The Unholy Amman

Minaskhi is a counter-girl.

Not a counter-cultural girl, mind you, for she would never ever do anything that went against the rich Tamil social traditions. In fact, if you want to get technical, she shouldn’t be called a counter-girl at all. Because at 53 years of age, she was no more a girl than anyone’s grandma.

But counter-girl was the technical name that was given to her profession and so notwithstanding other technicalities including her age, she is a counter-girl.

More precisely, she is a counter-girl at the footwear counter in the Minaskhi Amman Kovil- a temple that gets more visitors per day than you could shake a stick at, a large number of whose footwear pass through the hands of Minakshi and one other girl(this one, at 19 years, more of an actual girl) who together manned the counter.

Maybe it’s not the most glamorous of jobs but Minakshi wasn’t complaining. For one thing, she found it way better, and more well paid than any of her previous jobs- which included working as a seamstress at a small fabric company and a cook at a local restaurant where the only things spicier than the food they made were the patrons’ complaints about the food.

Also, she has been a lifelong devotee of Minakshi Amman- the deity of the temple where she worked. She wasn’t so much of a devotee that she would consider handling the sandals of the Amman’s devotees to be a blessing. But still, she found it a privilege to assist in whatever way possible to keep the temple neat and tidy.

And yes, there was also the tiny reality that her household could use with her income. As a truck driver, her husband Kumaran brought in some money, but some money was never truly enough- not in these days when you have to spend a lot to buy some.

There was her son, Rajesh who has vowed he would never get married and so was more than willing to give all his income for the family- not that he made a lot working as a mechanic in a local garage, but still..However, Minakshi wasn’t willing to make him spend a lot for his parents’ sake. She wanted him to have a family of his own. He was already 30 years old and though so far he had resisted her attempts to get him married , she was positive that that Amman has a beautiful girl waiting somewhere for him, and when the time is ripe, he would meet her, fall in love and get married.

More or less like how his younger sister fell in love with someone and got hitched- a marriage that Minakshi was only too happy about, a marriage that had her daughter living happily at Puducherry with her husband and two kids.

All in all, it wasn’t all that bad a life that Minakshi had.

**

Minakshi lied awake in the bed, weary from a day long of work.

The work couldn’t be said to be too strenuous but it did involve a lot of standing and walking around and at her age her legs craved rest more than exercise.

Even though weary, she found it hard to sleep- something that happened whenever she was alone in bed. Kumaran was away on a ride-this time carrying a load of fabric to Haryana. He would be back in another two or three days.

Having crossed the mark of menopause, she wasn’t exactly super-active sexually and it wasn’t for want of sex that she craved her husband now. Rather, it was for the warmth of his chest- a peculiar form of warmth for which she has developed an affinity in more than 3 decades of married life.

Further restlessness was caused by the fact that Rajesh too wasn’t home- he had gone to Thirunalveli to attend a friend’s bachelor party and would be home only tomorrow.

A few robberies reported in the neighborhood of late. Madurai has been around for more than two centuries, and there probably has been robberies throughout all that time, thought Minakshi for whom the city if her birth-the city where she has spent all her life meant so much more than just a physical space- it was the spiritual core of her life. She believed it a blessing to have been born and be living in Madurai.

A robbery wasn’t going to change that opinion but it certainly caused her some distress. But the distress of devotees was something that the Amman was good at taking away. So, Minakshi hoped that the disturbing thought of some lowly thief barging into her humble household in the midst of the night when she was all alone would also be taken away by the Amman, so that she could finally go to slumber land.

However, there was yet another thing that was kept the flames of her distress blazing: A certain thought that hadn’t visited her in a long time. A thought that was spurred by the absence of her husband.

For it was on a day like this, when Kumaran was away that it happened….

**

They were married for about two years at that point of time.

Minakshi was still not used to him being away for long periods- sometimes for weeks on end.

Kumaran had arranged for a girl from the neighborhood to come and sleep over so that his wife wouldn’t be alone in the night. The girl was of  school going age, which meant she couldn’t be there with Minakshi during the daytime.

So Minakshi wondered who it would be who was knocking on her door.

She was in the kitchen preparing some curry- her culinary skills hardly as refined as it would get later with time. She came to the small living room and opened the front door.

The salesman who stood there was young- not more than 25 years of age. And as soon as his eyes fell on her, he could see that the woman was in heat. She breathed rapidly as though she was running even when as she stood still. And her eyes strayed to his crotch, probably without her being aware of the fact.

