Joined: 23 March 2012
Chapter 38: A River Runs Through It…
"Do you know how many times I have changed my clothes today?" he asked as he came out of the room wearing another washed pair of jhubha and bottom.
She didn't say anything as she took the sweat drenched clothes of his to the back of the house. He followed her out as she opened the back door and stepped out into the night. The moon was a solid disc of white tonight.
He found the switch on the wall and turned on the overhead bulb hanging above them on the back porch.
She walked down the steps to the tap and dropped his clothes into a red basin that she filled with water.
When she turned around and walked back, he watched her until she finally gave in and looked at him.
A movement behind her caught his eye and he looked to the right into the woods.
It was the woman from Kashi's photographs... She was standing at the edge of the woods, staring right at him.
"Kashi!" he called out as he ran down the steps, startling her.
"Behind you!" he rushed towards her as she turned to look behind her.
He pulled her to him and she allowed it, but only for a moment, before he heard her ask.
Her eyes were trained towards the woods where he had been looking at earlier and her words made him look again.
There was no one there now.
He swallowed hard as he closed his eyes for a moment and opened to look again. There was no one there still.
He felt a chill go through him as his fingers turned icy.
He found the strength to squeeze her to him tightly as he whispered, "Gotcha. I told you I would never give up a chance to hold you."
She looked up at him then, her face in profile in the full moon and her eyes understanding more than he wanted to.
But she played along and struggled in his arms a moment later and said without conviction, "You're a lecher of the first degree. Let go of me."
He let go, her willingness to ignore his momentary descent into insanity allowing the much-needed reprieve to recover. He wished for the warmth of her touch though, but said nothing as he moved aside.
She walked towards the stairs, although he noticed that she kept her pace deliberate, only taking one step for every two of his.
By the time they reached the top of the stairs, he was ahead of her.
She tried to not make it obvious, but he knew she looked into the woods to look for what he saw while she closed the door.
He didn't want to return to sleep… neither did he want to leave her side…
"Show me the room where your family played chess?" he asked suddenly and she looked back at him in surprise.
"I heard from the driver that there is a room here that's dedicated to chess. Is that true?" he asked again.
"Not chess. Chaturangam." She corrected.
"Same thing." He said.
"Close, but not exactly."
"Where is it?"
He thought she would resist, but she held his gaze for a moment before walking towards a side corridor. It led to a part of the house that he had never been to. There were no windows along the hallway and it was pitch dark, but she walked without any difficulty and he imagined that she had likely done this many times.
"It must take a lifetime to be able to navigate this house without a map or light." he proclaimed.
"Several." She said.
"Several lifetimes." She answered, turning back to him suddenly, making him bump into her.
"The blueprint of this house is genetically encoded into us who live here; it's in our DNA, Arnav." Her voice was angry now. "How the hell will you ever learn? How will all those strangers that you will have here to relax and rejuvenate ever learn? This house doesn't take well to strangers, Arnav. It never has and it never will!" her voice ended on a shrill note.
He tried to see her face, but his eyes couldn't adjust enough to make out the details, just her form.
He put his hand out to touch her, to feel her skin, so that he could understand…
He found her hand, but she tried to pull it away almost immediately.
"I can't see you well. Why are you angry?" he asked, feeling for her hand again.
This time when he found it, she didn't pull away, and he could feel the slight trembling that she tried to contain by clenching it into a fist.
"What's wrong?" he asked as he pulled her closer to him. "Why are you angry now?" he asked again.
She didn't answer him for a moment, keeping her fist tightly clenched, but then he felt it unclench and rise to his face. He felt it lightly stroke the stubble on his chin and his eyes closed as his throat clogged with a choking feeling. He held himself still, letting her touch, afraid that if he moved in any way, she would pull back.
"When have I ever needed a reason to be angry?" she asked, her voice a whisper now.
He heard the ambivalent softening in her voice and gently pulled her hand down from his face to place it over his shoulder.
When she didn't resist, his arms circled her waist to pull her to him in a snug hold and he whispered before she could respond, "Please don't push me away now."
There was a moment when she went absolutely still at his words. But then he felt her arms go around him and she pulled him to her tightly.
"I don't trust myself now…" her voice was hesitant as she admitted.
"Why?" he asked, feeling each cell of his being receiving the warmth that was flowing out of her.
"If you didn't make me feel this way, then maybe…." She petered off, her hold slackening.
