The phone hung up when Eaapachan was still letting out the musical flow of words and guffawing out in happiness. He was looking outside through the rusted iron rods of the window, into the tapioca plants that had overgrown and covered the view of his handmade wooden gate at the entrance. His mind was already scanning through the soil, looking for the Tapioca hidden in there; planning ways to cut it all off and fertilize the soil to make the entrance look up to scratch again before Eldo’s arrival. Eaapachan knew Tharav(duck) curry and seasoned Tapioca was his son’s favorite dish when he was young.
‘Thud’… His wavery yet strong hands could break the phone’s receiver each time he placed it back on its dusty body. His hands were used to cutting and making decent looking furniture that used to be in quite some demand at Thanniyoor. The first almirah that he made was gifted to Thresiamma to woo her into wedlock, donkey’s years ago. The people of Thanniyoor still remember the day when his wife passed away; he was running towards the stacked wooden logs insisting to make a casket for her when she lay there still, adorning a beautiful wreath on her head. His love for creativity doubled after meeting Thresiamma and died a slow death when she left him. Eldos was only heard on calls for the first few months after he left for Muscat to join an Oil Rig when he was twenty-three years old. Within a year he married a Romanian origin woman and surprised his parents on one of his rare phone calls. This left Eaapachan and Thresiamma in a state of shock. For a few months, Thresiamma disconnected the phone wires and at the least expected Eldos to find out their whereabouts from Maamachan, their good neighbor, or from one of their other relatives. Nothing happened. No one called! Only a few relatives complained of not being able to reach them and hence missing a few formal wedding invitations, that anyway reached them via post. After reconnecting the wires there were times when Thresiamma slept off next to the Pushbutton phone waiting for the ‘ISD ring’.
Eldos and Angela somehow deeply felt that they’ve been childless due to Eldos’ parents’ curse for ignoring them; which he sounded during one of those short calls that happen once in a blue moon — It was more of a confession call and nothing else.
Eaapachan liked to show that he was strong and cared for none, apart from his lady-love. That made him often say, “We don’t need anyone apart from God!” caressing Thresiamma’s silky grey hair to feel her scalp. He knew she was getting closer to God after each chemo session.
Time flies and it miraculously heals everything…
He frequented his visits to the woodshed with all his tools and implements. He was scraping, thumping, and spent sleepless nights there. His hands worked really slow on the log and he often fell asleep on it midway. Brushing off the sawdust from his stubble he called out — ‘Thresiaaammmoo’ (calling Thresiamma in a lovable tone) and looked into his house. In response, he heard the rustling of the dried jackfruit leaves on the sand. He felt like he was trapped in a bottomless well of nothingness. Panting and puffing he dragged himself to the kitchen to get some water; to find stale rice porridge water which he sipped a few times to moisten his dry lips. Heading back to the woodshed he started rubbing his hands on the smooth surface and blowing off its wooden dust; his face gleamed as though he was looking at one of his best creations so far. He sniffed the wood and rested his body in his new creation. The cushioning was perfect; he closed his eyes. “Perfect — This is mine”, he burbled.
The next few days Eaapachan was busy getting a few workers clear his garden. ‘Cheeniparambil’, the house nameplate shined just the way Thresiamma liked it. The plumpy tubers were all piled and kept in the Pathayapura(granary) to save it from the pesky rats.
He signaled the workers to deliver a gunny bag full of tapioca to Maamachan’s house. “Maamacha, I have saved a lot for Eldos too in the Pathayapura; he will visit us shortly. Do get Ealiamma to cook some Tharav curry and Tapioca stew for me,” he shouted across the short compound wall. Maamachan happily pulled the sack full of Tapioca into his lawn and was simultaneously awed to see Eaapachan’s garden spic and span, like the good old days when Thresiamma was around.
Taking a deep breath and moving his rugged hands on the calendar, Eaapachan stroke off the date — June 3rd. His old-fashioned blue fountain pen that was gifted by his brother-in-law was well-functioning. He cleaned the house and burnt all Thresiamma’s worn out medical records that were piled up in his bedroom as bad memories. He found another folder ‘Eaapachan–Age 63–TMC Cancer Centre’. Impulsively he flung it into the burning fire pit, gritting his teeth and grunting out a loud cry.
Days passed by and June was completely stricken out on his calendar. Thanniyoor was famous for its incessant rains which kept people indoors as if hibernating. These rains also had the magic of turning all the colors brighter and all the life forms livelier.
Maamachan and Ealiamma were frantically searching for matchboxes, incense sticks, and the holy cross. That is when they stumbled upon the leftovers of the Tapioca stew and the Tharav curry they had offered a couple of days ago. Ealiamma’s lips quivered, she burst out crying and squatted down on the kitchen floor.
Thick smoke of frankincense was all around the house. Eldos stood still with teary eyes, alongside Angela while the priest was chanting prayers. The mortician liaised with Maamachan in getting things set. Many at Thanniyoor were seeing a foreigner in real for the first time; hence it turned out to be a huge gathering at Eaapachan’s house.
Eaapachan lay there calm and contended, but for a few onlookers, he seemed to be smirking in triumph as a response to people’s never-ending praise about his grand casket. Oblivious about the onlookers’ thought flow he was resting peacefully in the magnificent teakwood casket that he had designed for himself! While Eldos kissed his father’s forehead before the body was covered and lowered into the grave, he recalled — ‘’The house will be readied… it’s for you… I’ll keep some tapioca in the Pathayapura… My grand casket will be ready too… See you soon my son — belly laughter.” ‘Thud’ the phone was disconnected.