Joined: 23 March 2012
Chapter 29: The Chamber of Secrets
Arnav listened to the man at the other end of the line in disbelief.
He stumbled over his words before he finally asked, "Is he alright?"
"Two broken ribs and a fractured wrist. Some whiplash. He was about a quarter of the way there when the collision happened, sir. The laptop and your suitcase that were in the car have been retrieved and returned to your hotel room."
"How is his family?" he asked and heard the man at the other end pause for a moment.
"Niteish." He called and the man answered, "Uh, sorry sir, I was not expecting… uh… they are alright, sir."
"Make sure they are. See to Ravi's hospital bills, obviously. I am almost out of battery, so I am going to give you the number at a local shop here. If you need to reach me, call this number. They will come get me."
"Yes, sir. What should I do about your stuff, sir?" the man asked.
Arnav closed his eyes and realized that his hand was rubbing the left of his chest and made himself stop.
"Leave the other things. I need the contract. Can you bring it over tomorrow?"
"The clients from Mumbai are still here, sir. They will only leave tomorrow evening."
Of course. Thankfully he had wrapped up that meeting before he had set out to come here.
"Day after tomorrow would do. That's Friday right?" He felt like he had lost all sense of time. The date and day of the week, hell, even the time of day, was shot to hell. His circadian rhythm altogether felt like it had rewired itself in the span of 48 hours.
"Yes, sir, Friday. Will do, sir."
"Tell Ravi…" he started, but then stopped. What the hell was he to tell a man in the hospital with broken ribs, wrist, and whiplash with a sick wife and kid?
He had no f**king clue.
"Tell Ravi…" he started again before stopping.
"Get well soon, sir?" He heard Niteish.
"Should I tell him that you said 'Get well soon' sir?"
Is that what people usually said? Get well soon? How f**king trite!
"Is that what people say?"
"No amount of me wishing him to get well soon is going to make him get better, Niteish." He said with a tinge of annoyance in his voice.
"Sorry sir." He heard Niteish answer.
He felt contrite and instead said, "Double his salary for this month. And get his family some apples or oranges or something. I don't know. Whatever you think people like to eat in their time of grief."
That sounded asinine even to his ears and he wrapped up the call soon after.
He walked back into the store where he had left Nalan and saw the boy was standing just outside the store.
"I…I don't want anything." The boy said, looking at the clothes inside the store with disinterest.
"I am going to buy you some anyways." He told the boy and walked him in.
The boy walked in, but said, "I only wear what Amma buys me."
He stopped and looked at the boy in surprise.
"The undershirt you wore yesterday, I bought you." He reminded the boy.
"Amma buys me same."
It took a moment for him to understand what the boy's reluctance was about. It must have been the first moment in his life when he felt humbled. He had never thought that a seven or eight year old would figure out what it is to insult a hard-working mother's pride by showing up in clothes that she couldn't afford to buy him.
He looked at the boy and the boy returned his gaze until he finally nodded in agreement.
"I need some things then. Will you stay with me while I buy them?"
The boy nodded now, this time with a smile, and walked around with him.
It was a small clothing shop that had little in the way of selection. The cloth appeared solid enough and he bought himself two packs of boxers. He was done rewashing the same one or going without. He realized only later that the thought of buying other clothes that he could wear during the day never even crossed his mind.
They left the store shortly after and walked some more before they passed by a small bookstore and he saw Nalan looking at the window where there was a copy of Harry Potter.
He didn't know if he should be surprised that Harry Potter had made it to a tiny village bookstore; he didn't really have a pulse on the publishing world or… villages for that matter.
He didn't ask the boy anything this time and merely walked into the store, holding his hand. The boy didn't resist.
He noticed that the boy walked around with him looking at the books in all the shelves but without touching anything.
After a while, he sat down at the wooden table at one end of the store that had a slightly unstable matching chair and pretended to read some history book that he found on the nearest shelf as he asked Nalan to go find some books to keep himself busy.
The boy was hesitant at first but then he did go and get the first book of the Harry Potter series. He read through three pages, Arnav noticed, before he finally asked him for the meaning of a word.
They stayed there in the book store for close to an hour and by then both of them were reading Harry Potter. Initially, he was only translating a few words here and there, but within twenty minutes, he was reading out loud to Nalan. There were only one or two patrons in the bookstore and thus no one seemed to mind their impromptu reading hour.
Nalan had to remind him to slow down three times before he finally got the pace right, but all in all, reading to the kid wasn't too bad.
By the time he left, he had bought all seven books and got some Hardy Boys to boot. He wasn't up on his Children's Literature and all he could remember reading when he was younger was Hardy Boys.
It made the owner of the bookstore quite happy with him and villagers evidently reacted to happiness by asking one intruding question after the other.
"What's your name?" "Where are you from?" "Why are you here?" XYZ
He couldn't tell if the man genuinely didn't know any of that information or was merely pretending not to know, but he seemed good-natured enough and thus Arnav attempted to at least give brief answers rather than telling the man to mind his own business.
Just when he and Nalan were about to leave, the man called out and said, "You live at Kalarikkal House, don't you?"
Ah, of course the man knew.
Arnav turned back and looked at the bookshop owner, but did not affirm or deny in answer.
The man was undeterred, however, and Arnav saw him reach down behind the shelf. When he rose, he had three books in his hand.
"Would you give these to Govidan Namboothiri's daughter?" the man extended the books in his direction and Arnav took it.
The first was a hardbound title with the words The White Tiger written in large letters. A certain Aravind Adiga was the author.
The one below it was a larger volume. There was a man in a suit with his hands raised and his head thrown back and another startled man looking at him. Below it said, Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet.
The last one was a paperback. Boy's Life. By Robert McCammon.
"Which daughter?" he asked, looking up.
"The younger one, Kashi. Have you met her yet?" the man asked.
Arnav looked at the man without expression. The man held his gaze without looking away.
After a moment, he nodded. At least there was one man in this village who had her best interest at heart.
"Yes, I have met her." He finally said.
The man nodded back. "Would you please give her these? She put in an order for them a while back; I only got them in last week."
The man seemed satisfied and looked at Nalan and smiled.
"Kashi chechyude koodeyanallo sadharana kanaru. Chechye vittittu ee chettante koode koodiyo neeyu?" (I usually see you with Kashi. Have you left her now and joined this guy?)
"Ee chettanu Malayalam ariyatha karanam njan koode vannatha." (I came along with him because he doesn't know Malayalam.)
The man nodded and said, "Sheri. Chellu." (Alright. Go ahead then.)
When he was outside, he looked at Nalan, who had insisted on holding the bag containing the 5 Harry Potter books and now seemed enraptured by its weight in his hands. The two heavier ones were in the bag that he was holding with the three books for Kashi.
"What did the man say?" he asked.
"Which man?" the boy asked, distracted.
"The bookshop owner. He said something to you."
"Ohh…" the boy said, looking up. "He asked me when you and Kashi chechy were getting married."
"Liar." He said and the boy laughed.
He knew the boy wouldn't tell him the truth now, amused as he was with his own lie, so he let him be as they headed back home.
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I was there, swear on Shivan I was there at the book store…..am no liar like Nalan….simple joys of life. Want to forget it is a Monday…..want to sit and read a good book…..want to spend the day playing in the woods with Nalan….want to do everything that is joyfully simple…..
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