Continued from here
The phone never rang unless it was to announce someone's death. Its loud piercing shriek broke through the thick afternoon listlessness. Vatsala raised herself from the chair resting both her hands on the handle, her knees protesting under the strain. She must remember to call Dr. Rajaram for a check-up – perhaps tomorrow, if she can remember it. Now, who could be calling them at this godforsaken hour? She mentally lined up all the possible relatives who could have died and creased her forehead in preparation for the impending bad news. “Hello?”, she said tentatively. Answering the phone always reminded her of opening a handwritten letter – the envelope held such promise. “Hello?”, she repeated, her eagerness mounting.
“Vatsala akka, is that you?”
“Yes, it's me. And you are...”
“Akka, naan thaan. Srividya. Lalli oda thangai. Saroja oda ponnu...America-lendhu phone pannaren.”
“Yaaru? Srividya-va? How are you? I am fine, I am fine, thank you”, blurted Vatsala all in one go.
“I am fine too, Akka. How are you?”
“I am fine, I am fine, nee sollu...”
The conversation stalled briefly now that the pleasantries had been exhausted a little too quickly.
“I'm fine, Akka. Hope Raji Akka is keeping well...I'm actually calling you about a little favour. My son Aditya is coming to India for a research project and I wanted to know if he can stay in your house for a little while...it's only till he finds a more permanent accommodation.”
Vatsala took a second to update her mental images. She still thought of Srividya as the stick thin 10 year old who was too meek to speak up and always hid behind her elder sister. She could never recall a single distinguishing thing the girl had done or said in the decade or so the sisters had come to learn Bharathanatyam from them. And now, she was talking from America and she had a son who was old enough to do some kind of a research and all this was moving too quickly for Vatsala to keep pace. She heard herself saying yes, yes, a few times and then making a note of the date that Aditya (or was it Abhishek? All these names sounded the same to her. 'That boy' was how she would refer to him from now onwards) would arrive.
Just as she hung up the phone, she heard Raji call out from her room. Raji would be full of questions. Who was calling and what they had wanted. Vatsala decided that she would be careful in revealing the details from the conversation. She would only tell her that an old student of theirs had called from America. But Vatsala wasn't sure what to say if Raji were to ask what the call was about. She would think of something on the spot. Or perhaps it was just easier telling her the whole story. But then, there's no saying how Raji would react. She was fully capable of asking Vatsala to call Srividya in America and retreat the offer. She would have to play this one carefully, Vatsala decided making her way to the kitchen.
“Who was on the phone?”, repeated Raji. A slight edginess had crept into her voice. These days she was quick to anger and often accused Vatsala of keeping secrets from her. Lately, Vatsala had noticed Raji mumbling to herself and once, Raji had become so agitated in the middle of the night, she had started banging on the front door because she had thought that Vatsala had locked her up and gone away.
“You remember Srividya?”, began Vatsala handing her older sister a tumbler of coffee. There's nothing a spot of afternoon coffee would not smoothen, she knew.
(to be continued)
please note: thanks for your patience with this story. I will be more regular with the installments.