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the call

by aditi talapatra

Success is sweet
When the twain meets
Hard work not in vain
Despite the pain
Blessings rain

The sun set ablaze early in the morning, a sultry day followed the previous evening shower. Nina stared out of the window, it was a usual day and the lone pigeon was waiting for her perched on the rusty old iron sill. As Nina stretched out her long  slender hands through the painted and rusted grill and slowly opened her palm to reveal the shiny clean irresistible mustard seeds, the pigeon ate from her hand. Her loneliness each morning was punctuated by the chirping pigeon. With a cup of strong green tea and two cookies, she sat by the window, on the same rocking chair her father sat years ago, gazing at the road that lay ahead teaming with life. 

The chaiwala, readying his spread on the mounted platform, hot milk boiling, earthen and plastic cups arranged vertically, two long platforms placed in front of his table on either side. The platforms raised by bricks for his customers to sit and talk. It adorned the footpath ornately. She came inside.

It was a modest house built in the early 20th century by her great grandfather. The paint on the outside was a faded green, moss covered the lentil above the window, and the French windows below held by the strong iron grills bore into the thick eighteen inch walls. Small sticks and hay lay bare along the cornice; the pigeons had not spared any holes. The three storied-house had never remained vacant. Although, it was safe to leave the house and go for a holiday, the Cowdries never managed one holiday to say the least. Every month ,they would have visitors, visitors that came across the border, visitors that were probably distantly related .They bore no malice either and went all out to make the visitors stay a comfortable one. Unable to find a place of their own so quickly in a large city, the guests took refuge, usually for more than a couple of days in the Cowdries. Senior Cowdry worked with the British Raj, and his first influence on his life was the change in his title. His British master was unable to pronounce his Chowdhury with lips pouted as the Bengalis did, so he called out Rajen Cowdry, this story, the Cowdries never forgot to mention even where it was not required, the pride had its first place in the surname.  Not aware in those days for the need of an architect or an interior decorator, he had built it on his own freewill and inputs here and there from his loving wife. Of course he did not have the financial strength, and with his meager earnings he built was not a fortress, but a house that had strong foundation to last generations.

All that Nina saw was a picture of her great grandparent that hung from the wall in the drawing room, tainted yellow and old, alongside the clear images of her grandparents. No one any longer bothered to put fresh garlands, so they were adorned by the plastic white garlands which were changed every year during the Bengali New Year, but, she had seen more than the pictures of her grandparents that hung on the wall. She had greeted them every morning, returned home running into their lap, her days’ tiredness seeking comfort and joy in their words.

“Is your teacher very pretty?” her grandfather enquired one day.

“What has that got to do with you?” her grandmother would say promptly.

“Yes, she’s very pretty; in fact Mrs.D.Souza looks like a doll, she has long straight hair. One day I will have long hair too. She always wears sarees, but not like ma. She wears it neatly ….” and she would go on .

“Is it so?”

“And her accent is very stylish!”

“Nina, what about all other classes?” her grandmother asked.

“No, no, tell me more about Mrs.…, what did you say her name was?”and he would be stopped abruptly by her grandmother

“What has that got to do with you?” Intervened her grandma and soon they were involved in a sweet tussle till Nina resolved it by raising her hands,

“Enough... enough”, imitating her teacher, “sit down quietly, and listen to all that I have to say!!” and she would ramble all that she remembered, her lunch break, her banter with her friend, how Lee fell down the stairs and they tended to her, how the teacher scolded them for “running around like hooligans”, she said, “who is a hooligan dadu?”.And her grandpa would laugh,

“hooligan??... hahaha” and he would go on to explain the meaning.

She was close to them than anyone in the house. Her grandfather listened to her early gibberish and grandma played with her; she learnt craft with those small hands as her grandmother guided them. She closed the door and gurgled and laughed and cried venting all her emotions to her grandpa. They never chided her. Before she left for school early in the morning, they were awake bidding her good bye .It was only in her middle school days that in a span of a year, her grandparents left her  world, void of any charm. Although void, it was short-lived, Nina was growing up, towards the close of her high school, she had outgrown her dresses, tall and slender with beautiful tresses, she always commanded a second look. Being interested in basketball, and keeping late hours in school made her happy. She loved the game more than her usual homework. She was no extraordinary student neither a ranker in school but she took pains to do the tasks given to her meticulously. And in her eagerness to do things meticulously, she had achieved results more than anyone expected of her. Interested in Economics from her secondary level, she took up the subject as her major in her college. It helped her to be grounded to the real world, when all the girls of her age were befriending boys, she was reading different books of Samuelson, raising her head in between her work she would overhear the soft conversations of the couple sitting next to her.

“Let’s go tomorrow, we can watch a movie, the first show at Metro, we’d be early for the afternoon class!”

“Sure”, replied the boy, and the chemistry was on, the boy was shaking his legs in anticipation while Nina would deliberately say “Ssshhh!!”

The conversation would stop for a while. Sometimes as she wrote she listened too, smiling to herself, and surprising her classmates with her sweet little stories.

She spent hours in the library copying notes, writing the references, coordinating answers and practicing mathematical deductions. Sometimes returning home late, curiosity of the onlookers never disturbed her because she was clear headed, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Sitting by the window, intensely reading the new economic theories, the late hours sometimes drew attention from the neighbouring French windows of the men’s hostel across the street. She didn’t care, neither was she distracted, her pedantic nature had got the better of her. This was reflected in her office too as she soon became known as a fastidious woman.

Monday as always was the most abhorring day of the week after the weekend well spent with family, the lovely lunch at home and the long mid –day siesta, her mind wandered; she thought what was it that could really enliven her to last the whole week long. The whole week was ahead and the only thing she saw was loads of work in office. Trying to squeeze some fun time, her thoughts failed.

 The short story continued here ......