Short Story – The Old Woman

A short story that I wrote with a simple emotion in mind. An honest attempt. Let me know your thoughts.

There were threads in her eyes – pink, dark pink but never angry red, never burning red. She was mellow. Her hair fell bit by bit everyday and yet, she had the longest plait you’d ever see. Her plait thinned out at the end and pointed downwards lifelessly – unlike the corners of her lips. She smiled always with a twinkle in her eyes. She sang well. Well, she sang. People liked her singing for her eyes and her cheeks – not so much for her voice.

She lived in a house away from civilization. And rarely met people. She stepped out only when the Sun was kind and the wind was mellow. He liked to stay indoors and come out at dusk to stare at her potted plants under the porch. This was a white-washed house inside and out. The house stood in the middle of nowhere just like the house in the cartoon series named after a cowardly dog. She didn’t have a dog either. She had no one except a milkman who came in the morning to deliver a litre of milk. He would knock on the door and then sit on the stairs under the porch. She would slowly walk toward the door and he would patiently wait.

It wasn’t that she couldn’t walk fast. She was not that old. In fact, we have no proof that she was above 60. She walked slowly because she could afford to. The milkman would reproach her gently when she would finally appear on the doorway, asking her to hurry up. ‘I have to go to other places too,’ he would say but it was untrue. He had nowhere else to go. He went to deliver milk around the city but this old woman’s house was the only place he had to visit.

Oh, and she also had a servant. A servant who always slipped from memory because he was never there. He would appear in the evening with the woman’s daily supply of juice and snacks. He never had a moment to sit because she made him run errands the whole day. On the whitewashed house, the servant could be spotted almost always on the terrace – sometimes putting the clothes to dry, sometimes getting the pickle to dry, sometimes drying the papads. On the hotter days, he would be seen sweating profusely. He would be seen running his thumb across his brow, trying to get the sweat to drop in a streamline. With the same thumb then, he would touch the papads – trying to spread them evenly so that they catch the right amount of sun.

The old woman got a letter one day. She was invited to the town hall. Someone knew that she had been a singer. She was to be facilitated. A coconut, a shawl and a lot of clapping – she imagined it. She decided that she was better here in her white house. But then she looked in her old trunk and found a white saree with golden flowers. She pictured herself on the stage in that saree. It was a ridiculous thought. So, she kept the saree back.

The day came. The milkman asked her if she was coming to the function and she changed the topic. The servant asked if he should fetch her a rickshaw and she asked him to drop it. She sat alone under the porch, reading a book, in her white saree.

And then her phone rang. She stood up and sprinted toward it. A bit of a slip on the steep stairs, a bruise on the knee but she got to the phone. Somebody had dialed a wrong number. She asked her servant to fetch a rickshaw. It wasn’t dark yet but, rickshaws had stopped coming to that end of the city. The servant ran and ran till he found a rickshaw. The servant had run four kilometers. The rickshaw driver dropped his bidi, and quickly rotated the rickshaw in the direction of the old woman’s house. The milkman had somehow reached there and was pepping the old lady under the porch. She was telling him that she wasn’t sure she was going to sing. ‘Let’s just see what the hoopla is about,’ she said, trying to lower everyone’s expectations.

The town hall was six kilometers away. On the way, there were people buying vegetables, fighting over petty issues, loudspeakers and loud bells. The sounds of the city came back to her and she remembered why she was living away from all this.

As she entered the packed town hall, no one turned around to notice her. She quietly walked toward the stage as a young girl danced to some classical music. She threw a glace around and found no familiar faces. The man who was compering the show spotted her. He nodded in her direction and she waved at him.

‘I now invite…’ he said her name and a thunderous applause followed. She hadn’t expected the applause but her face could only muster up a kind smile. She looked at the crowd and saw young men and women clapping and smiling. She raised her hand to bless as many people as she could.

She could climb up the stairs just fine but the host came to receiver her. A man watched her feet as she climbed, asking her to be careful. She turned around and there were stage lights. A microphone was handed toward her. He hesitatingly brought it close to her mouth and thanked the people.

She told them that it was mighty kind of the mayor to remember a forgotten singer like herself. And then she sang in her frail, broken voice – gasping for breaths. Men stood up to clap. Women wanted to be by her side and support her as she sang her last melody. The majority of the crowd comprised people who had never heard her or seen her.

But in that moment, she was everyone’s grandmother – neglected, isolated, loved.

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