She tottered barefoot across the courtyard with uncertain steps, glancing up impatiently every now and then at the lone star shining through the morning mist. Dewdrops clouded her glasses, barring even the vestiges of what used to be her vision. With a flash of annoyance, she grabbed them off her face and tossed them onto the stone floor. A little clunk was all she heard as the absolute stillness of the sepulcher was devoured by the rooster’s cry. Her heart lifted. As if in answer, her feet responded. They spelled out a beat. Momentary. Then the rooster’s second cry. On cue. She glanced up to her left. Right at the corner of the high walled courtyard of her ancient house, she could see the first rays of the sun peeking through. Dawn had broken. Routine. Timed. She heaved a sigh. An echo. It came from the bricks of her home, the mortar that held them together, the history that had been lived there - in answer to a sigh they had been witness to since so many days that they had lost count.

She moved towards her mother’s portrait, her fountain of strength she drank from every morning. A blur. She cursed her glasses.

She heard it then, the milkman’s whistle. It was a signal from him, the milkman – she liked to call him Shyam in her mind. All was well with the world. The wrinkles on that drooping face lit up in a smile. So did her courtyard, she thought with awe. Perhaps it was her heightened sense of clarity that day, or one of those coincidental realizations of the divine present in our mundane mortal lives.

As she pottered around with her little chores, her lips moved soundlessly. In perfect rhythm. But she had no words. She didn’t worry. The words would come. And they did. It was the song urchins sang as they played hopscotch under the great banyan that grew right outside her home. It was tradition, the kids had changed, the song hadn’t.

The sparrows came then, her everyday visitors. She brought out a handful of grains to feed them. She heard the yells of Ramesh and Lakshmi, her neighbors for as far as she could remember, as they quarreled to a practiced tiff. She smiled in reminiscence. She counted to five. The thud. Count to seven. Another thud. She had been detached from the physicality of it long ago. And she really liked their kids Luv and Kush. They called her Eeya. She would knit them new sweaters, she thought, smiling in anticipation. She got up and looked around. The sparrows wouldn’t leave her alone today, she thought, surprised. They had outstayed their normal schedule. Well, I wouldn’t bother, she thought crossly, they just think I am an old woman with nothing better to do.

Indignant, and energized by the rush of it, she walked quickly across the yard to the storeroom, her treasure trove of family heirlooms, keepsakes from times gone by and the wisps of memory she had forgotten existed. It had not been opened for ten years, she thought in amazement. Ever since Gayatri had left home. Her helper Gayatri. But she wouldn’t think of that, she decided. Bygones were bygones. She unlocked the storeroom and walked in. Right in front of her stood the green box her Nani had given her, dusty, yet retaining that inner sheen that she’d always associated with her Nani’s face. She brought it out.
With a smile on her face, she sat down cross-legged in the center of the courtyard and opened her box. The little trinket glistened in the sunlight. She had been given it when she was born. Her thoughts wandered. To another era, or so it seemed. Of experiences. And to the mere shadow of life she was living now.

Just then she heard the ruckus from above. Routine was back. She could have danced at the thought. Jayanti, who was carrying her baby, and her mother Saraswati. Arguing. She decided she would give the trinket to Jayanti at the birth of her child. She was enjoying herself now. She spoke out the words as they were being played upstairs next door. You don’t take care of me at all, I’m going to have a baby. Beta, calm down. No I won’t, it’s just not fair. Beta listen, I’m trying to tell you something. I’m not listening to anything, I have been…

The words caught in her throat. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. She felt choked. She glanced up, squinting her eyes at the noon sun. She looked back down. Her sparrows were still there. In that moment of epiphany, she understood. The sounds were fading out. With great affection, she looked around one last time…


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