On the Spot

I dread sitting under trees, but today I'll do it for my wife. She says sitting hand in hand with me under that tree is romantic. I like to start my day with a walk at Lal Bagh. The botanical gardens are lovelier when she joins me, sharing the crisp air and the cuckoos' song. But that huge, dark tree with those crows cawing in the branches isn't romantic at all.

I'm tired now. Ah! This bench is fine. I can sit and admire the greenish-white flowers sprouting straight from the candle tree's trunk. The signboard says it grows in Panama.

My wife walks ahead, her hips swaying gracefully. I sit, wheezing. Friends tell me it's the pollen and 'Bangalore weather'. My wife strolls up to the bandstand, where a lady is singing a classical raga. The singer's companions pump the harmonium and drum upon tablas. Speakers placed at strategic points spread the languid melody.

My stomach rumbles with the tablas. I want to be at MTR restaurant now, eating steaming idlis with dollops of coconut chutney. The clatter of cutlery, waiters calling out orders, that's the music I want to hear. After leaving Lal Bagh we'll walk down and breakfast there. I stretch and yawn waiting for the droning song to end. Today's our fortieth wedding anniversary. I can take a little trouble for my wife's sake.

She comes to me holding a frangipani blossom. I turn its waxy white petals with streaks of yellow and pink. I place it in her gray braided hair, inhaling its sweet scent. Her dark eyes twinkle.

I place a hand on her shoulder and rise from my bench. Her green glass bangles tinkle and gleam in the sunshine. We amble past the rose garden in full bloom. The lily pond and the lake come next. We watch the white herons in the water and on the little green islands. By the banks, magenta and orange bougainvillea flowers sway in the breeze. Our eyes meet in silence. There's no need to clutter this tranquil moment with words.

We follow the path to a tree petrified to stone with passing eons. I turn over my gnarled hands. My knobby joints are also stiffening into stones. Foreboding chills me. I don't want to go further, but I must.

I'm short of breath again. We choose a bench and watch the sunshine play upon yellow marigolds and pink and white periwinkles by the pathway. We're at one end of the botanical garden now. Enormous cotton trees from Java stand guard by the boundary walls. The base of each tree, with those heavy, woody roots rising from the soil, take more space than a typical city apartment. Those black trees frighten me.

"Remember how our Meenu and Raj played hide and seek among those huge roots?" my wife asks.

Yes, I remember. Vicky played with them. Years later, his helmet couldn't save our teenager.

I squeeze her hand and point at a flock of parrots flying in an emerald flash. I don't want her to see my moistening eyes.

She strokes my hand and sighs. We don't say Vicky's name, but we remember.

The soil around those massive cotton trees is dark and bare. Smaller shrubs don't dare to grow near them. My stomach tightens. We're nearing that spot.

I don't want to sit on that bench under that tree. Not this morning, to reenact that awful scene.

"Look, dear," says my wife in her still young voice. "There's our bench. So many crows up in the branches."

I drag myself to the bench, fixing a smile on my face. The concrete seat is cold, forbidding. My chest heaves. Holding hands, we wait a few minutes like we do every year. I don't want The Moment replayed, but it can happen, has happened several times. The leaves above me rustle, and the shadows move with malicious intent. The crows caw. I shudder. What if she'd walked out of my life that day?

Plop! Thick, warm droppings drip down my forehead. My wife giggles, takes out a paper napkin, and wipes the muck off with a caress. Then she looks around and seeing the coast clear, plants a kiss on my cheek.

"When you proposed under this tree," she whispers, "and the crows ruined your poetic speech, you took the disaster in your stride and made me laugh. That's when I knew you're the man for me." She draws me closer into the shadows and gives a kiss, full on my lips this time. My pacemaker-driven heart beats faster, but not with apprehension.

About the author:

Monideepa Sahu lives and works in Bangalore, India. When she isn't writing, she enjoys painting, making new friends, and reading.