Those Golden Bells - contd
by Harpreet Kaur Vohra
Back to page 1 of the story
Ju then went into the bedroom and saw Pat in an unusual untidy heap. He sensed something wrong and gently nudged her to wake up but she was lost to the world. “Wake up, honey. Its four in the afternoon”, he said as gently as he could. But Pat wouldn’t stir. She had just made it for small odd jobs in the market that morning and after coming home she had given a final flourish to the tree but that was all she could do. Ju was filled with a nervous tremor when he felt her head- she was burning. He lifted the sheet to examine her foot and it was putrid. The guests would arrive by seven and Juju was caught up in his scariest fears. He could not cancel the party as invitations had gone out with the greatest gusto on a customized card that said ‘Mrs and Mr J D’Souza’ seek the pleasure of your presence etcetera. He shook her harder and then harder and then even more violently till she rolled her eyes upwards in response. She looked frightful and disheveled but was quickly propped by two pillows and was soon popping a host of pills hurriedly being administered by Ju with all his reckless alacrity.
Ju kept egging her gently to wake up and bake the cake. First he cajoled, then he persuaded and finally he thundered “The cake has to be baked, the rice has to be cooked and the barbeque has to be readied. Damn it! You and your fucking foot”. He was red with rage and his young face seemed to have suddenly acquired the scowl of a grumpy old man. Pat did not even have the temerity to counter him as she felt weak and dizzy but she still managed to rant out as loud as she could, “I'll be in the grave and then you may have your drunken party by my tombstone, you selfish son- of- a- bitch!” Ju with blood shot eyes held her by the throat and roared “You swine, I’ve given you a roof over your head and you speak to me like that. You don’t know me as yet!” He violently shook her like a rag doll and threw her back into bed. Pat slowly got back on her feet and unsteadily went to the kitchen to bake the cake. She felt a nerve in her forehead throb violently and as she gasped for breath, she soon found herself on the floor with a heavy thud. She dragged herself along the floor and was back in her bed with a fitful jerk.
Ju got dressed to receive the guests sulkily though he looked immaculate in a tuxedo with a bow tie and a white carnation in the buttonhole of his coat. His cheek bones were clearly defined beneath his beard as they were tensed with anger. He sprayed delicious smelling perfume, adjusted his bow tie and looked at his well maintained hands. His attention was suddenly caught by his wedding band. He took it off, flung it on the shiny floor and slammed the door behind him.
The guests began to trickle in and everyone was enquiring after Pat. Trevour, Ju’s childhood friend asked him, “Where’s Patty, I’ve brought her yellow tiger lilies. She loves them”, he said as he flourished a carefully wrapped bunch of spotted lilies. Shifting in his place Ju said uncomfortably, “She’s getting ready, all this woman finery!” Trevour handed the bunch to Ju which he nervously laid on the table. Ju was biting his lip while he cursed the she-devil under his breath as he waited for her to appear in her golden saree; but she did not make the appearance. While the flutes were being filled with sparkling champagne, instrumental carols were playing in the background and the Christmas tree was lit up with twinkling lights, Ju was filled with an unusual sense of lonely anger. He had never felt so deserted in his lavish parties; he had had Pat by his side always to entertain, to cook and to keep up the conversation. Now Ju was lost completely. He very silently walked through the smiling faces and the tinkling glasses to go to Pat’s bedroom again. He called out to her while she was still in deep slumber but she didn’t move. He then sat by her side and stoke her forehead which woke her up. “Pat the guests have arrived”, he said as his strokes became rougher. “Get ready and get out. Do you want them to turn the Christmas party into a condolence meet? Do you hear me, you bitch? ”, he roared. She just couldn’t move and Ju left after pushing her head to the other side of the pillow and his face was pale with panicky anger.
