A voice begins to talk, soft at first
gathering strength
a sea growing
from the confluence of its rivers
Memory reeds whittled, sharpened, focused
conjuring, keeping alive
a lost shape

A man rises slightly
from a bed where he lay
in the lap of his father
his eyes open, talking to people
entering and leaving the room
Village people, discussing
cows, crops and rain
Children playing hopscotch
outside the window in the grass
near clumps of jasmine bushes
wet with the night’s dew

His wife in the rundown kitchen
amidst women sitting on their haunches
talking endlessly in whispers
makes endless cups of tea

Her bangles are deathly quiet but
the brick stove outside
gossips away to the rice gruel
bubbling over it
about an impending pyre

He doesn’t look out of the window as he used to
when they had a houseful of guests
catching her eye, running his over her feet and up
till they tangled in alarm
his fingers caressing the window bars
till she felt all aflame
her cheeks driving away the cold

but now  winter was the guest
and his window  remained closed

Between him and her
the sound was deafening
The last goodbyes of a village
and roomfuls of relatives
getting their last glimpse of a drunkard
who gave all his wealth, his lands,
his life to whoever laid an arm
around him in friendship

She looked at her share- the five he gave her
seeing him as he was once
young, lusty,  loving her like mad
fighting with her
and crying in her lap in the end

Between them, the five little ones
ran among the visitors
not having any questions
not knowing this was goodbye
to a warm chest, a comforting lap
sturdy shoulders and a steady clasp
over their little hands

He rose and fell back
before the morning fled

and came back
flowing through the tears of the five
when their kids asked for grandpa
and in the stories of his last day
she narrates to their granddaughters
standing, cold, lonely
at the threshold
unable to re-enter her warm cocoon
©Reena Prasad


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