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Five O Clock

A Short Story By Nuggehalli Pankaja

“ Look here dear “- Raghu’s steady voice came over the telephone-“Charles and I have met after a lapse of four years! How about my bringing him for dinner tonight?”
“Impossible!”- Padmini expostulated-‘How can you expect me to arrange at the eleventh hour ! Can’t you invite him some other day, Raghu?”
“O.k.” Raghu’s voice appeared resigned-“But I would like you to know him now only Padmi;He is a grand man! How about my bringing him for tea this evening?”
“Sure”-Padmini assented, and hung up the phone.

A smile of satisfaction rose to her lips as she surveyed her surroundings. Everything was spick and span, readily awaiting the guest. She had not heard much of Charles
except that he was Raghu’s chum at Oxford, and that business took him to Africa.

“Thank God”-Padmini soliloquized amidst a torrent of thoughts-“For once
Raghu had the wisdom to consult me before inviting his friend straightway ! “
Many years of married life had made Padmini well acquainted with her husband’s haste and impatience. Raghu behaved as boyishly as before, sometimes even equalling his six year old son!


The faint sound of a distant school bell roused her out of her reverie; instantly crossed over to the window like an excited young girl; Her pulses stirred as she swept her eyes over the grass-carpeted garden bright with flowers, to the broad lane running beside the house; the fleeting ten minutes saw groups of young boys come running, tossing their school-bags in the air, and Padmini discerned her little Prithvi among them. She waved to him; With a vigorous reciprocation the boy sprinted to the house as fast as his little legs could carry him.


“Mummy?”- Climbing the chair beside her, the little boy hugged his mother to his heart’s content; Padmini experienced the routine overpowering thrill at the feeling of his soft arms round her neck………..son was clasped firmly with the strong chain of motherly love; The portly maid by the door could not conceal her admiration of this live-picture of a mother and son caught in the trammels of love.

Padmini listened patiently as Prithvi gave a boisterous accountof the day’s happenings at his school. How lovely he was ! Just like his father Raghu;The same carefree curls. . . . . . laughing black eyes,and. . . . . .Padmini kissed him fondly.
“Hasn’t daddy returned?”—Prithvi demanded; That reminded Padmini of the guest they would be having soon; She should hurry up and dress herself before they arrived.! Beckoned to the maid.
“Go and wash your hands son, and change”- She told him-“ Daddy is bringing a friend of his with him-a man from South Africa”
“South Africa?. . . . . .Mummy?”
“Yes putta?”
“Is he a negro?”
Padmini could not help laughing.
“No”-She told him-“ An Englishman who has settled in South Africa” ..
Prithvi’s voice from the bathroom resounded once again-“Mummy?”
“Yes?”
"A grand circus show at the neighborhood! All my chums will be off to see it; Raju is going too, and his pa asked me to join him; Shall I?”
The earnest appeal in his young eyes was too much for Padmini to refuse.
The excited boy began to sing at the top of his voice .


***

"You get excellent breeze here”-Carles remarked.
“Yes”-Raghu agreed.
So, this was the great friend Charles?
Padmini watched him surreptitiously; His was a tall upright figure; A small moustache lent a sort of vibrant manliness to his determined lips ,and high nose.; The dark glossy.
hair brushed back revealed an impressive broad forehead. Eyes observant, speech short in a voice charming, with a tinge of music that thrilled the hearers..
“Where is Prithvi?”—Raghu suddenly enquired, with an eager enquired, with an eager glance around.. Padmini informed him the boy’s programme.
“But he will be returning soon “-Added hastily, noticing the disappointed look in his eyes. It was like a sort of punishment for the father to be kept away from his son.
Happy family indeed!
“Prithvi is our little son”—Turning towards his friend,Raghu explained.
“You have a son already? Great!”-Charles eclaimed.
Raghu needed no second invitation to enthuse about the son.; Proudly did he
sketch the boy’s pranks and moods till an interruption was made by Padmini serving
tea.; Thesubject unconsciously changed, charles’s narration of his life and experiences in south Africa, finding attentive listeners in the couple. Raghu accompanied charles as fa as the gate, and reentering the house stood beside his wife.
“He is fine, isn’t he?”- Asked his wife.
“Yes”- She whispered-“ Very charming”
A cool breeze heavy with fragrance of flowers was softly blowing through the French windows. Nothing but the vast firmament sprinkled with stars was visible outside. A sort of languorous peacefulness pervaded the atmosphere.Raghu closed his eyes with contentment.


***


Charles became a frequent visitor at his friend’s house. The man possessed a sort of irresistible charm, and lost no time in drawing Padmini into its net. Hitherto unknown feelings started invading her closed mind; “Do I love him?”-Was the frequent question resulting in the happy conjecture that Charles was in love with her. But it was just a suspicion, maybe a foolish thought, with doubt ever ready to follow in its wake. State of things could not drift thus for long, and there arrived a day when the lingering doubt became an established truth.


They had been to a party; Usual chatter, laughter, sweets and snacks, music and dance. Suddenly Charles swung her into the balcony and bent his face over hers till his lips brushed against her soft cheeks.
"Padmini”- Charle’s voice trembled with emotion-“I love you”.
She could feel the throbbing of his heart against hers ,and the few minutes spent thus was heavenly.
“I suppose Raghu will be informed soon?”
“Raghu!”- For the first time the gravity of the situation hit her with all its terrible impact. Inform him? Impossible! His conception of marriage was orthodox, and . . . .
of family ties strong-conventional; Would such a man understand her, and. and.. . . .
Charles appeared to grasp her trend of thoughts.
“Straight-laced Raghu”- He said with a grin- “I doubt if he will agree to the necessary divorce. We have little time to decide, for I am leaving this on Monday. . . . and that
. . . . . . .for good” .
“On Monday?”—Padmini looked up with dismay; That left only two days, and. . . . . .she may never see him again! At the very thought felt life ebbing away… . . . . . .
“Are you returning to South Africa? “
“No, to Singapore,-- Myself and yourself. “-Bent with fierce energy-“ Yes, you are coming with me-I just can’t leave without you” –As Padmini faltered, said more forcefully-“ There is nothing wrong in it! Isn’t it becoming very common nowadays?
Why not make the best use of life when a chance is offered? Divorce will follow –
Bound to, once you take the bold step.”
The man’s argument was put with such unique efficiency that Padmini could not but succumb to it. Discussion of their plans was still going on when the organ stuck the last piece.; Quietly they reentered the hall; Nobody seemed to have noticed anything amiss.

***

Padmini breathed with relief as the sound of Raghu’s footsteps faded; Business would be keeping him out of town for a few days and she would be in Singapore by the time he returned; .Her brow corrugated at the remembrance of Charles’s instructions-
“Don’t worry about luggage; I cannot bear to see you bring anything bought with Raghu’s money! The urgent requirements will be instantly looked into by me, and the rest at Singapore; This process will avert detection, won’t it?”
Dutiful clock informed Padmini that it was time to leave.; Maid was given a few instructions regarding Prithvi.
“You see, I have an urgent appointment”-Padmini explained to the startled woman-“It may delay my return for sometime.” and hurried out of the house.

***

Continued here



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