Short stories based on extracts from 'Let me tell you something about Quinta'

In the Time of Rain | In the Time of Rain II

In The Time Of Rain

Marri crocheted continuously so that thread of every discernible colour was included in the tapestry-like pieces she was crocheting. Soon there appeared, as her hook looped stitches with manic speed, decayed apples, tonsured coconuts, blackened custard apples, over-ripe bananas, black at the skin folds, ripe at the mouth, mangoes with spots and worms in them and shrivelled jagomas. There were some paintings of ladders with a strange spasmodic movement on the third step that walked, of ladders with eyes.
The heavy downpour continued and the vegetable vendors stopped coming to the door to hawk as the transport was heavily affected. The flooding of the low lying Khareband fields made the travel on the flooded road a skiddy proposition so transport operators preferred not to ply. The bridge down further, a crude colonial military improvisation flanking Benaulim.and Margao having long outlived its utility, had developed a crack on one end, and vehicular movement was already restricted. Queirozito, sensing a difficult week ahead had purchased groceries and Preciosa made Marri carry some over to Maria Aquina at the Quinta.
The pond looked like a river and the water was already ankle deep. The walls of an old house had collapsed tearing down the roof with it. Abandoned by its owners several years ago, nobody had even bothered to salvage the wreck. They had migrated to South Africa and from there moved over to Canada. For some reason, they never came back even once every few years. As the rain pelted down, a few neighbours stood with umbrella's in the front yard and watched the last beam fall before they went in and the rain began to melt the mud. Marri walked through the botched up mud under the water. Her rubber slip-ons stuck in the loose wet mud splashing it on her skirt as she prised them loose. So pachak, pachak she went with her basket of groceries in the pand. The sky was menacingly overcast as she walked the band under the canopy of coconut palms and the sweeping zest of the untrammelled wind-driven rain over the open fields that upturned her umbrella and soaked her to the skin.
She was shivering when she deposited the drenched basket on the sopo, dumped her umbrella and shook the raindrops off her body. Tome was tied to his usual post at the balcao.
He jumped off noisily dragging his iron chain and wagged his tail. An enamel plate with patchily eaten rice lay beside him. Robby, Piedade's son, now four years old, was playing nearby with a white block of unusual shape. Marri wondered whether it was wood or bone. He was hobbling about on a bandaged leg with his head wrapped in a scarf giving him a girlish look. Two jets of mucous ran from his nostrils and his face appeared swollen and. feverish. A thin strip of old cloth was tied around his neck from which suspended two pods of garlic.
Tome yelped at Marri wagging his tail from side to side, then began to scratch himself. Robby, startled by sudden loud, show of emotion, began to cry. Sensing the child's fear, the faithful dog sidled up to him and began to wag his tail and lick his forearm. Robby wiped the two jets of mucous on his shirtsleeve'and, climbing up the steps, lay down on the bench. Maria Aquina was having her morning coffee in the dining room. She was about to butter a slice of bread but, pausing, greeted Marri as she came in.
"O Dona! Como esta? Porque tu estas aqui? So you come with the rain and thunder!"
As she put down the bread in the .quarter plate, Marri snatched the bread away from her.
"Avo," she said horrified looking at the slice in her hand, "how can you have this! It's mouldy, look!" She pointed out the blotches of green mould to her.
"Avo," Marri reprimanded her again, "that is bad for your health." Maria Aquina avoided her granddaughter's gaze and looked at the slice in her hand for a moment. "You can't waste food,".she replied.
"Here, see^ its fine," the older woman said taking back the slice, scooping out the mouldy portions with an ivory-handled knife she bit into it. She finished her coffee and bread in silence and dumped the mouldy crumbs onto an old paper to be thrown into the pig feed trough.
Marri showed her the crochet hanging that she had finished the previous week. It was one that she had laboured on for a long time — of a rice-field lying waste. "What is this?" she gasped. "Fields have to be shown green. Why is there so much devastation in this one?"
To be Continued...

In the Time of Rain - II

Piedade came in just then and greeted Marri in her loud high-strung manner. She had picked up Robby and seated him on her waist as she came in. The child had long legs, which dangled way below her knees drawing one's attention to the startling fragility of Piedade's frame. She showed some medicines that she was carrying in a white paper packet. "I had to go to Varca to the doctor as there is no doctor in this village. Luckily I got a lift on Bambon's motorbike," she said. Maria Aquina had opened her paper and started to read.
Piedade continued with her complaint. Her son had an infection and the doctor had prescribed medicines for a week. "If my Baba was there, he would buy the medicines, now I have to get them with my salary," she lamented. "Where do I have the money for all that? All my life I have worn out my hands doing work for this house, and now when I need help nobody even listens to me. There is one more question I have. But I will ask it when the time comes. Because Baba is not around, everyone has deserted me!"
"Let's sit in the balcao," said Maria Aquina, as she got up, dragging her sciatic leg. Marri followed her but Piedade stopped her at the threshold by
the door. She looked at her. The boy had laid his head in the crook of her neck. She touched his right thigh and showed what appeared to be a dark swollen bruise. She moved her fingers over the lump, which seemed to react to her touch. It quivered and grew inert again. "His leg hurts all the time and the doctor thinks that it might need an operation." She sighed: "There is no money even for medicines, why even dream of an operation! Marribai, you are old enough to know this child did not take life by jadu and therefore it's not only me who has to pay his bills."
She cast a cautious glance in the direction of the balcao and lowered her voice.
"What will she do with all the money stuffed into her mattress? There is no one to use it after her. All the great ones in
her family have gone—only she remains. God has cursed her to live alone because of her metal heart from which she cannot give because there is no love."
"That is why she sighs so often, the stone inside her is heavy."
Maria Aquina called out to her just then and Marri crossed the threshold of the entrada hurriedly and, going to the balcao, sat down on the bench, picking up the white block that Robby had been playing with. Tfie object was incredibly light, sun bleached and spongy and seemed to be the vertebral bone of some huge animal.
"What's this, Avo?" Marri asked curiously turning it around in her hands. Maria Aquina let out a little sigh before she curled her lips disdainfully as she replied in Portuguese: "Quern sabe! Who knows! Bone of some mythical great white whom this servant's man-hero killed. A namorada daquela mulher," Maria Aquina replied and then sighed under her breath as only she knew how to. She then turned her attention to the cows that had just entered the fields through a steep descent on the bund.
"Bark at them, Tome," she shouted as she unleashed him. Soon the poor dog had begun his act in earnest. They sat there for some time watching the drooping trees-cape hazy in the rain beyond which the heavy church belfry was barely visible in the morning inkiness as lightning bolts darting across the sky. Maria Aquina was lost in thought for sometime but thereafter became restless and went back to the dining room. By this time Piedade had starting cooking in the kitchen and her shrill voice could be heard across the rooms shouting instructions to Robby as she cooked.
"Don't put your hands in water; you will catch a bronchial cold."
"Lie down on the bench if your leg is hurting."
To be Continued...