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[Creative Writing]

Short Story

The lime tree

Charumathie Dunuweera stepped out through the back door. Anybody who saw her would have definitely come to the conclusion that she was walking in her sleep. When the locked gate barred her progress only did she realise, that she had reached the gate.

She was contemplating the telephone call she received early morning.

"Lalitha has gone back to her parents," she was told. The caller, a mutual friend, had deliberately avoided giving any more details, knowing that Charu's mother-in-law would be hovering around the phone.

Charu was aware of the cause. Lalitha's mother-in-law had refused to accept her as a daughter-in-law.

Charu knew that her own mother-in-law, who very inquisitively inquired about the message, wasn't pleased at all with the answers she had given.

She was annoyed and suspicious.

"Who is the woman who has so much of leisure to be hanging on to the phone so early in the morning?" she had asked.

"Only wayward women can find the time for idle chatter," she had added, rather viciously.

However Charu wasn't prepared to supply her with subjects for gossip, her favourite pastime.

She lingered at the gate for a while, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and tracing abstract patterns with her finger on the rough gatepost.

Her house was on the crest of a hill. She blinked her cloudy eyes several times in succession and stared. Far away in the distance, she could see a grey mist rising over the hills. She was in no mood to admire the beauty of nature.

"How long would it take the embers of the rising sun to burn out the mist," she wondered. She was feeling miserable. She was trying hard to shake off her misery. She was pondering over her own mother-in-law's attitude towards her.

Since the day her neighbour's son Nimal paid her an unexpected visit, she had been at the receiving end of some irritating remarks.

Charu and Nimal were childhood friends. It was quite an unexpected visit. He had dropped on his way to his sister's, as if from the clouds. However, it had brought her so much of pleasure. Recalling nostalgic memories of their childhood. She had laughed till tears spilled over from her eyes and ran down her cheeks, but within moments of his departure this happiness had begun to evaporate.

'Tok, tok, tok', Charu was still immersed in her own thoughts, when she heard the sound of shod feet falling on the gravel path. Two young men were walking past the gate. She had seen them several times a week, as they came along the path. One of them turned round and gave her a broad smile. She couldn't help a faint smile flickering round the edges of her lips.

Charu swung round on impulse. Pressing together her thin lips repeatedly, she began walking back to the house.

Her mother-in-law's window was ajar, and the curtain was billowing in the breeze. She noticed a spider waiting for prey in the middle of a web on the rose bush in front of the window.

Charu knew that her mother-in-law had been watching her through the window.

"It's going to be a 'fine day' for me. She's sure to go around huffing and puffing like an angry wolf," she told herself.

Charu's husband was blissfully unaware of the growing animosity between his wife and his mother.

Charu had a fairly strong will of her own. She was going to fight her own battles without dragging her husband into them. At the same time she was determined to avoid getting into any argument with her mother-in-law. She recalled how an argument between her mother-in-law and her neighbour had ended in a fish-wifely brawl.

The trouble with old Mrs. Dunuweera, who had become a widow, comparatively young in life was her failure to resign herself to widowhood. Her moods were irritating and exhausting.

Charu's patience was wearing thinner and thinner. She couldn't bear it any longer. She was losing her strength. She picked up a daisy from the vase and began ripping it apart.

"Tell him, don't tell him, tell him, don't tell him". She chanted petal by petal. "Well, it's 'don't tell him'. So I shan't tell him," she decided.

Charumathie heard a hissing noise. She had almost forgotten the kettle she had put on the fire. The lid of the kettle was jiggling as the steam escaped.

"Tea or coffee?" She asked herself. She decided on coffee, a drink her mother-in-law didn't like very much.

The kitchen table hadn't been cleared after the morning tea. It was a confusion of crockery and cutlery. Charu made three cups of steaming coffee. One for her husband, who was sitting in the verandah, with his nose buried in a book. One for her mother-in-law - no kindly indulgence however and one for herself. Then she sat in her favourite corner with her cup of coffee, running her finger round and round the rim of the cups, as if weaving a spell into the black liquid. Her mother-in-law was darting furtive looks at her.

Charumathie was frustrated. "One of these days she's sure to drive me insane with frustration," she sighed.

Charu made a decision. She made up her mind to confide everything in her closest confidante - the lime tree.

Since the day she stepped into this house as a sixteen-year-old bride, three years ago, she had adopted this lime tree as her special friend. All her troubles and secrets were related to this tree. She had picked up this strange habit from her mother. It was a family tradition.

They believed that quiet communication with a tree would always help them to ease the tension. After all no tree can repeat what was confided in it.

The lime tree communicated with her in its own language. It always greeted her with a welcome rustle. She knew when it was smiling. She knew when it was sighing. She knew when it was moaning. The leaves rustled in different ways to express different moods. When the leaves rustled in quick succession, it meant disapproval and displeasure, she was sure.

Her husband very often teased her about this strange habit. She didn't want her mother-in-law to know anything about this strange bond between the lime tree and herself. She wished it to be a closely guarded secret. However, it hadn't escaped her sharp eye.

Charu slipped out of the house and reached the corner where the lime tree stood. She couldn't believe her eyes. Her lime tree was no more. It was cut, chopped and burnt. Charred remains of the branches were lying in a heap at the foot of the papaya tree, its closest companion.

The papaya tree was like a weeping willow, with its branches drooping. The pyre had been lit right under the papaya tree. She felt as if the whole world crashed around her. With the tears flowing down her face, she rushed into the house. She reached her husband gasping "my lime tree, my lime tree" and sank into a chair.

"You look as if you've seen a ghost. Charu what is it? What made you come running as if the very devil was after you?" he asked.

After several anxious moments, Charu found that she could breath with ease. "Dunu, my lime tree is gone.

It's no more. It's burnt, it's burnt." She gasped between sobs.

Dunuweera was at a loss for words. He didn't know how to console her. He was helpless. The hideously bloated reflection of his mother's face, on the fat belly of the China vase kept on flashing across his mind.


To Manoj

This is how I would like to remember you,
Manoj, my son.
How you would run up the long drive to meet me
As I returned home from work,
Your two year old legs working like a piston.....
And when you reached me
You would jump into my arms,
And as I carried you home
Your chubby fist would dip
Into my shirt-pocket
And coming up with the
Promised 'choco'
You would get down and run home
Ahead of me.

*

But if no 'choco' was brought
And the pocket was empty,
You would query "Where's the 'choco' thaththi?"
"I forgot, darling, Tomorrow, I'll bring you one"
You would then hang your head in disappointment
And I would carry you home
Your face like a wilted flower......

*

In these after-years, I often ponder this question
Was it me that you loved,
Or the 'choco', my son?


The story of a hawk

The big hawk flew high,
With a heavy load of pride on his head
In the isolated firmament
He did not glance at other birds,
Thinking that other birds glance at him
He never set foot on earth which was his birthplace
Unless he spots the prey and he feels hungry

One day a comic incident took place

A jackal was able to grab and enjoy
the stinking carcass of that big hawk near a bush...

 

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