Though it was so many years ago, the day she returned from the far away land was etched in his memory as if it was yesterday. He had waited for her at the airport, peering anxiously through the huge glass partition, at the empty runway. At last, the aircraft came furrowing its way like some mythical spaceship through the shimmering rain that pelted relentlessly on the tarmac. The incessant drizzle hissed behind the silence that enveloped both of them as they left the airport for home.
He recalled that she hardly spoke on the long drive back, nodding off into a fitful slumber as if she had stayed awake every night of the two years that she had been away. When they got home at last, she slept again for almost two days at a stretch. Must be the jet lag, he thought and let her sleep. When she woke up he could see that she had been crying. First he thought it was the shock of losing her job but soon he sensed it was more than that. He approached her tenderly but she flinched and withdrew. Then as if unable to hold back she threw herself onto him in surrender, sobbing uncontrollably, whispering into his ear.
The child was born a few months later. During that tortuous time, she had gone irreversibly into her shell, her numb silence making his pain even more unbearable. On seeing the new born child, she brightened up a bit but only for a while. Soon things got worse. In fits and bursts, he slowly got to know what had happened. It was impossible to resist, she said, and she had no other choice but to endure it silently. Finally when the man came to know she was with his child, he had quietly got his wife to pack her off to where she came from.
She did not get any better after that – slowly sinking into a cesspit of guilt and helplessness, ignoring the child and withdrawing into glassy-eyed silence. She would gaze blankly into the rain as it simmered over the earth for days on end. The blinding green of her island village where it rained almost all year round, seemed to envelop her in a cocoon that shielded her from the world and from him. And then, one morning she was gone. He had been to the market to get provisions for the shop and when he got back, he somehow knew she was not there. He found her hanging limply from a rope, swinging in the light breeze like a rag doll. It was only then he noticed the child, looking up at her who had refused to be his mother. He appeared almost alien, with features so different from the people of this land. As the boy grew up, the old man would be reminded, every day, of the one who had done this to them. He whispered into the boy’s ear, with all the intensity of someone who had lost everything he held dear, “you will be sent back with a purpose and that is what you will live for from this day onwards….”
Years went by. Nothing much changed in the island village. The rains just kept getting worse, flooding the narrow streets more often. His little shop continued to do its usual brisk trade in daily commodities, refusing to grow up and become anything more than what it was capable of being. The boy turned into a strapping lad. He was no good in his studies – most probably like the man who was really his father, the old man thought, drily. He himself and the boy’s mother had both been bright students. But then on this little island, brightness did not count for anything. The boy was ambitious though, when he suggested to him that he should learn driving and become some rich man’s chauffeur in a faraway land, he was excited. He joined up for driving classes and soon became a skilled driver.
One evening as they sat together for supper, he drew the boy close and said, almost menacingly, “You will go to the distant country and become his driver. Of the man who wreaked havoc with our lives. And then, he will follow you unsuspectingly to his death and your own. Because with that, you would have achieved your life’s purpose. There would be no need for you to live further.”
The lad was puzzled but nodded his young head. What he heard must be right and he would get an opportunity to travel to the land of riches and drive powerful cars. He would also be able to get his revenge on the man who both of them hated so much. The boy looked at himself in the mirror distastefully– a mongrel, he thought. How they make fun of me and my looks, first at school and then on the football ground where he whiled away his time once he was done with his brief education. He would get back at them when his name was in the papers for what he had done to the tyrant and they would be helpless. Knowing that he was the accused but unable to punish him as he would have escaped forever. He looked forward to it with grim anticipation.
He started working soon with a school bus operator in the nearby town. It was easy work – just two trips a day and he could sit in the shade the rest of the time smoking and dreaming of some of the older girls in the bus. He particularly fancied a couple of them. What did they think about him? Did they even notice him? Did they think he was too old to be attracted by them? And was he doing something wrong, he wondered. No, he said, to himself. If I do not take them someone else will. On this steamy island, there were just a few ways to escape poverty and only one of them was easy.