The fact that he was neatly tucked in made it that much harder for her to keep her eyes in check. And her lips-they pouted like a flower with a mind all of its own, as if whispering “Take me!”

What made the young salesman knock on the door of her humble abode, she didn’t know. There was nothing in the appearance of the house that suggested that whoever lived in the house would have an expendable enough income to buy the science encyclopedias that the salesman sold. Particularly true when the house was contrasted with some of the other-wealthier houses in the neighborhood.

But knocked he did and she opened the door. Not just that, she listened his sales pitch-which was interleaved with glances towards her body parts that made her shiver. And when he asked if he could come in so that he could show her in detail the various pictures and the quality of the book, she let him in. Closing the door, she invited him to take a seat on one of the plastic chairs, herself taking the one beside him.

From the chairs, it didn’t take them long to move into the bed. They made love thrice that day and the first two times she came- which was a far better ratio than what she got with her husband.

Though the salesman appeared at her door at around 11, it was almost 5 by the time he left.

When he asked her if they could meet again, she firmly declined. She was already regretting what she did- and not just because his condom broke when they had sex the third time, spilling his seeds in her.

She had went to the bathroom soon after and had a pee- as much as she could will herself to pee. She hoped that that would expel whatever semen might have gotten into her. She cried in the bathroom, thinking of the betrayal she just committed, wondering what came over her, wondering how she would be able to face Kumaran again.

It turned out that she could face him well enough, for two days later when Kumaran returned home there was nothing in his wife’s demeanor to suggest that anything was amiss. And as soon as he got home, they made love- passionate love the kind of which couples remember for a long time to come.

Around ten months later, she gave birth to her firstborn- Rajesh.

So, the thought that visited her on the night when 53 year old Minakshi lied in her bed feeling restless was a question that she hasn’t been able to answer conclusively: Was Rajesh truly her husband’s child?

**

Resemblances could be found if you went looking for them.

And Minakshi found plenty of them between the facial profiles of her son and her husband. But they were never truly conclusive enough to be called as proof. For there were also differences- like the broader set of eyes or the longer forehead that the young one had, so much unlike Kumaran.

And though, throughout the first years since her child’s birth, she worried about someone having some suspicion, with the passing of years, and with the birth of her second child(definitely Kumaran’s) the worries began to fade away.

By and by she almost made herself believe that Rajesh was indeed Kumaran’s. After all, there was no proof to the contrary, was there?

But there is a difference between almost believing something and believing something- and that was something Minakshi would re-learn over and over again whenever the old question poked its head in her mind like an ugly mole from a hole.

**

By the time Minakshi appeared at work the next day, she had forgotten all about the question. The thing was, it was hard to keep any thought in mind while you incessantly served the customers’ demands of dropping off and getting back their footwear.

And for once, Minakshi was thankful for the rush.

While she considered it a good thing that so many devotees came to see the Amman in all her glory, she sometimes wondered about the dharmic logic behind the idea of so many devotees translating to so much work for her.

But not this day. This day, she was quite happy to have her mind occupied by the task of placing the footwear on the racks, the giving the customers a token-basically, a piece of cardboard on which was written the rack number, or giving the footwear back to the customer against a token. Redundant work, no doubt but sometimes there’s nothing like redundant work to keep the unwanted thoughts in check.

“Madam!”

The man’s voice- firm and clear stood out from among other voices.

It was the other girl who served him as Minakshi hurriedly checked a message that popped in her cell phone. By the time she looked up, the girl had already kept the man’s footwear in a rack and was in the process of carrying the token to him.

But one look was enough to send shivers down Minakshi’s spine.

The man had done something that her body had failed to do- he had aged gracefully. Except for the gray hairs and slightly sagging cheeks he appeared not much different from when she had met him the first-and the only time.

His eyes strayed towards her, settled on her face  but before he could take a closer look, she turned away, hurried to the staff washroom from where she returned a full half an hour later.

A new question popped in her mind. ‘Has he seen me?’

Her heart beat with the power of a racehorse- a power which her body could hardly withstand.

Minakshi  took an early lunch break that day. Her hope was that by the time she returned from lunch, the man would have come and collected his footwear. People rarely stayed too long within the temple- what with the crowds it could get somewhat claustrophobic, especially on a Sunday. And long experience (she has been a counter-girl for over ten years now) has shown her that someone who deposited his footwear almost always returned in an hour or so.

‘Yes, he should be gone by the time I went back in there.’

