Sunday, September 21, 2014
Here Lies a Heart Beneath the Stone by Shobana J. Prabakaran
Here Lies a Heart Beneath the Stone by Shobana J. Prabakaran
Visit 3“Talk to me about Sashi Arul,” Deepa asks politely as she did the past two visits.
“Why do you have to know about her? I have nothing to share!” Arul stomps his foot.
We are all former school mates Arul. Sashi and I were close and wrote to each other even after I moved.
“I have nothing to share Deepa,” Arul reiterates.
“Do you know how hard it was to seek permission for our visitations? Despite my father’s jurisdiction it was not easy Arul!”
“I did not ask you to visit me Deepa!”
Deepa is irked. She tells him she will not be here next week.
“Why?” he interrupts. “I am getting engaged next week. I will be glad to visit you for the next five weeks or my next visit will be the last visit,” Deepa leaves ten minutes ahead of her schedule.
“Did Deepa leave already?” her dad checks with her mother before he leaves to work. “Yes, she has a meeting with her editor this morning before she visits Arul,” her mother says.
Deepa signs the visitor’s log and waits patiently by the visitor’s window. Two guards escort Arul. She is surprised by his smile.
“Congrats Deepa! When is the wedding?” Encouraged by his words she shows off her ring.
Dazzling ring Deepa! “Its three weeks since your last!” Arul is resentful.
Deepa acknowledges and updates him about her engagement, and her upcoming publication.
“Will you write my story too Deepa?” She gives a stifled look. “Story of my psychopath friend!” she thinks to herself.
“Visiting time over” the announcements reverberates.
“Wish I could talk to my parents Deepa,” he displays his emotions for the first time. “They are tormented by the agony and shame. “I don’t blame their absence Arul,” Deepa left helplessly.
Deepa flung her purse and slouched on the sofa. “Mummy, can I have coffee please?”
“Arul’s mother called early today,” her mother conveys the message and enquired about her day.
Deepa giggles and tells her mother about Arul’s curiosity of writing his story. “Why not?” her mother suggests as she pours the freshly boiled milk in a cup.
“He is a crazy guy mummy,” Deepa mumbles and drifts to her morning visit with Arul.
“It all started in seventh grade. Do you remember Mrs. Malar, our science teacher in middle school Deepa?” Arul finally breaks his silence after three weeks.
Deepa acknowledges she remembers the teacher but was never her student as her dad was transferred that year and her family moved.
Arul back tracked to his early years, “Sashi cried in her class. I swear I did not do it Ms. Malar!” “This is your third incident Sashi! You are careless!” Mrs. Malar was genuinely angry. While everybody sympathized with her I sat with a content smile, although Deepak warned me later. He saw me push the beaker while Sashi reached for her book.
The next incident was on her birthday. I turned my face as she approached me with a box of chocolates. She asked me to pick a candy. I grabbed a handful of candies and threw it in the trash.
“Despicable!” Deepa remembers remarking at him as she heard the announcements.
“Did you sleep last night Deepa?” her mother panics as soon as she sees her by her study table. “I woke up early to study, mummy. I am starving. Can I have a toast and an omelet? I have to leave early to meet Arul.”
“Your in-laws will not appreciate your visits with Arul,” her mother advised her as she ate her breakfast. “But mummy,” Deepa gets upset. “Sashi was my close friend!”
Deepa signs the log and waits for Arul.
“What did my mother say last week?” Arul fidgeted adjusting his shackles.
“My insane son,” is her closing sentence every week. “What was wrong with you Arul? Sashi mentioned your vile temper in all her letters.
“Everything was benign at the beginning Deepa. We were in different sections in eighth grade but we were together the next year. You should have seen her face on the first day of ninth grade - like a dressed chicken!” Arul chuckled.
“So your resentful actions continued through high school too?” Deepa interrupts.
I was the class leader in ninth, so injustice was served without guilt. I picked up all the social studies assignments one day. On my way to the teacher’s lounge I threw Sashi’s assignment in the boy’s bathroom. The teacher gave her a zero and called her parents. “I will never forgive you Arul,” she cursed me often.
Two months later, a petty argument between us landed Sashi at the Principal’s office. “I wish we don’t meet rest of our lives Arul,” she was enraged in the hallway. “I can’t wait for the best days of my life,” I replied curtly on our way back to the classroom.
"Visiting Time Over" the announcement replays.
YOUR CALLOUS HEART! Deepa leaves agitated.
Deepa enters the house and sees her mother on the phone. Her mother signals its Arul’s mother and quickly hands over the phone to Deepa. “He wishes to see you both aunty.” Deepa conveys Arul’s wishes. “Enough is enough with my insane son,” his mother hung up the phone.
Deepa signs the log and apologizes for being late as Arul sits down adjusting his shackles.
“You are my only visitor Deepa. I am just glad to see you anytime,” Arul is grateful. “We don’t have much time. By the way do you remember our play time after lunch?” Deepa starts her conversation randomly.
“Our fourth and fifth grade lunch breaks?” Arul is puzzled.