His hold tightened to counteract and he felt her respond in kind.
"Then maybe…?" he asked.
"Maybe this wouldn't happen to you." She answered.
He tried to make him brain work sufficiently so that he understood the implication of what she said.
When he did, he pulled back from her and sat on the floor, pulling her down with him.
"I can handle myself." he finally said when he thought that she wouldn't try to move away from him.
She didn't refute what he said, but instead asked, "What did you dream about?"
"Nothing really." He put his head back against the wall.
"You screamed my name…" she said as she put her head back against his shoulder.
He remembered his dream vividly, but he could not recall calling out her name.
"Do you want me to return the favor?" he asked, trying to distract her.
He felt her look up at him in what he assumed was confusion.
He felt that same feeling from before crowd his throat, making him feel choked up. He hoped that she knew that she was his. He hoped that she knew it like he did.
He drew her up in his arms as he said, "But I want to make you moan with desire before you scream my name in pleasure."
"Don't make a joke of this." She said in irritation, pulling his head back when he tried to bury his face in her neck.
"I dreamed of a woman who gave birth to an infant seven years after her husband died. She was in this very house, but in a room I didn't recognize, and she was screaming for her child who they took away from her." He said in an aloof voice, keeping his eyes trained on nothing as he tried not to regress to the mind of the child who had been the witness.
"They who?" she asked, her fingers untwisting from his hair.
"I don't know." He answered, pulling back.
"Who was she?" she asked.
"I don't know, Kashi. It was a dream. Just a dream. My mind just jumbling up the things it sees and the things that it can't make sense of and spitting out its own version of…" he paused and looked at her even though he couldn't see her. "Bhayanakam…"
"Fear." She sounded surprised still that he remembered. "Do you remember all the navarasas?"
He smiled. "No, just the ones you couldn't do."
"Dreams are…" she started, not responding to his attempt at levity.
"Dreams are dreams. Nothing more and nothing less. Leave it. They have no bearing on anything aside from my own unconscious."
She didn't say anything for a moment. Just when he thought she would leave it, she asked, "What did you dream about the other night?"
This time he pulled away from her completely.
"Leave it Kashi."
"Arnav…" her voice was soft and concerned and it was his undoing.
"My sister was lost inside that forest out there and she was screaming for help. I kept running around and around the damn place trying to get in, but couldn't. By the time I managed, she was lying by that stone where you worship your snakes, foaming at the mouth with her eyes rolled back in her head, her ankles showing the double marks where the venom had entered her. And I saw that beast slithering away."
He pulled his knees up and put his head down, his forearms over his head, blocking out everything… the memory, the pity that he could feel from her, and his own pain…
To her credit, she said nothing to interrupt the silence that was left in the wake of his admission.
He didn't know how long they stayed that way, but eventually he heard her ask.
"How old were you when she passed away?"
"Fourteen." He heard himself answer. "I was fourteen and she was seventeen."
"So young." He heard her say and found something ironic about it, although he couldn't put his finger on quite what it was.
"How… how did she die?" she asked after several moments.
"Cancer. Leukemia. By the time we found out, it was late. Quite late. She was gone within a year. Gone completely…" he should have left it at that. Instead he added, "Everything except her eyes."
There was an unnatural stillness in the air suddenly and he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
"What happened to her eyes?" she asked in a low voice.
He thought of what to say. Or whether to say anything at all.
In the end, he did say it.
"She gave them away. She gave them away to some boy who needed them. I found out her decision the hard way. There was a moment that day when I hated my sister. Hated her truly for taking herself away from me and leaving something behind for some unnamed boy. He and the family disappeared with the only thing left of her and I destroyed everything else."
Thankfully, she didn't say anything else. He sat like that for a long time with her and felt himself nod off eventually. He had a vague recollection of her laying his head down on her lap where he fell promptly into a deep sleep.
Between the darkness and slumber, he didn't know how long she stayed awake… and he didn't see the river of tears that kept her company…
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I don't trust myself to say anything, it's blissfully beautiful this story now. Anything I say will be inadequate and you are to blame D; if I am unable to comment in future it is because words will surely fail me.
Thank you for writing Kalarikkal House, it has made me look at fan fictions in a new light, I shamelessly steal your words and the brightness of this tale is as the moon a solid disc of white.
Note – the moon has great control over the ocean, don't know why I thought of that, I'm dreaming I guess.
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