Kannan embraced the new morning with fresh vigour. He had more than one reason to do so. Firstly there was the relief of unburdening himself to an extent of the Pisharadi issue, having gained his forgiveness. Also morning felt different today; there was a familiar warmth that he had been missing so much. Kannan had woken up to see his mother lying next to him. He had missed her so much that he had sat gazing at her for a long while- his beautiful mother, still bearing that mysteriously new shade of beauty that made her look distant, different.. Nevertheless she was there and everything was going to be the same again. Finally when his mother had woken up she had given him her most lovely smiles and a cuddling hug as she uttered the magic words that made every child happy,
“Good morning dear, go get ready soon. I am taking you and Chinnan to the circus today.”
Kannan could not believe his ears and most of all he was happy that his mother had become her old self again. All the knots had become to untie themselves one after the other, thought Kannan.
After a long bath and a delicious breakfast prepared by his mother he got into his best set of dress and shoes and waited in the veranda for his mother, making sure he marched up and down to catch the attention of O.G, who had been busy reading the newspaper. And having succeeded in getting O.G to glance upwards from the paper on his lap, Kannan informed him excitedly,
“Amma is taking me and Chinnan to the circus appoopa. She said she will buy us lots of toys and cotton candy too.”
Watching the boy’s childish joy O.G said “Great and have fun too. I guess I will be gone by the time you come back from town.”
“Oh! You are leaving so quickly” asked Kannan a bit disappointed.
“I’ll be back next week and I promise to bring you boys a gift” assured O.G.
“And some good haunted stories” added Kannan.
“And that too” promised O.G with a laugh.
All set to go, Saraswathi came out of her room, floating in a beautiful floral sari (Raman’s gifts from abroad. which she rarely wore earlier as she had considered them too glamorous) and with her face done with make up, and her hands and neck adorned with jewels that would have made even a Ravi Varma painting look bland next to her. Kannan stared with such immense pride and astonishment at his mother’s grace that she almost giggled as she said,
“Oh! What are you staring at? Let’s go or else we will miss the next bus to town.”
Kannan bade farewell to O.G and followed his mother to the kadavu. In the boat Kannan felt himself redden with discomfort as he caught many a wavering eye trying to steal a glance at his mother and he somehow felt she was enjoying all the attention. At the opposite bank a man almost tripped into the water as he tried to get into the boat without taking his eyes off Saraswathi.
Even Lakshmi could not fathom the sudden change in her sister’s external appearance. She had never known her sister to be interested in so much exhibitionism. She had also been seeing a lot of her sister lately, Saraswathi dutifully dropping in every time she went to the temple, that being the every other day.
The sisters exchanged a few pleasantries while Chinnan got ready in his room. Meanwhile it had been agreed that Chinnan would be allowed to stay at Ullas Villa till the vacation was over.
The three of them reached the bus stop just in time to catch the bus to town. The bus was crowded and Kannan watched as a young man chivalrously got up and offered his mother his own seat. The man then stared at her without any qualms of losing self respect while his mother sat as if oblivious to his attentions. Kannan and Chinnan held onto each other tightly as the bus moved roughly over the untarred roads, the crowd getting bigger at each stop that the cousins felt they would become pulp by the time they reached the town. It was no wonder the boys felt liberated though a bit weary by the time they reached the circus. All weariness was however washed away with a glass of sugarcane juice each and in the pounding excitement on seeing the circus tents and anticipating the fun ahead. They took excited steps forward as they searched for clowns, familiar faces, and ice-cream vendors in the madding crowd.
In the first tent, the clowns had made them laugh, the acrobats had enchanted them, the tigers had made them gasp in thrill. Once outside they had their stomachs full of ice creams, popcorns and cotton candy. Next they went to watch the well of death where an expert motorcyclist went in continuous circles, ellipses and loops at accelerated speeds along the slanting walls of a deep well. Chinnan who was already feeling a little sick from all the candy stared for a few minutes at the looping motor bike and turned around and threw up. Feeling a little relieved they decided to go and watch another show. Seeing a sign outside a tent that read “Magic Show” the boys ran ahead and tried to take a sneak peak. But the ticket collector caught them just in time.
“You cannot watch without tickets, boys” he said.
“My mother is coming. She will buy the tickets.” Kannan replied.
“Well, let her get them and you boys can enter” said the collector.
Saraswathi had not however followed them as she had been detained by some acquaintances.
“Wait here” Kannan told Chinnan, “I’ll get amma and come back soon.”
