Excerpts from my new short story :
At thirty minutes past midnight, the alarm clock started ringing. Saba got up and put it off in darkness. He was perspiring heavily. The blades of the ceiling fan were moving around so slow that he could distinguish them from one another as they moved. Electricity had tripped, he guessed.
Saba sat on the floor, trying to orient himself. A scourge of mosquitos rose humming into his ears and surrounded him, trying to get a foothold on his face and arms. He shook them away
wildly turning his frail frame back and forth, beating his exposed torso vigorously with his hands and slapping his cheeks. He picked up his vest from the floor and wore it hurriedly. As if drawn by an unseen force, he walked into the kitchen with unsteady steps in the dark.
A stench like that arising from petroleum was in the air. Kerosene might have spilled in the kitchen, Saba felt. He quickly checked the stove on the kitchen stone slab for any leakage. It was dry. The oblong kitchen slab was also devoid of any moisture. May be it was a phantom odour made up by his weak olfactory sense to annoy him, hard of sniffing since he was a school boy of five. Saba is running thirty three now.
It was then he heard the lizard crocking on the wall behind. He instantly knew amma* had come. He felt the lizard staring at him impatiently.
“Be quick. Carry the buckets downstairs. The queue for water may become lengthy by the time you reach there”, amma muttered.
“I am going, amma .. I am going”, Saba replied plain bored with all this, as he bent down and looked for the iron buckets under the kitchen slab. There were three such buckets and a brass bowl and another two plastic buckets, waiting there for him. All these, he had to take downstairs for fetching water.
The iron buckets still had some water, close to two litres, taken together, Saba reckoned. He lifted them one by one carefully and kept them on the kitchen slab. The overpowering stench of chlorinated water in darkness made him feel sick.
Saba next searched for the copper cooking utensils. There were at least five of them around of different sizes, each with a specific capacity. As he was stretching his hand trying to feel their presence, he could recognize in the darkness, a coffee filter, two ladles, a porcelain cup and a few stainless plates. After sustained searching for another few minutes he took them out from the tin container for storing rice, lying empty near the door.
He filled up a couple of the cooking utensils with the still left unutilized water in the buckets. Filling them up from the buckets was not an easy task either when it was dark all around. Some water spilled on his feet too. Amma would not like any wasting of water, he recalled.
Water is precious. Amma had emphasised this at least ten times daily when she was alive. With her here in flesh and blood, it was a different scenario altogether, Saba observed. She
*amma – mother
never wasted any water and the whatever stored in the tiny apartment that is Saba’s
dwelling, never appeared to be in excess any time. The copper bowls were used only for
cooking and not for storing chlorinated residual water of the day before. Of course, after amma expired, no one cooked there, he remembered.
As Saba searched for the piece of cloth on the floor to dry up his feet and the water spilled on the slab, amma became restless. “You have all the time in the world for that cleaning. Not now. It is time for fetching water now. Run, my boy”. The lizard was sounding more noisy and agitated. It was squeaking for long.
The iron buckets though empty weighed considerably. He was keeping the small ones inside the large ones and the combined stress on the shoulder muscles sent a nasty pain shooting all the way down to the groin. Saba was worried how to carry these buckets back after collecting water. He might get muscular cramps or still worse, might slip down on the stairs. The buckets would then empty themselves on the staircase rendering all these efforts futile.
More than that, it might not be possible for him to visit the house of the seven maidens, with a swollen groin.
‘You can fantasise about those seven sluts leisurely afterwards. It is now time to fetch water’, amma was screaming at him behind his back.
Water scarcity always cast a shadow on the daily living of Saba and his amma; also the whole town. When amma was alive, almost all her awake-hours were spent fetching water, spending it diligently, evolving contingency plans in case the water supply became erratic, and curing brackish water, making it soft for drinking and for cooking, by percolation through a series of clay pots half filled with sand. Whatever amma spoke to Saba and others invariably would become related to water scarcity. Once caught in the vortex, she would come out of it only when she fell into a spell of disturbed sleep late at night, tense with worries about water.