Ju went into the kitchen and inattentively emptied tortillas and salted peanuts into a set of serving bowls. He hunted for the tray and after much banging and slamming he found it behind the microwave. He showed it to the guests which got them a little surprised and made them ask for
Pat more. “She’s coming in a moment”, he said absentmindedly. Ju had half a mind to tell the truth but the local MLA could not be displeased. What face would he show to the roomful of elegantly dressed people who had come all the way to taste Pat’s vindaloo and rum cakes? Mrs Kharkangor, a flirtatious middle aged lady with a voluptuous figure and cascading chestnut brown hair ambushed Ju on his way, “Where are you off to honey?” she inquired after his anxious looking face. Darling Pat’s been troubling you, lately eh! Eva told me that both of you had a warm little spat at Floury’s. Poor little baby, fooled by a woman fit to be your mother”, she despicably remarked with all the spite that she could gather. Ju shrugged from her hold in anger and went to Pat again to see if she was awake. He was relieved to see her on her feet but could still not help sarcastically remarking, “You’re trying to let me down in public. I’ll teach you a little lesson after the party. Hurry up”.
Ju came back to the party full of confidence. He knew that Pat would take over everything in minutes and he would go back to his champagne. “The table does not look so deserted after all”, thought Ju. “Yes it’s not as good as originally planned, but just enough to save me the shame”, he ran the monologue to himself. He sauntered along to mingle with the many guests who had just begun to feel the warmth of their drinks. Ju was filled with a sense of excitement at the prospect of his party being a success again. He was talking to Trevour in animated tones with his back to the bedroom door when all of a sudden there was a hushed silence in the room, except for the soft Christmas carols in the background. When Ju turned round he was horrified to see before him an apparition-Pat like a ghost walking into the beautifully decorated hall! She was limping barefooted and as she walked she left bloody stains on the floor. Her hair was dishevelled and she looked square into Ju’s face. Everyone in the room had stunned faces at the sudden frightful appearance. Patricia approached Ju, standing close to him and said in a gruff voice, “Julian have your revenge, Julian have your revenge”. Ju was stung by embarrassment having to see the hostess with a mop of uncombed hair, a crumpled, disgraceful Winnie the Pooh night suit and a pair of bloody bare feet. He couldn’t control his temper that shot in blood to his angry eyes. He wanted to hit Pat and he did not want to do it with his bare hands. He looked around and hastened his steps towards the Christmas tree. He then savagely pulled the string of golden bells that Pat had so lovingly draped around the tree. The golden Christmas tree came crashing down. The bells then tinkled in all their confusion as they were dragged along the floor. Ju raised the beautiful string of bells and hit them hard on Pat’s shoulders till she was on the floor. He hit her hard on the back repeatedly while he chanted like an exorcist “You’ve had your revenge. You’ve had your revenge”. He then hit her till she bled and bled and soon resembled a heap of rubble by the roadside. Ju had to stop when several bow tied and tuxedoed guests got into the arena, caught him and pushed him aside. He flung the string of bells on the shiny wooden floor and they landed in a little heap next to Pat.
There was an eerie silence in that erstwhile buzzing room. Pat’s face was covered with hair matted with blood. Everyone was waiting for the deadly silence to be broken. While several high heeled and bouffant haired women were helping Pat up her feet, she resisted their assistance violently and began to wobble across the floor. She reached the spot where the golden bells sat as though embarrassingly on the floor. Pat bent down with the courage of a warrior and picked one end of the string- the bells tinkled as they were being dragged once again. Those sixteen bells which until a moment ago were symbols of longing and expectation had suddenly turned into an instrument of bruising the remainder of her shame. But more than anything, the little string of bells also became an instrument of Pat’s final redemption on the sixteenth year of her marriage to Julian D’Souza. She looked at Ju one last time and in an instinct of rage tugged hard at the white Chantilly lace table cloth and brought all the Christmas fare to the ground- the rich vindaloo, the creamy Parsee chicken and everything else all running down in little nervous eddies- a feast that until a moment ago was a feast not so well prepared but good enough to save Ju from total damnation. Pat then steadied herself on her wobbly feet and walked through the door with her feet bare and a string of golden bells in her hands. ***