It was seven in the evening, when the train had finally reached Nellur town. Kannan got onto the first bus towards apparakadavu. He had taken the corner seat in the extreme back to be inconspicuous and avoid any stares of recognition. But being inconspicuous was out of the question as the bus was almost empty. The bus halted at every stop to pull in as many passengers as it could, due to which the journey that would have otherwise taken merely ten minutes was extended to a half an hour.
He paused a while before setting his feet down on the soil of apparakadavu, it had been ten long years but Nellur still felt familiar. It had really become dark and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to make his way to the kadavu without help. He noticed that a youngster was staring at him from the corner, wondering perhaps why a stranger was lingering about without moving in any particular direction. The youngster, whose curiosity having had the better of him, came across and asked, “Do you need some help?”
“Yes, I would like to go to the kadavu” replied Kannan.
“Come with me then. I am headed in the same direction” replied the youngster. Kannan thanked him and together they made their way to the kadavu, guided by the flash torch in the youngster’s possession.
“Going to Ipparakadavu or Chandoth kadavu?” asked the youngster.
“Ipparakadavu” replied Kannan.
“Really, I belong to Ipparakadavu. Are you from here?” asked the youngster.
“No, I am coming from Bombay, just here to deliver a package at a friend’s place” replied Kannan. Meanwhile, Kannan prayed silently that he would not be asked further about the friend’s place, where he was to deliver the package.
“Well, if you need a place to stay for the night, there’s a small lodge I run on Ipparakadavu” said the youngster.
Kannan wondered why anyone would want to run a lodge at Ipparakadavu. There was some sense in having one on apparakadavu near the Bhagvathy temple.
“It’s actually our family house that has been converted into a lodge. So you can expect the best of architectural elegance and comfort that dates back to several eras” said the youngster.
“Why, do you have many tourists coming in here?” asked Kannan.
“Well, it has become a local tourist or you can say a spiritual attraction. A few years ago, an old woman belonging to a lower caste at Ipparakadavu got possessed by a holy spirit. She began to speak of people’s previous births and predict their future one fine day. Soon she was proclaimed as a God woman, an oracle - Advaitamayi. Since then people have been flowing into Ipparakadavu from all directions. Running a lodge therefore became a good business proposition. The god woman’s house is quite nearby” explained the youngster.
Kannan wondered who the God woman was. He had not heard of any Advaitamayi, she must be only popular locally, thought Kannan.
“It’s actually a good thing you know. Thanks to the large number of visitors each day, they are planning to build a bridge connecting Apparakadavu, Ipparakadavu and Chandoth kadavu” added the youngster.
They had now reached the kadavu and got into a boat that was already waiting for passengers.
Kannan was surprised to see that the oarsman was none other than Ayappan but he seemed younger and fitter than ever before. As the boat moved across the river, the youngster said,
“The river had almost dried up but the rains we got during the past one week have almost made it dangerous to even take bath in it. It has become very deep and the undercurrents are also very strong.”
“Chela, has the river been rough today?” the youngster asked the oarsman. Kannan now realized that it was in fact Chelappan, Ayappan’s son who was the oarsman. There was no wonder he got fooled for Chelappan was indeed the spitting image of his father. He was glad to see that the Moose’s cure had worked for Chelappan who looked healthy and stood on strong muscular legs. But he also felt sorry for Ayappan who had wanted a different future for his son.
“No, Chandraetta,” replied Chelappan, “she has not given me much trouble today” replied Chelappan to the youngster’s earlier question.
“How is the business at the lodge?” enquired Chelappan.
“It’s doing well but there have been some legal problems. It seems my late Pisharadi uncle had written a will leaving his share to the girl who looked after him. Her husband, a shameless drunkard, has come to learn of it and is now threatening us with a lawsuit.” said Chandran.
So this was late Pisharadi master’s nephew Chandran, whom they had to send to a boarding school when he was just nine for being a true problem child. He realized that the so called lodge was none other than the Pisharadi Mansion.
As they alighted on Ipparakadavu, Chandran asked Kannan “Do you know the way from here?”
“Yes, yes, my friend has given me adequate directions” replied Kannan.
“By the way if you want to come to my lodge, it’s just a few furlongs away. You can ask anyone to show you the Pisharadi mansion or even ask for Chandran, that’s my name.” said Chandran before he walked away.
