A cloudy new moon night does not make it very bright in the dark outskirts of the town. Add to it, the sound made by the dry leaves of the tall coconut trees, the faint sight of the canopy swaying in the howling wind, and combine that with the harsh sound of the raging sea in full flow, challenging the rocks at the foot of the towering cliffs and that would be fairly enough to make the faint hearted faint in fear. The occasional hoot of the owl, the wailing howl of a dreamy village dog and other anonymous sounds would not help his nerves either.
Despite all that, a man was making his way along the coast. He was clad in black, with a black head dress and black gloves, black shoes. He was not too fair either.
He traveled quietly, stealthily to be exact in description. Ever vigilant, when he heard a noise, he hid behind rocks or beneath the bushes. He was hungry.
It was past midnight and the local hotels were pulling the shutters down. Homes would be soaked in slumber. There was no point in knocking the doors here, he thought. He had to find a lonely house.
It was a small thatched house. Not a hut, but not a big house either.
A feeble feminine voice responded to his knocks. “Wait… Am coming…. Who at this hour?”
The woman who opened the door had no idea what was coming…… “Who?”, she opened the door and the next instant, she was gagged and ordered to shut up…. He was about to draw his dagger to place upon her throat, but something prevented him. Was it the scent? Was it her voice? Was it her face? Or…. Could it be her?
Forcibly, he turned her face towards him. And for the first time, their eyes met. She was freed from his clutches, her mouth ungagged, as if by a charm.
“Valli!!....” – he exclaimed in a high pitched whisper…..
His eyes noticed her protruding stomach…… she must be very close to becoming a mother…..
Not words, but her moist eyes were the reply…….
“I can listen to your tale after you eat. Eat first, you said you are hungry”…. “I can’t afford rice… don’t mistake me… ragi is all I have… occasionally I do get a fish or two from men who go to sea, when they get a plenty”
He gulped the ragi porridge, helped himself to his content. He returned after washing his hands.
“Valli,…….. how are you here?”
“It’s a long tale…….. you are tired….. I will get you a mat… sleep now, and we can talk tomorrow….”
He gave a wry smile… he sighed…… “Valli….. I won’t sleep if you don’t tell…..”
“After we parted ways, my father got me married off here……”
She quietly pointed to a photograph on the wall, with a dry garland on it.
A long pause……
“4 months after marriage…… he went to the sea…. I was told their boat was shot at by the other Navy”…..
“Do you live alone here?”
“Father asked me to come and live with him…… I did not go…. He already has 5 girls after me to ferry ashore ……. I did not want to burden him….. I gave my jewels to my sisters….. I buy fish from others and sell…. I repair their nets and earn something”
“Did you go for checkup?”
“Joking? When did we go for checkups? When the pain comes there is an Ayah here three houses away…. She helps us…… You and I are not rich to go to clinics… even in Dharmaaspathiri here they take money….. I don’t know when this little fellow will come out…. See, even now, he is kicking me inside….”… she blushed…..
“What are you doing now? What are you doing in this village? Why do you go around with a knife?”….. “Are you doing any wrong job???” she added in a hushed up whisper….
“Nothing worth mentioning…… I feel sleepy Valli…. Traveled whole day, tired”
“Listen, You sleep inside there, I will give you a mat and blanket. No pillows in this house… wait.. I will give you a bundle of my clothes…..”
“Don’t worry…… I always sleep without all that… after this fellow came in to my stomach, I feel better without a support for head….”
“Shall I prepare your favourite lemon rice for you tomorrow? Will you be here tomorrow? You should stay for at-least 2 or 3 days….. Not a single day passed after we separated, without your memory….”
“It’s ok Valli….. Same with me… I have remembered you all the while…. Those days…. They will never return, will they? Life has taken you and me in different paths…. Never thought I’d see you here…”
“………”… She only looked at some distant object and nodded…… After a pause and a sigh, “You must eat here tomorrow… you remember? You used to taunt me that I cannot cook to your tastes….”
“We’ll talk in the morning…. Am sleepy”….. He thought within himself, “Only if I am alive tomorrow”
It was past midnight….. he had slept….. A feeble voice calling him woke him up….. It was Valli….. She was in labour pain….
He did not know what to do…… She helped him out….. Amidst her discomfort, she said “Go call Ayah from the third house from this, left side as you go out”….
He obeyed….. The Ayah was not so nervous…. But swift…… She was a little upset that all the women had gone to take part in the public meeting and Amman festival, scheduled the following day, in the town a mile or so away.
They were in with Valli in minutes……
He volunteered to help…… The ayah ordered him out…
“You, stand out and do not come unless I call…… understood? Now close the door behind you….”
The next two hours were filled with Valli’s moans and cries, and the comforting words of the Ayah.
The cries became more frequent, as the time passed on.
The Ayah came out. She was exasperated. She said “This is a tough one. The umbilical cord has been wound around the baby’s neck, I believe…. What a day to have labour pain, when no other woman is in town.....… My old hands are not as steady as before…. And you men cannot help…... Now go make some hot water in that stove… quick…… and get some clean cloth and a knife…. Maariamma should save her”
It was another 20 minutes of struggle, and a few screams and cries, and in that 20 minutes, there was not a single deity that he did not pray to……. Finally, he fervently prayed to Mariyamma “If you save her life, I will save lives by hundreds tomorrow. I will not do the evil deed, Mariyamma, I promise”…..
In a few minutes, There were the cries of a new born in that place.
He was summoned in…….
Valli was shown her off spring….. She fed the cleaned baby….. Her face was pale. The Ayah left after cleaning the place. She said she will come with other ladies the next day.
“He resembles his father……” – she said….. He smiled lightly..……
She started talking to her baby……
“Hello darling baby…. Welcome…… See your uncle ….. He has come after 2 years to see your mother and you…… He was like your mother’s brother in her childhood for 18 years…. Only now he has remembered her..... but he came in the right time to see you.....”
He had a look….. Little rosy cheeks, plum like fingers and toes, rose-bud lips and grape-like eyes…. Lotus feet…. Tiny belly…… toothless mouth and the occasional smirk……
“I’ll come in a moment, Valli”… he walked out….. She thought he was going to answer nature’s call….
He went to the shore….. He withdrew a bundle from inside his jacket… he took a plier, and cut something that looked like wires…… he dismantled the object, tied the parts up into a bundle, Tied the bundle with a stone and waded into the sea. He threw the bundle into the sea, as far as he could fling it.
“It takes so much of distress for a life to come into this world…. I was about to kill by the hundreds, when I could not help a single baby during labour. I would not kill innocent people by the hundreds by planting a bomb… Luckily Mariamma, thank you, I have no boss to explain my failure!”…….. he thought within himself……He entered the house a new man and told Valli, he came to attend the meeting the next day, and that will stay there for a few days, and take her to his mother’s care.
There was a new life in that hut…… or two new lives, should I say?