How He Wrote Us into Existence – A Fiction 21

I think we hear a dead echo of tapping on the door. The noise returns to the place it is originated and finds the one who tapped in our door.

Time, a stagnant stream, shows the objects that poisoned it. “Corpses”, I murmur in my thoughts. Last night news revealed the cremation of the known victims and the floating corpses of those waned unreported. Some villages, too remote and too befuddled, let the corpses float away in the great river.

No. Someone actually knocks on our main door. The batteries of the calling bell must have rotten in the absence of any visitors. We too have never paid any attention.

I open the door. A slightly dishevelled woman stands on the stairs. She startles at seeing me as if she remembers me but has not expected me to live in this house, and that makes me as uneasy as a person standing in a room without a clue about the object he needs from that room. Then we both remember. She used to cook for my late uncle.

I let her in and introduce her to Prisha and Elora who watches the cool from distance clutching to the curtains of shyness. Of course, we all wear masks, and in this masquerade eyes play vital roles.

Prisha tells her that she is my wife and that my uncle died leaving the onus of caretaking of this house on us until someone appropriate claims it. We know that someone is, and avoid mentioning the name or the fact that we shall seek some new and unknown accommodation soon. Plague secures the roof for us. People do not come. People do not claim. People stay where they are.

The cool drinks a glass of water. I ask her, “You left uncle’s job, I presume?”

“Yes. My mother,” she chokes on water, “she was sick.”

We tell her to place the glass on the tea table now used for the fresh purchase of vegetables before we wash those.

There she stands, and the impasse mocks the recent reshuffled class system. Economically we belong to the stratum above the cook, and I cannot ascertain even that status; the old caste system of the country establish her, judging from her name and surname, upstairs; her tousled look places her beneath us; the pestilence makes her a stranger we cannot trust, and now that she has told us about her mother’s sickness the hair of our nape rises, and we do not even wait to discern all the facts, she is someone we should keep a few meters away; to this household she is as much a ghost as my uncle, wandering into the level of the living baffled and wondering. Everything shall always be us versus them.

Elora raises her voice from her alcove, “Is your mother dead?” The old education reddens my and Prisha’s cheeks, albeit innocence has the power of candour, after all the same education system murmurs a few praises for the honesty, down-to-earth qualities, sober realism. We all stare at the cook.

Her tired answer echoes in the chamber of midmorning front room of the dwelling, “No.”

She elaborates on her ordeal; she must have been desiring to tell as many people as she can, and perhaps she returns to this household not seeking reinstatement or news about my uncle but because she wants to chronicle what has been happening to her since she left my uncle.

Her village situates on the thin line between near and far; the holy estuary sends bleary breeze yearlong; people use modern devices and believe in black magic; wild honey, wood and fish are the mainstays of their lives. City does not make it easy to adopt that life once you leave the village at the age of sixteen.

This was before the virus spread, before autumn came. She found her mother paralyzed and amnesic in the damp whitewashed hospital, the lone patient in that old world building as if ailment ceased to visit her village. The thought frightened the cook. She left her parents; worked at one oil mill and then married her co-worker; she was barely legal to marry anyone; she conceived two daughters; her parents accepted the new extensions to their family, and the cook left her younger daughter with her mother fearing the mill-colony would bring the same fate to her young one. The younger daughter had her own appointment with the same destiny; she fell in love with the lone inefficient mechanic of that village and eloped with him to the city.

“Why do we” the cook says suppressing a sigh, “learn only from drowning and waking up dead?”

The cook wanted anything but to act as an ameture nurse for her own mother; her excuses were logical – “I shall lose my job. Will you feed my family, father?”

She called my uncle and settled for a new lease of holidays; her mother could barely show and tell, and sometimes she recognised her lot. Two brothers were there, and so were their wives, but not unlike the cook they too had no desire to serve the aged woman.

Her mother had quite an infamy and a healthy veneration; she had been feeding the faith of the village; her sorcery streamed in from her mother and thrived upon her magic remedies whose secret lay in doses of steroids and homeopathy medicine. Still, cook feared her mother, and her husband despised the woman, and accused her for every misfortune that happened to him and his side of the family.