Kannan now waited for each passenger to move away and as soon as he felt the coast was clear, he quickly walked up to Ullas Villa.
He could see from the gate, the evening lamp hanging in the veranda. He saw the faces of the past dancing upon the shadows cast by the light. There was Shankaran Nair smoking his beedi, O.G smiling at him from the veranda, Janakiamma lazing on the easy chair as she chewed on her paan, Chinnan sneaking from behind one pillar to the other, and her face….. shrouded with guilt and sorrow. She had aged yet looked beautiful as she stood by the main door, her glance for once meeting his. She was real unlike the other visions.
Saraswathi came forward becoming more visible to Kannan in the light emitted by the evening lamp. They stared at each other for what seemed like eternity, Kannan still standing at the footsteps of Ullas villa. She broke the silence by saying, “Was the journey very long?”
“Yes, yes it has been very long” replied Kannan.
The duality of the statement made her uncomfortable and she asked no further.
“Come inside” she said and turned back to go in.
Kannan followed her into the house. He felt mixed emotions as he stepped into Ullas Villa, nothing had changed; even the cloth on the easy chair was the same.
“Go freshen yourself” she said handing over a towel to Kannan. She then went into the kitchen leaving Kannan dumb founded, for Saraswathi was pretending to speak as if nothing had happened though the flatness in her tone was quite evident.
He was not sure how long his perseverance would last. He thought of Rupa to calm himself down. He took a quick bath and changed into a fresh set of clothes. He then went into the veranda and lay on the easy chair staring at the river. He wondered what it was that went through his grandmother’s mind as she lay there looking at the river. The river seemed wild for he could hear the force of the gushing waters from where he was seated.
The distinct feeling of being stared at made him turn his head away from the river. Saraswathi had been looking at him from the kitchen door afraid to interrupt his thoughts.
“I have prepared dinner, come and eat.” she said.
“I am not hungry” he replied.
“I have made your favourite, puttu and kadala.” she persisted weakly.
“No, I am not hungry” he replied stubbornly.
Kannan could see that his mother was making an effort to come out with something that was burdening her for years now but was finding it difficult not knowing how to go about it.
“I am getting married” said Kannan trying to build a conversation.
“Oh! What is her name” asked Saraswathi a bit surprised and relieved at the same time.
“Rupa, she is a Maharashtrian” replied Kannan.
“That’s wonderful news” said Saraswathi.
An uncomfortable silence followed once again. Saraswathi suddenly thought of something and said in faked excitement, “Do you remember our old Janu? She has become quite popular now; people call her the god woman- Advaitamayi?”
“So she’s the God woman? How did it all happen?” asked Kannan who was now really curious.
“Well, she just got drunk one day and blabbered some nonsense. It apparently came true and since then there has been no looking back for her.” replied Saraswathi.
“Imagine what your grandmother would have said if she were alive today?” added Saraswathi.
It was indeed a funny thought, and both mother and son laughed but only briefly. There was something very disturbing in the whole situation, it was too pretentious and made up.
Kannan now having lost all patience came straight to the point, “Why did you ask me to come?” he asked.
“I just wanted to see you, to know how you were doing, if you were happy?” replied Saraswathi nervously.
“And how do you think I am doing mother?” Kannan asked sarcastically.
Saru winced at the question especially with the way he had enunciated the word “mother”.
“There’s not a day that has passed when I’ve not wondered why you betrayed me, why you never came to see me, why you never wrote to me, not a single day mother. I was so disturbed I began to doubt my common sense.” said Kannan pouring out all the anger he had in his heart.
“I was helpless son, I did not know what to do” explained Saru.
“You could have at least told me the truth” said Kannan.
“I couldn’t, not then” replied Saru.
“Well, I want to know the truth now. I don’t think it could be any worse than what I have gone through the past ten years. Tell me the truth, set me free” he said in finality.
Saru controlled herself and said, “Yes, the time has come for you to know the truth. I owe it to you. Only then can I set myself free.”
Kannan waited patiently as Saraswathi gathered her guts to tell him the truth behind that fateful night. Over the years he had realized that there was nothing such as vampires but he had seen somebody attacking his mother that night and only she knew his identity.
And she was about to reveal it to him.