Geetha got out of the car and walked slowly behind Siva Rao. As she appeared at the doorway, Kanakamma, Siva Rao’s wife, came to her, with an inviting smile. She put her arm around Geetha’s shoulders and walked her into the house. Her gesture made Geetha happy.
Siva Rao watched them walk into the house, arm in arm. He was pleased and felt that he had made a right decision.
Kanakamma walked Geetha to the sofa, and said, “Sit down. I will bring coffee,” and went into the kitchen.
Siva Rao sat next to Geetha, and stroking her hair gently, said, “Don’t you worry. Attayya is just like your mother. Don’t hesitate to ask for whatever you want or need. Nothing to worry. You can go home for holidays. I will take you myself.”
Geetha nodded yes.
Kanakamma gave the coffee cups to them and inquired about each one of her family. Geetha replied that all of them were doing well. And then Kanakamma asked if Geetha would take a bath.
Geetha shook her head side to side no. Something was holding her back from moving from her seat.
“Take a bath. You will feel relaxed,” Siva Rao said.
Geetha got up, and went in, took a saree and blouse, came back, and looked at Kanakamma. She said, “come on,” and led her the bathroom.
She came back. Siva Rao told Kanakamma the reason for bringing Geetha to their home.
“That is a hasty decision,” she said.
“What do you mean by hasty? I am sure I have thought it through. She is a smart girl. Paramesam is in no position to send her to college. We always wanted to have a girl. Would it not be wonderful to see a girl walking around in our home?” Siva Rao put forth all his arguments.
In matters like these, men are short-sighted; they do not think clearly. They may lecture at meetings or write long articles, but do not show any understanding of having a girl at home. Only women have a good understanding of such situations.
“She is still young, yet to grow up. She should be under the care of her mother. We do wish her well, no doubt. As they say, think of the bad and the good. See, they mentioned the bad first,” Kanakamma said, with the shrewdness of a worldly wise woman.
Siva Rao stared into his wife’s face straight. “How could anything bad happen while you are there for her, like a mother?”
“That’s what I am fretting about. You do as you please, make promises, and then pass them on to me, without a care in the world. We have grown boys here. We wish and hope things go smoothly. Did you ever think that one of our boys could act up in a crazy moment?”
Siva Rao took a second to respond. “Alright, let’s say our boy shows some interest in her. We can arrange their marriage, can’t we? You know Paramesam cannot get any better match for her.”
Kanakamma, short of beating her head, said, “That is what I am worried about. You are only thinking from your side. I know I am his mother, so, I should not be saying this. But think about it. Can you honestly say that our boy deserves her?”
Siva Rao was stunned. For the first time, he got it; she was talking about their son’s behavior. Their son was not exactly a model boy, and was frequently getting into trouble at school, and in the neighborhood as well. Kanakamma and Siva Rao tried their best to teach him some manners, but to no avail. Kanakamma was aware of that. Siva Rao understood it, only after she had pointed it out.
Siva Rao accompanied Geetha to admit her into the college. He paid the late fee and completed the admission process. The following day, Geetha set out to go to attend the class. Siva the fear on her face, and decided to go with her. He got into the car, and on the way to the college, he stopped in front of a house and called out, “AmmayiAmmayi: Girl. Satyam!”
A young woman pushed aside the old saree, used as a curtain, and stepped outside. Geetha looked at her. The girl was of average height, fair complexion, and not stunningly beautiful; but, any passerby may turn around to take a second look at her because of her sharp eyes.
“Mamayya garu!” she said, acknowledging him.
“Aren’t you going to college?”
“I am, Mamayya garu! I am just about to leave,” Satyam replied.
“Me too. Come, get into the car. I will drop you there. This is Geetha. Consider her as our girl. She is new here, you know. I was hoping you will show her around.”
“I will, Mamayya garu. I will do so. Wait for a second. I will get my books,” she said, and went in.
Papamma, Satyam’s mother, came in, wiping her hands on her sari end, and greeted Siva Rao, “How are you BabuBabu: Sir, a polite address to male adults. garu?”
He said he and his family were doing well, and inquired about her well-being, and told her to ask him if they needed anything.
Satyam returned with books and got into the car. The car left, heading toward college.
Geetha got used to Siva’s home, Kanakamma atta, their sons and the college environment. Satyam became her best friend. Most of the time, Geetha did not see the boys; it was like they all were dodging her on purpose. The only exception was Syam, their second son. Lately, he was talking to Geetha, for some reason or other.
One day, Syam came into the room while Geetha was studying. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing. I have to write an essay for my Telugu class, it is due tomorrow. Studying for the essay,” she said, put a piece of paper for a bookmark, and closed it.
“I heard nominations were called for student president in your college.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, they did, I know. Probably, Rani Rao will contest again. She knows nothing. she is stupid. You must support Govindamma.”