He got himself registered with the overseas agency in the town and very soon he was attending tests conducted by various employers. He got selected most of the time, being a skilful driver and a polite, presentable young man. But the old man would reject anything that was not in the same city or country from where she had returned so tragically years ago. At last, a position for a house driver came up in that very town where the tyrant used to live in. The old man could not believe his luck. Suddenly his thoughts spun out of control. All these years he had been sure, the man would be there when the boy arrived, waiting for the inevitable. Now he panicked. What if he was already dead? Or worse still, if he was dying, a slow tortuous death this very moment? The only way to be sure was to find out.
They signed the contract and very soon the visa arrived. He was on his way. The old man hugged him in silence at the airport, knowing he would not see him again. Neither felt any sorrow at this thought, which was strange because before this, they had never been separated even for a day. The boy waved as he vanished through the barrier and suddenly the old man felt acutely alone. The first few days there was no news. He must still be settling in, getting familiar with the surroundings and all that, he thought. Then he called to say he was well and that he was working for a family who were not too bad with him. The old man wanted to know only one thing – did he find out about the man? The young man said he still had not and this upset him. “How long must we wait?” he demanded. The boy murmured inaudibly and the line went dead.
Months passed by in much the same way. The boy was happy with his work and the boss and his family were kind to him. The old man waited to hear what he wanted to know but was too proud to ask. And then, one day when his phone rang, he knew that there would be news. The boy was excited. “I have found him. He and his family live quite close by. I enquired and they would most probably need a driver shortly.” “Did you see him?” he asked excitedly. No, he had not but he would be soon, as he planned to go himself and ask about their need for a driver. He could not wait for the next call.
The phone rang again a few days later. The boy was breathless with excitement. “I have met him,” he whispered, “and I will get the job, I’m sure”. The old man could not believe their luck. The moment he was waiting for had finally arrived. “You must fulfil your mission without delay,” he hissed into the phone. “Of course, I will,” came the answer. “What does he look like? Is he old?” He could not help asking. “He is handsome,” said the youngster, adding cheekily, “just like me”. He did not like that, the tone somehow did not sound right. “Enough of boasting,” he chided. Then the line was quiet.
It was a few weeks later that the phone rang again. “I have found the right time and occasion,” he said curtly. “Tomorrow morning, he will be travelling alone to the countryside. There is a deserted ravine on the way. I do not want it to look like an accident, so I will leave a note for them to know.” The old man shut his eyes and breathed deeply, “God bless you, my son.” He said, but somehow it did not come out quite that way. He had unknowingly said, “My boy”. “How will I know that you have succeeded?” he asked. “I will send a text message just before I get off the road into the ravine,” the lad replied. “Okay, take care,” he said hurriedly. “I’ll be waiting for your message.”
It began raining that evening and did not stop all night. He pulled the tarpaulin over the roof to keep it from leaking. He fed the dogs and tried to sleep but could not. Very soon, the grey dawn was not far away. He looked out into the haze and thought of the dry blinding heat and of the boy driving the air-conditioned sedan at breakneck speed. He could see in his mind’s eye, the puzzled look on the man’s savage face as the car edged off the road, turning to sheer panic as the car hurtled towards the ravine. The phone hummed with a message, “your wish will be fulfilled very soon. Then all of us can rest in peace.” The old man sighed deeply. He hobbled slowly to the door, locked it and lay down on his bed with an air of finality. Outside, the dogs howled mournfully into the wet afternoon, everything else was quiet.
The lad turned to the elderly man sitting in the rear seat, with a soft smile. “Father, you are brilliant. He must be so satisfied and maybe he is already dead by now. This was his life’s mission and there was nothing else he wanted to achieve.” The man nodded, gently smiling back. “Now at last everything is alright. It is a pity what hatred can do to people. I loved your mother deeply and she loved me too. She was so beautiful, wise and full of life. She hated her life back there and the wretched cripple who called himself her husband. But I had to be faithful to my wife and she would not let me keep your mother when she knew she was going to have you. Your mother died because she could not live without me while being reminded every minute about it through your presence. Forgive me, son and I would like to think your mother would have forgiven me too.”
The young man thought to himself, the rain in this faraway land is so strange and fearful. Hail stones pound away like they were unleashing heaven’s fury onto the mute earth. So different from the wavy, silent sheets of rain back home on the island. But what difference did it make when both end the same way, in floods and destruction?
He looked in the rear view mirror and could see not just the ravine but also an island of blinding green slowly disappear behind him into the dark wet sunshine.