Minakshi took her time having the lunch- though it was just thyrs  adam- the kind of thing that you could completely down in a few gulps. But there was only so long that she could delay going back in there. Her partner in arms has taken a half day leave and would be itching to leave just about now. .Though she said that she had to go to the hospital- her mother was ailing with something or the other,Minakshi knew that the silly girl was going to go out with her boyfriend. She has told her about him. Her eyes fluttered like a butterfly’s wings and her lips trembled whenever she spoke about him, making Minakshi sure that the girl’s was just bodily reactions and not pure love.

Cursing the girl under her breath, Minakshi went back into the 3 feet by 4 feet room/ counter where she spent the bulk of her work hours. And no sooner had she come in than the girl said she was leaving, offering Minakshi the sweetest- and the thinnest of smiles.

One positive thing that happened with the girl’s leaving was that Minakshi got so busy that she hardly got any time to think about the salesman. However, some half an hour later when there was a slump in the number of people who came to the counter, she began to think about him. Not that she wanted to, just that she couldn’t help it.

But then, there was no associated palpitations with the thought. In fact, considering everything she felt rather calm. The man must have left by now, she was almost sure. Unless he was a super-devotee who couldn’t bear the thought of parting with the Amman so soon, he wouldn’t be hanging around still. And for some reason, she found it hard to think of the man as so devoted a person.

She wished she had seen in which rack the girl had put his footwear. The girl was manning the right half of the counter- that’s how they divided their work, by having people in two separate rows, one on the right and one on the left. Minakshi threw her glance at the rows of racks on the right hand side. Most of the racks had multiple footwear in them, so she could discount those for the man had come on his own. As for the rest- the ones with footwear belonging to just one person, almost all of them bore footwear that men wore. So, maybe it’s that particular pair of black leather shoes which belonged to the man, or maybe the orange and black pair of Nikes, or maybe the earthy coloured sandals that looked sad with wrinkles- no, that can’t be it, she thought.

Even though she got but a single glimpse of the man, she did see that he was dressed neatly though not extravagantly well. Nothing in his appearance has given the impression that he was careless, and the brown wrinkly sandals belonged to someone who was rather careless with his appearance- or someone who was down on his luck.

Her thoughts were running this way when her reverie was broken by the call, “Madam!” Firm and loud- the kind of voice which may belong to someone who has been a salesman, the kind of voice that put the palpitations back in her heart.

And when she looked up, she saw that the amount of time she took to finish the thyr sadam was not nearly enough.

Walking up to the man, she collected the token from him. She tried to do  this by keeping her feace lowered all the time- something which she found to be really awkward. So, she ended up rising and lowering her face in a jerking motion which would have attracted anyone’s attention- even from someone who didn’t know her.

The man’s footwear turned out to be the pair of black leather shoes that she had seen earlier. She congratulated herself on having ascribed a high level of probability that the shoes belonged to the man. But she couldn’t derive any satisfaction from it. For, in order to be satisfied, the heart must beat at a more reasonable rate.

Now, Minaskhi’s younger sister lived in Puducherry. Though younger to her by 10 years, she had already suffered cardiac arrest twice. Minakshi, on the other hand was yet to encounter one- a fact about which she took pride.

But the way her heart went as she walked back bearing the man’s footwear she feared that the encounter might happen sooner rather than later.

‘He may not have recognized me’, she told herself as she handed the footwear back to him. The words were meant to calm herself down but she found that the words didn’t have the desired effect. What made matters worse was the fact that the man remained at the counter just a beat more than was required, eyeing her in a peculiar way.

She almost asked if he wanted anything else- she meant to say that in the most unflattering tone imaginable. But she didn’t have to as he turned away soon enough.

In her years of working as a counter-girl, she has come across many customers who irritated her- mostly by insisting that she tended to them before anyone else, as though they were royalty and the rest plebian which meant that she has had ample opportunities to practice using her non-flattering tone. And it wasn’t something that she particularly enjoyed, after all she would be using such strong tones in just outside the Goddess’ temple!

So she was glad that she didn’t have to use it this time. But she was still worried since she didn’t know whether he recognized her or not.

In her favour was the fact that she hasn’t aged gracefully- her appearance was as different as that between a plum tomato and an overripe one.

For the first time in her life, she thanked god that she doesn’t look anything like her younger self anymore.

But wait, she told herself, so what if the man has recognized me? It’s not like he was going to come into my home and say what transpired between us all those years ago. What could he benefit from that?

