Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Love Story: Installment #3

Bluestocking's Note: To read the story so far altogether, click here. This is the second last installment. The fourth would be the last.

He ran back to his supervisor. The supervisor was a busy but kindly man, who listened to what the boy had to say with an indulgent smile. And then he patted him on the head and gently asked him to get back to work.

The rest of the day, the boy worked and worked but his mind was awhirl. He couldn’t let this happen. This was not right. Throughout the day, he saw the building’s residents move from outrage to indignation and finally to a quiet resignation. He didn’t understand that. The building was their home. How could they not fight for her? He saw a few families move out that very evening. They had no ties to her beyond the material. But he was young enough to believe that his own soul was interred there. Quite like the king in the stories whose life lived inside some exotic parrot.

He was bewildered but determined. He couldn’t let her die. Because then a part of him would die too, though he did not realize that in those terms.

Over the next week, the boy tried speaking to many people – the important man who was the architect for the mall, the contractor who would oversee the demolition, the building’s remaining residents, his own supervisor again and even the babus in the municipal corporation. He was told by someone that only the corporation could help and stop this brutality. Some of these people heard him out. Few shooed him away. A couple of threatened him to mind his own business. But no one helped him. No one understood when he tried to explain to them in words that he did not have about how beautiful she was. That she was precious and needed to be revered, not demolished.

By now, the building was almost desolate, with nearly all residents having moved out. All those who had lived here had merely rented her. And the invisible one who had owned her had sold her.

The boy alternated between despair and grim determination. Days just kept sneaking past – thieves of Time. Workers had started arriving and pitching temporary lodging there. The destruction was merely days away.

One day, almost two weeks later, the supervisor summoned him.

The boy had been brooding, growing desperate and angry. He was on that delicate precipice which hardens one into a bitter cynic. He wasn’t a cynic. Just yet.

When the boy reached the supervisor’s dirty, red plastic desk positioned under a tree to provide a modicum of respite from the brutal sun, he found a woman sitting next to the older man. She looked to be about his mother’s age. That made her old, though she was not actually more than forty. She was dressed in an inexpensive but pretty cotton sari. But it was her hair that caught his attention. It was – weird. Tied in a tight plait, it was completely black at the top, close to her scalp then gradually faded and finally blinding white at the tips. It was as if the colours had tried to flow from the roots to the tip but got tired of the effort and slowly leached out of the strands. The boy could see that happening in continuous waves.

She was talking in quiet and harsh tones to the supervisor. She kept on pushing her red wired spectacles up the bridge of her perspiring nose. The boy was suddenly afraid of her. But the fear was not unpleasant.

The supervisor looked up. “Ah. There you are.”

The boy said nothing. Just looked at him. And then away.

“This is my wife”, the supervisor waved a hand in the general direction of the woman. “She is a History teacher. In my locality’s government school.”

The woman was silently glaring at the boy. He shuffled his feet, raised his eyes to her face and then quickly cast his eyes down. It had been a hotter than usual day and he had been sweating like a pig. 

But there was a chill in his belly.

“What is your name?” she asked. Teacher to new student. Except he was not.

“Nandu”, he whispered to himself, the realized that she hadn’t heard him. “Nandu.” Louder this time. Almost a shout.

“Have you ever been to school? How old are you, anyway?”

He looked askance at the supervisor. The man turned away his head and disowned the boy.

He was now finally alone. On his own. Except that the woman was fiercely appraising him, as she waited for his answer in stillness.

“Cat got your tongue, boy?” Her tone was acerbic. A brisk lash. “Well, then. I will do the talking. Finish your work here. You get off at six, right? Come see me at my school at seven in the evening.” She reeled off the address. It was not very far. “I have work for you.”

He mumbled a response.

“What?” she demanded.

“I won’t. Don’t need your work”, he repeated himself, in an unintentionally falsetto voice, like he had reverted to being a five year old child.

“Shut up”, she said mildly, almost gently this time. “See that he is there”, she ordered her husband and creaked away from the desk, in the direction of the school.

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