Summer Vacation-6

That child pretended not to hear her mother, and turned her mother, and turned her head away in a different direction. This indifference infuriated her mother, who said, ‘What are you doing, girl, star-gazing?Didn’t you hear me asking you to hold the basket?’

With great reluctance the girl held out her hands to take the basket, but it slipped. The contents spilled out in all directions: first the rice, then the tamarind which had been concealed underneath.

‘Useless girl!’ Nani Amma rebuked her daughter and pulled her by hair. She sat down, hastily gathered the rice and the tamarind into the basket and left the place in a hurry. Her daughter followed, weeping copiously.

I knew that Muthassi had only given the rice to Nani Amma. It became clear to me that she had stolen the tamarind. I was furious with her. I thought stealing was really low, dishonorable. I decided I should not let her get away with it.

I ran after her and called out her name. She turned her head, but on seeing me continued walking faster. Her child hadn’t stopped weeping. Finally I caught up with her and questioned her. ‘Nani Amma, why did you steal tamarind? Is it right to other people’s property?’

‘I didn’t steal,’ Nani Amma denied stoutly. She continued walking. The red sand kicked up by her retreating feet swirled around the courtyard.

‘I am going to tell Muthassi,’ I said. ‘You shouldn’t steal things. Don’t come to this house again. Your are just a petty theif.’

That stopped Nani Amma. She held out the basket to me and said in a huff, ‘Take it. Take back your precious rice and tamarind. I don’t want anything from you.”

I was dumbstruck. I extended my hands to take the basket, like a lifeless wooden puppet. Nani Amma picked up her daughter and made to walk off.Then came her parting shot.

‘We are poor people, child.’ Her voice shook as she said,’And you- you are the rich.’

I left the basket on the ground and ran back. I felt like weeping. I felt – as I had never done before in my life – that I had somehow committed a grave sin. I was too shaken to mention the incident to Muthassi. What happened to that basket? Did anyone pick it up? Did Nani Amma herself come back for it? I wanted to know nothing about it.

It was time for me to go to Calcutta. When we reached Trichur railway station, Sankunni Nayar said pompously, ‘The train is due to arrive in precisely half an hour and two minutes. Velayudha Menon would have boarded the train at Cochin. The first-class coach will come in at the other end of the platform and the third-class will be at this end.’

‘Will you please stop bleating, Sanakunni Nayar,’ Muthassi said, cuttingly.

‘I am quite familiar with all these details. This is not the first time I have come to Trichur railway station.’

Muthassi got out of the car, gave an eight- anna coin to the taxi driver and said,’ It is the child’s gift to you.’ The driver put the coin into his pocket with a smile and saluted me.

Muthassi wore a gold-bordered mundu and veshti and had a gold tulasi mala  around her neck. She looked regal and the people at the railway station made way for her in a respectful manner.

The clerk at the platform ticket counter asked her,’ So the child is going back after her vacation?’

Muthassi did not deign to answer. She had an air of aloofness which she reserved for strangers. She held on to my hand, crossed the revolving door and entered the station platform.

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