Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Appu's Onam

The sunlight slipped in through the gaps between the coconut leaves, and made bright little squares and circles on Appu’s face. The early morning sea breeze made them move around. Ammu climbed onto the bed and cuddled up on his stomach with a muffled meow. The neighborhood rooster soon joined the grand conspiracy with a resounding morning cry.

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and rubbed them with his hands. He yawned and stretched with a lazy vacation relish. Ammu jumped off his stomach and did her own slightly more extravagant version of the stretch.

Dreamy eyed, he climbed down the stairs; Ammu followed close behind, rubbing against his feet. The earthly fresh voice of Yesudas’ wafted in from grandma’s old radio. The smell of fresh steaming puttu and the clatter of plates emanated from the kitchen.

“Good morning!” said his mother as he sauntered into the kitchen. “Finally you thought of getting up, your highness?” She asked, ruffling his hair. “Have you brushed your teeth?” He never liked these early morning questions. “When will she start treating me like a grown up…? And when will she start giving me tea in the transparent glass” he thought as she handed him a steel glass half filled with warm tea.

Holding the glass with both his hands and sipping the tea, he walked out to the verandah, where he found his father reading the morning newspaper. “Ah Good Morning Sir”, he said and dragged him into the fold of the newspaper. He liked the Sunday newspapers, they were colorful, and had lots of pictures. This being a Saturday, the newspaper was all black and white. He tried to read the big black letters which had some exclamation marks at their end, but gave up after a brief try.

“Where’s your Achuchechi?” his father asked. “Oh I don’t know” he said uninterestedly, as he took one serious sip from the glass. “And where’s your pookkalam? Where are all the flowers? I thought you two will have it ready by the time we woke up”

Appu slipped away from his father’s hands and sat down on the stairs. “Appu! don’t sit on the stairs, its dirty” It was his mother. Appu didn’t move, but just kept looking out into the front-yard with his chin in his hands.

“What’s with these two kids today?” the mother asked the father of her two children, “I have no idea” he said shrugging his shoulders and looked at the chalk drawing on the floor from which the flowers were missing; he also noticed that some parts of the drawing looked a little vague.

Appu still didn’t understand why Achuchi didn’t like the little circles he had drawn on the floor behind him the last night. Every time he drew them, she kept rubbing them off. First he thought that was because they were not perfect circles, so he kept drawing more cute circles. It was only when she got really mad and pushed him away that he understood her aversion to small cute circles. Not one to give up easily, he had then turned his creative energy into small squares – only to learn that his sister had a general abhorrence to all cute shapes. He didn’t clearly remember everything that followed after he retaliated by rubbing off the weird shape she had drawn in the center. In hindsight he didn’t regret that - it was not that great a shape, it looked very ugly in fact; but then, he thought he could probably have avoided a thing or two, like the hair-pulling and the biting.

He got up from his contemplations and walked out to the front yard. “Appu, wear the slippers!” his mother shouted from behind again. He ignored the voice again. “Appu wait, don’t run, you’ll fall down” he heard father shout as he ran barefoot to the back of the house.

He stopped as he reached the backyard that looked out into the sea. Little beads of morning dew glittered from the tips of the grass in the early morning sunlight. There was a light breeze blowing into the shore, which carried with it the chirps of the morning birds. Ammu was out in the grass trying to catch butterflies.

Appu ran out towards the sea. He liked to sit on the grass near the cliff and watch the waves crash into the rocks. He was stopped in his track though by a shrill voice from across the hedge. “Appu, Appu come look at our pookkalam!!” It was his neighbor Ali. “Where where, let me see” Appu asked enthusiastically and turned towards Ali’s house.

“Hello! Look who is here” Ali’s father lifted him off the ground as soon as he entered the yard. He didn’t like being lifted off the ground, but he didn’t mind this time, since that gave him a good view of the pookkalam. It looked beautiful. Ali and his elder brother Mansoor stood proudly beaming in front of their work of art. White, red, orange and yellow flowers were neatly laid out in a fine design on the ground like a thick carpet. Appu noticed that the shape in the middle looked a lot like what Achuchi had drawn last night. “Hmm it’s not that bad a shape after all”, he thought to himself.

“Where’s your sister?” Ali’s father asked him as he put Appu down and he was getting busy with the sweets Ali’s mother had presented him by then.

“I don’t know” He said, and then asked Ali after finishing with the sweets” did you see her?”
“She was here some time back, she helped us do our pookkalam, and then I think she went towards the shore” said Mansoor pointing his finger towards the sea.

“Come let’s find her” said Ali and took off towards the cliff that overlooked the sea. Appu followed with half hearted footsteps. After reaching the edge of the cliff they stopped and looked around. The sea was calm, except for the waves that kept lashing at the rocks. It was a lot more peaceful than last month, now that the monsoon had eased out. Still, there were very few boats in the sea since it was Thiruvonam day. A few cows and goats were grazing on the field nearby. There was no sign of Aswathi anywhere around.

“Where could she have gone” Ali thought out loud, “she had a basket with her, she has probably gone to get flowers”. They looked around, there were no flowers anywhere. All flowers - small and big, from the gardens and from the wild, were already taken. Even Appu and Aswathi had collected some flowers the previous day and kept them for their pookkalam. “The only place she would get flowers now are from the fields” said Ali with both arms behind him, with the air of a detective who had cracked the last missing piece of a complicated case “but that is really far away”. “Come on, let’s go and check” he said to Appu after some thought. Appu would rather have sat there and watched the waves, but he agreed at length, and followed Ali who was already sprinting away in the direction of the fields.

“Unniyetta have you seen Achuchi” Appu shouted out to Unni who was coming in the opposite direction with his little herd of goats. “Yes, I saw her some time back, I think she went that way, Unni said pointing toward the direction of the fields.

He looked ahead and saw that Ali had stopped running. He was pointing at something that was lying on the ground and shouting something. Appu ran towards him. “Look! a slipper” said Ali. There on the ground lay a little slipper, but there was just one of them. “Is it hers?” Ali asked. They looked at each other, and then looked at the sea. Appu ran out towards the edge of the cliff and looked down. He saw Moosakka sitting on the rock with a fishing rod “Have you seen my Achuchi??” he shouted out to Moosakka. “No mone I haven’t” Moosa shouted back. Ali looked at Appu again; his eyes had started to fill up.

“Achuchi!! Achuchi!!”, he started calling out loudly. The waves kept breaking upon the rocks relentlessly; a few vagrant clouds tried to obscure the sun. Appu ran towards the direction of he fields, Ali followed him. “Achuchi, Where are you??” his voice was now at the verge of breaking into a cry.

A familiar feline sound came from somewhere nearby. They hadn’t seen Ammu follow them, it was not like her to come this far out. They looked up and saw Ammu balancing herself precariously on a branch, amidst a bunch of yellow flowers. There was a rustle from the leaves above, and then came a bright red frock jumping down from the tree. There was Achuchi! with a basket full of yellow flowers. Appu for a moment didn’t know whether to smile or sulk. He just stood there with a confused look on his face. Ali ran to Aswathi and started checking out the flowers. “Appukkutta!! Come home fast, I want you to draw those circles”, Aswathi said as she took off towards their house. Appu thought for a moment, then his face lit up and he raced after his sister, Ali followed with shouts of joy.

The man and the woman looked on happily as they saw the little figures running home in the backdrop of the calm sea which sparkled golden in the sunlight; the wind carried their happy laughter to them. They sat down leaning against each other and waited to take their children in their arms.
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