This is my entry for the http://www.writeupcafe.com/east (IBL) semifinal in the short story category.
The only house that was modern in our village was the gated one of Dr.Balamurali, who had migrated to America at a young age. For most of the time, the house remained closed. It stood beside the mud road we passed every day to reach the bus stand and from there to our college; that was when I joined my pre-degree.
The mud road was wide in front of the house, but emaciated as it reached the most difficult juncture of our daily expedition, a rivulet. We had to cross it to reach the bus stand; during normal time that was easy; but not during the Monsoon rains, when it swelled beyond its banks into the nearby land. On such days we turned back without proceeding further; not only us but also the entire villagers.
We called the rivulet, Kalindi.
One Saturday, me alone had to go to college to do the practical work; in the morning, Kalindi was amiable, I walked through her water; but by afternoon she had turned monstrous. I only realised it when I reached over her; I stood stunned for some time; then I slowly reached up to her bank and stared down; her swift torrents, I realised would tear me off in seconds, if I dared to cross them. But if I hadn’t, what was going to happen, the thought turned me frantic, I looked all around to find somebody; there was nobody; the rain showed no sign of a break; in the sky, wanton clouds had eclipsed the sun. I thought about my mother, cell phones were not yet born. Suddenly I saw somebody appearing at the other bank; first I thought it was my brother coming in search of me; but the person was completely in black; he wore no umbrella but a raincoat.
When he saw me, he climbed onto the bank on the other side of the river to face me, Anand, Dr.Balamurali’s son, I recognised him. He had come home on holidays; we had seen him the other day.
‘Is it Vijaya’, he too recognised me.
‘Yes I am…’ my reply got choked at my throat. Even now, I have no words to explain how I felt at that moment than saying; there is no god more than somebody who calls out your name when you mad it certain, no escape was possible, from the face of a calamity.
‘Don’t be scared, hang on there; I’ll be back’. So saying he disappeared from the bank. In ten minutes he was back carrying a huge rope; one end of it he tied to the bamboo tree towered by his side and threw the other end to me and asked me to tie it to the coconut tree by my side; I did it, taking all my strength and during that mission my umbrella flew away.
He entered the torrent from the other side, holding onto the rope, I held the rope from my side to make sure it didn’t slack; I noticed he had no fear and I watched how he negotiated through the bumpy stones on the floor of Kalindi like a finely honed rescue operator. Whenever the current swayed and shifted, he expertly regained his position. And finally, he reached my side of Kalindi.
‘Are you alright’ he smiled at me. He took off his rain jacket and gave me; then made sure the rope was tight on the coconut tree; he was exposed to the rain; that made me guilty.
‘Are you ready’, he asked me. I said I was.
‘Now we are going to cross together’ He explained to me.
He kept his right arm around me and said; ‘stay close to me; it is going to be easy; be brave’.
I did exactly what he said; we entered the water together and moved slowly; he holding onto the rope with one hand and holding me with the other and me holding onto him with both my hands. It was not easy; but he made it easy for us; I felt the warmth of his body and the beats of his heart; they were normal; but mine was irregular and I was nervous; he might have felt that. So he went on repeating, ‘do not worry, we will make it’
And we made it, when we reached the other side of Kalindi, I sighed and when he let me go off his arm, I wished had Kalindi never ended and I still stayed in his arm.
I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to him, but did not, fearing that would make his deed small, so I said, ‘you came like god’.
He laughed loud; I thought he was pleased to be placed in the place of god.
‘Do you believe in god’, he asked
‘Yes, I do’
‘Have you seen one?’
‘Yes, right now’
He laughed again; me too.
‘I am happy that I came around this place; I was curious about the Monsoon; hardly got to see its ferocity’
I was about to return the raincoat, and then he said.
‘Take it, I do have another one’.
He walked me to my home.
That night I couldn’t sleep. My heart went on pounding nervously; I thought, why was I like that, he had stayed normal; his heart didn’t pound. But I couldn’t help; I still felt his warmth; his touch and kindness; saw only his smiling face, heard only his voice and felt only his arm around me. I couldn’t help falling in love with him.
Was he also feeling the same; I didn’t know. By morning I was normal and felt ashamed of all my thoughts at night.
Soon Kalindi problem was resolved, Dr.Balamurali decided to bear the cost of building a bridge over her. That was when I became proud of my village people; they all came forward to help the cause; we couldn’t believe that in two weeks, the bridge was up; the inauguration was big, on a Saturday, politicians were there; district collector did the inauguration. Dr, Balamurali was one speaker; he spoke about how his son Anand motivated him and mentioned the incident form where the whole thing had started.
For the inauguration we sang the national anthem. Anand took our photographs.
Next week, before he flew back to States, he gave me a card of our photograph with a footnote; to Vijaya, with love, Anand.
That word ‘love’ once again messed with my mind and made me nervous for some time and then I forgot it.
He came home again after three years; again we saw each other and shared a lot of the nuances about our two different worlds; I could say that he slowly taught me that between and man and a woman, a girl and a boy, a relationship is possible without being romantic; I called it pure love.
So the Kalindi Bridge turned out to be a symbol of that pure love.
Time had passed; I left my country; he got his job in the States; but again our paths met up; then he introduced his wife to me; she was a perfect match for him. I wished them good luck.
It became my routine to visit the Kalindi Bridge, whenever I visited home; it became like a shrine to me, because it gave me the awareness that one person alone could make a lot of changes in this world. And the bridge represented Anand, who taught me to put trust in a man and how to discern a true man. I wouldn’t hide that such realisations have helped me to be who I am today.
When I visited it last time, I got the shock of my life; our Kalindi was no more; only the bridge stooped over a dry parch that bore her remnants, and the bridge too was in an abandoned state; its wooden steps due to long strain were falling apart and its ferric banisters looked ghostly. Under the bridge, I saw the bared stones covered in moss green, over which once walked a brave boy and a timid girl and made history. I went down and kissed the stones as though doing the last ritual to a loved one.
‘There is a new road to reach town’, a person passing by told me the reason for what I saw.
‘But to where has the water disappeared?’ I asked.
‘There is no water; the mountains from where it took birth are no more; the contractors from town flattened them; sold the soil for money to the real estate developers.’
‘No, protest from anybody?’
‘Yes, they would protest if you give them money’, the passer by moved on.
I turned to the bridge; clicked my camera and posted its picture to Anand with a footnote; ‘Our bride is falling apart and Kalindi is no more’ love Vijaya.