Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - II

Click for Part I

The man stood tall and broad, intimidating her with a glare that made her heart tremble.

"You have repaid my trust well," he said in a quiet, deep voice.

Shravanti lowered her head, her face pale. Ajaya, who had run ahead, saw the threat to Shravanti's person and regretted leaving his weapons behind near the tree where they had been sitting. But adept at the art of turning even a twig into a weapon, he picked up dry sand and stole up to the man.

"Who is he?" the man demanded, his arms crossed across his chest.

Her breathing came fast but she did not respond immediately. Ajaya crept up and stretched to rub the mud in the man's face, and found the scruff of his neck caught unceremoniously in a vice grip.

"Father!" Shravanti exclaimed and tried to rescue Ajaya. The man brought the boy around as if he were as weightless as the sand Ajaya carried in his hand, and they stood facing each other. Gautama's eyes appraised the boy, while the boy defiantly stared back.

"Father, please! He... We..." Shravanti mumbled, unable to reveal the truth.

Her father, Gautama, let go of the boy, turned around and walked briskly. Shravanti, hearing the unspoken command, followed him silently with an apologetic glance at Ajaya. When they reached home, her mother Revathi was pacing fretfully. One look at her husband's face, and she guessed the worst. "I told you, she is up to no good..." she said, and glared at her daughter. Shravanti's loose hair and the clothes in disarray seemed to be proof enough for the prodigal ways of her daughter.

Gautama looked at his wife with a quelling glance. But Revathi was not to be silenced easily. "Your fancy ideas are going to be the death of us!" she muttered. "Instead of..."

"Revathi!" Gautama stopped her in a commanding voice.

Revathi looked displeased and would not remain silent. "Vikrama was here this morning, and begged your forgiveness."

"That coward!" Gautama spat. "Did you let him into the house?"

Revathi made a face. "How long are you going to run from the world! And what when you are gone? Will she live alone, without protection? She is dallying with strangers right under your nose. What when you are no more?"

Gautama seemed distressed. "Stop it! I cannot push her into a well of darkness today fearing what may befall her tomorrow!"

"She will bring it on herself. She is bad omen!" Revathi said bluntly.

"Don't say that!" Gautama shot back trembling in rage and walked away, not wanting to hear anymore. Shravanti was shocked too, and caught between conflicting emotions.

Gautama kept away the entire day, and Revathi wouldn't, constantly chiding Shravanti and trying to pry the details about the morning's events. Shravanti evaded the questions and escaped to her dreamworld. She didn't even notice when Revathi went out, casting a distasteful glance back at her, worried about her husband, and fearing the worst.

Sitting by the fire in the kitchen as the rice pot simmered, Shravanti drifted far, deep into the jungle where she thought Ajaya lived. She didn't know what her fate would be - whether she would be allowed to step out of the hut anymore. Would he know where she lived and try to reach her, or would the fear of being chased by her father keep him away?

Even in that preoccupied state, she felt a change in the shadows and saw a tall and handsome stranger enter the room. She plucked out a burning log and stood facing him, the fire in her hand dancing in her eyes.

"Aha!" the man said, showing his palms in surrender. "I came to meet your father..."

She waved the log, gesturing that he should step out. He slowly backed out and she slipped past him to look for her parents. Gautama and Revathi, who were approaching the house, came running. The man bowed politely to Gautama, who didn't seem pleased to see him.

Revathi headed her daughter in to allow the men to talk freely. Shravanti went back to her dreamworld, unaware of the nightmare that was to visit her. A little later, when Shravanti came out to ask her parents about dinner, she was surprised that the man had left and her parents were in deep discussion. After dinner, as Shravanti prepared for bed, Gautama approached her hesitantly.

"My child..." he said softly. All the anger of the morning seemed to have vanished. His voice seemed laced with some deep worry.

She turned to him eagerly, and started to tell him about Ajaya, but stopped seeing the expression on Gautama's face. Something weighed heavily on his mind. "It is time to get you married... to your betrothed."

There was no joy in his eyes. There was only shock in hers.

Continued - Part III


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