<%-- Page Title--%> Fiction <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 110 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 20, 2003

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The Tamarind Tree II

Razia Khan

Roxana wrote on the whiteboard, “affinity between Frost and Hopkins in their emphasis on supreme human effort”. A girl stood up. “
Madam you finished Frost last week. We are supposed to begin Emily Dickinson. This had slipped out of her mind completely! She whispered through the microphone -- Emily Dickinson -- is it?

The soul selects her own society
Then shuts the door
On her divine majority obtrude no more

While the class was reeling under the impact of those unforgettable lines, electricity went off and Roxana's voice died on the microphone. A student raised his hand. “Can we go back to what you wrote on the board? Is it emphasis or fascination?”
Roxana, enthused by the interest smiled and answered, “It is more fascination with Frost and emphasis with Hopkins, I think.”
She was drenched with perspiration. The load-shedding continued. After lingering in the class for another fifteen minutes she dismissed the students, regretting the lack of a generator. The wind had dropped. A storm was raging. A torrential downpour was obviously due. She found a couple of cows cud nonchalantly near Modhu's bronze-bust mounted on a column. Two deformed beggars plagued everyone who passed by. The caretaker and the guards of the Arts Building were not to be seen anywhere.
A gypsy woman was blackmailing a chauffeur with a live snake -- to make him give her a good tip, frightening the life out of him. But it was inside this chaotic campus that Roxana had found her vocation. She was grateful and also anxious to improve things. Luckily her flat was in the latest complex known as the 'Tower' which could boast of an elevator. But during load-shedding it was the staircase which had to be used. Roxana would have to have a second bath and change all her clothes. But the pleasure of freshly washed and dried cotton fabric was something she had missed in Boston where she mostly wore western clothes. She tried to remember Feroze's favourite dishes. Hilsa with mustard, lentils with orange. Folded rice-cakes with cloves stuck on them. 'Lobongololita' was the poetic name meaning 'creeping clove'. This was a delicacy seldom made these days. She rang Jamil to find out if he could bring his brother from the airport Roxana had a class at the time of his arrival. Jamil was only too pleased to oblige, endearingly calling her 'Bhabi'. He had not done so when he came to deliver Munir's gifts.
Two weeks rolled by with Munir more and more excited -- as a result of which he could not concentrate on anything. His grades during that fortnight were poorer but he did not care. He cajoled Roxana. “I'll make up later. You'll see." Roxana was nervous about people knowing about the divorce and then to find the separated couple coming together. But most people like the Alams greeted the news with open joy.
The May morning was damp and hot when Roxana walked back from class to find Feroze drinking water from a bottle as if he had lived there for ages. He said simply, “I love your blue and green tapestry fabric. You look great. Jamil could not wait.”
Roxana stretched her arms to embrace him as she was determined that everything should go normally. Feroze held her in a tight embrace, tears rolling down his face. Roxana kissed away his tears saying, “You are forgiven. Your bones must be aching from that long flight. Come, stretch on the sofa, put your feet up.”
From nowhere Munir jumped into the space between them on the sofa holding their heads with his two hands. The three of them had a good cry. They took hold of themselves when Lily brought in a trayful of coffee and snacks.
After lunch Munir lay regally between his parents vigorously munching some barley-sugar Feroze had brought with him. He could not close his eyes. His brain was in a ferment. He could hardly believe that on both sides lay his exhausted parents. Feroze worn out by the tiring flight, Roxana depleted by the long emotional stress. Munir passed his hand over the soft down of his father's arm, which rested across the fat bolster Roxana was so fond of. He combed his father's fingers with his own and then opened Feroze's shirt buttons, placing his face against his father's hairy chest. Lily peeped through the open door whispering, “I am going shopping.”
“SHHH,” Munir scolded. Across the open window the lily pot Munir had broken having been replaced by a new one, a cluster of red lilies trembled gently in the rain-soaked breeze. A wet crow sat on the windowsill looking lonely and homeless. Munir heard his father's heart pounding away. An abrupt blizzard dislodged a wall-hanging in the verandah. It fell across the floor with a bang waking up Roxana, who, like Munir, was incredulous of her husband's proximity. His sunken eyes, the deep furrows on his brow made her ache for him. She shut the window, confessing to herself, “It's good to have him back!”
Roxana looked at Munir resting on his father's chest. Feroze's lips had a sad droop as if he was sobbing in his sleep. He looked totally broken. Rozana's defences melted away. She rushed to the two of them when Feroze murmured, half-awake, “I am so dry.” Roxana handed him a glass of water, which he drank avidly and then stretched his arm to include her into a deep embrace, while the child lay motionless, glued to his chest Lily, back from shopping, found them locked together, giving vent to their pent up grief. She said softly, “Mr. Jamil is here. I have given him tea. He has brought fruits and flowers.”
The three of them did not move. Lily went back to cut some of the fruits Jamil had brought; a look of deep compassion on her face. Jamil sipped his tea placidly, giving his brother time to recuperate The mauve and white gladioli that he had brought made a striking contrast to Roxana's steel-blue curtains and blue and green sofa fabrics. He was shorter than Feroze, with a prominent mole on his right cheek, giving him a kindly look.
In Roxana's bedroom, the three still clung together slowly overcoming the intensity of emotions which shook them. The storm had receded. The soft afternoon sunlight turned the water in the jug into molten gold. On the bedside table the daily paper showed an Iraqi mother and child squatting on the sand, their haunted eyes staring at them. Blood streamed down their faces. War had ended but the homeless and the wounded had only a very vague promise of better days. Roxana disengaged herself from Feroze's embrace to turn the front page of the newspaper upside-down. She did not want Munir to see it. But the very next instant she wondered whether she was right in hiding the reality from him to withhold the knowledge that the protected nook which they called home might break into pieces, without a moments notice that this threesome entity which was so comforting might snap asunder at any time.
Roxana combed her hair and walked towards the living room to welcome Jamil and to tell him that his brother would join him directly. When Feroze did enter, Roxana realised with a shock that he was skin and bones. His emaciation was more apparent because he had taken off his suit and was wearing kurta pyjama. She must preserve him and nurse him back to health. Jamil invited them to dinner at his place next week. Munir entered and apologised to Jamil, “I'm sorry uncle. Are you going to tell mom?”
“There is nothing to tell.”
“I was rude. Please forgive me.”
Jamil shook his hand and said, “All is forgotten and forgiven.”

to be continued


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