Kannan ran back to where his mother stood presently, talking to Chandradevi, one of the thampurattis from Nellur Kovilakam, a distant relative and one of his mother’s new found friends along with another of the same breed known as Ratnam. They were having a conversation about the magic show.
”That Chandrahasan is good. You must definitely watch his magic show” said Chandradevi.
“Oh! I find these magic shows very boring. Besides I should be getting back or else I’ll be late for the evening pooja” replied Saraswathi.
Kannan felt deeply disappointed for he was looking forward to watch the magic show and also he remembered O.G speaking about the magician.
He looked dejectedly back at Chinnan, who was now nowhere near the tent but busy going through collectibles at a small stall.
“Well I and Ratnam are going to watch his show for the second time. I don’t think anyone should really miss it. Besides you can still watch it and catch the evening pooja for the show is only half an hour and after this session another magician’s show begins and from what I hear he is not half as good as Chandrahasan” saying which Chandradevi took leave and trotted towards the magic show with Ratnam, the sound of their glittering silk saris rubbing against their obese bodies, making Kannan fasten his hands tightly onto his ears; it made him always want to clench his teeth in irritation.
Saraswathi made a wry face as if she had a bad taste in her mouth as she watched her friends rush like teenagers to watch the show and she muttered something under her breath. She wondered silently if it was the show or Chandrahasan that excited them more.
Turning to Kannan she said, “It’s time to go now or else we will be very late when we get home.”
“But I want to watch the magic show, mother” protested Kannan.
"As I said, we don’t have the time. Besides I have to be home, take a bath and go to the temple before it gets very late. Now get Chinnan from that toy stall and let’s leave immediately” said Saraswathi.
“But mother…..” Kannan began to protest again but it fell on deaf ears as Saraswathi had already begun to make her way towards the exit.
He stood there wondering why his mother seemed so distant suddenly. His thoughts were interrupted by Chinnan who came running towards him with a goody bag that obviously contained some souvenir he had purchased from the stall.
“Kanna, I got Pisharadi master and Sheela some gifts. We can give it to them when we go to meet them tomorrow. See, a wooden doll that shakes its head whenever we touch it for Sheela and for Pisharadi master a picture of Goddess Bhagvathy.”
Kannan found the wooden doll very cute and could not help feeling guilty for having been selfish to forget them. There was also a tinge of envy towards his cousin who had been generous enough to get them gifts. Chinnan who could readily read his cousin’s feelings said,
“Kanna we will give this from both of us. You can pay me your share later, if you want.”
Kannan felt relieved and ashamed at the same time. He realized Chinnan though younger to him had far more maturity and heart than himself. He found himself lucky to have found such a faithful companion, probably his best friend ever.
“Boys” called out Saraswathi, who was by now at the end of her wits having lost her patience waiting for them. The boys were quick to pick up the tone in her voice and rushed towards the exit.
They caught the next bus home and luckily for them it was far less crowded than the earlier one. It was almost dusk when they reached Nellur. They first went to Chinnan’s place to get his things. Finding the house locked from outside Chinnan took the key from under the flower pot and opened it. Inside he found his trunk packed and kept on the table with a note on top of it which read,
“Going to Chandoth kadavu. Don’t forget to take the achar bottle on the table. Be a good boy and come to see me everyday. Amma”
After locking the door and replacing the key, they made their way to the river bank, where now a small crowd had begun to build up. They seemed to be in some serious discussion. Kannan would have stayed and enquired had it not been for his mother, who was nudging the boys to get into Ayappan’s boat.
The crowd seemed to be waiting for a boat towards Chandothkadavu.
“What’s the matter Ayappa” asked Saraswathi.
“Oh! So you haven’t heard. It is Pisharadi master. He passed away late in the afternoon today. It seems there was a sudden improvement since yesterday evening and he even said a few words to the girl. The little girl was very happy. Then earlier today he said something about wanting to be buried at his family house across the river. It’s like he knew.”
And as Ayappan was finishing these words a boat left from Chandothkadavu towards Ipparakadavu carrying Pisharadi master’s body. Kannan stared in disbelief and pain at the lifeless body and the small girl in the corner, cuddled up into a ball, sobbing perhaps….
Chinnan was staring deep into the river as tears trickled down his face. His eyes were searching perhaps for an answer to this unbearable pain or perhaps for the goody bag with the gifts, which he had dropped in a sudden moment of shock.
The river was silent, painfully silent but somewhere one could hear a stifled sob, somewhere the bell had stopped ringing, somewhere the wooden doll with the dancing head lay unable to compete with the strong underwater currents of the river and somewhere two souls crumbled as they watched on in silence - painful silence.