The clear blue sky was the perfect canvas for the early morning painting. Soft white clouds lazed across this vast ocean in the heavens, their journey gently heeded by the whispers of wind, while a pair of shining brown eyes watched them. Laxmi gazed at those gentle giants, hoping to catch a glimpse of a cat or a cow or even a familiar face. Her grandfather had taught her to look closely at the clouds and search for hidden treasures, and so that morning she was on her back lying on the wicker cot and squinting her eyes, peering intensely at each passing wisp of cloud. Laxmi had always been fascinated with them. Ever since her grandfather had shown her the giant white pig and the pale small mouse, her thirteen year old self had become enchanted with those floating pictures in the sky.
I will catch them one day she used to think, stretching her arms above her and tracing their shapes. Will they be cold to touch or will they melt in my hands? she used to wonder.
“Laxmi! Bring the water inside and help me find my razor. I don’t know where it has disappeared again!” shouted her father. It was that time of the month when her father would travel to the city to buy the seed bags, fertilizers and other prized goods necessary for their farm.
Laxmi got to her feet, picked up the bucket of water and ran inside to help him find the razor. Her father liked to look sharp and dapper when he arrived at the city and haggled amongst other farmers. Appearances mattered to him and he wanted to make sure that he was always seen as a neat and clean man, despite the nature of his job. He had reluctantly taken over his father’s farm when the old man lost his lost his legs in a tractor accident six years ago. Laxmi still remembered the night her father had made the decision. It had been a dark evening with the storm clouds looming over their thatched roof and the look on her father’s face had been darker still. He had not wanted to give up his job in the city as a watch-maker’s apprentice, yet the situation dictated otherwise. She remembered him sitting dejected beside her sleeping grandfather’s head, staring at his hands and wondering if the hard manual labour would destroy the dextrous fingers he so carefully acquired.
“Stop dreaming and search for the razor,” scolded her father. “I want to have a quick shave before I catch the bus, so you better get on with it.”
She found the razor hidden behind the betel leaf box in the cupboard and handed it to him with a flourish. “Good girl,” he patted her on her head. “Now go outside and collect the eggs before your Aunt arrives, or else we will have no dinner tonight!”
Laxmi’s Aunt, her father’s sister, used to visit them every morning to help clean the house and bathe her invalid father. Ever since Laxmi’s mother succumbed to cancer three years ago, her widowed Aunt used to visit their house almost every day. As time passed, her pity turned sour. Now she used to visit them grudgingly, knowing that she had to show her face to her father if she ever wanted a part of his property. She had no child herself, but that did not endear Laxmi to her. All she cared about any longer was herself and so she never hesitated from taking the occasional egg or sack of rice, knowing that her brother would turn a blind eye to her petty thefts.
After his quick shave and a hasty breakfast of roti and dal, Laxmi’s father left for the city, with his colorful cloth bag bulging with new bank notes and lists of supplies. Laxmi’s grandfather had been asleep the whole time and as soon as his son left, he opened his eyes and asked Laxmi, “Has he gone?”
Laxmi nodded her head. With a sigh he pulled himself up and started rubbing his stumps. The pain was always worse in the morning and he did not want his son to see him in this state before he left for work. It saddened him deeply that his only son had to give up his aspirations of working in the city. Every day, he would stare at his crude stumps and curse the Gods for having robbed him of his legs and his son of his dreams. He had hoped for a better life for his son and daughter, but fate, as they say, was against him. So all he could do now was rub his thighs, as if the mere act would rid him of the pain in his limbs and his heart.
“Baba, will you have your roti now or after Chachi arrives? It’s yesterday night’s but I heated the dal and it’s hot hot! ” Laxmi asked the old man, trying to cheer him up with the prospects of hot food in the morning. She was the only one who witnessed her grandfather’s small ritual every morning and it pained her to see those ugly scars where his legs had once been.
“No, I will have it later. Let me massage my legs for a while until your Chachi arrives. The pain is particularly horrible today” he grimaced. “Now go and collect the eggs like your father told you to.”
Laxmi saw the anguish on his face and ran outside, trying to hide her tears.
She paused at the threshold and looked back at the forlorn figure on the only bed in the house.
“Don’t forget to look up!” he said, a small smile flitting across his wizened face. Seeing the little girl’s face light up he went back to his incessant massaging, content in the knowledge that she would at least be happy and start her day with a smile.
( The rest of the story will follow in my next blog post as soon as possible)