Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Summer

I have never experienced a summer like this. Last year, it was hot but there was water.
If heads should roll for all the bad stuff that has happened, it should be in the government. I could go on and on about that but who cares. I wrote letters to everyone, to the residents’ association, to the engineers in the water authority, even to the Chief Minister. I told them they should ensure fair distribution of water to all rather than be satisfied serving the majority. They should have listened. I had thought of mentioning that people were close to breaking point. But, who cares!
I was not surprised when a man hacked his neighbours, a family of three. He had not got water supply for three weeks while they had not faced any problem because their house was at a slightly lower level. The water authority could have adjusted the valves.
Then, there was that lady who stabbed her husband. She used to get water from the “water kiosk”, the 5000-liter storage tanks placed in every ghetto like ours. She had to carry buckets to her house thirty meters away, a tortuous distance in the scorching sun. No one had helped her. She must have snapped. The newspapers suggest she also had other problems with her husband and his mother. They also say she has no recollection of what she did.
I hardly sleep at night. The thin mattress on the metal bed burns. There’s too little water to drink. The humidity is high but there’s no rain. Everywhere, there’s the stink of sweat, not just the people, the sheets, the curtains, even the walls. I stand by the window most of the night.
Compared to my place, the doctor’s is heaven. The first time, he came over for a “home-visit”. He must have realized that it would be impossible to get anything done there. Now, I go to his office every Wednesday. This is my third visit. His office is in an extension to his house. He does not have a receptionist or secretary. He does not follow a fixed schedule, like the court. I do not mind waiting, that suits me just fine. The “waiting room” is the veranda attached to the consultation room. It’s quite cool there, there’s a floor fan in addition to a ceiling fan, and there’s a water cooler too. There are two or three steel chairs but we prefer to sit on the broad platform or railing around the veranda. By “we”, I mean the four of us, the regulars on Wednesday. That too is like the court. People get clubbed together by appointment date.
The stout lady always sits near the exit. Then, it is her. The first time, she said her name is Sheila. The second time it was Susan. Today, we did not touch on names. I sit next to her. Then, it is the muscular guy. Those two come with us, but they never utter a word, to us or to each other. They could be twins, always in khaki pants, black leather shoes and white cotton shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows. We think they are spies. We call her Smiley and him Daddy Harry, our inventive mix of Mata Hari and Dirty Harry. They sit expressionless, blankly staring outside or at the wall. They make it seem as if they don’t listen to us. We don’t care if they do.
We never talk about the summer or the heat. The first time we talked about food. She is a vegetarian but she cooks non-vegetarian food. She promised to make mutton chops for me, her specialty. The second time we talked about how reserved we usually are, never ever taking the initiative to meet or talk to people. I admitted that I had once poured my heart out to a stranger in a train. ‘We all do that, don’t we?’ she said. ‘But, this is not like that, is it?’ she asked. I told her, ‘No, definitely not.’
Today, she looked worried. I asked her what was bothering her.
‘Just a vivid dream,’ she said. Then she described her dream. ‘I was in an airport. I had some problem at the baggage-screening counter. By the time that was over, I realized I was late. I went to collect my bags. But, I could not find my bags. I could not even remember how many bags and which bags I had brought. I picked up one bag thinking that it’s mine but someone claimed it as theirs. I woke up then, feeling so confused.’
‘Let’s not talk about that,’ she pleaded. ‘Tell me something, something nice.’
After a while, I said, ‘The night after our last meeting, I thought of a trip…with you.’
She stared at me for a while, as if she was studying my face to make out if I was lying. I wasn’t. She did not say anything. I continued.
‘We went to a hill-station…’ I described the place, our trip there, how we camped outdoors. She kept on staring at me. She did not lower her eyes even when I described how we made love. At the end, I asked her, ‘Have you ever thought of me…like that?’
She nodded. This time, it was my turn to study her face. I am rather good at deciphering a poker face. She was lying. I preferred that to any truth she could have said.
We got a few more minutes before the doctor released his victim and summoned me. He gave a broad smile to her and told her, ‘You next, ok? Today, it’s gents first.’ She smiled back.
The doctor is a friendly guy. I am not sure if his reports are friendly but then, like everything else in life, life is more enjoyable without any thought of the consequences of one’s actions.
‘What a summer, right?’ the doctor said. I am quite sure he has not air-conditioned his office purposely, just to make us sweat it out.
‘Have you ever experienced such a summer before?’ I responded.
He thought for a while. ‘There was such a summer when I was a kid, I think,’ he slipped into deep thought. ‘When you are a kid, summers don’t bother you. What do you think?’ I let it pass as rhetorical.
He continued, ‘He had a lovely time. Day started early. Games, friends, naughty stuff…he met his first girlfriend then.’ The doctor laughed, embarrassed. ‘Then, there were mangoes. He was rather good at climbing trees. Raw mangoes with salt and chilly, ripe ones, his face all sticky…he fell and broke his hand. He did not mind it. She brought mangoes for him every day. He really had a lovely summer.’
‘It’s funny when you refer to yourself as he,’ I noted.
‘It is, isn’t it? People sometimes prefer to remember their best and worst times like that…as if it happened to someone else,’ the doctor said. ‘Anyway, let’s get back to business…shall we? Where were we last time?’
I waited for him to answer his own question.
‘Ah yes, you were talking about the guy who murdered his neighbours, hacked to pieces…brrrrrr…’ he gave a mock shiver. I joined in.
‘You told me that he later, that is after the deed, waited for the police in the victim’s house. They found him in the drawing room,’ the doctor said, ‘drinking water. That’s what you said, right?’
‘I guess so,’ I said.
‘I don’t get it. How did you get that information?’ the doctor asked. ‘I have checked all the newspapers. Not one has that detail.’
I shrugged.
‘Do you remember his face?’ the doctor asked.
I thought for a while. I shook my head.
‘You saw him drinking water. But you can’t see his face?’ the doctor asked.
I nodded.
‘You know why, don’t you?’ he prodded.
Once again, I slipped into thought.
‘Doctor, what are you suggesting? That I am he?’ I asked, incredulous.
He shrugged but did not say anything.
‘Next, you will say that the lady outside is the one who stabbed her husband a dozen times?’ I argued.
He kept a blank face. It seemed like he was trying to lie about a lie that was not really a lie.

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