Forgetful Kamla

I had begun observing a quiet cheer in Kamla’s demeanour. Not that she was a sad person by nature but lately, she seemed a lot more affable. Her body language denoted something quite noticeably different, in a positive sort of way. Yesterday, she was actually humming some Tamil number I recognised. She was more efficient too. I wondered whether I should ask her if her husband had finally turned over a new leaf, or that her younger child had been admitted to the English school, she had aspired to, just down the road.

Then it happened. She revealed to me that she had found, quite by accident, in her older child’s school bag a queer looking contraption she referred to as Pen. It was not so much like a pen, as it was like a sophisticated cigarette-holder. Fashioned with a silvery-white metallic body, with pretty nails driven into its side, quite cleverly, so as not to hurt the person handling it, it appeared quite ordinary yet attractive. And it was heavier than it looked. Interesting, indeed. Since it seemed to have had some significant bearing on her conduct and supposedly her memory, I asked to keep it for a few days.
She said that whenever she moved it in front of the mirror, she felt very happy and lost all her anger towards God and her husband in particular. Their love life had improved drastically, she blushingly added in a hurry. She did not want to part with it, but I still asked to keep it for at least a day. She couldn’t refuse.

I studied the Thing after her departure. I had troubles of my own, and I tried waving it in my mirror. I didn’t sense any change. However, when Baba returned from work, I thought I might show it to him. He was in a sullen frame of mind, so I abstained. I decided to share a cup of coffee with him, and as soon as I sat down, the Thing poked at me from my pocket. I pulled it out and sat it on the table in front of us, knowing Baba was too lost in his thoughts. But he noticed it and began twiddling with it. As he held it under close inspection, I saw its reflection in his spectacles, and a smile spreading upon his face. He was suddenly talking nineteen-to-a-dozen, about our shared passion for music and theatre and asked me if I’d like to join him for a play during the weekend. His mood had distinctly changed. What magic! So this Thing did work. He’d forgotten his woes, just as Kamla was forgetting hers. This could be fun, or not. Depending on whose hands wielded this tool, I suppose. I went to bed deeply disturbed that night, thinking that I mustn’t forget to return this to Kamla, she needed the Thing more than I did. I tossed and turned, fighting the temptation to lie to her, saying I had lost it. My conscience won and it was returned with thanks to Kamla’s anxious hands.

Three days later, Kamla was howling when I found her just outside my front door. I held out my hand, while my heart beat furiously against my ribs. I did not betray any panic. What could have ensued between 9.30 and 11 am that had brought her back to my door? After all, she did have the Pen.
“Tell me what happened, Kamla?”
I hesitatingly ventured to ask her.

“Arrey Bibiji, I was walking down the staircase with the bundle of clothes you had so kindly given me, when Ramesh…” and she broke down again, letting the tears flow unabated. I was a little disconcerted, or perhaps more. Never having met her in this cheerless condition ever earlier, I was at a complete loss.
Then suddenly I held her close to me and her body odour instantly invaded my senses. I simply couldn’t allow myself to show her my disdain for her physique, which she was so proud of. The three-day old saree she wore was now rather colour-free, having been besieged with the dust of the roads and perhaps my own home.

“Ok, take a deep breath Kamla, sit down,” I made her sit on one of our dining table chairs, something I would never do under normal circumstances. She obediently did as told, while blowing her nose onto her saree border. That does it, she’s got to throw this saree away for sure. I fetched her a steel tumbler with water from the kitchen.

“Here, drink up,” I was less perturbed now since I had already played the scenario in my mind. Ramesh would have tried to touch her privates, and she would have stopped in her tracks. Then it struck me that the bundle of clothes was missing. So she would have gone home and returned in that case. Whatever for?

“Ok, speak now, tell me all. I will report Ramesh if he has brought any harm to you Kamla, fear not.”

“No Bibiji, not like that. Ramesh asked me for money. So I gave him the 100 rupees you had given me yesterday. As always, it was in my blouse. Of course, the Pen was also there.” She snuffled a bit, wiped her nose again with the saree, and continued, “I saw him peering down my blouse when I was taking the money out.” Stopping to blow her nose, she continued, “Naturally I was shocked, sooo shocked.” She went quiet again, blubbing away uninhibitedly, replaying the scene I suppose.

“Then…?” I prodded with concern.

“Then he took the money from my hand, but he kept holding my hand and looking at me, you know, staring hard. I was standing there. He was standing there. I was so scared somebody would see us like that, you know, like old lovers.”

Now I was surprised that her fear was not Ramesh’s zealous hand-holding action, but the fear that someone may have seen her. Was she drawn to Ramesh – that rogue? God alone knows what these people are up to. I was filled with dread. But I hung upon that moment to permit her to collect her thoughts.

“So then, I was waiting for him to leave my hand and very suddenly he let go. So sad Bibiji. I think he had spotted the Pen, because suddenly Bibiji, he looked at me as if he had seen a ghost.” Her voice trailed off… and she started weeping again, albeit less forcefully. She had obviously a thing for this Ramesh.

“Noooo Bibiji. It is not like that. He was not scared. He just seemed to… I mean, I don’t understand. He looked at me very blankly, and then suddenly he ran away.” Now she was blabbering to herself almost.

“What? Where to?”

“He ran towards the gate, then looked back. Then I think, he said something not so nice to the guards at the gate.”

“What makes you say that?” Now I was excited. This was an unexpected turn in the story.

“You see the guards came to me and said that Ramesh told them that I was a stranger in this building and that they should ask me to leave. Can you imagine my shock Bibiji? It’s that evil Pen.” She was shaking and blabbering. For one, I was convinced that she and Ramesh were obviously ‘together’ despite what she had told me about her husband. The Thing, she addressed as Pen, was definitely responsible, although it seemed to work differently on everyone. It was definitely erasing stuff in our heads that seemed to be consistent with its nature, but perhaps not so discriminatingly.

“But the guards know you only too well, you are a regular,” I stated. Then as an after-thought, I added, “Oh!
Now that is a bit strange. Where is your Pen now?”

“Here, with me, not my Pen, because I DON’T WANT it anymore!” she said, planting it in my hands determinedly. She was transfixed though and couldn’t help staring at it even as it moved from her hands to mine. All at once, her facial expression completely changed. It was exceedingly bizarre to watch. She was looking at me, with her tear-strained face one moment, and the next, there appeared a gleam in her eye, which I had possibly never noted earlier. From aggrieved to radiant was what it seemed to me. The Thing now all mine, I was trembling with its newfound glory and the myriad possibilities flying around in the air I was breathing.

Kamla, in the meantime, got up, and apologised profusely for sitting on our dining chair.

“It’s okay Kamla, relax, I do hope you’re feeling better now. We’ll get into the mystery of Ramesh later.”

“Sorry Bibiji, what mystery? Ramesh Babu?” she was blushing shyly.
A respectful Babu is added to the rogue’s name, no mystery there.

Yet though the Babu had seemingly forgotten her, she remembered our relationship, which remained intact. Did it have something karmic attached to it – karmic retribution?

Later that evening when Baba returned from work and stood at the window uttering profanities about his boss, I wielded the new toy in his face, and well, the old Baba I used to be so fond of made the expected comeback! We shared a drink after many months and laughed like
old times.

This was going to be fun… thank you Universe for a gift like none other, a tool among tools. There’s always hope for the wicked, I say. Thank you forgetful Kamla, thank you!

Kamalini Natesan

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