Kannan got into an empty compartment and seated himself next to the window. The train had begun to slowly pull out of the station and Kannan watched it slowly disappear behind him. He looked out to see what he had missed for the past ten years. The once green and lush fields were now barren and most of them even replaced by houses. Children were waving at the passing train, hoping that someone would reciprocate. For a moment there Kannan contemplated waving back but then a painful memory shot through him, he shuddered and looked away.
He took off his slippers and stretched his long thin legs to rest them on the opposite seat. Opening his knapsack, he pulled out a small bottle of rum and took a sip from it. It gave him a sense of relief from the weariness that had taken over. Something colourful shining from beneath the seat caught his attention and he leaned forward to look at it. It was a chocolate wrapper with crumbs of chocolate still left in it, probably left behind by some child. He could see that it was a foreign chocolate, just like the ones his father, Raman, used to send from abroad. During his childhood, Kannan remembered seeing his father very less. His existence was symbolized by the sweet smelling erasers and chocolates his father had send. Little Kannan would have recurring dreams of his father arriving in an aeroplane in front of his house, carrying a suitcase that was covered with red and black stripes, and filled with sweet smelling erasers and chocolates. Sadly the dream never came true anytime then and when his father did come, a lot of things had changed.
The sudden change in the momentum of the train made Kannan stare out of the window again. Kannan could see that the train was about to pass over the Dhatri Bridge. An article about it had very recently appeared in a small magazine in the most inconspicuous manner. The bridge had been predicted to collapse any day, and the railway authorities or the government, by a nature so common to them, were turning a blind eye to the matter, leaving the engine driver with the temporary solution to slow down the pace of the train as it moved over it, thereby delaying the disaster that was waiting to happen any day now.
But this was not what interested Kannan now as he looked out at the river. There was a small house upon the river that resembled so much like his own. Looking at the Dhatri, which was no more a river due to the drought, Kannan wondered whether the small river in front of his home had been a victim too. It was called the Mayillatam meaning peacock dance, for just like the peacock that dances spreading its feathers when it rains, its waves spread and moved with a beautiful grace, the wind being its music, the rain its rhythm. The mere thought of it becoming barren saddened him, the first and only emotion he had felt in years. For Kannan the river was not merely a gift of nature but a confidante with whom he had shared some of his happiest moments.
Nellur comprised of two islets, Ipparakadavu and Chandothkadavu linked to the main land, Apparakadavu, by the river. The road towards the Nellur town as well as the railway station was on Apparakadavu while the side on which Kannan lived was Ipparakadavu. In his childhood days, Kannan too had to cross it everyday by the boat to go to school and also to meet his cousin, Chinnan who stayed across the river.
The only time he went to town was to watch the Russian circus. Though it was fun he preferred his calm village to the noisy town. He could think of nothing more beautiful than the journey across the Mayillatam. At times when the rush of the travellers would die down Kannan would request Ayappan chettan, the oarsman, to gently row the boat so that he could feel the gentle breeze of the river against his cheeks. Kannan would then dip his hand in the water and gently move it back and forth. The water had a rich coolness, the mere thought of which gave Kannan goose bumps. By the time Kannan would reach his house his palms would have been wrinkled by playing in the water. Afraid of being reprimanded by Shankaran Nair for playing in the water, he would rub his palms together to make the wrinkles disappear. But he would be caught red handed each time by his mother, who would reprimand him all the same yet never betray him to his grandfather.
“But next time I’ll tell your appoopan, Kanna,” she had say each time with a hidden smile that Kannan so much loved.
There was always a next time and always the same harmless threat, for Kannan knew that Saraswathi, his mother, loved him like no one ever could. She could not betray him even for the slightest of his follies.
“She could not, she would not, but then why did she???” Kannan saw himself talking out loud all of a sudden.
No, he did not want to do this, this reminiscing; no, it was like tearing open a wound that had just begun to heal but Kannan saw himself helplessly falling into the yesterdays he once lived, once loved and regretted.