Where Peacocks Fly - 7
by Prema Sastri
Back to Chapter 6
Just then a car stopped in front of their flat. There was the sound of running feet and Meera quickly got the door open as Mangalam almost fell in. Meera turned to Shankaran and nodded towards the bedroom. He scuttled in leaving damp slime behind him like a snail.
Ramaswamy was looking at Mangalam with a startled fury. She was wearing a light raincoat and scarf. She pulled the scarf off and looked back at her father. Meera leaned back against the door and closed her eyes. It seemed an age before she heard Ramaswamy speak.
“Wretch, where have you been?”
Mangalam’s voice was cool. “I’m not a wretch, father.”
“Bloody wretch. I come home after a hard day’s work and find the whole blasted family roaming around. You have no idea of work or study and I’m expected to provide for you? Get inside. He had caught Mangalam by the collar which was protruding out of the raincoat.”
Mangalam’s voice rose. “Daddy, don’t touch me.” Ramaswamy had a firm grip on her collar and pushed her. As she jerked forward, he struck her on her shoulder blade. She ran forward without looking back. Ramaswamy made for the bedroom. I am going to get my belt and belt that girl to her senses. Meera wanted to stop him, to scream for the neighbours. All she did was to stay, her whole body pressed against the door. She heard a scream of protest and then silence except for the crack of the belt.
She heard the belt strike flesh in a rhythmic beat. Then there was silence and the sound of the belt again. Meera counted the pauses, one, two. Then there was complete silence. Her feet came to life and she ran to Mangalam’s bedroom. It was shut and bolted from the inside. She hammered on the door till her knuckles hurt but there was no response.
She found her voice. “Why did you beat her like that?” She confronted Ramaswamy. His eyes were cold and glittering. She was reminded of a frog she had once uncovered from beneath a stone. It had given her the same look and she had been forced to retreat. “I know what I am doing.” Ramaswamy picked up his paper and began to read.
“She is only a young girl.”
“Don’t interfere with me. It was all because of your leniency the whole thing happened. If I had behaved like this as a boy I would have been kicked out of the house.”
He turned a page in the paper and was soon absorbed in it. Meera hesitated, her mind spilled over with thoughts which she knew she would never express. She heated a bowl of rasam and mixed it with some rice. She fried some applams and took the food to Shankaran’s room. He had changed and was lying under a thin sheet. She made him wear a sweater in spite of his protests and forced him to swallow some hot food. Then she covered him with a light blanket.
“No mummy” he mumbled, “it’s too hot.” A fresh bout of shivering belied his words.
Meera ruffled his hair. “Go to sleep; you’ll feel better tomorrow.” Shankaran drew up his knees and curled up tightly like a prawn. He was soon asleep.
She served the food to Ramaswamy in silence. He had brought the paper to the table. He drank the rasam in large gulps. He began to crunch the applams and mix them in his rice. The rain had stopped. There was no sound except for the sharp crack of applams being broken and the noisy sipping of liquids.
After dinner she cleared the table. There was still no sound from Mangalam’s room. Meera called again- “Mangalam”. She pressed her ear against the door. There was a muffled sound of weeping. Meera went into the bedroom. She stretched herself on the bed without removing her clothes. She realized she was wearing a nylon sari. She would be uncomfortable all night. She
pulled back the covers. She found Ramaswamy standing behind her. His hand was on her shoulder. It forced her down. “I must change my sari,” she said weakly.
“Later.” He got into bed and pulled her down beside him. With a quick gesture he pulled her sari up above her thighs. The windows had not been opened after the rains. Perspiration ran off Ramaswamy’s neck and wet Meera’s blouse. She was enclosed in a cocoon of damp hair and body odour. One knee was bent and began to hurt. Moments later he rolled off. He found his way to his bed, covered himself with a sheet and turned on his side. His breathing became slow and rhythmic.
Meera’s sheet was a sticky mess. She wiped herself with its edge. She changed into fresh clothes, picked up the soiled sheet and petticoat and put them into a bucket of soap water, so that there would be no tell tale stains when the maid servant came to wash them in the morning. She put a clean sheet on the bed and opened the windows. The room had already cooled when she lay down. She lay on her stomach and buried her face in her pillow. She felt as if a tight curtain wire had been pulled through her body. For a long time she could not sleep.
..........To be continued......