Pakshiyude Manam : Madhavi Kutty, Short Story, 1961.
The Scent of a Bird
It was after one week of their return from Calcutta that she had seen the advertisement in the newspaper.
‘Needed: A smart, intelligent woman to be Incharge of our wholesale business. She should have basic knowledge about the designs and colours of clothes in vogue. Visit our office with a self written application.’
The office building was situated on a bustling street. It was eleven in the morning when she reached the place. She was dressed in a pale yellow silk sari and was holding a white vanity bag. The building was monstrous: it had around seven storeys, innumerable verandahs and more than two hundred rooms. It had four lifts. Before each lift, there was a throng of fat business men, and executives holding leather suitcases. She could see no woman in the vicinity. Her confidence started waning. She regretted that she had ignored her husband’s objections to try for the job.
There was a peon standing near-by. She queried, ‘..Textile Industries. Do you know on which floor it is located?’
‘ I think it is on the first floor,’ he answered.
She felt that all eyes were focussed on her. She was mortified. Why was she standing amidst this milling crowd of sweaty men? Even if they paid a thousand rupees, would she like to come and work in that building on a daily basis? Yet, she could not easily go back from there.
It was her turn. Trying assiduously not to touch another body, she cowered in a corner.When she emerged at the first floor, she took a look around. The verandah seemed to spread out in all four directions and had huge doors opening into different rooms. ‘ Export and Import’, ‘Wine Business’ and such were written on these boards. However, even after checking multiple name boards, she failed to trace the one she was seeking.
Her palms had started sweating profusely by then. A person came out from a room nearby, and she stopped him with a question.
‘..Textile company…where is it located?’
He looked her all over with his shrewd, narrow, red tinged eyes. Then he said, ‘ I do not know. But if you come with me, I will check with the peon and guide you.’
He was a rather short, middle aged man. His finger nails were filthy. Perhaps due to that, she decided against following him.
She said, ‘ Thank you. I shall find out myself.’
Hurriedly she walked away and turned a corner. There was a new verandah with many closed doors. Over one closed door was written, ‘Dying.’
She smirked on seeing the wrong spelling. Instead of colouring the clothes, did they manufacture death over there? She pushed open the door, determined to get some clarification about her destination. Inside was a huge, vacant space akin to an inner courtyard; a glass topped table and a few chairs could be seen. There was no one around.
She called out, ‘ Is anyone in here ?’
The curtains hanging over the entrance of the inner room swayed a bit. Nothing else. Gathering courage, she moved towards the chair at the centre of the room and seated herself. She felt that unless she rested, she would not be able to move an inch further. A fan twirled above her in a desultory manner.
‘ What sort of an office is this?’ She was left wondering. Leaving the door unlocked, switching the fan on, where had all the inmates gone? Since they were in the dyeing business, they would surely know the company that she was searching for.
Opening her vanity bag, she retrieved her hand mirror and checked her face. She reassured herself that she was well qualified for the job. Should she demand eight hundred rupees? They would be lucky to hire someone like her. She was educated, came from a privileged background, had travelled the world…
She woke up on hearing the popping sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle. What sort of a fool was she! She had dozed off in a strange place! Rubbing her eyes, she stared around. A young man was busy pouring whiskey into a glass containing soda. He was seated in a chair right opposite to her. His shirt was made of white terelene. Thick bristles of hair grew over the upper portions of his fingers. Seeing those strong fingers, a tremor of fear ran through her. Why had she come to this devil’s home?
He lifted his head and looked at her. He had a long face, it was reminiscent of a horse. He asked, ‘ Did you sleep well?’ Without waiting for her response, he lifted the glass and gulped down the drink.
‘ Are you thirsty?’ He asked.
She shook her head in negation. ‘ Do you know where the Textile company is situated? After all, you are into dyeing business,’ she said, with a polite smile.
He did not smile back; instead poured himself another drink. His demeanour was as if there was infinite time for casual conversations.
‘ Don’t you know?’ She asked impatiently. If only she could get out of that place and go back home!
Suddenly he broke into a grin. He had very thin lips. That made his smile ugly.
‘ What is your hurry? The time is only eleven fourth five now,’ he said.
She got up and walked towards the door. ‘ I hoped that you would know. You are familiar with the cloth business.’
‘What familiarity? We are not into dyeing clothes. Did you not read the board? It is written Dying…’
‘ That means…?’
‘ What is written. Haven’t you heard of death? We arrange for easy dying.’ He leaned back into his chair lazily and winked at her. He was grinning broadly. She felt that the white smile had completely enveloped her eyes. Her feet became unsteady. She raced to the door. But her sweaty hands could not open the door knob. Helpless tears filled her eyes.
‘Please open the door for me. I have to go home. My children are waiting for me!’ She hoped that on hearing her plea, he would discard his cruel intentions and help her out. ‘ Please, please…open the door,’ she begged yet again. He continued to drink his whiskey and kept on grinning at her.
She started knocking desperately at the door. ‘ Don’t you dare harm me! What have I ever done to you?’ After some time, her sobs subsided. Exhausted, she collapsed near the unopened door.
He was murmuring in a soft voice. She could make out a few words…