Chapter – 14
I jumped up to my feet. It was a small country canoe, rowed by an old man with a farmer-like turban on his forehead. He had a lighted lantern in his canoe. The canoe havened the shore, and the old man got down. He saw me. Holding the lantern close to my face, he frowned at me. It was Velappan, a sporadic visitor to my father’s grocery shop. He used to come to my father’s shop with paddy sacks to be sold in the town market. He was a farmer. He recognized me.
“Kid, why are you here…at this off hour?”
I did not reply. I was thinking what to answer him.
“Has your father come with you?” The old man asked, surveying all around.
“No…” I said, “I came alone, I was swimming, but I lost the way…”
“O! You have swum so long? It is a long way from your home!”
I did not answer. I looked down. He waved at me and said, “Come with me… that is my hut.”
As I followed him to the hut where I had seen the light glowing, he said, partly to me and partly to himself, “You swam so long…! Certainly you have swum a good long way! You must have great stamina!”
I subdued my chuckle. I was sure that I hadn’t even swum the half way. However, I felt proud, and thought that I deserved the compliment as I was coming after a great combat.
As we reached the hut, a little girl just of my age came to the verandah with a five-wicked lamp. Her pretty face glowed splendidly. She stooped forward and placed the lamp on the floor. As she straightened herself, she gave me a sparkling glance which reflected all the splendour of the five-wicked lamp.
Following the girl, came out an old woman. From the way she frowned at me, I realized that she had poor eyesight.
“This is Thomachan’s son. Don’t you know Thomachan, the grocer…?”
“O! Thomachan’s son…” Repeated the old woman, “Good that you took him home…” I realized that the old woman has thought that Velappan had taken me from my father’s shop to visit their home.
“What is on your cheek, child? A scar…” in the brighter light the old man found out my bruises. He held a tiny bronze lamp close to my face, and glowered into the wounds on my face.
“It is nothing. It might have happened while I swam…” I said quickly to evade further queries.
“Okay, okay…brave ones won’t care about little wounds. Even I was so…to be daring means to be wounded too…” Saying that, he took out a tiny bottle of some ointment from the cupboard, and smeared it on my wounds.
It burned for a while, and I writhed.
“Don’t worry. It will be okay soon…”
Then he turned to the girl and said: “Ammu, bring him something to eat. He must be hungry… He has swum all the way…”
“Swum all the way…?” Asked the old women in astonishment. The old man gave her no reply.
“Okay, grandpa. Just a minute…” saying this, the girl disappeared into the kitchen. So, that was her name: Ammu. I guessed she must be their grandchild. But, then where are her parents?
The tapioca meal on that night tasted great. Partly because of my hunger, and partly because of the one who served it. I was looking into those sparkling eyes as she bent before me with a ladleful of yellow coloured mellow tapioca meal. That night I felt for the first time in my life, something which I had never felt in my life until that moment.
On that night, as I lay on the mat weaved of dried grass, I was thinking of those sparkling eyes and beaming smile. I was wondering why I had never felt such a thing in the presence of the girls in my classroom. A sweet warmth flowed through my limbs, and spread my whole body. By the time I slept late in the night, I had completely forgotten about the fight of the day!
(to be continued…)
By Abhilash Fraizer