MR. SUNANDAN lifted the portrait of his wife from the wall cupboard to the left of his door.
‘You don’t even know if I am alive or I had been eradicated. But I still follow you on your social media accounts. You have not changed. You look the same as you are looking my hands. But you know what?…’
He keeps the portrait of his wife who was draped in a lustrous saree which looked shabby because of the dusky photo cover. The sky was the same as the photo cover. The sky was crowded with rain.
‘… I starve for another person.’
Sunandan, in his early forties, lifts another stamp-sized photo frame adjacent to the enormous bookshelf.
The face was visible only to him in the unceasing yellow light hanging from the top.
‘I remember the date. Happy birthday, my dear daughter.’ He takes hold of the photo frame closely – his glasses were getting weak.
He picks up a coffee mug from the table and fills thge space created in the shelf by inserting the book One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Sunandan pressed the starting button of his music player. The song began to play ‘Rab So Neha Lagao Re Manwa’ by Raga Bilawal’.
He moved and stood in front of the long transparent glass window and with all his fingers in his left hand tried to touch the droplets outside, knowing his hands would not become moist.
There was a ring at the doorbell.
A boy pushes on the door. He isn’t wet because of his yellow raincoat, swathed like a crow. His pump shoes were drooling out water as he stepped in. ‘I am entering Sir!’
‘Who comes to take tuition in a rainy day?’
The boy while opening half of his garment looked towards his teacher and said ‘I was absent the last two days and Ma is also scolding at home for poor results… Hence I was bound to come..’
‘Sit when you have already arrived.’
The teen sits on an early garlic mattress over the white marble floor, still opening his coat.
Mr. Sunandan stops the Avogadro music on the player and pulls a chair in front of him.
‘That day!’ he fumed and paused .’I saw you with a girl near the new market.’ He gave a lunatic smile with both his eyebrows and mouth as if he was remembering his good old days.
The boy, from his worm’s eye view ,looks up and gave him an image of him and a girl partial to his age. ‘She is a good friend of mine.’
It wasn’t usual, but Mr. Sunandan took his mobile phone.
The boy looked down placed the coat on the floor surpassing the mattress and started to look in his bag.
Mr. Sunandan’s forelocks glistened from the dark admiral rays coming from behind. He touched his phone with his finger. As a single anomaly sometimes is enough to break a formula, Mr. Sunandan knew what he had to do.
‘What kind of friend of yours is she?’
Soumya, his pupil, was cramping.
‘Oh. Come on, I understand. Is she your girlfriend?’
‘Sort of. I don’t know if she…’
‘Feels for you. Yup. You look good. How far are you thinking this to turn?’
It was as puzzling to Soumya as the death of a candle.
‘She has a single mother. She is rich. Sometimes I feel below dignity to talk to her. Though she is never boastful.’
Mr. Sunandan tried to peruse his student a bit more. ‘Do you smoke? You know it’s a kind of legitimate fashion in today’s youth. So we don’t mind them if even they utter that they drink.’
‘Sometimes, as it goes.’
‘You are declaring a Yes. Is it?.’
He gave the boy no time to reply. Soumya kept on speaking about his own past life… a kiss in the dark on Amherst Street.
‘Why don’t you call her for tuition with you?’ he suddenly asked the boy.
Soumya knew that Mr. Sunandan had enough money and he wouldn’t care throwing two or three students out from his classes.
Soumya subsequently suggested Nalini attended English tuition.
Her mother obliged. Nalini steps inside Mr Sunandan’s apartment. The cushions, the pillow covers were new. The vase smelt. The tube lights in the room were exhilarating as never before.
‘I was waiting for you to come,’ he said.
He looked at Nalini, who looked as if she was wrapped in gold with a pendant of ruby.
‘Umm… you please sit,’ he said.
He sat down too on the mattress. ‘The term is halfway through. You’ll be having the full syllabus in the final so…’ He stood up. ‘Let me give a book, the passages and composites are very clearly stated there in simple verses.’
Mr. Sunandan didn’t use his chair. He rather preferred himself over the mattress.
‘I purchased a new cell’phone,’ he said. ‘Let me try its camera,’ he added, taking out his new mobile. ‘Will you give a pose please?’
The girl made a sugary face.
Sunandan grew very affectionate to her day by day.
When the results of the unit test was declared, no one did well. In a tremendous scolding Mr. Sunandan expelled Soumya from the tuition.
One customary Sunday noon the bell rang. Mr. Sunandan opens the door. A delivery man from a nearby shop stands there with a big portrait frame wrapped in a newspaper and coconut rope. As soon as the payment was over he tore off the cover.
It was the portrait of Nalina in golden yellow and a lustrous red cape on her chest.
He put the portrait in the cupboard shelf in front of the other two pictures.
The Raga still played in the music player. Mr. Sunandan takes out the book One Hundred Years of Solitude from the shelf and placed ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ at its place.
He moves towards the dining room to find any textile to cover the shelf.