At first, she doubted her husband, and took it as a natural class-enemy reaction – you know – the in-laws’ relationship. A few years later she believed the accusation, and she dug into her own psyche and wander from mere wondering to firmly believing that her escape from her village was triggered by subconscious observations. The very reason for her desire to eschew her village might be her mother’s sorcery and the superstition regarding whatever she was practicing; it occurred to the cook that she was born and brought up in the environment of applied magic, and she was acclimatized by those rituals and the events; perhaps she accepted everything as routine, norms, natural, and then the incidences were natural because her mother excavated nature itself to find elements of charms. Did she feel a pang of nostalgia about the dark truths? If those were accepted by her as a child, she should miss those in her city life. She might feel at home midst an eternal quest to win over death and misfortune, enemy and neglection.

Yet she slept little during her stay that elongated its shadow over one day at a time.

Two nights after she arrived she woke up to her mother’s shrill screaming and found the paralyzed woman running in the yard. Her brothers restrained their mother, and they were torn between fright and excitement of their mother using her limbs once more. The cook kept holding her room’s threshold as if a maelstrom would dislodge her soon, and she must secure her anchor beforehand.

The doctor came in the morning. His voice was cold and grudging, “I think your mother is in a coma. If you can, take her to the nearest town hospital.”

The same day the local administration notified the brothers of the cook that the extension of the new highway shall endeavour their family shop, the grocery shop, one that also served oily breakfast and whose sole selling pitch was nearness to the main road. The brothers, maddened and lost, left the home front in care of their father and sister and reluctant wives. They must visit the office of the administration and a lawyer.

The standstill house took nourishment in startled silence. In the early afternoon her mother sat up on her bed like one jack-knife. She began to cough. The cook and her father held her mother, tried to force some water, some medicine and to press the small of her back. The coughing grew louder, and she was – the notorious woman and mother, desperate to suppress her bout, desolate in her manner of occupying a tiny stormy patch of the bed, and like an apparition part of hers under the shafts of ray seemed invisible or transparent. Her heart-breaking bend of spine tossed and twisted. Again before the brothers returned she fell back into the coma.

The night made the cook afraid. She dared not sleep, not that she nursed her mother. Darkness invaded the household like a vapour, and the summer climbed on top of its summit; clothes became a second skin, salty and wet, waiting to be evaporated as well. During the wee hours of the morning the cook became one with the sleep and only violent cry of the big brother’s wife and their son snatched her from her dreamless repose.

The brother gasped, flailed himself, burnt from fever, and even before the stupefied father called the doctor he died. The doctor arrived to scribble the death certificate –‘Brain stroke’, and he said that he could not be sure but since he knew the family and because the family did not desire for a post-mortem he wrote what he wrote.

That evening the mother emerged from the coma. She was frail, disoriented, but in her sense as if those juxtaposing states held her existence. The family felt not a singular emotion. Too much, they had gone through; the news came – government had declared lockdown because the major cities were engulfed by some mysterious and fatal virus. The cook could not be calmed down; her husband sounded angry and panicked over the phone; there was no way her could bolt from what seemed to her a cursed village.

People had been paying visit to the family to show sympathy; the news ebbed that flow.

Three days burnt away in discussion about their situation; the most verbal was the cook; she even accused her mother for the curse, and perchance she believed in herself. On the fourth day her younger brother had severe dysentery, and this time they took no time to call for a vehicle to ferry his writhing body to the hospital. The next morning rain began to sweep through the village and the town nearby. The doctors declared the younger brother dead.

The cook wipes her eyes, shivers, whispers, “The next day my mother began to talk like a normal healthy old woman and soon she could walk too.”

Elora too has been listening. She says, “Dadda, I am scared.” I hold her. “What do you want to do now?” I ask the cook. She sways her head. She will go back to her poor house, and wait for normalcy when people will need cooks again. She fears the next generation may never need one.





Kushal Poddar
Illustration Nick Victor



Kushal Poddar lives in Kolkata, India
 Author Facebook- 

This entry was posted on in homepage and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.