The Gold plated Leg
by Wyn La Bouchardiere
Pappachan, fancied himself a cut above the rest. His enormous wealth, palatial house, luxurious car plus servants at his beck and call made him think so. He conveniently forgot his peasant roots, an awkward gait and a permanent stoop – a throw back from his childhood days. From a very young age, Pappachan had to help his parents as they bended and waded through muddy furrows transplanting rice seedlings. They hardly ever straightened up their backs. No wonder it is called a back-breaking job! They were hired laborers and his extra hand helped the family’s paltry earnings. The rice fields once belonged to the region’s erstwhile wealthy land lords.
Ironically, Pappachan owned those fields now, having purchased them for a song from the late owners’ heirs. They had migrated and were hardly interested in farming rice fields in their native land. He cleared the rice fields to build his house. This did not endear him to the neighborhood. In fact, it made him more unpopular. They begrudged his new found status as opposed to his previous background.
Now Pappachan had only one good leg. The other had been amputated from his knee due to some injury. It occurred while he went about making his fortune on distant shores. One really did not know the whole story. He returned to his country with a wooden leg, a European wife and a six-month old baby boy. She was tall, fair and her eyes were blue. Pappachan was short, stout and dark. He sported a bristly moustache above thick black lips. His son resembled the father. It was a mercy he did not inherit his mother’s blue eyes. It would have been an incongruity.
Amongst his riches, Pappachan possessed several gold ingots. These gave him many sleepless nights. Naturally suspicious, he devised a plan to keep thieves at bay. He decided to have them melted and converted into fine sheets. He approached gold smiths in another city, swearing them to secrecy, and asked them to cover his wooden leg with the gold sheets. Pappachan figured that this way, the gold remained close to him. Those who glimpsed the leg would presume it to be gilded with gold paint. The goldsmiths obliged, though it was an intricate process. Rich people have peculiar wants. It was just another job to them. Moreover, the jewelers knew they could salvage few gold flakes for themselves.
The only person who knew it was pure gold was his wife. Much to her chagrin, he refused to remove the leg even when they went to bed. She had to endure his love making with the gold plated leg rubbing against her. He insisted it added to the pleasure. Time and again, she advised him to go for the latest updated artificial limb but Pappachan was adamant she finally escaped and boarded the next flight to her home country. One never knew who helped her. Her country did have an embassy in India. It was presumed they did. She left her son behind with his Nanny – who happened to be Pappachan’s aunt. In any case, the child seemed to prefer her rather than his own mother.
Pappachan did not make any
effort to locate his wife. He was astute enough to know, that the marriage was a mistake in the first place. He still had his son. He wiped out her memory, except that he needed help for bathing and absolutions. It had been his wife’s previous chores. He now required someone else for this task. The wooden leg was attached to his knee stump in a specially designed leather socket around his thigh. This, in turn, was held up by a belt clipped at his waist. It was an intricate job to remove the wooden leg from the knee stump and re-fix it back again. It had to be done right or the leg would come loose from the harness. Then again, the leg required to be cleaned regularly due to constant use. The combined trickle of bodily sweat and oil from other parts of Pappachan’s body dirtied and tarnished the gold surface. His doctor echoed his wife’s suggestion to get the latest prosthesis. Pappachan was still obstinate and ignored the advice. He preferred his gold plated wooden leg. Of course, he never told the doctor the real reason.
Pappachan pondered over the dilemma. His son was too young, the Nanny would not do, so he chose the most dimwitted of his servants, Kurup. He assumed that the silly fellow would think it was just gilt paint like the rest. As if anyone would use real gold on a wooden leg, Pappachan reasoned to himself. But Kurup was not dumb – he knew.
Pappachan grew older. The son grew up. Soon there was a new bride in the house. Pappachan, of course, arranged the match. However, she was a not much of a looker but then neither was his son. She came endowed with a big dowry, a lot of jewelry plus acres of land to boot, which pleased Pappachan no less. Arranged marriages works well, thought Pappachan, as he mentally calculated the new assets his son’s wife brought in with her marriage.
Pappachan eventually died of old age. Included in his will favoring his son, besides his wealth, house, car and everything he owned, was his wooden leg. No reason was given for this oddity. His daughter-in-law was appalled. She convinced her husband that it was just a morbid reminder of his father. As a matter of fact, she never did like her father-in-law. She insisted that Pappachan be buried wooden leg and all. The son demurred then capitulated to his wife’s directive. He knew he would have no peace at home till the matter was settled to her liking. Kurup was asked to bathe and lay out the body for burial. Pappachen’s wooden leg was to be cleaned and fixed to his knee stump as usual. None noticed the peculiar glint in Kurup’s eyes at their decision.
A week later the cemetery grave diggers found Kurup lying dead beside Pappachen’s grave.
“What a loyal servant. He must have been really heartbroken at his master’s death,” they commented and proceeded to remove Kurup’s body.
“Perhaps we can bury him in his master’s grave?” said one of them.
It was then; they spotted, clutched in Kurup’s hand, Pappachen’s gold plated wooden leg. ***