There was a time when I used to worry that he might turn up at my home one fine day when I least expected and turn my entire world upside down. But those days were long gone. Now, we are both old people- him, more than me. And like me, he would also have a family….

Her thoughts ran throughout the time she was handling footwear, footwear that belonged to people she didn’t know, utter strangers. And she wondered if at a different age, would she have slept with any one of them?

No, no , no, that was a mistake that I made once. Just once! She screamed inside, praying to Amman to relieve her from this distress. She would donate ten coconuts if the Amman would do that.

But come evening when it was time to leave for home, the distress still remained. Amman didn’t seem to be in dire need of coconuts.

**

That night, Minakshi had another restless sleep.

Rajesh had come back after attending his friend’s bachelor’s party, so she wasn’t particularly worried about robbers barging in- having a child like faith that if there is a man in the house, such things wouldn’t arise.

But there were other worries, worries and guilt pangs which she wouldn’t dare discuss with anyone- particularly not with her son.

**

The thing with the human mind is that one cannot say with absolute certainty in which direction it would travel. The prediction couldn’t be made with precision even regarding the near future.

In Minakshi’s case she had thought that she would be all the more worried on the day after a certain man’s appearance at her counter. Only, to her surprise, she found that she felt considerably calmer compared to the previous day, she was even able to enjoy some music before stepping out to work- she sometimes left the television on while she worked in the kitchen during the mornings.

In the wee hours of the morning, she has been able to convince herself that the man wouldn’t in fact do anything as rash as confronting her or her family- after all, he just happened to see her when he came to see the Amman. Another fact was that he probably didn’t even recognize her.

So, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. She was convinced.

As for the box of guilty feelings that his appearance opened in her mind, she has been a faithful mother and husband for long decades- regretting the one mistake that she made throughout all this time. If anything could atone for her sin, she thought that should do the trick.

The relaxed frame of mind persisted throughout the day. The slight (irrational) animosity that she felt towards the customers the other day for keeping asking her to take care of their footwear, as though she were fit for nothing else but that also disappeared. In fact, she served the customers with a positive mindset, reminding herself that the customers were in fact devotees and she was doing a service to the goddess by having the sand under the soles spill in this counter rather than within the temple premises.

That evening she walked back home with an even greater peace which was brought on by the fact that by the time she got home, her husband would be there. She could enjoy the heat of his chest tonight-feel comfortably cocooned in that very special warmth.

Madurai’s streets bustle with life more during the evenings than in the daytime-even during the holidays. The heat of the day could be quite merciless in the city where millions come seeking the goddess’ mercy. So the populace wait till the sun approaches the horizon so that they could get out and buy their carrots and potatoes and eggs and clothes and juice and whatnot.

Walking through the alleyways to her home that was some 20 minutes away from the temple, Minakshi only saw the throng of people as a reflection of the crowd that the temple attracted. Whereas the temple was Amman’s home, the city was a radiation of Amman’s energy, animating its people, helping them build establishments and institutions that stand for the good of man.

And she- Minakshi was just so happy to be reveling in the energy which perennially radiated out of her namesake goddess.

Such religious thoughts were running through her mind when she stopped at a small grocery store. Among the things placed on the shops verandah for sale- baskets of incense sticks and lemons and towels, was a bunch of husked coconuts.

She thought she could use a couple of them for the theeyal that she was going to prepare for her husband tonight- Kumaran just loved the theeyal that she made. An extra grating of coconuts would only add to the magic.

She saw the man coming towards her out of the corner of her eye when as she putting the coconuts in the plastic cover-which also contained her empty tiffin box.

She looked up at him. She didn’t feel surprise. She didn’t feel anything.

“Did you follow me?”

The man nodded, smiled as though he did something that could be acknowledged as cute.

“If you don’t mind, can we talk for a little while?” he said. Seeing her hesitation, he added, “Of course, we are old. And running in to you at the temple was a pure accident. In fact, I thought I shouldn’t speak with you but then…something made me change my mind. So, I went back to the counter today. Only, when I got there you were leaving. And so I followed you…”

More than his words it was his tone of voice which made Minakshi consider his request. He wasn’t pleading but there was a certain earnestness in his voice- a special quality which made it feel like he was talking to an old friend.

**

The restaurant that he suggested was run by a friend of Kumaran’s, so Minakshi recommended another one, a little farther from  the temple. It was only half filled and the lighting was dim- she found it comfortable to be talking with him in this place.

“It’s the mark on your cheek that made me realize who you were.”

At the man’s words Minakshi ran a finger across the black mole on her right upper cheek.