“Because Govindamma belongs to our caste. Besides Rani Rao nincompoop, knows nothing. Muslims and Christians support her, and they comprise not even 30% of the students. Mary is running for secretary position. That’s why you need to support Govindamma.”
Geetha’s jaw fell. She looked at him with amazement.
“Govindamma is one of ours. Rani Rao is arrogant. Actually, she has no support at all. You may think Muslims and Christians support her, but they are only 30%. Mary is her running mate. Mary is an amazing person. That’s why you must support Govindamma.”
Geetha was dumbfounded. He was tiptoeing around her like a shadow, barely visible; and yet, he was so knowledgeable in local politics? And how was it possible that he knew so much about the elections in her college?
“But Mary is Christian, is it not?”
“In fact, she belongs to our caste. Three generations back, her ancestors converted to Christianity but they are really one of us. She is devoted to our Gods and religion. She goes to Hanuman temple every Saturday.”
Syam also went to Hanuman temple on Saturdays, regularly. Now she understood his devotion to Lord Hanuman. She was amused.
“What are you two talking about?” Kanakam came into the room.
“Nothing,” Syam said, and left quickly.
“He is a chatterbox. You stay focused on your studies. Let me know if he bothers you. I will talk to him,” Kanakam said and left.
Syam reappeared as soon as Kanakam left.
Geetha cringed; Kanakam’s words were still fresh in her mind.
“Look, I don’t know why my mother is annoyed about me talking with you. I would like to talk with you only because I have no sisters. You are like a sister I never had. That is all I am saying,” he said, sounding brotherly.
That made sense, Geetha thought. “It’s okay, I understand. I have to study, though,” she said.
Kanakam called for Syam from the adjoining room.
Syam quickly shoved a small note in Geetha’s hand, saying, “this… this,” and left in a hurry.
Geetha shivered. The paper in her fist soaked wet with sweat.
“Still studying,” Kanakam came. It was her habit. Every night, Geetha would fall asleep leaning on the book she was reading, and Kanakam would come in, wake her up, help her to her bed, and then, she puts away the books, and turns off the light.
“I could not sleep,” Geetha said.
“Just lie down, close your eyes. You will fall asleep soon,” Kanakam said, taking away the book from her.
Geetha went to bed and lay down, pulling the sheet over. The scrap of paper was getting scrunched in her fist. The stories she had read and the movies she had seen were fluttering around in her head. She waited until after everybody was asleep, and then went into the bathroom. She opened the fist slowly, straightened the scrunched note, with her heart beating twice as fast. It read, “Tell Mary to come to Hanuman Temple tomorrow. Urgent.”
It was not signed, but it was obvious who wrote it and what it meant. Disappointment rose at her heart, just for a split second. It took two minutes for her to realize what she had expected and what had happened. It took her all night to figure out what she should do under the circumstances.
Next morning, she prayed to all the thousand Gods and hoped she did not see Syam again. The Gods must have heard her prayers; Syam was nowhere to be found. He told his mother that he had an early session and left very early in the morning.
At college, Geetha racked her brains all morning, and finally asked Satyam who Mary was.
“Why?” Satyam asked.
“Nothing. I just thought it would be nice to know. She is running for the Secretary position, so, I should know a little about her?”
“Did Syam say so?”
“How do you know?”
“Ha ha! You are living in the age of Lord Rama. You think people can keep such things secret. The entire city knows about Syamasundarudu, maiden Mariamma,Satyam was sarcastic. She compared Syam and Mary to Syamasundarudu (Lord Krishna) and Mariamma(Virgin Mary in the Bible). and their circumambulations around Hanuman temple.”
Geetha was stunned. She thought she had an inscrutable secret in her palm; and, Satyam dismissed it with a snarl.
“There,” Satyam pointed toward a skinny girl at a distance. As Geetha stepped toward that girl, Satyam gripped her arm, and said, “Look Geetha, you are smart enough to study well and get great marks. Don’t get me wrong, but you need to have a different kind of brains to deliver these messages. Why do you want to get into this muck?”
Geetha stopped for a second and then went to Mary. She handed the note to her and said, “Syam asked me to give it to you.”
Mary grabbed the note without looking at Geetha and left quickly. Geetha remembered Satyam’s advice; probably she knew a lot about Mary, Geetha thought.
At home, Syam was nowhere to be found. His younger brother, Jagadeesh, said Syam went to the movies. Suddenly she felt like she was all alone, wanted to talk to somebody.
“Can I go to Satyam?” she asked Kanakam.
“It is getting dark. Not safe to go out now.”
“Can I go to Hanuman temple? It is only one street away.”
“That is a good idea. Let’s go. I will go with you.”
They both went to the temple. At the temple, Geetha kept looking around as if she was looking for somebody. Kanakam noticed it and thought that she might be homesick.
(June 10, 2022)