The high pitched petulant tone of the calling bell sounded like an old soiled audio tape. Three youngsters were waiting in the verandah when she opened the door. Though couple of them seemed modern, it was the dhoti clad man who energetically greeted her with folded hands.
“Yes?” Gloria Fernandez sounded impatient.
“Jeffrey’s friend referred us. Though we do not know Jeffrey by person, Emil told us that we can meet him. Is Jeffrey around?”
“He has not come back from church. Can you please wait? He will come now. What’s the matter?”
“Heard that there is a car for sale here. We came to check that up.” The dhoti clad youngster directly jumped into the matter.
Oh Christ! Although she was expecting it to happen sometime, this arrived as a shock for her. She wanted to hide somewhere. She should have guessed it, when they were looking around to spot the car shed. She had kept quiet whenever Jeffrey asked about it, and finally he took her hush as consent.
“Please sit. Jeffrey will reach anytime.” She wanted Jeffrey to handle this mess.
The youngsters seemed to be perturbed by Gloria’s abrupt bout of depression. “Will things go fine?” One of them whispered to Ravi, the dhoti clad man. Their hopes were on his business flair.
Gloria felt that the folks waiting in the verandah had come to steal that final physical presence of love. She knew that the bungalow also will be lost soon. But then, the car had a lively charisma around it. When she looked through her window, she never observed the flat tires or the tons of dust that engulfed the car – All that came to her mind were those flashbacks of memories rushing through the narrow bridge of tears.
Fifteen years back, as they marched with swift vigor in business, Melvin Fernandez waved his magic surprise wand at her in the form of a black ambassador car – A souvenir to her on their fifteenth wedding anniversary. As she gazed at that car, she could see all those reminiscences about Melvin unravel. She could remember that day when a ten year old Jeffrey jumped around with bliss, and the way they danced after sharing some wine. All of it seemed like yesterday. The progress in export business came rapidly for Melvin. From that small rented house to the bungalow with a garden and pool. Soon the car arrived. Even when the business grew to sky, Melvin never thought of changing the car.
From then on – To church during Sundays, To beaches on evenings, To the shopping centers of the town, To different ceremonies, To hill stations whenever he got a couple of free days…. those pictures floated as bubbles in front of her. In all those images, she saw Melvin behind the steering with a Ray Ban glass, and to his left was Mrs. Gloria Fernandez. That car has been an inseparable part in their life for fifteen years. Even if it was almost pressed to the ground for the last six months, she was sure that the interiors will still have that fragrance of State Express and Brut.
Her son Jeffrey, who is planning to drift to Australia, will never comprehend this. After the unforeseen demise of Melvin, he viewed the car as a white elephant. “Should it corrode in this sultry climate, with no one even starting it? Why is mother so stubborn? Anyway we are going to leave this place for our ‘home’ climate. If you just keep acting out of emotion, the car will be of no use for anyone.” This is his standard argument. He cannot understand…..His age is like that.
Gloria could hear the sound of Jeffrey’s bike at the gate. “Hello! I am Jeffrey. You…?” She could hear Jeffrey speaking.
“Emil referred us to you. I am Ravi, and these are Soman & Sasi. We came to see the car”
“Oh! Please come. Did you see the car? Please note that we have already paid this years tax and insurance. No one has touched the car except Daddy. ‘Single Owner’, in its literal meaning. There will be some dust since no one has touched the car for past six months. No Bargaining. I should get 65.” Jeffrey directly got into the substance.
Everyone walked to the shed with Jeffrey. Ravi started to inspect the vehicle in detail – He energetically ran around the car, looked under it and started knocking at different places to check the strength. Watching him looking at the car from diverse angles, Gloria felt that he would be an ideal person to choose animals for slaughter. She was watching them through the window. She saw Jeffrey coming inside to take the key. Gloria took the key in her hand and pressed her face into a pillow as she wept. The keychain was made of brass with a shape of Lord Ganesha, and it had the words G F Fisheries embedded on it. (G F for Gloria Fernandez). Melvin was very obstinate about having Lord Ganesha as the logo, since he believed that it would give his business a good prosperous start. He ignored the teasing words from Gloria, and told “An out and right Christian, and an out and right businessman”.
“Mom, Where is the key?” Jeffery came to her after searching the desk.
“Why are you crying, Mom? Anyway we will be parting this place soon. So what’s the sanctity in keeping that piece of junk? Please give the key.” He grabbed the key forcefully from Gloria’s hand.
Yes. He will not understand. For him, it is just another junk piece of metal. He has been like this all the while. All that Jeffrey learnt from his father was his business mind. He never absorbed the values of Melvin - who made it a point to have some light moments that he enjoyed with his family in spite of the busy working hours, who put a heavy price tag to human emotions. When Jeffrey learnt that Australians allow Anglo Indians to migrate, he started running around to abscond from the place where he lived all the while. ‘Home country’, it seems! How can he even consider leaving these local boulevards through which the nomadic guitar tones linger, the gorgeous Chinese nets, the Gulmohar flowers and their sleepy fragrance, the melody of the lake and sea, the languid and loving people, the garden with chrysanthemum, begonia and anthurium in its borders and this bungalow that has Melvin’s breath in every corner? Yes. Jeffrey will never understand. He has always been like this.
“Mom, the deal is fixed. 62000 Rs. Not a good profit, but not a loss either. They will come within two hours, with a good battery”
“Jeffrey, you may go to the tea shop and get them something to drink. I am going to Elizabeth’s house. I will come back in the evening. Anyway, I can’t bear the scene.”
Gloria took the umbrella and opened the door. She burst into tears as she approached the car for one last time. As she kissed the steering wheel, she could smell Melvin’s cologne in her nose. She wiped her face and stared on, till she felt like leaving. Is Melvin opening the front door of the car and coming out? She could hear the sound of his shoes. She could feel his presence near her. Gloria did not know how long she stood there.
“Mom, have you not gone yet?” Jeffrey’s question brought her back to the world. Gloria opened the umbrella and slowly started walking - to those memories rushing through her mind, to the air that smelled cologne, to the frames of life frozen with Melvin's picture.
- Translation of a short story written in Malayalam by my Achan (which was published in a magazine). Today, it’s 5 years since he left us.