THE CURSED LIFE
Around each of her toes, Omanakumari weaved circlets of slim leaves and she danced them and secretly admired her feet. Nice, but they would be much improved with anklets that jingle-jangled. It was not quite light; the blue was cast with black and wet with all the dew that had not yet settled. She sat quietly in the corner of the veranda, and watched her morning toes, still clean and so dazzling in circlets of leaves. Her mouth poked out with the effort of not smiling out loud. If anyone was looking they would see a pretty, pretty girl with her mouth poked out, smiling with her chin and her cheeks and with her eyebrows. And on her eyebrows, any onlooker’s gaze would linger, for they were long and sleek and visible even in the shadowed corner of the veranda.
Omanakumari lifted her eyes from her toes and looked out over the trees at the color of the day. Such promise in the dark blue sky, the first whiff of fire, the first tittery remark of a bird and then another’s prompt retort. The receding of the night sounds into the day sounds; such promise there, every morning. Strand by strand she unwove her toes. She stood and cast her greens over the veranda and something flew out from somewhere and rustled the treetops. She inhaled the sour smell of the first things cooking on damp wood far enough away to smell only of smoke and not of food. She heard the woman Anjukutty shout angrily and with malice at a dog that had claimed her space. Water was thrown, it splashed and she heard this too.
Inside her house it was dark and she delighted in the quiet and the solitude of being awake. Karthika was sweeping bent low to the ground. She didn’t look up, the misery of her life being equal whether she was alone or watched. Omanakumari entered the cooking space and poured water to her mouth and her mother came in. She was wiping her hands against her hips, drying them. Her hair was not yet tied up, but secured with a strand of itself, behind her neck and loose down her back. She had been milking and she was happy. Milking made Narayanikutty happy. She had a talent for this task and the cows gave and gave to her as they did for no one else. The cows made her special in that taravad as none were as gifted at cows as she.
"Did you take bath?" she asked, walking close and holding her daughter’s face between her hands.
Omanakumari smiled with her eyebrows and her nostrils. "I am going now."
"What were you doing so far?"
"I was thinking."
"What were you thinking? About how little you do to be of help?"
"Yes, I was thinking just that."
"Mmmm, you are not even clean to be impudent."
"Better to be dirty when being impudent." Omanakumari’s mouth trembled in its poked-out position, her eyes twinkled.
"Mmmm, like Anjukutty you will grow, screaming at dogs. That is what happens to impudent girls." Her mother’s eyes sparkled too, but she smiled a full open smile that released her daughter’s laughter to spill out onto the kitchen floor. It rolled about like marbles that got lost in crevices, never to be seen again.
Omanakumari lifted her mother’s hands to her face and rubbed her nose against the skin that was moist and smelled of outside. She inhaled deeply, her morning kiss given with this most loving gesture. I breathe you, Mother, bless my day. Narayanikutty bent her face to her daughter’s hair and did the same: I breathe you, child. Go forth with my blessings.
The alarm on Gita’s watch sounded with a pulsing insistence and reluctantly she lifted her head from her pages. It was time to go. A page slipped from under her fingers and slid to the floor underneath her desk. She bent to retrieve it and felt her blouse fluffing and puffing out from her pants, and as she stood up she felt the void around her middle. She was afraid there would be no hiding that, and how to wear a poncho when the weather was so warm? Then suddenly a thought! She brightened: I will wear a sari, I will wear a puffy, cotton sari! And with this, Gita gathered her things and hurried to her place to change. Her brother was coming home from Kerala today, and she would put on a puffy sari that would hide the points of her hips, and the bones of her shoulders, and the slightly bluish tint of her arms, and she would arrive to greet him thus camouflaged. And in a puffy cotton sari, hidden behind her five darling and very fat nieces, perhaps she could deflect all scrutiny for one more evening. From her dwindling size. From the secrets of her new book. From the misery of her long, long, never-ending life.
Dr. Raman Nair collapsed in his seat, exhausted. His gargantuan carry-on, stuffed with what might be elbows or periscopes or some other pointy and protrusive objects, splayed across the aisle. The thought of cramming this monstrosity under the seat filled him with . . . yes, it was true . . . it filled him with despair. But there would be no point in delaying. One way or another, he would have to manage to get through the twenty-two-hour plane ride home from India. Standing again, he took a deep breath, braced his back and lifted the clanking bag forward. With a heaving push and the full force of his nearly 250-pound body, he squeezed it under the seat. Panting and dabbing the perspiration from his brow, he again fell into his seat. It was a monumental ordeal.
His neighbor chuckled. "My dear sir, what a project your bag, eh?" He reached out a friendly hand and patted Dr. Raman Nair on the shoulder.
Dr. Raman Nair shook his head resignedly and sighed again. In a low and sonorous voice he lamented, "O . . . ooo . . . this bag, I have been carrying it for one thousand miles. It might as well have been on my back. And I might as well have been on foot!"
"Is it heavy?"
"Heavy!! Oh goodness gracious! It weighs like the Himalayas, but has none of their charm or beauty! A bulky madness, a prodigious weight, without even the grace to be pleasing to the eye, or even surely beneficial to the recipient!"
"What is it?"
Dr. Raman Nair sighed a prolonged breath. "Brahmi oil."
"That whole bag has Brahmi oil?"
"And only Brahmi oil."
"What on earth for? That is a lot of Brahmi oil."
"Sixty-eight bottles of Brahmi oil? What on earth for?!"
"An intractable affliction."
"Why didn’t you ship it . . . or check it in?" There was a clinking as the person in front settled into his seat. His neighbor reached down and shook the bag a bit, perhaps to ascertain that indeed there were bottles within.
Dr. Raman Nair paused and measured his words. He dropped his chin to his chest in defeat. "My sister would not allow it." Without letting his neighbor respond, he continued, "Chechi’s son, he is very good. He is a very good boy, my nephew, he is a medical resident, Johns Hopkins University, but with a chronic affliction for which he can find no relief. It worsens in the winter." Here he paused again. "Winter will be fast approaching."
Before the plane had even taken off, a small seep sprang in the bottom of this bag. By the time they landed to change planes in London, Dr. Raman Nair and his sympathetic neighbor both felt that simply by having inhaled this ayurvedic remedy for fourteen hours, neither could ever be afflicted by what ever curse plagued Chechi’s son so chronically, and even worse in the winter.
As Dr. Raman Nair was crossing the Atlantic on his way home, his illustrious nephew, Manoj, with the chronic problem that worsened in winter, was faced with a dilemma. George needed him to cover call. Squinting in the bed, bleary-headed with fatigue, what was he to do? Say no? Dive back under the covers and sleep off what had been his own exhausting call night? How could he do that when his friend, his colleague, his countryman even, the good George Thomas, had had his car burgled again in the middle of the night? Again?
"I have no shoes." George sighed.
"They were in the car."
"What were you wearing on your feet?"
"It’s four a.m. I was barefoot."
Hmm . . . there was no point in pursuing it. Manoj sighed and carefully rubbed his head. "I have to pick my ammavan up at Dulles tomorrow. He’ll be . . . really, really mad if I am late."
"I’ll get there. I just need to call the insurance company. And . . . I need to get some shoes. And then I’ll catch the bus in. But I just got paged. I can’t . . . you know . . . I don’t have any shoes."
He could hear George’s deep exhale. It’s true. You can’t go to work with no shoes. Manoj rubbed his hand down his face. "You know what, George?"
"You really need to move."
George sighed again. This was most definitely true.
Excerpted from As It Was Written by Sujatha Hampton.
Copyright © 2010 by Sujatha Hampton.
Published in February 2010 by Thomas Dunne Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.