Was it likely that the children had slept? Had they eaten something? Had they cried themselves to sleep? They were not mature enough to grieve. Or would Unni have stood staring when he had hurriedly carried her into the taxi? The little one had cried, because he insisted on boarding the taxi too. He had not comprehended the meaning of death.
Had he known himself? No. Had he ever suspected that she- always present in that house- would one day drop dead on the ground? That too without bidding farewell to anyone?
He had peeped through the kitchen window when he had returned from the office. She was not there. The sounds of the children playing had risen from the courtyard. Unni was yelling, ‘ First class shot!’
He had opened the front door with his key. Then he had caught sight of her. She was lying sideways, with her mouth slightly open. He had assumed that she had fallen unconscious due to dizziness. But the doctor had given the verdict at the hospital :
‘ Heart attack. She has been dead the past one hour or so.’
A deluge of emotions had engulfed him. He had felt unreasonably angry at her. How could she have just left like that, leaving all the responsibilities on his shoulders? Who would give bath to the kids now? Who would make them snacks? Who would take care of them when they fell sick?
‘My wife is dead,’ he had murmured to himself. ‘ Because of the unexpected demise of my wife due to heart attack today, I request for two days leave.’ What a fine leave application that would be! It was not stating that his wife was sick; instead, it said that she was dead!
Perhaps his boss might call him to his cabin. ‘ My deepest condolences!’ He might say. Ha! His condolences, indeed! He had never known her. Her hair that curled at the tips, her tremulous smile, the soft gait… the boss had known nothing! Those were his losses….his alone.
When the door opened, the youngest child came scampering to him.
‘ Amma has not returned,’ he chirped.
How was it possible that they had forgotten everything so soon? Did he expect the body carried into that taxi, to return by itself?
He walked towards the kitchen, holding his son’s tiny hand.
‘ Unni!’ He called. Unni, got up from the cot and went to him.
‘ Balan slept off…’
‘ Hmm… did you all eat anything?’
He removed the lids from the vessels kept on the kitchen ledge. The food that she had prepared for them: chappati, rice, potato curry, upperi, curd, and then Neypayasam-that she made occasionally for the kids- inside a crystal bowl.
Food that had been touched by death! No, they should not eat that!
‘ I shall make some upma, these have grown cold…’, he said.
‘ Accha..’, Unni spoke, ‘ When is Amma going to come back? Has she not recovered yet?’
‘May the truth have the patience to wait for a day at least’, he brooded deep. What would be the purpose in hurting the child that night?
‘ Amma will come…’, he replied.
He washed two bowls and kept them on the ground.
‘ Let Balan sleep. Do not wake him up,’ he said.
‘ Accha…Neypayasam!’ the youngest said, and dipped his forefinger into the bowl.
He sat down heavily on the wooden block that his wife had used.
‘ Unni, can you serve? Acchan is feeeling unwell…a headache…’
Let them have the food. The food prepared by their mother- they would never be able to eat that again.
The children started eating the Payasam. He sat dumb struck, staring at that scene. After a while, he queried:
‘ Don’t you want rice, Unni?’
‘ No, the Payasam will do…it is very delicious!’
The youngest child smiled, ‘ Yes…Amma made yummy Neypayasam…’
He got up swiftly and hurried to the bathroom. He wanted to hide his tears from them.