Sunday, 30 December 2007

Receding Waters

(Prize Winner in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2002)

Sunder returned after having lunch in the mess and stood watching the receding floodwaters. As the Chief Rehabilitation Officer he would have his hands full distributing aid, for the Centre would now be accessible to more villages around the district headquarters. He eyed the sacks of rice and the tins of milk powder, a gift from the UNICEF. His clerk gave a measure of rice to every destitute who walked up to their office, but the tins of milk powder Sunder handed over himself after careful scrutiny. He had given one to Vimla the day before. A few boxes lay on the shelf behind him but the rest had been neatly packed into two crates. A city agent had offered six thousand rupees for the lot.
Sunder called out to his clerk who came in and bowed obsequiously.
“Did she…er…come back?” Sunder asked.
“Sir,” said the clerk, “your wife had phoned twice. From Delhi. She said it was very urgent.”
Sunder made an impatient gesture. “Had the…girl come?”
“Who?” the clerk asked.
Sunder got irritated for he was sure the clerk knew whom he meant. Savitri had been there in the morning and after collecting the rice she had stood before him and said: “Phowdar?”
“What?” he asked, running his eyes over her.
“Milk phowdar. I have two-year-old son. Yesterday you gave that lady, Vimla.”
So she knew! A greasy smile spread on his face as he got up and jerked his head towards an adjoining room. He went up to her and putting his arm around her waist drew her near. She looked at him with surprise and pushing him away, drew back, without any haste but decidedly, purposefully.
He was annoyed. He had no time to play games. There were many who would oblige for less.
“Go and ask Vimla about the phowdar,” he imitated her accent. “And when you are ready, come back.”
But after she had gone he felt restless and was overcome with a great urge to press her against him, explore her soft brown body. . . . .
The rain began to fall again and the clerk moved over and shut the window whose glass panes had been replaced with aluminum sheets. Sunder looked up and saw another Sunder looking back at him.
“That girl, Savitri?” the clerk asked, slipping the bolt in. “No, she didn’t come back.”
Then the phone rang. It was Sunder’s wife. In a shill plaintive voice she told him that their daughter was being harassed by her new boss who was a ‘jerk’. The job carried a good salary but Neha was sick of that man and wanted to leave. She had agreed. What did he think?
“Yes, yes, of course!” he barked and slammed down the receiver.
That bastard! He wanted to tear his eyes out! He looked up and once again saw himself in the aluminum pane. There were scratches running down his cheeks and blood was pouring out of his eyes. He stared in disbelief. It took him sometime to realize that someone was standing before him. He looked up and saw Savitri. He almost jumped.
He reached over and picking up a tin of milk powder put it on the table. Savitri’s black eyes had turned blacker and she was staring at him as if he were a hideous monster with festering wounds on his face. He dropped his head and buried his face in his hands.
“I’m ready!” Savitri said in a hoarse whisper.
He sat still for some time. Then he slowly lifted one hand off his face, pushed the tin towards her and waved her away.


Nazir Edul
A2-406 kumar Pinnacle
Tadiwala Road
Pune 411001


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