“Yes Arul. I remembered Sashi was hurt badly few times,” Deepa frowned. “Hold me in contempt twice. I pushed her,” he replies guiltless.
“You are repulsive!” Deepa blurts in anger.
Arul continues his narration from last week. Luckily for Sashi we were in different sections in tenth. I don’t know what happened the last two years of school I turned a new leaf. Sashi and I became friends and our circle extended to Uma, Karthik, Venu, Vidhya and Deepak. Her parents were still apprehensive of me.
It was a congenial relationship until the last few months of high school. Despite her strong disliking I met her twice during college years and thereafter lost touch. Six years later she sent me her wedding invitation. She married her senior in med school. I heard both set of parents opposed their wedding but finally consented. “I was in disbelief when I heard about her love story. Sashi wasn’t that kind of a girl,” Arul slips into a trance.
"Visiting Time Over" the announcement replays.
“I lost touch with Sashi in high school, so I did not know about her wedding. The web of life with its intricacies, it happens Arul,” Deepa comments and leaves.
“Do you have to visit Arul when your fiancée is in town Deepa?” her mother is unhappy as Deepa is in a hurry to leave. “It is two weeks since my last visit and I am his only visitor. These visits don’t take long. See you later and don’t be mad mummy,” Deepa rushed out and joins her fiancé in the car.
“How do other friends feel about Arul?” her fiancé asks her as they drive. “I haven’t met anybody in the past twenty years. Although Arul gave me their phone numbers, I am bit hesitant to call them.
Her fiancé waits in the car while Deepa walks in, clears security, signs in and waits for Arul.
Arul adjusts his shackles and sits numb.
“What’s wrong? Why aren’t you talking to me?” Deepa was perplexed. “You did not come to see me last week Deepa!” “Sorry, I was not in town Arul,” Deepa apologizes.
“Only one more visit left,” his voice deepens.
Okay Arul, “when did you meet Sashi again?”
(After prolonged silence…Arul talks)
After fifteen years since high school we planned a reunion. “It was three days of endless eating, drinking, playing at the beach and stories from the past with Uma, Karthik, Deepak, Pratap, and Devi,” Arul’s face lightened. All our friends are blessed with wonderful families except Sashi and I. We lived our lives in recluse.
“I met my husband in med school. We eloped. He died in a car crash two years ago. My in-laws were never accommodative. My parents visit me often but it only intensifies the melancholy. My busy job is a good distraction from the misery. This reunion is a breath of fresh air,” Sashi told us at the beach.
“Were you nice to her Arul?” Deepa is inquisitive.
“I adhered to the past and she wasn’t pleased,” Arul’s face saddened. Nevertheless it was a wonderful reunion and the party continued until dawn. Next day most of us boarded the train. She did not want to fly and miss the fun. We were about an hour from our destination. She got up to use the bathroom. It took her a while so I went to check on her. She stood against the open door with wet eyes.
“What happened Sashi?” I was worried.
“During college days my husband and I traveled frequently by train back and forth. Isn’t it too soon for memories Arul?” Sashi wiped her eyes. “Oh! Look at those rolling dark clouds Arul. Finally some rain to cool of the tropical heat,” she just moved on like a passing cloud.
“Sashi, I am waiting for your reply since last night!” I was restless.
“You knew my thoughts fifteen years ago. I was never interested in a relationship with you. I will never be interested!” her mood changed quickly. “You can’t force love on me, force me to love you now Arul!”
Was it the sweltering breeze or her words, I didn’t know why, but I snarled at her,, “it is the grudge, you can’t erase the grudge, can you?”
“Grudge never invades good friends. We were still in a nest. I told you last night never to bring it up again Arul,” she was furious.
“What’s stopping you now Sashi? You will be alone in this world!” I was irate.
“Every breath holds a moment, some moments of sadness, subdued by the beauty of life. My past love lingers. Those moments, are my life, my world Arul!” Sashi was solemn.
“Saaassshhhhii! My soul was on its knees.
“I still love him…he is my life…… my world …..go see the world Arul,” even the sound of the speeding train was mute by her words.
I looked up and felt like the distant sun, repressed by the dark clouds.
“Sashi!” She stared at me. You are my world! You are my life Sashi!” Arul’s voice gets sullen.
Wryly she smiled and turned her face .. and….and ……...I pushed her.
Still in her slumber Deepa heard her dad, “this morning as planned………
“Sashi’s parents are seeking the death penalty!” Arul told her at her last visit. I hope it isn’t a long wait.
“Deepa…..are you listening to me?” her dad distracted her.
“Yes Daddy,” She flinched.
…this morning as planned at 5:00 A.M. Arul was executed. His family was notified. As expected no one came to collect the remains,” her dad conveyed the expected, yet saddening news.
“Daddy…..” Deepa was speechless.
“It is our department policy to take care of the last rites. I am leaving in half an hour. He wanted a burial,” he offered some consolation.
Deepa placed a bouquet by his grave. Arul, “I have your story written in my memory, but its title on your epitaph……………..