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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

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Grandma's tale

Tale of the present

The fight in that little pond was fierce. The eldest in the house was watching the fight between two fishes. It made her smile. Though a little too old, her grandson was still enjoying the warmth of her lap. He felt strange, of course.

“Why did you smile grandma?”
“No, nothing son.”
“It cannot be just nothing. You are lying!”
“Why should I be lying to you?”
“Grandma, you said you are going to tell me Red Riding Hood’s story, right?”
“Yes son, you want to hear it now itself?”
“No.”
“Then?”
“I want to know why you smiled. I won’t sleep if you won’t tell me why.”
The grandma smiled again.

“Okay then son, I’m going to tell you. This happened long time ago. Your father was a kid too, but a little elder than you.”

Tale from the past

Wasana enjoyed her ageing neighbour’s company. She liked listening to stories of her neighbour’s lifetime. It was like witnessing one whole era of the previous generation.

“Do you remember one fisherman who came along this lane?”
“Yes, the one who looked like the grocer, right? His name is Sunil, I guess.”
“That’s right. He is going to have a bypass surgery.”
“Oh, really?”

“Some issue in his chest, it seems. He was anyway helpless since some time. He has been asking me for money too.”

“Poor fellow. We used to buy fish from him before we became vegetarians. I must ask Udaya and give him some donation.”

Coming back home Wasana’s head was full of thoughts on Sunil’s surgery. She could not wait to break the news to her husband and get some advice. But her husband’s response was something she least expected.

“What kind of thing is that? How can we help people who have killed innocent creatures like fish? We are also criminals if we help them. They deserve no less than dying.”

Wasana remembered how her husband reacted to the smell of a fish curry coming from a house close by. “Someone’s making a fish curry. I won’t even feel like staying in this house. Why can’t they just be? They are the criminals!”

Wasana was looking at Udaya, her head full of thoughts.

“Anyway I think we got to do something. He used to come to our place and we used to buy from him too, no?”

“I don’t know. Do what you like.” Udaya was drawing his concentration back on the newspaper he was reading.

She explained Sunil’s condition to her son who spoke to her that day night.

“Huh, after all these people are fishermen, aren’t they? They have committed enough crimes, and I don’t think we should get involved when they suffer. They might not even know what it is likely to be a vegetarian.”

I have to forget this somehow, Wasana thought. What right does a vegetarian have to protect the life of someone who didn’t care for another living being’s life? Helping them means encouraging them to kill more. Wasana was dozing off, stuck in her own web of thoughts.

But she was not feeling easy.

She suddenly felt freezing. She realized she was near the pond where she usually watches the fish swim under water. All of a sudden she could spot a catfish atop the waters. That was no strange sight – the catfish usually come up the waters for a second or two and jumps back down the waters. But the fish was staying more than it could. Wasana quickly gazed at the pond.

There was no water, it has all turned frost. The fish, it was apparent, cannot go back. She could clearly see its face. There was a twinge of sadness in its face. Was it tears or water-drops of the pond? There was something human in that face – yes, something really familiar. Suddenly some fear gripped her tight.

Wasana could still remember her dream. How could she say the human face embossed in the fish to be so real. How familiar? The question constantly troubled her. She was digging her memory storage, and drew herself closer to one image.

Isn’t it Sunil’s face? The face that looked like the grocer’s?

What kind of a dream is this? The following morning, Wasana couldn’t wait till noon to ring her son. “Mother, you know what? I was going to call you anyway. Something strange happened. I couldn’t sleep a bit last night. So many things came to my mind. I suddenly remembered an incident. Mother, do you remember when he brought fish alive?”

Wasana was silent before answering her son.

“No. I can’t remember, son.”

“On that day he had brought fish alive, I heard you tell him not to show those fish to me. Back then only I was vegetarian. I was playing around with a butterfly, but I heard what you said. I felt something was up. I came running to Sunil. He tried to close a particular box.”

“Yes, yes, I remember. You opened it by force. And you took the box and poured the whole thing down to the pond.”

“Is that all what you remember?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t remember the most interesting thing. I took the box saying I will get mother to compensate the fish in the box. When I came back and asked how much I owe him, he responded strangely.”

“What did he say?”

“I think you had gone back to get money. He said ‘Baby, I have already committed a crime. I do this job, because I haven’t got anything else to do. If I charge you, I will never get out of this hell. So thank you baby for saving those creatures. I’m not going to charge you.’ You know, mother, that made me shudder and full of thoughts throughout the night. It kept on haunting me, till I finally decided.”

Then there was silence again between them.

“I didn’t know such a thing happened. I’ve got something to tell you too.” Listening further on, the son became interested in listening to the whole story uninterrupted. He stopped what he was occupied with, and focused his attention completely to the phone conversation.

“Mother, I’m sending you some amount. I’m going to tell brother to send some amount too.

Mother, please pay him with your money. We will send cheques, but it will be a long process. Sunil should not wait that long.

We have to save this man’s life somehow, mother.”

Sunil must have been feeling grateful when he set off to Wasana’s place.

“Madam, you have not been buying from me for some years. This means such a big thing for me. I have also brought the hospital documents.”

“How can we forget someone like you, Sunil? Now how much is it going to cost you?”

But Sunil could not answer. The phone was ringing aloud. Wasana could hear her son from the other end.

“Mother, now some others are also joining us. Even Aunty Valerie said she will send about ten thousand. Hemalatha aunty is going to send about twenty thousand. One of my patients is also going to send a cheque. So could you take all these from your account? I’m going to send all those cheques by registered post.”

“Oh that’s wonderful, son. Father also didn’t like the idea first, but now he is all right with it too. I can give away that amount without any issue. Anyway Sunil is here now. He will be so happy.”

Ending the phone conversation, Wasana did not go see Sunil straight away. She sat down and tore a cheque leaf, wrote a new one and placed her signature.

“What is the account type you have, Sunil? How does your name go?”

“It’s a savings account madam. It goes as Selikada Arachchige Malan Sunil Ratnayaka.”

The lady of the house wrote the name and handed the cheque.

“You have to give this to the bank manager. If there is any issue, let me know. We are giving you seventy five thousand rupees.”

Sunil was speechless for a moment. His gaze was fixed on Wasana.

“Oh madam, I don’t know how I can thank you for what you have done. The whole cost is one hundred thousand rupees. And now I’m short of only two thousand rupees. That I can find somehow. I don’t know how I should thank you for this help.”

“What are you doing, Sunil, these days?”

“I’m familiar with the fishing business, no madam. Sometime later I thought it’s better to start a new job.

Then I started a coconut business. But that didn’t work out much. Then I started odd jobbing. I wasn’t quite well off like when I sold fish. But I was happy. But then again money issue was there when this bypass surgery came along.”

“You can get the surgery done somehow. Don’t worry.”

Wasana watched the crook-backed Sunil leaving the house. She had noticed how time has changed his physical appearance.

Tale that occurs in future

Grandson woke up for the morning sunrays. Grandma lying besides him was unusual. She has never done that before. He then saw something sandwiched in her hands. It was an old cheque book.

Leafing through, the grandson could see clear handwriting in the left edge of the cheque book: “For Sunil’s bypass surgery”, it read. Lying still on the bed, grandson realized his grandmother had already breathed her last. He could see her smile in the face, illumed by the sunlight. It was one such wonderful smile, which he won’t ever forget in his lifetime.

 

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