface of the water. The water level was quite down from here and it was difficult to find one in this darkness.
We carried him into the boat. Pradeep flicked the engine on, and the boat purred its way to the Medical College in Alleppey.
The cold air, the deep water, which augmented the burn of bulbs from far away houses across the river, and the dark greenery, washed in pale moonlight that pressed on to the water from either side, were still there. But we were far away, all huddled together on the floor of the boat, shaking with emotions as our eyes glued on to the rise and fall of my friend’s chest as he lay on his wife’s lap.
I saw a tear sliding down his cheek.
There were questions unanswered. How did you understand it was Reji who fell? I asked Nisha later. “I was dreaming that my husband fell from the boat. Then I heard the sound,” she said.
What happened? We asked Reji next evening. He couldn’t remember.
“It is a wonder that he escaped,” said Pradeep, the driver. Usually the undercurrent is strong; the first time you bob up, you would have swept far away from the boat; or you would have surfaced at the bottom of the boat.
Suresh served around black coffee to ensoul us again. He put his hands on Reji’s shoulders and said, “Cool down. It is all over.” I looked at his face; he was still not smiling.
We never told eight-year-old Diya how she lifted her father from a certain death by her fall.