I did not wash dishes and toil my whole life for this" Lisie shouted furiously "I can’t let thirty years of my struggle go like that. How could you forget all our dreams and bring a buyer for our home"
Biju stood there dumb as ever. He had gulped two pegs of "tusker rum" from the local wine shop, on the way back for some courage. Not that those two would suddenly induce that in him. Even with a bottle of rum inside during his heydays he could never face Lisie. There was always this feeling that he failed her.
Think over it. This is the best price that we could get and Govindankutty chettan will pay immediately on registration. His son Madhav is coming next week from Dubai and we could get all of seven lakhs in no time"
"As if he is doing a favor" retorted Lisie as she walked into the kitchen. "With Varkey's fifty cents with him everybody knows that Madhav is eyeing our three cents that covers his plot to build the shopping complex for that aatakari menothi.” Somehow she couldn't accept Madhav Menon's acclaimed dancer wife who reminded her of the bitchy Shobha in shreejanmam her dose of daily soap.
Lisie heated the fish curry and took some pappad to fry. "Did you have something from the brandy shop " she shouted.
"I will have some kanji" he replied while changing into a kalliMundu.
Lisie cooked kanji and left in the dining room of their modest dwelling with the curry. To think that the place for which she had strived all her life would be someone else's - how fatuously erroneous were her father’s maxims. “Good things always comes to good people” he always used to say. Andrew her father was a man to reckon with in the fishing hamlet Chellanam where she grew up. His knowledge of the sea and passion for work were unparalleled. Andrew had an uncanny sense of the weather and sea and it was rare that his fishing group came with an empty boat. Shranks – the middlemen and boat owners would wrestle for Andrew’s skills. Not for him the drunken singing and brawls at the local toddy shop or gambling under coconut palms that had destroyed many fishermen families. His life revolved around Lisie, her mother and the local drama troupe. But when Lisie was fifteen her dad’s life ended in a freak accident in the sea. There were quite a few rumors about the actual cause of the accident but her father’s bosom pal and partner married her mom six months later. It was difficult for her to stay in the island after that and she moved to the city.
“It is not an easy choice, nevertheless you have to do something” ThankamaChechi replied on hearing Lisie’s woes. A decision had to be made on the marriage proposal for Beatrice, Lisie’s daughter. The prospective bridegroom had a decent job in a private company and Beatrice liked him. His parents had subtly suggested that their second daughter is of marriageable age and required money.
“You cant dilly-dally on Beatrice’s marriage now. She is past her prime and it will be difficult to get such a good alliance for her.” something Lisie never wanted to acknowledge, though she knew it was late. All of Beatrice’s friends were wedded with kids. She thought things would fall into place, though the dynamics of the matrimony with its nerve-racking requirements would put the Pollachi cattle market to shame.
“Chechi but you know how I had wanted this house and how much I slogged for it. Did I go to gulf, accrue rupee by rupee and construct the home to finally sell ? I too finally wanted to die in a place of my own. I deserve atleast that amidst all dicey games that life has played on me. Why is God so bent on shredding things into pieces every time I put it back”. she broke down.
When she came to city she did not have anything except a strong will to survive. She found employment as a cook in a government officer’s house. Her excellent culinary skills with a unique blend of coastal flavors made her popular and soon she was sought after by working families in the area. She would take one or two-hour assignments at each of the homes while they went to offices and rented a small home. It was a beautiful period. There were colors that exploded in multiple dimensions and alluring sounds, but Lisie had her feet on the ground. Amidst the swirls and the storm she created a borough of her own. A cute, exquisite one, where she wanted to invite someone special.
That is when Biju came into her life. He was an electrician and they met at a place where Lisie worked. He came from a town down south and earned pretty well as construction activity was booming in the city. It was that tinge of rebelliousness and defiance to order that fascinated her, besides he was the first man who looked into her eyes and asked her hand. The rest were all lecherous, prying eyes that wandered all over except her face. After a whirlwind romance Lisie married Biju.
“If only he Biju had taken a little of my responsibility, we wouldn’t have come to this”
Lisie was referring to her husbands compulsive alcoholism. After the unruffled days of their matrimony when Beatrice was born, the villain showed up as hootch. The monotony that sets in after a turbulent romance coupled with a ridiculous mainstream stereotype that men ought to drink and beat up their wives to retain their machismo made an addict of him though he never physically harmed Lisie. By the time Beatrice was five he had wrecked their future. He quit work and would chase out anybody who offered anything remotely of a job, forcibly empty Lisie of all her money without indignity and borrow from all and sundry. It came to a point where strangers would walk into their home in the middle of the night carrying Biju, pickled in Rum and demand money and at times even more.
“With all that money he guzzled away we could have bought a mansion at Panampallinagar” – a swanky neighborhood in the city
“What is the point of cribbing about the past Lisie. Let bygones be bygones” Thankamachcehi replied.
Chechi was her alter ego whom she would embrace at times of crisis. Their bonds went back to a time when Lisie came to the city and was more equal than the normal employee-employer relationship. She helped her get a Visa for the job as a maid in Oman and would be local guardian to Beatrice while Lisie was away.
While at the Middle East Lisie’s life slowly started to get back on track. Mortal fear after being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, along with divine intervention at Potta prayer center finally cornered Biju. He reduced to a peg or two as if he were doing a favor. Lisie being away also didn’t help much in bullying her for money. She worked for five years and saved enough money to buy a home at a city suburb. It was not easy, but her indomitable spirit, helped to carry through the pain inside and heat outside.
“With one-third of the money from Madhav why don’t you buy five cents at Kizhakekara? That way you can easily marry off Beatrice and probably have a little bank balance after building a house”
Stagnant earnings and frequent requirements in the form of children’s education, marriage, hospital expenses, had made the poor and lower middleclass cash-in their meager land holdings in the real-estate boom. They were moving to places like Kizhakekara about hundred kilometers from the city were prices were low. It was almost a reverse of the urban migration phenomenon that economists were trying to fight elsewhere.
“ Would we need special passes to enter the city after few years” Lisie was sarcastic
“Like the lowborn’s shunted into small ghettos outside the town not so long ago, are we the new untouchables?
Thankama looked the other way. She couldn’t think of a better way.