On The Spot
By Monideepa Sahu
'On the Spot' was first published in Pindeldyboz in September 2004.
I dread sitting under trees, but today I’ll do it for my wife. She and I are regular morning walkers at Lal Bagh. She says sitting hand in hand under a tree with me is romantic.
I love to start my day at Lal Bagh but don’t find sitting under THAT tree romantic at all. I’ll tell you why, but that comes later. I’m tired now. Ah! That bench is fine. I can sit and admire the candle tree from there. The candle tree is from Panama. It has little greenish white flowers growing straight from its trunk.
My wife strolls nearby while I sit, wheezing. They tell me it’s the pollen and ‘Bangalore weather’. She ambles up to the bandstand where a lady is singing a classical raga. Her companions pump the harmonium and drum upon the tablas. The melody permeates the gardens thanks to unobtrusive speakers placed at strategic points.
My stomach rumbles tum-tum-ta-da-tump with the tablas. I want to be in MTR now, savouring their fluffy, white idlis with dollops of ghee. The clatter of cutlery, waiters calling out orders, that’s the music I want to hear. After leaving Lal Bagh, we will walk down a furlong and breakfast there. But now, my wife wants to enjoy the music a while longer. I indulge her for today is our fortieth wedding anniversary.
She comes to me holding a frangipani blossom. I turn its waxy white petals with my fingers, watching the twists of yellow and pink. I place it her gray braided hair, inhaling its sweet scent. She sits beside me and we watch a young couple playing with their children among the trees.
I lean on my wife’s shoulder and rise up; her green glass bangles tinkle and flash in the sunshine. We amble past the rose garden with the yellow, orange, pink, and red blooms. We pass the lily pond and stroll towards the lake. We rest here, watching the white herons in the water and on the little green islands. The bougainvillea shrubs around its banks sway in the breeze, waving their magenta and orange flowers.
We rise and walk along the lake, then follow a path to the ancient petrified tree trunk. It’s turned to stone with the passing eons. I turn over my gnarled hands; my knobby joints are also hardening into stony stiffness. 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 the yellow marigolds by the pathway. White and pink periwinkles line the path further ahead. We are 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 out from the soil, take more space than a typical city apartment. “Remember how our Meenu and Raj played hide and seek among those thick black roots?” My wife asks. Yes, I remember. Those black trees frighten me. The soil around them is dark and bare. Smaller shrubs do not dare to grow near them. Terror knots in my stomach; cold sweat runs down my neck. We are nearing that terrible tree.
The last ritual in our anniversary morning remains. I flinch. I don’t want to find that bench under that shady tree. Not this morning, to reenact that dreadful event.
“Look dear,” says my wife in her still young voice. “This is our bench. So many crows up in the branches.” I drag myself to the bench, I want to please her but my head screams no, not that again!
I ease my solidifying joints into the cold concrete bench. My chest heaves; my heart pushes against my rib cage. I close my eyes and wait for The Moment. The leaves above me rustle and the shadows move with ominous intent. The crows caw: I shudder.
Plop! The thick, warm droppings run down my forehead. My wife laughs, takes out a paper napkin, and wipes the crow droppings 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 on hands and knees,” my wife whispered, “the crow droppings splattered over your head. I knew that the man who could take such a disaster in his stride and make me laugh, was the man for me.” She drew me closer into the shadows and planted a kiss, full on my lips this time. My pacemaker driven heart beat faster, but not with apprehension.
Monideepa Sahu lives in Bangalore, India. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading, painting, and making new friends. Contact Monideepa.