“Of course, I never forgot your face..But over the years, it has changed, so one couldn’t recognize it as easily as one might think.”

Minaskhi nodded. She could agree with that.

“Why do you say that you never forgot my face?”

“You mean why I should remember your face from all the flings that I had during my years as a travelling salesman?” the man smiled, even appeared jovial as though what they were actually discussing was the various exploits of Donald duck in an old Disney cartoon. “It’s simple, actually. It was the only time that a rubber has broke on me,” he added in a lowered voice.

Minakshi almost choked on her vada. The casual manner in which he spoke about such a thing was in sharp contrast to the neatly pressed plaid shirts and khaki pants that he wore- in fact, he  looked so spic n’ span that had anyone given an encyclopedia to him, he would have looked just like a salesman.

“You okay?”

She nodded, unsure what to say.

After a few moments she did find something to say: “You said you didn’t think of talking to me at first. But something changed you mind.What was it?” She eyed the clock on the wall. She would have preferred for this meeting/get-together/conversation/whatever to be over preferably in the previous minute.

As for the man, he took a deep breath. His joviality changed into a grim expression as though he was recalling something horrendous.

Minakshi wondered if it was a ploy for him to earn some sympathy- by telling her about some sob story-maybe his mother has passed away, and out of sympathy she would be urged to sleep with him.

‘But, of course that can’t be. We are old people, ‘she thought . ‘I am an old woman past her menopause and living with her husband and son for whom she hopes to find a good girl soon, very soon.’

As it turned out, what the man had to say was indeed a sob story:

“I was diagnosed with cancer recently. Just a couple of months ago, in fact. That’s why I thought of coming to see Amman- to ask for her blessings. My parents used to come here as part of their annual pilgrimage every year. As a kid, I used to come along but as I got older, the lesser I believed in the gods and goddesses.” Smiling softly he continued, “I have not been to this temple in more than 10 years.”

He looked at her, there was a twinkle of a smile in his eyes even though he wasn’t talking about happy things.

“But now I am,” he now spoke in a voice barely over a whisper. “Now I am here, come to meet the Amman. And I got a nice surprise when I ran into you..The doctors say that there is a fifty-fifty chance that I will survive. They have diagnosed the cancer at its earliest stage..so they have asked me to keep hope. And it’s for hope that I have turned to the goddess, who is also a link to my parents who were her earnest devotees.” Seeing the look of enquiry on her face, he added “Both my parents are no more.”

“And your wife?” she said hesitantly.

The man smiled sadly. “I was married once. It lasted for about three years. Three years before she realized that not every day that I said I was away at work was I away at work.” He looked at her meaningfully.

Lowering her face, she nodded. Yes, she understood how that could be.

Leaning back in the chair, his cup of filter coffee sitting half-forgotten on the table, he said whimsically, “I don’t think I would regret the life that I have had. I mean, I have been to many places, had my fair share of women-more than most men could ever hope for, and though I have never been rich, I can proudly say that poverty has never touched me. So, even if my life ends soon, I would die a happy man. But as with any human being, I also yearn for that chance- the possibility to prolong life for one more day, if god or fate or whatever is in charge would grant me .”

After a long pause in which both of them remained silent(she because she truly didn’t know what to say, he because he was collecting his thoughts), he said, “These are the things that are in my mind. And I thought, I thought it would be a good idea to tell someone all these things. Someone I know, even if it’s someone I had known only for a day so long ago that it feels like another life.” He smiled weakly.

Minakshi wondered how lonely the man actually was in life to tell the deepest thoughts in his mind to her. She also wondered if, like she had thought before it was all a ploy to gain sympathy. Maybe he was a pervert who in his old age went for old women. And this story about cancer and everything that he was giving her was part of the ploy. Or maybe he was in earnest.

The bottomline was that she didn’t know.

‘Just like I don’t know for sure who the father of my child is!’ The thought struck her like a spear though the heart.

“Anyway, enough about me. What about you? How are you and your family?”

Minakshi hardly heard the man’s words. The idea of not knowing the parentage of her son was a sore thought that kept reverberating in her brain- harassing her with each iteration.

“I must go now,” she said eventually. “I have some things to do at home.”

Though the man was visibly saddened by this, he nodded. “Yes, but before you leave, I would like to know one thing.”

“Yes?”

“What is your name?”

But when Minkashi told him, he started laughing, and kept at it as though he didn’t want to stop. Finally, when he was able to catch his breath, he said, “So, I came here to see Minakshi and found two. I guess I am truly blessed!”

