Copyright is held by the author.
DESPITE SOMNOLENCE, Qui switches the alarm off, sits upright on his bed, and watches the chirping sparrows on the window sill that have found a harbour in his home. Tomorrow he’ll wake up somewhere else, where the chimneys puke soot into the skies and ground is littered with discarded wrappers. Not in Khelaghor, meaning playhouse, the house he built brick-by-brick, and lovingly named it so.
“Qui, are you up?”
“We still must get rid of the bicycle, remember?”
Qui uncoils himself from the tangled bedsheets, smiles to his wife stirring porridge in the kitchen, and recedes to the bathroom.
He turns the tap. Without touching the cold water, he thinks: Khelaghor will be someone else’s tomorrow. He loves it so much. This village. This water. The air.
The packers have arrived early. Cartons, tapes, ropes, have taken over their home. The sparrows are evicted first.
“Ma’am, a signature here.”
“Ui.” Says Kave, but quickly changes her mind.
“Would you mind waiting for Qui to put in his.”
Popette nods. He’d waited for years, in any case. Qui took a long time deciding to move to his son’s, in the bustling city seven-hours away; put this house up for sale. Popette will have it “developed”. In here, it means bringing the house down to raise an apartment block for the nouveau riche of the city looking for a second home on the outskirts.
Popette meets Qui right at the bathroom door.
“Ye, uncle! Your signature please?”
“Ui, Popette. Not before I come back from the temple. Will that do?”
“Ui, ui, of course.”
Qui rides his bicycle on the dirt path that circumvents the great banyan and bends at the local school where Qui used to sit cross-legged for lessons, for all the 10 years he’d been schooled.
On the way, he has to raise his hand several times to greet nieghbours, friends, people who for long have populated his days.
He sits at the temple stairs, unable to get himself together. The routine unravels around him — garland sellers, young women, old ladies with plates of offerings.
He hears the temple bells, the priest’s chants, the cacophony of the kids accompanying their mothers like he used to do. Nothing’s changed, he loves this place because it is just the same.
Without going inside the sanctorum, he cycles back.
Qui finds Popette sitting under the guava tree in the courtyard. Qui takes a long time removing his shoes, folding the shawl he’d been carrying. Popette watches the frail old man: is he offering clues to his mind?
When Qui inches up to Popette, he is already fearing the worst.
“Noye! I stay.”
Popette could raise a storm, howl and shout.
Instead, he walks resigned, out the door, from where several street dogs are trooping in. They’re ready for lunch with Qui as usual.