We put the kids to sleep early and planned to watch a DVD together when the landline rings around 10pm. It was my neighbour from downstairs telling us that his kids, wife & her parents[who were visiting] were involved in an accident, could I please come downstairs and keep his mother company while he went to them.
My neighbour left immediately after I walked into his house and I smile comfortingly at his mother who was looking terribly worried. I lead her to the armchair and reassure her that everything is fine and they will all be back soon. She refused to be comforted and kept worrying loudly. Nothing I said made any difference coz she had convinced herself that the kids were injured.
I have known this old lady for the past 7-8 years ever since the family moved into the apartment downstairs. She is a petite, pretty looking woman who I thought always dressed very neatly for person her age[in her early 70’s]. I used to see her taking the kids out to play and we spoke casually whenever we met. According to her DIL[I’ll call her Sophie here] she was perfectly alright until she went and stayed 9 months with her elder son in London around 3 yrs back. She found it too cold there & so came back to stay with them in Dubai. Now it seemed like she was not the same anymore as she was always forgetting things and acting vague.
I was aware of some of her eccentricities and attributed it to the vagaries of old age. Even as I was thinking all this she stops her mumbling and asks me sharply where my kids were.
I was like “They’ve gone to sleep”.
She questions “Without having dinner???”
I was like “They had dinner and then went to sleep”.
She looked at me measuringly ‘You made rice and curry and stir-fry and everything’[her tone had the ‘I bet you just gave them bread and water’ ring to it]
I nodded my head briskly and echoed ‘Everything’[we had a takeaway actually, huh catch me cooking at the start of a weekend]
She changes track again ‘Ohhhh I hope they all are fine and the kids are not hurt’
And I replied positively ‘Don’t tense yourself unnecessarily, everything is fine, they’ll be back before you know it.’
I engaged her in conversation for sometime so that she didn’t get time to think but as soon as there was a gap in the conversation she jumped up ‘I’ll just go check if Meryl is ok’ she goes in the direction of the front door and I can see her murmuring something in a low voice there.
She comes back and says ‘Meryl is also worried you know. Where are they??? Why haven’t they come back yet???’ wringing her hands.
I was afraid to ask who Meryl was. Instead I focused on her question ‘Its been only 15 minutes since your son went to pick them, please sit down.”
I sensed that this was not going to be as easy as I thought “Come, sit down…we’ll watch some tv”
Who the heck is Meryl?????
I switch the tv on and sit back secretly relieved that I didn’t have to make conversation anymore.
‘Chee what is she wearing???’ she comments disapprovingly.
Oops some women on Zcafe were dressed in too little, I quickly changed the channel.
“Ohhhh my Francis punyaala*, what all they show on TV”
Heck now it was a couple in a compromising position on Star Movies.
No wonder Sophie kept saying she hardly watched any TV
Aaaaah good it was a cookery channel which had nothing discriminating; there were 2 male chefs fully clothed very seriously discussing some dish. She can’t find anything to complain here, can she? I think triumphantly.
“Cheee why is he staring at us like that, poda patti**” she bristles.
I turn and look at her incredulously. She was adjusting the nightdress modestly.
I turned back and looked at the men in the tv. Hmmm she had a point, one guy was looking directly at us and smiling flirtatiously, trying to seduce us I bet.
Finally found an animal channel and we watched 2 roly-poly bearcubs comically gamboling around.
Just to keep her occupied I kept talking and mentioned what one could do if one happened to be chased by a bear and had no way of escape; just tumble on to the floor and play dead. It is said that bears don’t attack what is already dead, just sniffs around for a while and goes away.
There was no response and I turn to look where she was…..she was back near the front door talking and gesturing. I followed her and realized there was nobody; she was facing a glass cabinet and talking to her reflection. I just found out who Meryl was.
Now I was beginning to get a little nervous.
I got back to the couch and stared blankly at the tv wondering what I got myself into. Then turned back to look for the old lady and found her right in front of me with a mean-looking knife in her hands and a hard expression on her face.
I jumped up in fright.
“Have something to eat” she holds out the knife and a single mango in front of me.
I hadn’t seen the mango at all.
Words were trapped in my throat and wouldn’t come out. I weakly pointed to my stomach and indicated it was full and watched her as she went to put the mango & the knife on the dining table.
As she went back to complain to Meryl that I refused to eat what she offered I scooted forward and hid the knife under the nearest laptop.
My hands & legs took awhile to stop shivering.
I had already called Sophie once earlier but she didn’t answer or return the call. But now I single-mindedly kept redialing, I really needed to talk to her. Most importantly she needed to soothe this parent’s fears and put her at ease. There was no telling how much pressure she could take. But Sophie didn’t pick the call nor did she call back……not for the next 2 hours anyway.
And so it went on every 5-10 minutes…
I’m sure the children are injured….
I hope my son has not had an accident….
Where are your children, who is there with them???
What did you make for dinner????
I’m going to the toilet, do you want to go????
Why are they taking so long to come????
Something is seriously wrong……” the old lady[OL] went on and on alternatively to Meryl and me.
I was beginning to fear that it was true…. ‘something was seriously wrong’, why else was Sophie not picking up my call??? Dear God I hope nobody was seriously injured.
All my excuses were beginning to sound very fake and the OL knew it. She now started giving me strange looks like as if I was responsible for the whole mess.
I changed channels in desperation and landed on a Malayalam News channel and knew I hit Gold. No Malayalee however senile they are or pretend to be can resist the News. There was blessed silence till the news program ended.
When she started off again I had a solid excuse ready.
I told her clearly & firmly that the vehicle they were traveling in was damaged badly and they were waiting for it to be repaired. Once it was repaired they’ll be back home.
“But why can’t they come back in my son’s car.” she argues logically.
“They can’t because all of them won’t be able to fit in 1 car, right??? Right???” I look directly into her eyes and will her to agree with me.
She nodded reluctantly; she knew there were holes in my story but couldn’t make out where. I repeated the story atleast 3 times and started believing it myself by the end of it.
I got up led the tired lady by her shoulders to the couch and told her to lie down.
Well I didn’t think she would but it was worth a try.
Almost 3 hours were up and I was really worried now. The accident had to have been serious for them not to have contacted me by now. I didn’t have her husband’s number otherwise I would have contacted him. Just when I decided to call the better-half and tell him everything Sophie calls and profusely apologizes for not calling earlier. She explained that they were at the hospital in the XRay division where calls were not allowed. All of them had injuries; bruises, sprains and bleeding but no fractures or internal injuries, thank goodness. But just to be on the safe side all of them were being given a thorough checkup & that is why they were getting delayed.
I asked Sophie to calm the worried parent[who was now sitting opposite me and boring a hole into my skull, trying to see inside my head as I was talking inaudibly]. In-between I could also see her gesturing to Meryl to be patient; she was coming over as soon as she had some news. Sophie then spoke to the OL, reassured her everything was alright and told her to go to sleep as they were going to take some more time.
Finally she lay down on the couch and tiredly closed her eyes. Every once in a while she opened her eyes and & narrowed them at me very suspiciously.
I sat back and waited. The night was not yet over.
*St. Francis of Assisi
**the word ‘Poda Patti’ in Malayalam language actually means ‘Go away Dog’. But it can also be used to shoo off creeps, romeos, lotharios, characterless beings, irritating pests…..…you get the drift, right.
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