Minakshi gave him a proprietary smile before she got up, ready to leave.

“I don’t know what the chances are that we will meet again,” said the man. “So, let me say this too- I hope that you don’t hold anything against me for taking advantage of you like that- on that day.”

This time she didn’t blush about the upfront manner in which he spoke. By this point, she has come to take it in its stride.

“It was a mistake,” she said without flinching.

It was only after she walked out of the restaurant that she realized that she forgot to ask the man’s name.

**

The next day being a Monday, there were lesser number of visitors to the temple than on the day before. But still, there was enough inflow of people to keep Minakshi and the other girl at the footwear counter on their toes, literally.

In fact, Minakshi had thought about taking a day off. She is allowed one leave per month and she is yet to take that leave for this month that was fast coming to an end.

However, Kumaran was at home today and she wasn’t too sure if she stayed at home as well, if he would see something in her eyes that told him that something may be wrong.

The problem was that she was still upset by her encounter with the man from the past. The meeting made the question of her son’s parentage a persistent ask in her mind, making her cringe with  embarrassment every time it arose in her mind.

It’s been so many years, she thought but it’s not the kind of question that was jusy going to vanish with time.

In such a frame of mind, she wasn’t sure about the kind of expressions that would be reflected on her face, and like with any marriage that had lasted this long, theirs too was one in which one partner was extremely adept at reading the other’s expressions and gestures- even the minutest ones, even the ones that had a subconscious root.

No, she wasn’t confident if she could hide her feelings from Kumaran if she were to spend the day at home. By evening she would be weary from work and any sign of lethargy could be attributed to the pressure of work. And that gave her a reason she could point to in case Kumaran asked.

Having come to work against her earnest wishes, she felt irritated though. Irritated at the way the people came and presented their footwear to her like they were some sort of grotesque presents, presents fit for the least respected in society- like the ones who didn’t know who their kid’s father was.

And they would come back and take away the presents, by presenting a token, as though saying, “On second thoughts, I think you are not fit for even such a present.! “

Such thoughts harassed her throughout the day and it was all she could do to keep herself from erupting in anger when a young man- not more than 25 years old began calling out ‘Madam!” insistently, like a child demanding milk. The other girl had gone for lunch and Minakshi was managing the counter on her own.

The young man kept calling out in a loud voice as though he had more right to the service than anyone else. Minakshi felt really irritated. For one thing, she has always felt that the young people of today were a little too demanding in everything, as though they were the rulers and everyone else slaves.

Another thing was that this was so not the day for anything like that- not when she was already feeling under the weather, and not just any random sort of weather but an all out storm.

So she used whatever professional powers she had as a counter-girl to make the young man feel uncomfortable. In other words, she ignored him for as long as she could, serving the customers who came after him, pretending that the his loud voice was out of her aural radar. She kept at it for about 10 minutes after which she walked up to the young chap- who by now had stopped calling after her and collected the token from him.

As a final act of harassment, she walked to the rack and standing right in front of the one with the number on the token, pretended as though she was unable to find the right one. This made the young man call out to her again, this time saying, “It’s the one immediately to your left. No, not that one, the one above that!”

She maintained her pretension for another few seconds before she picked the right pair of shoes and walked to the young man. Immediately after serving him, she moved to the next customer. The faint smile on her face could only have been discerned from close quarters.

**

That evening when she was walking back home Minakshi felt that her mind was a like the mangy dog that was lying on the curb, there, just beside the juice stall. It’s so tired that it could hardly stand up, let alone walk and it’s festered with god knows how many worms.

Her mind too was fatigued, and ugly thoughts about herself- the central theme being she was a harlot- festered there like squiggly worms. And Like how one might wish upon seeing an ugly-ass dog on the curb how it would be better off dead than alive, Minakshi wished that her mind too would simply die. That’s the only way the thought about Rajesh’ parentage would stop pestering her, she didn’t see any other way.

But as she passed by the restaurant where she had the quick chat with the salesman-whose-name-she never-knew yesterday, the thought came on even stronger in her mind.

She tried to distract herself, trying to think of a scenario in which she had felt strong and in control. She didn’t have to think long. The memory of harassing that young customer this afternoon- the one whom she kept waiting for so long flooded her mind.

But contrary to her expectations she was unable to derive any satisfaction from the memory.

None among the bustling crowd in that alleyway of the glorious city of Madurai saw the tears which began spouting from the aging woman’s eyes.

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