A Misty Dawn
Meenakshi had put on some remixed version of a Sixties Bollywood song about the moon playing hide-and-seek among the clouds and the entire night that would move and fade off right in front of your eyes.
“And how can you afford to sleep?”, she sang in Hindi with a French lilt.
The song, though too loud for my taste and being raunchy here and bluesy there going on undecided feet, had some effect. It killed my sleep. I sat up on the bed, rubbing my eyes.
“What time is it?”
“It’s already 5, lazy old man”, she said pointing to the clock that showed 4.55.
She was already in her jeans and teenage tees, putting on her coat with some effort and covering her ears with a scarf.
“Get up, or I’m off.” She flashed the torch at my face, the sharp needles of light burning my eyes.
I had no choice but to get up and put on my tracksuit and trainer shoes.
“There’s some tea over there”, she said.
“Why does it look red? It looks like blood, first thing in the morning!”
“It’s hibiscus”, she laughed. “See if you like it. No other choice if you don’t.”
It tasted fine. A bit sour, but better than the strong-flavored tea I had from the pavement yesterday. And thank god, she hadn’t added sugar.
We walked through the narrow corridors and to the empty street. The hills were already golden and orange. As we walked under the banyan tree in the temple compound, a bird above us sang in a series of grumpy discordant notes as if blaming us for waking it up too early. Meenakshi ran up to the hills and waited for me – all panting and blurry eyed – to catch up with her.
“What made you avoid this land for so long?” she asked, as I stood next to her with my hand on her shoulder for support.
“I never felt at home here.”
“And why did you make mom fall in love with your land?”
“I never knew that she would do that. That happened after she left me.”
“Did she leave you?”
“Yes. What did she tell you?”
“She said nothing.”
“She did a great job. She brought you up as a desi girl, with all the grace and intelligence.”
“I’m flattered! Is that your greatest discovery after landing here?”
“I mean it… Would you say yes if I asked you to come with me?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
We climbed up in silence. Louise must have loved the quiet dawns here. It must have inspired her music, as I could gather from the school concert in her honour yesterday.
The valley glistened beneath the hills, as we stood under the rising sun. Meenakshi opened the cloth covering of the urn and allowed me to hold it with her.
“Autres temps, autres mœurs”, she said, as Louise’s ashes poured off the urn, to be part of the air, the trees, the flowers, the river.
Jose Varghese is the author of ‘Silver Painted Gandhi and Other Poems’ and his short story collection ‘In/Sane’ was a finalist in the Beverly Prize, UK. His poems and short stories have appeared in journals/anthologies like The Salt Anthology of New Writing 2013, Unthology 5, The River Muse, Chandrabhaga, Kavya Bharati, Postcolonial Text, Dusun, I Am Not A Silent Poet and Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis. He was the winner of The River Muse 2013 Spring Poetry Contest, a runner-up in the Salt Flash Fiction Prize 2013, and a second prize winner in the Wordweavers Flash Fiction Prize 2012. He was shortlisted in Hourglass Short Story Contest 2016 and two of the Eyewear Fortnight Poetry Prize competitions in 2017, and was commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize 2014. He is the founder and chief editor of Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts and Strands Publishers.