Freekick is back
I waited with bated breath in that half-lit room. Hamme, a hundred pairs of eyes are on me. My doctor-neighbour checks the pulse of the old man lying on the bed.
I am fed up. Every time they feel that the old man has died – not responding to tickles, pinches, pins, staplers, the voice of Ranjini Haridas – they send for the doctor to confirm their wild imagination. The doctor takes me as his companion.
From the kitchen I hear vessels pounding one another, spoons falling on the floor, glasses clashing, loud yawns, emphatic sneezes, charismatic coughs – all subtle signals from womenfolk asking me whether it is time to put the water on stove for tea.
The women have already counted the number of people who would attend the funeral function.
But everything depends on my gesture, as they know the soft spoken doctor would first tell me in a grim whisper, the news. One wayward twitch on my face could sink or raise hopes at the gallery.
As the doctor pries open the old man’s eyes, I feel somebody pulling my sleeves from behind. There is Sambhu, a young boy of six, the grandchild of the old man. “Will he die uncle?” I see tears welled up in his eyes.
“No, Sambhu, don’t worry,” I smile and touch his cheek. He throws a glance of fire at me, kicks the foot of the bed and storms out of the room muttering: “I knew it, Orikkalum kittoolla.” Poor boy, they might have promised him the bed, the only one in the house, once the old man leaves.
My mind raced back to a time when I was a pre-degree student. My friend’s ammoomma was long bedridden before she began a queer habit.
“Mone, she is no more. Go and inform all our relatives (With telephones being rare, he had to run from pillar to post),” his father would tell him enthusiastically at the peak of every winter when his ammoomma failed to respond to food. By that time Aji would have reached Manacaud junction, 200 mts away.
Poor guy, after informing everyone he used to rush back to help his father with the funeral proceedings. What waited for him at home? He would barge into the room only to find his ammoomma calmly sipping a cup of Horlicks in her bed.
“Hammmoomma!” Aji would gasp for breath when this horrifying spectacle was thrust upon his pre-degree eyes.
“He he ammoomma…” Aji’s father would try to light up his face vainly. His untimely bath today had also gone waste.
“Ammoomma!” Aji would point at the old woman sitting on the bed to his mother.
“Yes mone, ammoomma…”Aji’s mother also would nod smiling sympathetically.
“Hammoomma…” He would repeat that for one last time to let the truth sink within, as his ammoomma calmly turned the cup bottom up, to catch the last drop of Horlicks with her agile tongue.
The ritual continued. Ammoomma emptied bottles and bottles of Horlicks which brought her back every time from the nether world. Aji’s reports on the death of the old lady became a usual irritant for his relatives.
One day I caught my friend at East Fort.
“Aliya, ammoomma died now. Mother promise.(Amma sathyam).” He was gasping. I put my hands around my friend who began to weep. I didn’t know how to console his grieving heart. But when I wound my arms around him, I found something big in his pocket.
“Eda, this is bad. Why should you give yourself into drinking, eh? I know you were pretty close to her. But realize that she was very old and bedridden. Just realize that she has escaped from all the sufferings, man,” I said philosophically.
I knew how deep their relationship went. As a schoolboy, the bedridden ammoomma had been the best friend of my friend.
Aji would never touch drinks without telling his ammoomma. He told her about his first love to her. He found his ammoomma so sophisticated and understanding that she didn’t bother her 12 year old grandson falling in love with a 30-year old teacher. She also helped Aji whenever he was required to produce his marklists at home. He only had to wave his reports over the woman on bed and asked what she thought about it.
Poor old woman, her thoughts never got translated into actions.
In paralyzed state how could she shout, beat or kick Aji on his groins for the drinks he took, the women he set his eyes on and indeed the kind of marks he scored? Thus ammoomma had always been a friend, mentor, parent all rolled into a single bundle on the bed to my friend.
And that poor Aji was going to drink himself to death, at the demise of his ammoomma. “Eda, I won’t let you take that. Give it to me.” “No, Manu, don’t interfere in my personal matters”. “Give it to me man.” My anger rose. We had a small fight. In the melee, the bottle in his pocket got out and fell on the macadamized road. Right in front of Pazhavangadi Ganapathy temple.
I was shell-shocked. What had we done? Dozens of people had gathered around us by that time. I closed my eyes. Any moment they could pounce on us for breaking a bottle of alcohol in front of the temple. Had somebody informed the police as well? There could be my relatives in the crowd. Parents of my friends.
At last I opened my eyes and saw a spread of white powder on the tarred door among the broken pieces of bottle. “Eda, what is this?”
Aji gulped: “Aliya…er…you know…”
Between us lay a broken bottle of Horlicks. Just in case…