It was a Friday evening. The last bell had rung. Everyone stood up to wish the teacher. And the moment she left the door, all chitter-chatter started. Suresh put all his books/notebooks and stuff that was lying in his bench in his bag and flung it to the side of the bench. Then he came outside to stretch his limbs. ‘Might bugging lady na?’, asked his friend Manoj. ‘Ya…but guess she is a necessary evil. There is no one to replace her. We better tolerate her’. He embraced the walls and watched the commotion going on in the ground floor. The Class 1-Class 3 kids were all running home, laughing, shouting and enjoying. He smiled and turned back. By this time, the gossip gang of his class had congregated in his class. He too went in to join them. Manoj, Bhuvana, Rekha, Mathangi, Hari, Ramesh and Niraj were already there. Some sitting on top of the bench. Some standing and just packing their bags. The talks spanned a variety of topics. Their latest escapades, their sight parties, the teachers on whom they had a crush, the general blandness of teacher’s quality etc.
Suresh suddenly remembered his Maths class where Palani sir used to route vittufy Bhuvana. He mimicked all that happened in the class. ‘Dei..nee adi vaanga porey da’, she screamed even as everyone laughed. They were planning for a koothu gathering on Saturday. Most of them were from Korattur, so it was easy. Only matter was Rekha couldn’t go around freely to guys’ home. So she was unlikely to come. Everyone decided that they would meet at Hari’s home in the evening. Post the initial mass gossip, the gang slowly and naturally split into ones and twos trying to share some jokes, intimate moments and such. Suresh was speaking with Manoj, Bhuvana and Mathangi. All the three had ganged together to ottify Mathangi. Around that time, Aarti came across the window and shouted, ‘Guys…bye, have fun. Dei Suresh..naa kelambaren da…’ ‘Hey Aarti, can you wait for 15 min. I will join you’, he said. ‘Illa da, gotto go’ ‘Fine, I will join you then’, he said and ran to grab his bag. Grunted a ‘Bye people’ to everyone in general and came out to join Aarti.
As they were walking out of the school, he asked her ‘veetuku poi ena plans?’ She said ‘nothing much’ ‘Ok in that case why don’t we go for a walk. I will drop you at your home, by walk of course. Anyway its been a long time since I tasted your mom’s coffee’ ‘Illa da, veetuku poganum’, she was trying to squeeze away. ‘Aarti, I want you to come. Please’ She relented. They took the road right opposite to their school. It went through their Naga Doc’s home. He was one of the few most visited docs in their locality. 5 minutes of silence and then he asked her, ‘So what’s the matter Aarti?’ ‘Nothing da, veetla konjam tensions. Avlo dhaan’ ‘Avlo dhaan naa…why are you on verge of crying?’ ‘It is so obvious is it?’ ‘To me? YES. We know each other far more than we care to acknowledge Aarti’ She silently nodded, a drop of tear rolling down her cheeks. She then went on to say what was happening in her life. He listened gravely. Then in a very casual manner he asked her, ‘So ipo inaangarey?’ She chuckled and gave him a tug. ‘Okay, inga paaren lady. Such stuffs do happen to everybody, though to varying degrees. Just remember family is always there for us. So accept it. Even otherwise, I am there na. So chill.’ She gave a grateful smile. And for the first time, he cried a little. So happy was he to see her smile again.
They did a U turn at the Mummy Daddy street, cut through towards Yousuf’s house and then headed towards the Church which was the backside of her home. As they entered the home he shouted, ‘Aunty, thaatha epdi irukeeha?’ Both of them smiled back. Thaatha went on to speak with him. Both of them liked to dwell a bit on Classic literature. ‘Have you read Pride & Prejudice?’, thaatha asked him. And they proceeded from that. In between he asked aunty, ‘Coffee onnum kedayaadha?’ ‘Adhu dhaan preparing’
He forgot all about Aarti. He was engrossed in his conversation with thaatha and the occasional ottifying of aunty. She had changed her dress and then came to the hall. ‘Neenga pesaradhu onnum puriyala da’, she told him. ‘Idhu laam periyavaa paechu. Unakku sonnalum puriyaadhu. Purinjukara vayasum kedayaadhu’, he replied. ‘Well said, well said’, acknowledged thaatha. Suresh then went in to the kitchen to fetch his coffee. ‘Kirti enge?’, he asked aunty. ‘She has gone for her Maths class, will be back by 6’ ‘Oh fine aunty, then I guess I have to somehow tolerate this Aarti till she comes. Better still I will have your coffee and bid adieu. Aarti overheard it. ‘Dei naaye’, she came shouting to the kitchen. Both of them were running around aunty. One trying to dodge the other. After half an hour of nice arattai, he went home.
They had known each other for the last 5 years. They were studying in the same school. Guess for about two yrs, she had changed her base and then she came back. That was probably one of the happiest moment in his life; the day she came back. Theirs was a relationship marked by subtle understanding and extravagant sarcasm. Bottomline – they knew each other, nothing else would bother them.
As he stepped into his house, his mother asked, ‘Enna da? Aarti veedaa?’ ‘Yes maa’ Not always was it like this. The first time he came late, his parents were very much worried. Not that they thought he couldn’t handle himself. But still. Nowadays if he was late to come home, they knew it will only be because he was at Aarti’s home. Nothing else would keep him away from home.
The next day he woke up early in the morning. He had to attend a Chemistry class. He slept throughout the class and came back home at 8 for his breakfast. He ate and then slept till noon. He ate and again slept. It was 4pm. He got a kick in his back. He woke up with a jolt. People were laughing around him. There was Aarti, his mother, his thaatha and Divya – his sister. They were laughing AT him. He was bewildered. Apparently Aarti had come home an hour back. And no amount of soft waking up routine could get Suresh to wake up. Finally it took a mighty kick, in fact two mighty kicks – one from Divya and one from Aarti to get him standing. He went, washed his face and came to the hall. His mother and thaatha were fussing over Aarti. Divya had left for her friend’s place. He was irritated. Yes, he was happy that Aarti was well liked in his home. But not at the cost of an evening tea. ‘Amma, tea kudungo maa. Ivaloda kitchen ku poi kooda pesalaam’, he vented out. ‘Poda pokathavane’, she replied and slowly went to the kitchen. She loved to sit down near thaatha’s easy chair. And he loved to ruffle her hair. ‘Very well behaved girl’, he always said of her when she wasn’t there. ‘Neenga mattum dhaan solanum thaatha. Ava vishwaroopam laam enaku mattum dhaan theriyum’ Even his father, who wasn’t always forthcoming in praising Suresh’s friends spoke highly of Aarti. ‘Don’t know what magic spell she casts on people’, thought Suresh.
After drinking his tea, Aarti and Suresh went to their favorite abode. It was the place where Suresh’a anna lived. It was the nearby Anjaneyar kovil. It was a nice Saturday routine for them. Coming to this temple. And it was here that for the umpteenth time he gave a special thanks to his brother for having given him such a wonderful specimen as his friend.